Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt’s Panel Discussion with Journalist Alexia Tasouli at GMF

The 3+1 Initiative Amidst Great Power Competition 

German Marshall Fund 

May 27, 2021 

Moderator:  As you said, as the Prime Minister has said, the aim is for Greece to be a country of calm stability and therefore, we are committed to strong cooperation, and as you said, we need friends.  And as we need friends, we need the United States.  Therefore, I’m moving on to U.S. Ambassador Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt, who is following closely these developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.

I would like to ask Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Pyatt, what does this 3+1 Greece agreement mean for the United States?  Why does it matter to the United States, the East Mediterranean?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you, Alexia.  And first of all, it’s a huge honor to be with this group of folks who I respect so much, thinking through some of these issues.  The Embassy’s been really proud of our partnership with the German Marshall Fund on all of this.

I think the short answer to your question rests in geography.  The Eastern Mediterranean is a global crossroads between Europe, Africa and Eurasia. It’s a crossroads where we see an increasingly assertive role by potentially dangerous actors like Russia, which is obviously asserting its presence in Libya through the Wagner mercenaries in Syria and in the Aegean and Black Sea region following the illegal occupation of Crimea and the expansion of Russia’s military footprints there.

Ambassador Burns in the excellent presentation he made to the GMF group on Tuesday, noted the increasing focus within NATO on how to reinforce our alliances of the Eastern Flank, but I think there’s also on top of that now an additional effort to think more systematically about this strategic space that brings together American equities not only in Europe but also in the Middle East and in Northern Africa.

So we’ve made a big bet on the 3+1 Initiative.  We’re also obviously thinking very closely about the role that China is playing in this region.  In particular, China’s efforts to exert control over trade and transportation routes across Eurasia through the Belt and Road Initiative, including in the Eastern Mediterranean and Israel, here in Greece through the Port of Piraeus, in Italy and beyond.

So we look to the 3+1 Initiative as an opportunity to work with three democracies that enjoy a close and dynamic relationship with the United States.

Thanos also mentioned the emergence of these other constellations of cooperation, including with Egypt, with Lebanon, which I think are quite interesting and important.

But I think what I would emphasize is that for all our governments, this architecture of cooperation did not happen organically.  It is the result of strategic choices that each of our governments have made.  And in the case of the United States, the initiative to expand this cooperation, to create the 3+1 emerged from the previous Greek government, from SYRIZA, and it was the decision of Secretary Pompeo to accept in 2019 the Greek government’s invitation for him to join the March 2019 meeting at the leaders level of the 3+1.

But also in parallel, you had important bipartisan developments in the United States.  I would place particular attention on Senator Menendez’s leadership with Senator Rubio in advancing the East Med Act, which was passed through both Houses of Congress on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law by President Trump in December 2019.

Significantly, this bipartisan support has carried over through our presidential transition.  There is no change in the Biden-Harris administration’s strong support for the 3+1 process.  Secretary of State Blinken underlined that in his February 15thphone call with Foreign Minister Dendias.  And I think it was even noted in the press readout that we seek to continue our joint cooperation in this format.

We continue to work especially in the energy area, but also moving into areas like technology, like counterterrorism, like economic recovery.  And I’m very pleased also to see now how that cooperation is moving into the area of renewables and renewable energy cooperation, which is a critical priority for my President and my government, an area where there is obviously synergy between all four of our countries.

So we’re going to continue to invest in this.  We believe that the energy cooperation example and the progress that we’ve achieved there points towards the other areas where we can demonstrate progress.   

And I would conclude, you alluded, and Thanos alluded briefly to Turkey.  I would just emphasize for the United States, this is not about in any way excluding Turkey.  It’s rather about creating a positive dynamic, a dynamic of economic prosperity, shared values, and opportunity in a region that we see as particularly important to U.S. strategic interests.

Moderator:  Mr. Pyatt, I don’t know if you want to comment on the previous speakers.  Otherwise, I have a question for you about China, since you mentioned China in your first remarks, so I would like to ask you a bit more about the Chinese investments in the Mediterranean and what makes the 3+1 Initiative relevant in this context and what’s your country’s approach to China?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you, Alexia. I think I can unite the very good points that Ambassador Stein and Thanos made with your question.  A lot of this is about what Thanos called codes of conduct, what Ambassador Stein called the rules of the game, what the Biden-Harris administration has called the rules-based international order.

I think it’s very important to understand where the United States is on China today.  The strong view of my government that one of the major global challenges we face is how to encourage China to play by the rules of that rules-based international order in a way that builds prosperity and peace for all of us.  There’s also a huge priority, as you’ve heard from President Biden, on working together with our European allies on all of these issues.  In fact, our new Deputy Secretary of State, my friend Wendy Sherman, was in Brussels just yesterday for the first senior-level dialogue between the United States and the European Union on China, and there’s an excellent statement which the EAS and the State Department issued explaining how we view these issues together.

