Discussion with Apostolos Mangiriadis, Political Correspondent, SKAI TV
“A New Era for U.S.-Greece Relations” Patras Regional Growth Conference
June 4, 2021
Mr. Mangiriadis: Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening from Patras. This is Apostolos Mangiriadis, I’m a political correspondent for SKAI TV and SKAI Radio and I am very happy and honored to be joined with Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador who just came here to Patras. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you. It’s great to be back in Patras.
Mr. Mangiriadis: Very nice. And we’re going to have a small chat both on regional development and geopolitical, of course, because —
Ambassador Pyatt: I can’t get away from it.
Mr. Mangiriadis: I know. That’s what always happens in a discussion with you, Mr. Ambassador. But let’s start our discussion with a regional focus here in Patras.
What’s your outlook for investment opportunities in this western part of the country? Patras has a science park, has a university, has a great role to play. There’s a lot of digital transformation happening in the country and energy opportunities of course. So give us your outlook.
Ambassador Pyatt: I’ve been coming to Patras for five years now. And I remember the first time I went to the Patras Science Park, I felt like I had found a buried diamond, because many people in Athens didn’t know how much was going on here. But I see the raw ingredients, both in terms of the student community, the strong universities, but also the linkages to the research institutes, and importantly to me, the linkages to companies in the United States. And it’s very exciting to see how that is moving forward.
We also have a fantastic opportunity now as Greece and the United States begin to grow out of the pandemic. And it was very encouraging to see the new first quarter growth numbers out of Greece today. As we both begin to grow out of this, you see a very good synergy between the priorities that President Biden has enunciated in terms of the clean green economy, in terms of digital technology, and especially making digital work for our democracies. And the priorities of Prime Minister Mitsotakis.
I had a terrific conversation this afternoon with Governor Farmakis. I was delighted to hear how his priorities fit so well with what we have been doing at the embassy. Obviously all the technology stuff that comes around at the Patras Technology Park, and we can talk a little bit later about my visit today to Advent Technologies and Think Silicon which was fantastically encouraging.
But separate from that on the energy side, this is a region that has great endowments of geothermal, of wind, and solar. Just across the gulf there is the Kato Lakomata wind power project. The last time I was here physically was the same time that I went to the inauguration of that project. So that’s moving ahead.
You also have great opportunities leveraging the geography of western Greece, the natural connectivity to Italy. All of the energy opportunities that arise when the transformation that’s going to happen as we move from a carbon-based energy system to a more sustainable one.
So I’m quite optimistic. And again, I think a lot of it is going to be a function of both the policy choices that Prime Minister Mitsotakis is making, but also the complementarity, the synergy with the priorities that President Biden is working under.
Mr. Mangiriadis: It looks like the Greek economy is showing some kind of resilience and I’m happy that you commented on the first trimester’s numbers.
Now there are two examples that you just referred to. One is Advent Technologies that has entered NASDAQ. And the other one is Think Silicon where the California-based Applied Materials announced the acquisition last year. Those two companies in a sense indicate the systematic work that is being done here in the science park, in the universities, and as well as of course exploiting the great talent that exists here in Greece.
Should we expect some future collaborations with other U.S. companies?
Ambassador Pyatt: The growth is already happening and Advent is a fantastic example. I love pointing to it because I’ve visited Advent on three occasions now. The first time I visited nobody had heard of Advent Technologies. I went back today and you can see, first of all it’s a much larger operation. Their head count here in Patras has grown. They’re growing in the United States. They’re in a very hot sector because their main product line focuses on hydrogen fuel cells which complements the whole shift to electric vehicles and clean energy in the United States. They’ve also made a significant acquisition in California. Now they’re looking to grow their footprint here in Greece with a new office in Athens.
What I’ve found encouraging about it, first of all, it’s a real success story. The gold standard for success for a U.S. startup is a NASDAQ listing. You can see effects of that. When I went to Advent today, the labs are nicer, the equipment is newer, everybody is clearly taking advantage of the capital that they’ve now gained access to. But they also continue to innovate, and they’re innovating in a way that deepens the ties between our two countries.
The same thing with Think Silicon. A company, I remember the first time I visited them I asked them how come nobody has bought you yet? So it was interesting that that actually happened. But now they didn’t buy the company just to get its technology and move the people to California. They’re growing here in Greece. They’re growing in Patras. Their head count is growing here. They also have a new office in Athens.
Mr. Mangiriadis: That’s a good example to work on, meaning not just buying the company and getting the people outside the country, but investing here in the country and also making sure that the company hires more people.
Ambassador Pyatt: And both companies, just like Pfizer, that I was visiting yesterday in Thessaloniki, both companies have become engines for brain gain. I met engineers and scientists who were working in the UK, who were working elsewhere in Europe and have come back to Greece. Because they want to be close to their families.
They love the climate here. They didn’t have the opportunity before, but now are helping to create that opportunity.
If there’s one story line that has evolved throughout my five years in Greece it’s this transition from crisis to opportunity.
Mr. Mangiriadis: I was just thinking about it. I was thinking what we were discussing five years ago and what we’re discussing now. So this is tremendous.
Now it took us less than two hours to come to Patras from Athens last night. That’s good news. So after the completion of the new highway, the infrastructure ministry has announced that they’re moving forward with the project of interconnecting Patras port with the country’s railway network for passenger and commercial. What does this mean for the city and how can the U.S. companies benefit from this development?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think there are two aspects of this. I find the same was as you. I find it a bit of a mystery still that Patras, when you’re sitting in Athens everybody thinks of it as being so far away but in fact it’s what in Los Angeles would be a daily commute for some people. And it has been for 200 years Greece’s gateway to the West, to the rest of Europe. It’s poised to exercise that role even more.
We see all kinds of opportunities there from a logistics standpoint, but I think also in terms of moving ideas and knowledge back and forth. Patras is clearly among the top three knowledge centers in Greece. And as all of our economies evolve towards a model which is knowledge based, it’s well positioned to capitalize on that.
Mr. Mangiriadis: There is some good news from the tourism front. There’s a lot of airlines bringing tourists in Greece from the U.S. That’s very good news. I was wondering whether we should expect a similar trend from U.S. cruise operators, in particular in Katakolo port.
Ambassador Pyatt: Two interesting things. When I was talking to Governor Farmakis this afternoon, tourism is a relatively small part of the western Greece economy, especially compared to Attica or compared to the islands, which means there’s a lot of room for growth. My favorite touristic site in this region of Greece is ancient Olympia, which is spectacular. I always say it’s the most famous classical Greek site that nobody’s heard of. Because everybody knows about the Olympics but nobody knows this is where the Olympics were born.
Mr. Mangiriadis: And this is where Microsoft comes now.
Ambassador Pyatt: And it’s where Microsoft comes. Because now Microsoft has made a major commitment and I’ve talked to their CEO Brad Smith about their ancient Olympia project. They’re very excited about the opportunities that that creates to use these new digital tools. They will be announcing at the new Olympics Museum in Athens a virtual visit to ancient Olympia, but they’re also working with the Ministry of Culture, and I’ve been talking to Minister Mendoni about their virtual reality-based tools which they are deploying to help enhance the visitor experience at ancient Olympia.
So this will become very compelling I think. You can imagine a tourist who comes to Athens, goes to the Acropolis, goes to the Olympics Museum because everybody knows about the Olympics. But then says hey, it’s only two hours to Patras. We should go and see ancient Olympia. So there’s a product there. The private sector’s going to have to make it happen.
I’m also excited about this because we have the Olympics in Los Angeles, my hometown, in 2028, which will be a great opportunity to do even more with ties between California. Our Lieutenant Governor, my friend Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, a great Greek-American political powerhouse in California. So there’s lots and lots of opportunities to leverage that.
I think also on the cruise side, this is obviously a transition year as everybody works through the pandemic environment. But what’s very clear is you’re going to have a lot more Americans coming to Greece than in a normal year on a percentage basis.
