John Bolton is regarded a tough realist of the international scene. As US National Security Adviser in 2018-2019, he opposed Donald Trump’s intentions to normalize relations with Iran and Russia, and was driven to resignation.
In his book “The Room Where It Happened” he criticizes Trump’s decisions on hot issues in the Middle East and China and reveals the “sabotage” he brought about in 2019, together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Washington-Tehran diplomatic relations.
Bolton constantly criticizes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance on the recent expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance. The long-serving diplomat recently spoke to Kathimerini. Here is a shortened version of the interview.
How do you see the outcome of the NATO Summit in Vilnius affecting the stability and security in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Obviously, there are still many unanswered questions stemming both from the war in Ukraine and from the position that Turkey has taken and continues to take on a range of issues. The problems posed by Turkey in many respects to Swedish membership indicate that we still have a lot of work to do. And I think the US has not really pressed Turkey as hard as it should on this issue. So, instability and tension in the Eastern Mediterranean will continue to exist in the near future.
How can the United States contribute to promoting cooperation and de-escalation between Greece and Turkey?
Well, I am not optimistic on that front. I have to say, as long as Erdogan is in power, the tensions between Greece and Turkey on historical issues have risen and fallen over the years. But Erdoğan is a provocateur. He has caused trouble in the Alliance over Finland and Sweden. He has caused trouble with Israel. He is causing trouble with Greece all the time. His role in the Ukraine war has been mixed at best, and really his desire to keep Turkey in the Alliance, I think, remains open to question.
Now, maybe he will focus on getting Turkey’s economy back in shape, which is what he ought to do, given the damage that he has done to it over the past several years. And that may make him more responsible. But if he continues to get his way because he is the “squeaky wheel,” it will just encourage more of Turkey’s negative behavior.
On the other hand, I think closer cooperation between Greece, the United States, and the United Kingdom will deal with this Turkish question. Maybe that would help give us a way through.
Recently, President Erdoğan has been manifesting a more diplomatic approach to Greek-Turkish relations. Do you consider that there has been a change in Erdoğan’s strategy toward Greece?
I think what he is trying to do at the moment in the wake of his recent re-election is try to calm down different areas so he does not have so many problems on his plate at once. But some of these are not going to go away. The problem with the Kurds in eastern Turkey, for example, with the cutoff of the Kurdish pipeline, with the disputes between the Kurds and the central government of Iraq, and the implications they have for the Kurdish regions and in southern and eastern Turkey. And the economy, which his policies have helped drag down, has to be reformed. So, he has got a lot of domestic problems.
My sense is that Erdoğan is trying to reduce the number of problems he has to deal with. I do not think that means he will make any substantive concessions, but I think he will try and put the temperature down. In some areas, relations with Greece may be one so he can focus on his other problems.
Forty-nine years after the invasion of Cyprus the Cyprus dispute remains the biggest thorn in Greek-Turkish relations. Do you see any possible solution being discussed?
I do not see any prospect of change there. I mean, the division and the UN peacekeeping force there. As you say, it is nearly 50 years. This is what happens when you create a UN peacekeeping force. It becomes permanent, in this case, along the border with the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is illegitimate.
I think the answer is to give the government of Cyprus back to the people of Cyprus. Do not partition it, which is obviously what it is now. Unfortunately, I do not see any Turkish government, let alone Erdoğan, agreeing to any significant change there in the near term.
There is much speculation that Trump had friendly relations with Erdoğan, while the current president, Joe Biden, is more oriented toward good relations with the Greek leadership. Based on your experience, are these claims valid, and how did bilateral relations between Greece and the United States evolve during your term of office?
I think Biden has actually gone out of his way to try and mollify Erdogan. The shipment of F-16s presumably associated with Turkey, accepting Sweden into NATO, and not pressing on sanctions on the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system really indicate Biden’s certainly trying to get improvements in Turkey’s behavior in ways I think are mistaken.
You know, Trump has gone back and forth with Erdoğan when they were imprisoning and trying Pastor [Andrew] Brunson, and we put enormous pressure on them to get Brunson released, ultimately successfully. But Trump has an attraction to authoritarian figures like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Erdogan. But I cannot explain that. I just know it is true.
Look, I think Turkey under a responsible government is a critical member of NATO geographically because of the straits, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and because of Turkey’s position in the Middle East. Under Erdoğan, it has been more of a problem. And, you know, anchoring NATO’s southeastern flank is ever more important in the current world.
And if the Turks are not willing under the Erdoğan government to step up responsibly, then I think that just increases the importance of Greece and the role that it is prepared to take on, because we need a strong NATO presence in the Mediterranean. We do not have enough naval vessels, and it will take time to make more. And so, I think a stronger NATO requires a more vigorous Greek involvement.