Greece-USA cooperation closest it has been for a long time
American Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt gives upbeat assessment of relationship between two countries, stresses regional factors
Let me just start by saying, I think it was very exciting for everybody at the Mission, the whole team, to be part of what was, clearly, a historic visit. A visit that set a new high-water mark in terms of our bilateral engagement, in terms of our partnership. I think President Obama was very gratified by the reception he received and, not just the strong partnership with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, but what he heard across the board.
The single most important message of the visit, I think you heard in the speech at the Niarchos Center, [is] that the United States is committed to supporting Greece; that the United States is invested in seeing a successful Greece, which overcomes the economic crisis, which is not left alone to deal with the migration crisis, and which consolidates its role as a key NATO ally and a pillar of stability in a very challenging region.
So, I think I was struck, as the fly on the wall in a lot of the conversations between the leaders, by both the degree of candor – I mean this is a very, very comfortable relationship for both sides and I have seen a lot of these leader-level encounters – but also by the clear understanding that we are at a moment where there is a great deal that we can do together – both in the short term – the debt issue for instance – but also in the longer term. How we continue to work together in NATO; how we think about the growth of our trade and investment relationship – which is one of the issues where I would like to be able to make some progress over the next couple of years; how we think about the next generation. There was a considered decision to skew the audience at the Niarchos Center towards young people. And I think that reflects both this president’s bias but also our judgment. So that was part of it. I think another aspect that I’d like to highlight – one of the is seen during a visit to the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora next to the Acropolis in Athens. In an interview with Kathimerini, Pyatt described Greece as a pillar of stability in a region that is facing a series of challenges. things that struck me in my first two months in Greece – is there’s a lot more to be hopeful about here than often comes through in the conventional conversation in Washington or New York and, I would guess, in Berlin and Brussels as well.
I was very glad that we were able to have this event with the Hellenic Initiative focused on entrepreneurship. We had about 40 young startups, all of whom are smart, they’re entrepreneurial, they are creating value in a Greek economy that hasn’t had a lot to be enthusiastic about in recent years. And I think the visit was very important for Greece from that perspective in terms of setting a positive narrative. In his interview with Kathimerini, President Obama had said Greece needs hope or Greeks need hope. And I think that’s one of the things that the visit certainly helped to accomplish globally, in the United States, part of the message back home, and something that I think all of us at the embassy are now committed to building on.
Markets are certainly about psychology. So, obviously, it’s a huge honor to be able to host one of these visits any time. But, I think in particular, to do so as part of President Obama’s final international trip, for my embassy team to be part of that. I think all of us who were involved realized that we were watching a little bit of history unfold. And, I think very important for Greece as well, that the president chose to come to Greece at this time, to deliver his valedictory address to the world from Athens, from the birthplace of our democratic values, and to speak the way he did in defense of democratic principles and democratic governance.
I think one of the principles I felt very strongly about is the idea that we cannot take for granted our democratic values. We need an assertive effort by the West, by the USA, by our key international partners, to stand up for those values.
They’re being challenged for the reasons the president talked about in his speech at the Niarchos Center: globalization; the sense of people feeling like they don’t have control of their futures in the way they once did; the whole phenomenon of social media – I was fascinated to see President Obama talking about that as well – we’re sort of bombarded with both information and misinformation, but also the single biggest change that’s happened in the business that I’m in. I mean, I look back on my now 27 years of Foreign Service career. The biggest single change that’s happened is right there [points] – an iPhone. It’s the instantaneous, global availability of information. So that some Afghan sitting in a dusty village somewhere is able to look and say: “Hey, look how they’re living in Europe. I want to be part of that. I’ve got some cousin who made his way to Hamburg. I need to pick up and move.” And that, I think the idea of having this sort of instantaneous, global availability of information has produced a dramatic change.
Truth is fungible. You know, I lived through this for three years in Ukraine where you had the weaponization of information. And I always made the point in that context that when the Kremlin threw up some false narrative, it wasn’t to win an argument, it was as part of creating doubt. And I think that’s the challenge because we’re used to thinking of fact as grounded in reality and something that you can scientifically find through debate and elimination. Suddenly that’s not so easy.
Very. First, and most importantly, it’s a longstanding NATO ally, longstanding member of the European Union, a pillar of stability, democratic values in a region that is facing challenges. Souda Bay is an important part of that, as President Obama discussed while he was here. One of the very first things I did after coming to Greece was fly down to Souda to meet with our sailors there, understand concretely how we are working with our Greek counterparts. And I came away very impressed by the quality of the professional interaction between the US airmen and sailors and marines at Souda and their Greek counterparts.
So, that’s a relationship that will be of enduring importance at the strategic level. The point that I would make is, first of all, that the United States needs a successful Greece, for all the reasons I just talked about, but also because we are interested in having a successful Europe. And I think, despite all the rhetoric of the campaign and everything else, eventually the stable core of American foreign policy for many decades now has been our transatlantic relationships. It is that pillar, that foundation, that allows us to do everything else that we do together around the world. And I don’t anticipate that will change.
In that context, in that larger European context and, again, I’ve lived this up close and personal for three years in Kiev as well, it is our unity that serves us best; it is our agreement on principles and values that serves us best. And the viability, the vitality of the European project is challenged today by two issues that come right through the middle of Athens: One is the migrant challenge, and an issue that has to be dealt with collectively as President Obama emphasized while he was here, it can’t be on the shoulders of two or three countries – Greece, Germany, Italy, Sweden; and the other is the economic challenge, how to restore and accelerate growth, and this is an issue.
I think one of the hopeful things that I find arriving in Greece is the sense that the economic narrative here has begun to turn upwards. But, Europe writ large is clearly not out of the woods and you only have to look across the sea to Italy to see the kind of challenges and stresses that continue to be part of the economic story here. So I think a strong and vibrant Europe, which is important to the United States, depends on a strong and vibrant Greece. And so that’s why the investment we make in our relationship here is so important.
As you know, my military colleagues, they love PowerPoint. And they love Venn diagrams. And I always talk about a three circle Venn diagram that has, in one circle, North Africa and the Maghreb, in another circle the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, and then, in a third circle, the Black Sea region, a more aggressive and expansive Russia. The place where that Venn diagram comes together is in Greece. So, that sort of strategic element of the relationship will remain important.
Right now, the most challenging of those three circles is the one that overlays Syria. The thread of transnational terrorism is a key manifestation of that. Also the consequences for Greece from continued humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, in terms of refugee flows.
On those issues the good news is that we have an outstanding counterterrorism relationship here. I’ve been really impressed as I’ve started work and also in my briefings back in Washington – FBI, Homeland Security, Department of State. There’s first a very high level of professionalism in the relationship but a high level of candor. We took that another step forward week before last with the signature of this document, this awful acronym that we signed, the document that we signed with the Hellenic Police for a secure real-time platform which, in plain English, means a software which allows for the rapid and real-time exchange of information between our countries about individuals who may be a threat.
US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt