Two weeks ago US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Turkey and Greece. The visit provided an opportunity for the top diplomat to send some messages to both countries. How did she do? As one would expect, there were some positive moments but many disappointments as well. Prior to her departure, I sent Secretary Clinton a letter addressing a number of core issues of concern to the Greek diaspora and asked her to consider raising these issues with the Turkish government.

The issues, as we all know them, are Cyprus, the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Aegean. Regarding the Patriarchate, I also suggested that she visit His All Holiness at the Phanar. In reference to Greece, I recounted that the continuing hardline intransigent position by the leadership in FYROM is what has prevented a solution to the name dispute. I also reminded Secretary Clinton of the very important role Greece has played – and continues to play – in support of the projection of US security interests in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, as Greece continues to be of vital importance in the region by virtue of its geographic location and for being home to the most important naval presence in the Mediterranean sea, NSA Souda Bay, Crete.

There are numerous annual visits by US military ships and planes to Souda Bay and its adjacent airbase and it has been critical to the delivery of U.S. troops, cargo, and supplies to Afghanistan, and most recently, NATO operations in Libya. A significant development of the trip to Turkey was her meeting with His All Holiness Bartholomew I. This was important because it sends a message to Turkey that the United States is committed to the issue of religious freedom and it underscores her support for the concerns of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Secretary Clinton in her public remarks with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglou, said that the reopening of the Halki Seminary highlights Turkey’s strength of democracy and its leadership in a changing region, and asserted that US hopes for the reopening.

However, at this same news conference, she went on to define the U.S. -Turkey relationship by saying, “Today, we can say with confidence that our bonds are sound and our alliance is strong. Our partnership is rooted in our long history and very long list of mutual interests, but most importantly, it is rooted on our common democratic values.”

How so I wonder? The reference to the reopening of Halki is important; however, a more forthright statement that urged the immediate reopening would have been preferable. Furthermore, her reference to Turkey’s “strength of democracy” is puzzling because she cited “concerns about restrictions” on “freedom of expression (relating specifically to the media) and religion.”

She also called on Turkey to “bolster protections for minority rights.” She was silent on the Aegean, and on Cyprus she reiterated the standard State Department position about “…we want to see a bi-zonal bi-communal federation…” She also stated the United States had supported the 2004 “referendum” [Annan Plan] and that “we were disappointed by the outcome because we thought that that would have resolved a lot of the issues that are still being very difficult to overcome.” She continued, “We don’t think the status quo on Cyprus benefits anyone. It’s gone on for too long.

We believe both sides would benefit from a settlement”. The secretary further said, “…and we would like to see it as soon as possible. We would like to see it by 2012. And that is something that the UN has said. That’s something I know Turkey believes. It’s something we believe. And we’re going to do everything we can to support this process and finally try to see a resolution.” Secretary Clinton’s remarks about Cyprus gave me reason to pause for a moment; especially her reference to 2012 and what Turkey believes would be an appropriate time for a resolution.

If she’s kowtowing to Turkey’s objection of Cyprus assuming the EU rotating presidency in the second half of 2012, before a Cyprus settlement, then this is simply not acceptable. There cannot be artificial deadlines placed on resolving the Cyprus issue just to appease Turkey or any third party. If the Cypriots “themselves are to be responsible,” then the best way the US can help them is by creating an equal playing field for the negotiations to work.

That cannot happen until the U.S. sends a strong message to Turkey to stop manipulating the negotiations. Additionally, we should tell them to immediately remove their illegal occupation troops and settlers, and to the return the closed city of Famagusta. And make it known that if they don’t, there will be consequences. Further, her assertion that the Annan Plan “would have resolved a lot of the issues” is simply flawed. This British led plan that the Bush Administration was ill-advised to support, failed because it was undemocratic, unworkable, and it failed to fully demilitarize Cyprus. In addition, it violated key UN resolutions and the EU’s democratic norms and acquis communautaire.

Since its failure, numerous State Department officials have told us that it is no longer an option for the resolution to the Cyprus problem. And if the US or anyone else is kidding itself as to how Turkey impedes a just and viable solution on Cyprus, then all one needs to do is read the comments by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who traveled to the occupied area of Cyprus right after Secretary Clinton left Turkey. His comments were more provocative than ever.

“We will not accept the EU presidency of South Cyprus, whom we do not recognise…We even consider it degrading to sit at the same table with the Greek Cypriot administration…If they don’t conclude this issue in 2012, we will go our own way.” So I ask who is doing the negotiating here? Upon her return to Washington, Secretary Clinton should send a very strong message to Ankara over these irresponsible comments.

After all, if we can’t feel secure and confident to express in strong terms to an ally and a fellow NATO member with whom “… our bonds are sound and our alliance is strong,” and, “Our partnership is rooted in our long history and very long list of mutual interests, but most importantly, it is rooted on our common democratic values,” then to whom can we say it? In Greece, Secretary Clinton said mostly the right things. She emphasised Washington’s strong support for the “Papandreou government’s determination to make the necessary reforms to put Greece back on sound financial footing, and to make Greece more competitive economically” while acknowledging these are “not easy decisions.”

The secretary thanked Greece for her “partnership on a shared agenda that spans the globe” and about the “full range of issues that form the core of our enduring alliance.” In response to a question on FYROM, Secretary Clinton did not come out and support the Greece position even though Greece has made a major compromise by proposing a compound name. This is not a surprise. However, she did say that “Skopje needs to know that it will not be able to move forward on its European integration until it does resolve this.”

She also said that “Obviously, Greece has to be willing to accept how the name is resolved.” Once again, FYROM, and not Greece, is the provocative and intransigent party in this process. She should have been willing to state this publicly. Overall, if I were to provide Secretary Clinton with a grade for her visit to Greece and Turkey, I would give her a “C.” She did exceptionally well at the Ecumenical Patriarchate and with her statements about Greece in the context of U.S. values and interests. Unfortunately, I believe she scored poorly when it came to speaking publically about Cyprus, FYROM, and Turkey in the context of U.S. values and interests, and she failed to raise the Aegean issue. Nick Larigakis is the President of the American Hellenic Institute.