I was in Sifnos last weekend. I’ve never heard so many American accents on Sifnos. I was talking to somebody else who was flying in earlier this week on the Emirates direct flight from New York. It was close to 100 percent capacity in coach. And 60 or 70 percent in business and first class.
So people are coming. It’s like Harry Theocharis says, “All you want is Greece.” Especially in America where we’ve moved fast on vaccinations. Everybody wants to enjoy a normal life again.
Mr. Mangiriadis: If the Brits are not coming, the Americans are, so that’s good news.
You talked about Microsoft and the ancient Olympia project, but also Microsoft announced a huge investment — the data center that they’re planning to build. Cisco was building the Maritime Technology Innovation Center on Syros, as you just said, Pfizer is planning a second innovation center in Thessaloniki. Should we expect more U.S. investment in the near future?
Ambassador Pyatt: It’s already happening. There’s clearly a bandwagon effect here. You named the flagship cases. I was in Thessaloniki yesterday. It was fantastically exciting to see how Pfizer has grown. I had not been to the Pfizer facility for a year. It’s three times bigger than it was last time. And they’re constructing a new campus now which will eventually employ 700 people. It’s a game-changer in terms of how Greece and Thessaloniki fit into the Pfizer worldwide structure.
With all of these companies, one thing that’s been so impressive to me is when I talk to the local representatives, they all say that the product which is generated from Greece is just as good as that which would come form New York or California or Milan or Paris or Frankfurt. You can do world class work here in Greece and it’s a matter of creating the enabling environment. I give Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Minister Pierrakakis and Minister Georgiadis, and Minister Dimas and the rest of the team enormous credit for creating that enabling environment.
Mr. Mangiriadis: This year Greece is celebrating its bicentennial. And you have been very active in celebrating it. Can you tell us more about the U.S. relationship, the U.S.-Greece relationship in this context? And, of course, you know the western Greeks played a crucial role in the Greek revolution.
Ambassador Pyatt: I got to know some of the history of western Greece and the Greek revolution when I started the bike Race of Sacrifice from Patras to Kalabrita which of course memorializes the Greek revolution. I missed it this yer, but for me that was my early introduction.
I think there’s a fantastic opportunity around the Greek bicentennial to help educate Greeks and Americans about the ways our two revolutions were intertwined, that how America’s Founders were explicitly inspired by classical Athenian democracy.
Our Founders read classical Greek texts. They studied the lessons of the rise and the collapse of Athenian democracy. Then when the Greek freedom fighters took up arms in 1821, this became one of the first real foreign policy debates in the United States. And you had this great tension. We were a young country, 45 years old. You had this great tension between people who said America has to come to the aid of the inheritors of Athenian democracy and others who said no, we should leave Europe to sort out its own things.
It was also some of the first foreign assistance that came from the United States was the American phihellenes. You had philhellenic committees in Philadelphia and New York and Boston that raised money and sent boatloads of food and medical relief to Greece. Messolonghi was very important because it was the death of Lord Byron, this romantic figure who died in Messolonghi.
Mr. Mangiriadis: And I think that a lot in Europe and the U.S. —
Ambassador Pyatt: And in the U.S. That’s what sparked the imagination of all these American philhellenes who we celebrate today. People like Samuel Gridley Howe and George Jarvis and William Washington.
So it’s fun to be in western Greece where so much of this history happened, but it’s also an important opportunity to reaffirm as President Biden has said, what makes our revolutions unique and our relationship unique. America’s revolution was rooted in values, just as Greece was the first liberal revolution in Europe specifically inspired by the success of the American revolution. That center, that anchor in values continues to today. It’s something that President Biden I know is deeply committed to.
Mr. Mangiriadis: So there’s strong bilateral and strong cultural ties between our two countries, but there’s also a strong defense relationship between our two countries. Let’s —
Ambassador Pyatt: Including here in western Greece.
Mr. Mangiriadis: True. Let’s have a discussion here on the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement. There is information that at least four more points of military presence to the current points will be added, beyond Souda, Larissa, Stefanovikeio and of course Alexandroupoli. A very likely location is the base of Andravida, very close to where we are today. Do you confirm this? And also we know that both governments are committed to expand the MDCA. What can Greece expect from a further expansion of the agreement?
