ATHENS, Greece -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged NATO allies Greece and Turkey to calm rhetoric as both countries head to national elections, in an effort to bolster unity in the trans-Atlantic alliance as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears its anniversary.
Blinken met with officials in Athens after a stop in Turkey, where he also visited regions hardest hit by devastating recent earthquakes.
Greek and Turkish officials said they are willing to take a time out from longstanding disputes over sea boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean in the aftermath of the earthquakes that have killed about 45,000 people in Turkey and Syria.
Blinken said he hoped the pause would provide an opportunity to return to diplomacy.
“It’s profoundly in our interest and I believe in the interest of both Greece and Turkey to find ways to resolve longstanding differences,” he told reporters in Athens on Tuesday.
“And to do it through dialogue through diplomacy to do it peacefully and in the meantime to not take any unilateral actions or use any charged rhetoric that would only make things more difficult.”
Greece is expected to hold a parliamentary election in April, while Turkey will hold a general election in June.
“Both countries are heading to an election. That certainly creates, sometimes, incentives to engage in rhetoric that can create more problems,” Blinken said.
In Athens, he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as well as Greece's ministers of foreign affairs and defense, continuing discussions to deepen bilateral military cooperation that has significantly expanded in recent years. "We’re all heartbroken over the humanitarian catastrophe that has struck our neighbors,” Mitsotakis told Blinken late Monday. “I think this horrible catastrophe has proven that there is a deep connection between our two peoples. We may have big, significant political differences, but the bonds between our peoples are there.” Celeste Wallander, the U.S. assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, accompanied Blinken on his European trip and on Monday visited military bases and port facilities in northern Greece where the United States has been granted access in recent years. They include a base near Larissa, in central Greece, used by the U.S. for MQ-9 Reaper drones, and the port of Alexandroupolis, near Greece's border with Turkey, which has become an important logistics hub for U.S. military assistance bound for Ukraine. During his trip, Blinken called for Sweden and Finland to be admitted to NATO, which has been held up by Ankara's concerns over security threats it describes as terrorism. He also sharply criticized Iran for providing Russia with attack drones and failing to engage in internationally-sponsored nuclear talks. Asked Tuesday if the United States would discourage Israel from taking military action aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Blinken responded: “Countries will make sovereign decisions for their own security and of course that’s no different when it comes to Israel or any country. We can’t make those decisions for them.”