The US State Department on Thursday officially confirmed that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Greece over the weekend after his meetings in Ankara, as widely reported over the past two days.
According to a press release by the State Department, “…Secretary Antony J. Blinken will travel to Istanbul, Türkiye; Crete, Greece; Amman, Jordan; Doha, Qatar; Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; Al ‘Ula, Saudi Arabia; Tel Aviv, Israel; the West Bank; and Cairo, Egypt from January 4-11, 2024.”
The destination in Greece, the large island of Crete, is where Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be during the coming weekend, and specifically in the western port city of Hania. The Mitsotakis-Blinken meeting is expected to take place on Saturday afternoon.
Media speculation, including a high-profile report by Greek state television (ERT) out of the Washington this week, pointed to a “F35 dimension” in Blinken’s half-day visit to Greece. According to the report, the Biden administration may be tempted to “pressure” Turkey to speed up its ratification process for Sweden’s NATO membership by offering to sell the fifth-generation warplane to Greece in an accelerated manner. Athens has previously signaled its interest in acquiring the “stealthy” US-made fighter plane.
At the same time, developments in the Middle East, especially the Israel-Hamas war, are expected to dominate talks. Other issues that may be broached include Athens’ support to Ukraine, safeguarding of regional maritime security and other issues, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
The State Department announcement adds: “Throughout his trip, the Secretary will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza; securing the release of all remaining hostages; our shared commitment to facilitating the increased, sustained delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the resumption of essential services; and ensuring that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced from Gaza. He will also discuss urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric, and reduce regional tensions, including deterring Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and avoiding escalation in Lebanon. The Secretary will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to working with partners to set the conditions necessary for peace in the Middle East, which includes comprehensive, tangible steps toward the realization of a future Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, with both living in peace and security.”