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me say a couple of things.
First of all, Andravida is awesome. I’ve gone to INIOCHOS a couple of years now, but I will never forget Andravida and INIOCHOS 21, because it’s the year I got to ride in the back seat of an American F-16. We flew right over here, probably about 500 meters over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge. But what was so impressive to me about that exercise was to see both the quality of the interaction between the American pilot that I was with and the Greek pilot that we were flying with. The confidence, the way they communicated with each other.
At one point as we were back coming over Andravida, we were no more than a meter wingtip to wingtip. I asked my pilot on the intercom, I said is this dangerous? He said no, it’s actually quite safe. I know exactly what he’s going to do.
That is the essence of our alliance. The confidence in each other. And I know the American officers who led our team at Andravida this year including General Harrigian, the head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, was fantastically impressed by the quality of the INIOCHOS exercise. And I’ve seen INIOCHOS over my five years grow from being a relatively small show – Greece, the United States, maybe one other – to this huge complex exercise with six or seven different types of aircraft, with Israel, UAE, Egypt, the United States, France, Canada, UK one year, Spain, Italy one year. There is no place else in NATO that brings together so many different players.
So our defense relationship is in fantastic shape the way it is.
I would also emphasize on your question the success of the 2019 expansion of the MDCA. I think everybody in the Greek government and in the U.S. government agrees that the expansion we did in 2019 signed by Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Dendias has been a great success for both countries. I saw that when I was up in Xanthi two weeks ago, and I’ve seen it in Stefanovikio, I’ve seen it in Andravida. As you say, there’s agreement by both governments to extend the MDCA and to add additional facilities.
You asked are we going to put it in Andravida. The simple answer is we’ve given the Greek government a bunch of options. We, the U.S. We will wait to hear from the Greek side which they would prefer.
Mr. Mangiriadis: But Andravida is one of them.
Ambassador Pyatt: Andravida is on the menu, but if the Greek state decide that Andravida is not convenient, we can live with that. It’s not going to be a disaster.
What Greece gains and we’ve demonstrated this, where we do have a presence in Alexandroupoli, in Larisa, Stefanovikeio, we have made investments. We have improved infrastructure. Transformation of the port of Alexandroupoli. We’re going to have five, six, seven big ships coming through Alexandroupoli this summer as part of the big exercises. That helps the economy. We’ve improved the infrastructure on the ranges at Stefanovikeio. We’ve upgraded the ramp space at Larisa. So we are demonstrating that there is benefit to Greece from adding these facilities. And whatever we add now, we are prepared to do some of the same. But I want to emphasize, ultimately our defense relationship is not about specific hardware, it’s not about specific facilities, it’s about building interoperability. Again, what I saw in the back seat of that F-16, the way in which our forces are able to work together.
Mr. Mangiriadis: Do you have video of that?
Ambassador Pyatt: There is a video. I actually have our flight plan on my phone. I’ll show it to you so you can see exactly the route I took.
Mr. Mangiriadis: Let’s go to the diplomatic field. As you know, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was here last week on Monday. How do you evaluate the visit? What should we expect from the meeting between Prime Minister Mitsotakis and President Erdogan? And do you foresee the summer of 2021 different from the summer of 2020?
Ambassador Pyatt: I certainly hope so. I paid careful attention to what Foreign Minister Dendias said sitting on this stage yesterday. I am delighted to hear his confidence which the United States hopes for as well, that this will be a quiet summer. I think everybody would benefit from that.
We are strongly supportive of the steps that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the Greek government have taken to promote dialogue with Turkey. But also to reaffirm the red lines, which we would expect nothing less from Greece.
We were quite vocal last year, as you will remember, in expressing our concern about some of the provocative activities that Turkey was engaged in including in the waters off of Cyprus.
I think it’s pretty clear that we’re in a different phase now and that’s to everybody’s benefit. What’s very clear to me is that there are probably no two members of NATO that are as strongly aligned as are the United States and Greece on the principles that we want to keep Turkey anchored in the West. Even as we speak very clearly about our differences.
