June 10, 2020
Alexia Tasouli: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Alexia Tasouli. I’m a journalist, and I have the honor today to have a discussion with the Ambassador of the United States to Athens Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt. And discussion that I think is going to be very interesting and a very useful thing.
Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador. And welcome to the Delphi Economic Forum.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you.
Alexia Tasouli: Let me start our discussion today on Libya. The Greek government is working very closely on developments in Libya. Yesterday Greece signed an agreement with Italy on the exclusive economic zone, and may lead also to future agreements, for example, for Egypt.
So I would like to ask, how do you see Greece’s position in this area so far and its role in the area, and regarding the memorandum that Turkey signed with Libya, do you believe that this memorandum and its role is helpful or is destabilizing?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thanks. It’s great to continue our conversation from Thessaloniki. I’m delighted to be participating in my fourth Delphi Forum even if we’re not in Delphi.
Thank you for raising the question because it brings together several important issues that are connected to the United States’ resolve to engage with Greece as a key regional partner and a bringer of stability to the region.
You asked about the Italy agreement. We see the Greece/Italy agreement on maritime delimitation as an example of the right way to do this sort of thing — transparently and with the involvement of all the affected parties.
You also asked about the role we see for Greece in Libya. On that, I was very pleased two weeks ago to be part of a conversation that Foreign Minister Dendias had with our Ambassador to Libya, my friend and colleague Dick Norland. And it was very clear in that conversation that there is a strong convergence between Greek and American views on what needs to happen in Libya.
Alexia Tasouli: So we are in agreement on the Turkish memorandum with Libya. So I’d ask about Turkish role in Libya in the area after they signed the agreement Turkey-Libya. Is this agreement and the role of Turkey in the area destabilizing? Or is it helpful for the negotiations?
Ambassador Pyatt: So we have made very clear here in Athens and in Washington and in Ankara that we see the MOU between Libya and Turkey as unhelpful and provocative. Most importantly, it is inconsistent with the American understanding of international maritime law and specifically the principle that islands have exactly the same rights in terms of EEZs and maritime rights as any continental territory.
So we look to the example of Greece-Italy as the right way to do this through a consultation with all of the affected parties. And we see Greece as having an important and constructive influence to play in Libya including its leadership in Operation Irini, the EU mission to enforce the arms embargo on Libya where Greece plays a leading role and where in fact the next commanding officer of that operation will be a Greek naval officer who was previously in charge of the Souda Naval Base, so we know him very well.
Alexia Tasouli: And you’re going to go to Souda on Thursday with…
Ambassador Pyatt: I will be in Souda Bay tomorrow with both Minister Pangiotopoulos and with General Floros. Looking forward to it very much.
Alexia Tasouli: And on a possible agreement with Egypt, Greece and Egypt with full or partial delimitation — Do you think that this agreement will impact the political security and stability in the area?
Ambassador Pyatt: The United States generally doesn’t take a position on these issues of maritime boundaries, but we have a view on how it needs to be accomplished. So it needs to be accomplished through consultation and involvement of all of the affected parties. Again, that’s where the Italy-Greece example is one that we hope will be followed by all of the parties in the Eastern Mediterranean. We have put a lot of energy in the United States government into thinking about the Eastern Mediterranean as a zone of strategic competition. Our great power rivals are strongly engaged. We are trying to build cooperative architecture on all of the issues. On energy, on migration, on counterterrorism. We should all be working together as allies and partners.
The anchor for that for the United States is the 3+1 trilateral with Greece, Israel, Cyprus that my boss, Secretary of State Pompeo, helped launch in Jerusalem a little more than a year ago.
Alexia Tasouli: If the memorandum between Turkey and Libya will be published in the UN website, will that change the fact that it is illegal or, as you said, provocative?
Ambassador Pyatt: It is unhelpful and provocative in any terms, but most importantly it can take away no right from Greece. Whether this document is posted to the United Nations or not, it does not detract from the rights that Greece possesses still under international maritime law.
Alexia Tasouli: Let’s move now to another subject. You said that in a possible escalation between Greece and Turkey, the winner will be the President of Russia, and there was a response from the Russian Embassy here in Athens.
Ambassador Pyatt: I noticed.
Alexia Tasouli: You noticed that. Can you just elaborate more why and how the President of Russia will be the winner in any escalation with our neighbors?
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me say a couple of things. First of all, as a general principle I’ve found it’s good not to personalize these kinds of issues. Obviously the United States and the government in Russia have different perspectives on this.
I was quite impressed by the reaction among mainstream Greek media to my comment where most of your colleagues in the Greek media basically said well, he’s pointing out something that’s obvious. And clearly, Russia has been quite direct over the past decade about its desire to weaken coherence in the NATO Alliance. We’ve seen the great difficulties, for instance, that Russia’s sale of the S400 system to Turkey has caused both to Greece’s strategic calculation but also to the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
So we see these issues as ones where we as allies need to work together, and I think the reaction, the Russian reaction to my comments, and you saw the response to that that the Embassy put out, which was a long list of Russian malign activities which I have lived through over the past six or seven years. I think that speaks for itself.
Alexia Tasouli: Let me go back to the exclusive economic zones we discussed in the beginning — you made a statement and the Assistant Secretary of State also made the statement that the islands generally have an exclusive economic zone and have a continental shelf just like any other land territory. You made the statement, and Assistant Secretary Fannon also made the statement. Let me be more specific in asking this question — you mean that all the islands from Gavdos to Kastelorizo have full effect in maritime boundary delimitation, what do you think about that and to add another question, you also know that there has been an annoyance from the Turkish Ambassador here in Athens who posted a tweet and on Facebook that he said that third parties that are involved in the Greek-Turkish dispute, they are misleading. It was widely said here in Athens in the media that he was referring to the State Department. So I would like you to comment on both.