So I think it’s very much in the spirit of what we are doing with the 3+1 process, where again you have three countries that have strongly demonstrated their commitment to these rules and their views that principles like international law and common understanding of those principles for building greater prosperity and moving our countries forward.

I should also mention that I very much appreciated Ambassador Stein’s reference to the East Med Gas Forum.  And I will say, I’m puzzled to hear Ambassador Lysiotis and Ambassador Stein talk about American disengagement from the Eastern Mediterranean, because it doesn’t feel like that to me.  Because these are issues that I have lived and breathed every hour of the day for five years now.

But I recognize the concern, I hear the concern here sometimes as well, but I think the fact that the United States has associated ourselves with all of these different diplomatic configurations including now our status as an observer at the East Med Gas Forum demonstrates that we’re taking the region more seriously.  As Ambassador Stein said, we actually have a strategy.  And as I said in my opening remarks, this is a strategic choice that the U.S. government has made on a bipartisan basis to think about the Eastern Mediterranean as a coherent space and to think about how we work together with our democratic friends and allies to advance our shared interests.

Moderator:  I would like to ask a question to Mr. Pyatt.  Since we have our good friend Katerina Sokou, who has a question for you.  What are the goals and timeline of future cooperation within the East Med Gas Forum?  Given the ambitious energy transition and green recovery goals that both the U.S. and the EU have set for themselves. That’s the question for you, Mr. Pyatt from our good friend Katerina Sokou.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you.  I would expect nothing less from Katerina.

I would answer that in three ways.  First of all, it’s for the countries in the region to decide.  The 3+1 is a process in which the United States is clearly the +1, so we follow the leadership and the initiative of the three organizing countries.

That being said, we’re very supportive of the conversations that are taking place on energy in that context, and we’re particularly focused now on adding a sustainability and climate change element to that conversation.  I actually think there are probably two dimensions of it.  One is that Greece, Cyprus, and Israel are all countries significantly impacted by the downside adverse impacts of climate change – extreme weather events.  We’ve seen that in Greece.  We saw it just the other day with the terrible fires around Corinth.  So we all have a common stake in tackling this problem.

We very much want to add to our 3+1 conversation and have agreed to do so, an energy conversation that focuses on renewables, on clean energy technologies.  Greece, Israel, and Cyprus all have different comparative advantages, especially in terms of wind and solar.  This is actually attached to the question of electricity interconnection that Ambassador Lysiotis alluded to.  Israel has lots of solar but not so much wind.  Greece has lots of both.  And many of these phenomena are seasonal.  So the ability to shuttle electric resources between and among the countries makes them also better positioned to work on renewables.

That being said, it’s very clear that gas is going to remain critically important to the energy mix in Europe and much of the world for several decades to come.  I know Katerina saw our climate envoy, Secretary of State Kerry’s very strong endorsement of the measures that Greece has taken to reduce its reliance on lignite coal power.  The only way Greece is able to accomplish that ambitious agenda, which involves the phase-out of lignite by 2025, which is really a model for all of the European Union, but the only way that Greece is able to meet that goal is by more extensive use of cleaner gas resources, which is happening now in conjunction with Greek industry.

On the industry point, I do want to, while I have the floor for just a second, add one other wrinkle, and it’s linked to Ambassador Stein’s point about institutions.

Our hope is that a lot of this begins to catalyze practical cooperation, not just debates.  So I was very excited in this regard to see the progress that occurred a few months ago when the AmChams in Israel, Greece, and Cyprus jointly signed a cooperation MOU, agreeing to bring the private sectors – including the American private sector – of all three countries closer together.  That’s where the business opportunities are going to come from, and I have to in this context pay respects to my friend David Harris from AJC.  David has been one of the real intellectual drivers of this concept, and he is passionately committed to the idea, as am I, that this should not just be limited to a narrow governmental conversation, but rather, should be something that drives new dynamics of cooperation between the societies and importantly, including the United States and our democracy.

Moderator:  Mr. Pyatt, I have a question from the audience regarding this administration, because the agreement was signed by the previous U.S. administration.  The question is, do you think it will remain in effect under the Biden-Harris administration?  And I would like the opinion of the other speakers too, on that.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Alexia, I’m absolutely certain that that has been made clear at the highest levels by Secretary of State Blinken through his conversations with Foreign Minister Dendias and the public statements of the State Department.  But equally important is President Biden himself.  Someone who knows this region well, who has been deeply involved in Hellenic issues.  In fact, I think I’ve shared in the past that on one of the last days in office that Vice President Biden had, he had a series of phone calls which were focused on what was then the runup to the Crans-Montana meeting and the work the United States was doing with Greece, Cyprus, and others in that regard.

So I have no doubt at all.  And I think in fact, what you’ve heard directly from President Biden is that it’s his ambition to raise our cooperation to an even higher level.  That is his commitment and his instruction to me and to the rest of the team.  And I’m proud that we’re in fact already doing that across a broad range of issues including our cooperation around the 3+1.