And we just had, my new boss and longtime colleague Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, was just in Turkey. She spoke very clearly about issues like S400 as well as our real concerns about issues like Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and the issues of human rights and democracy internally.
But we’re also going to keep a positive focus on supporting the diplomatic trend. I think I am quite confident that Washington understands the very clear messages that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his team have been sending to try to keep things quiet.
As I said to somebody we all want a quiet summer, except on Mykonos.
Mr. Mangiriadis: Let’s hope for that. But you just mentioned the S400 issue and I was wondering whether that would be the turning point, the spark plug, the possible point that maybe President Biden will raise on President Erdogan next week when they meet. Should we expect something on that?
Ambassador Pyatt: I don’t want to preview or foreshadow what President Biden is going to bring to the table with President Erdogan. But it’s very clear, U.S. policy on the question of the S400 has been clearly enunciated by two presidential administrations at the most senior levels and then reaffirmed by Congress which has established very clear parameters. I hope that aspect of it is well understood.
Mr. Mangiriadis: We know of course that President Biden is a very good friend of Greece. How do you think that our relationship will evolve during the Biden-Harris administration?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think President Biden said it himself very well in his address to the Greek people for Independence Day on the bicentennial, that he wants to be the president who takes U.S.-Greece relations to the highest level they’ve ever achieved. I know having talked with him about these issues here in Athens, I know how committed he is to the U.S. relationship with Greece. And it’s not just the President, it’s the whole team. There is a remarkable alignment right now with Secretary Blinken and President Biden and Vice President Harris, Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor. These are all people who know Greece, who know Southeastern Europe. They also know the Eastern Mediterranean.
And I think one of the other clear trend lines from my time here in Greece has been the growing strategic ambition of Greece’s foreign policy. Both up into the Western Balkans, unlocked by the Prespes Agreement and the new relationship, and Foreign Minister Dendias of course is in Kosovo today. But then also importantly in the Western Balkans, the 3+1, with Greece, Israel and Cyprus, the relationship with Egypt, UAE. Even as far afield as Saudi and India. All of which advances Greece’s strategic interests but it also advances American interests.
Mr. Mangiriadis: We only have a minute and a half. Let me ask you a final question. You’ve been here in our country for five years. I’d like to ask you what is the most remarkable or the most critical moment of your experience and your tenure so far.
Ambassador Pyatt: It’s hard to say because there have been so many remarkable moments. One of them was right near the beginning, President Obama’s visit was spectacular. The way in which, and you’ll remember the way in which he was received in his speech at the Niarchos Center, the way in which he spoke on the Acropolis, and frankly the very serious conversation that he had with Prime Minister Tsipras about what in those days were critical issues like debt sustainability.
I also remember Prime Minister Tsipras’s October 2017 visit to the White house. That was an important turning point, to have a SYRIZA Prime Minister speaking so positively about relations with the United States.
Then the fantastically warm reception that Prime Minister Mitsotakis received at the White House in January of 2020, just before the pandemic. But I also remember the spectacular reception on the 8thfloor of the State Department, the best entertainment room in Washington, DC with Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence.
Then I think one of my other really inspiring moments was January 20th and being with President Sakellaropoulou at the Agora after a very difficult U.S. presidential election and the assault on our capitol building. It was very moving for me as an American to hear the way your president spoke about American democracy and the importance of reaffirming American democracy. But to do so in the Agora, in the place where our democratic ideals were born was really a remarkable moment.
But I think through all of that what I really will remember is the people, the land. This is a beautiful country. Greeks take it for granted. The light. Sadly I won’t be here for the sunset today but I know one of the most spectacular sunsets in Greece is looking west from the Rio-Antirrio Bridge.
Mr. Mangiriadis: It’s very good that you’re highlighting that. Hopefully we’ll see you next year. I don’t know whether you will still be under the same tenure, but hopefully I will host you next year too. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Pyatt: I will be back one way or another for sure.
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