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me answer those in two separate pieces. I will leave the question of U.S.-Turkey relations to my very capable colleague David Satterfield in Ankara. But the views of the U.S. government have been clear, and I said this first way back in December soon after the MOU. We have reiterated it and Assistant Secretary Fannon made clear again last week that all islands, all islands have the same, under international maritime law, have generally the same rights including their EEZ and continental shelf as any mainland territory.
Alexia Tasouli: So it has full effect in maritime boundary delimitation agreements?
Ambassador Pyatt: Full effect.
Alexia Tasouli: Full effect. And what about the tweet and annoyance of the Turkish Ambassador?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’ll leave that to Ambassador Satterfield.
Alexia Tasouli: Now I’d like to move on to the United States, where they just had the funeral for George Floyd whose death caused a global outrage and there has been discussion. And yesterday there was the funeral, and the protests were very very powerful. What impact might this have on the next day to the American citizens?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you for asking. It’s a really important question. I’ll start by underlining that I think all of us, all Americans were appalled by the images that we saw, the death of George Floyd in police custody. But this was not just about one individual. The demonstrations, the peaceful protests that we have seen across the United States over the past week or ten days now are not just about this one individual. It’s about the system and how to achieve systemic reform.
Many of these are issues that go back 150 years to our Civil War. They are issues where we have continuing work to do to perfect our democracy.
I was reminded yesterday — I had the honor of going to see the president of your parliament and I always enjoy talking with him. He’s a walking encyclopedia of Greek political history. And he talked to me about a letter that was sent, I guess almost 55 years ago, from President Johnson. It was to the President of Turkey on the Cyprus problem. What’s really interesting is that letter was sent the same week as the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the U.S. Congress in 1964. It was one of the most important single pieces of legislation up until that point in terms of helping to build a system of equal justice for all which is what our constitution promises and it’s a reminder that even in a very tumultuous time in U.S. history we are still a global power with global responsibilities and global vision and I think that applies just as much today as it did under President Johnson 55 years ago.
I also think if you look back to where we were in 1964, the United States has made great progress. Twelve years ago we elected our first African-American President. That was unimaginable in 1964. We have enormous injustice that still has to be overcome, and I think what’s really interesting about the demonstrations you’ve seen in America recently is that this is not a partisan issue. These are people from all classes, from all backgrounds and across the political spectrum, and they’re saying we need to live up to our ideals.
And that’s the great strength of America. We have a society in which the freedom of expression is a constitutionally protected principle, a society in which we all enjoy the right to vote — in part because of that Act under President Johnson in 1964 — and a society in which we continue to work to overcome the shortcomings which we will admit to.
And I think also if you look at the wave of protests across the United States, if you look at the statements that are coming from our mayors, from our local leaders, from our governors, American democracy is alive and well, and it will be stronger because of this experience.
Alexia Tasouli: This is one on energy and on the energy market. Let me ask about the East Med. How do you see this project developing? I remember Secretary Pompeo, his visit to Israel and signed the memorandum with Israel and Cyprus and Greece, of course. How do you see this project developing?
Ambassador Pyatt: You and I talked about this in Thessaloniki last fall. Energy has been one of the real bright spots of the U.S.-Greece relationship over the past few years. I think it’s fantastically impressive to see how fast Greece has emerged as a key regional energy hub. The TAP pipeline today is completed. The IGB pipeline with Bulgaria is underway. The Revithoussa Terminal here in Athens has been expanded. It’s now receiving American LNG. We’re moving ahead strongly with the implementation of the floating regasification unit, the FSRU in Alexandroupolis. All of these pieces of new infrastructure help to build resilience for the European energy market. They help to build and reinforce diversity of sources and supply. The East Med pipeline is another potential contributor to that. We have been very clear in our support for the pipeline as a strategic enterprise but we’ve also been clear that the market will decide. Right now markets and energy markets have been heavily disrupted by the combination of both the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and also the decline in demand because of the Coronavirus.
Alexia Tasouli: Since you mentioned Russia, we are seeing recently Gazprom’s interest in the Balkans, in our country, with cooperations. How do you see their interest, their initiatives, their cooperations in the Balkans?
Ambassador Pyatt: So I would describe Gazprom’s activity in the Balkans is going well beyond interest. The Baltic Energy Island — these are countries that are 100 percent dependent on Gazprom for their gas supplies — Bulgaria recently took its first deliveries of American LNG through Greece and I have a very good colleague, Herro Mustafa, who is our ambassador in Sofia — she’s worked closely with President Borisov who we got to speak to when we were in Thessaloniki together. He has made clear his interest in leveraging the relationship with Greece and the IGB pipeline to break his dependency on Gazprom. We see Russia across Europe using energy as a strategic weapon and Greece’s contribution, like the contribution of Poland, like other countries that have helped to diversify energy sources and supplies, is to create optionality so that the markets will influence this. And the good thing for Greece is because of all the infrastructure that has come on-line over the past two or three years, Gazprom is forced to compete and the prices it is offering to Greek customers have declined substantially so it benefits you economically.
Alexia Tasouli: Unfortunately, our time is over. That was very brief, but very helpful and very much an honor to have a discussion with you. Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador for participating and having a discussion with us at the Delphi Forum.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
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