January 24, 2018
Sia Kosioni: Ambassador, thank you very much for the interview.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you for having me
Sia Kosioni: I strongly believe that it’s going to be a very interesting discussion. There are many issues of interest.
Ambassador Pyatt: It’s Greece, so there are always issues —
Sia Kosioni: Let’s start from the new round of negotiations for the resolution of the name dispute between Greece and FYROM. It’s in progress. Are you confident that at the end of the day this time the two sides will reach a common ground?
Ambassador Pyatt: So let me say on this one in particular, our policy is to support Matthew Nimetz and the UN effort, and the best way that I can do that right now is by not saying anything else. So I’m not going to make any predictions. I’m not going to try to analyze what the government’s positions are, but I’m hopeful. And we are going to do, we the United States, are going to do everything we can to support the Nimetz efforts in the days and weeks ahead.
Sia Kosioni: But many analysts report that this is a unique opportunity for a compromise. There is a moderate government in FYROM, there is a willing government in Athens, and the international community needs a solution more than ever. So if not now, when? Do you share this analysis?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m just going to stick to our support for Nimetz. I know you’d want to have a longer conversation about this, but we’re really committed to supporting the diplomacy. And as I said, the best way the United States can support the diplomacy right now is by letting the process play out without a lot of external factors.
Sia Kosioni: Allow me…I want to speak a little bit more —
Ambassador Pyatt: One more try.
Sia Kosioni: Yes, after you, in case of no solution, is there a plan B for FYROM to join the NATO?
Ambassador Pyatt: Again, you know, I learned long ago that as a diplomat, and especially as American Ambassador, answering hypothetical questions like that is not helpful when we’re in the midst of a process, so I’m going to stick to our support for Nimetz.
Sia Kosioni: Do you have an opinion to share with us about the riots last week? There was a rally in Thessaloniki —
Ambassador Pyatt: I —
Sia Kosioni: — another one is organized in Athens. Do you think that this can affect the ongoing negotiations?
Ambassador Pyatt: I mean, again, I’m going to reiterate our support for Nimetz and just say I was delighted to be up in Thessaloniki on Monday, so I of course heard a lot afterwards. You know, Greek democracy is alive and well.
Sia Kosioni: Many analysts express geopolitical concerns in the case no solution is found, there is a concern about the further involvement of Russia in Balkans. Does the U.S. share these concerns? What does that mean?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m going to put the name issue off to the side for a second, and let’s instead talk more broadly about the geopolitics of Greece and the Western Balkans which is implicit in your question.
When we had Prime Minister Tsipras in Washington in October he had a really excellent conversation with Vice President Pence that was significantly focused on exactly this issue. Our view of Greece as a pillar of stability in a very complicated region. But I think one of the most complicated aspects of Greece’s neighborhood relationships relates to the Western Balkans. And this is an area where Greek and American views converge significantly. Both our governments believe that the countries of the Western Balkans need to continue in their progress towards Euro-Atlantic institutions. We both believe that all of these countries should become members of the European Union. That all of these countries, if they so choose, should become members of NATO.
Analytically, what’s interesting to me is when you, I’m reminded of this every time I go back to Thessaloniki. This is a city which was a great cosmopolitan center. It had an economic hinterland that stretched from Odessa in, today, Ukraine, up through the Western Balkans, all the way up to Northern Italy. This was the economic region that looked to Thessaloniki as its cultural and commercial reference point.
That historic order was interrupted. It was interrupted by the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, which created a geopolitically unnatural division.
What’s interesting to me about the strategy that the Greek government is now pursuing of building ties with these countries of the Western Balkans and being a partner in their process of reform and Euro-Atlantic orientation is how it taps into that historical look. We’ll talk later, I hope, about TIF and the Thessaloniki Fair, but one of the aspects that’s important to us, to the United States about Thessaloniki and TIF is that it’s not just about Greece or not just about Northern Greece. It’s also about this whole Western Balkans region which is a focus of significant interest in the United States. And one of the reasons for that interest, as you allude to, is the concern about external influences. We’ve seen Russian malign influence in a particularly egregious form last year in October when you had the coup attempt in Montenegro which had all kinds of Russian fingerprints on it. But you see this across the wider region.
Sia Kosioni: What is your specific concern about this expanding influence of Russia in the West Balkans?
Ambassador Pyatt: I wouldn’t say it’s, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s expanding. What’s expanding is the Kremlin’s ambition to cause confusion about the orientation of these countries and the process of continued reform and Euro-Atlantic alignment that the people of these countries have chosen. And so we see Greece as a very powerful, positive influence in the neighborhood. And as we said, as Vice President Pence said, we see Greece as a pillar of stability in a complicated region. That applies to the Western Balkans, it applies to the Eastern Mediterranean, and it applies to the regions of the Magreb in North Africa. And I think that’s, for me that’s the most interesting thing about working on Greece and U.S.-Greece relations today is the way in which this country is reestablishing its role as a geopolitical hinge between Europe and the wider neighborhood, and doing so as a powerful NATO ally of the United States.
Sia Kosioni: Let me ask you this. We understand that there is a heightened concern about Russian economic influence in Greece from your side. Is this the case?
Ambassador Pyatt: I would put it this way. We believe that Greek economic growth benefits from all of the attributes that we associate with membership in the European Union. Strong regulatory oversight, a high degree of transparency. Some Russian investments don’t bring those characteristics, and it’s —
Sia Kosioni: You mean the Thessaloniki port, you’ve made twice I think a statement about this privatization
Ambassador Pyatt: I’ve made the point about —
Sia Kosioni: — why they think —
Ambassador Pyatt: — the point about —
Sia Kosioni: — concerning this privatization.
Ambassador Pyatt: This is a particularly important example. But —
Sia Kosioni: Elaborate, please. What do you mean by this?
Ambassador Pyatt: Well, I’d make two points. One is, clearly, one of the most important challenges for Greece today as the country emerges from eight difficult years of economic crisis is how best to attract foreign investment, because that is what is going to drive economic growth. And I have seen enough in my year and a half in this country to be enormously optimistic about long-term prospects for the Greek economy because there is so much inherent value in its natural resources, in its human resources, in its geographic position.
So the question is, how do you unlock that potential? You do it with foreign investment.
And then the question arises, what kind of investment?
You have a significant Chinese role in Greece today which didn’t exist a decade ago, and by and large, when I talk to Greek business people they have been encouraged by the way in which Piraeus has unfolded and the way in which COSCO has managed itself there. And in a free and open economy, the strongest party should win. That’s obvious. But what is important, I think for Greece, and certainly important for my government, is to preserve those aspects of transparency, openness, that drive economic growth and build confidence among foreign investors.
I’ve made the point about Thessaloniki, that people have raised questions about who are the funders involved? There was this one Russian bank, I’ve heard stories that there was difficulty acquiring credit from a European Bank. It’s not quite clear who the partners are, in particular the German company, and I contrast that with things like Fraport. So for instance, you look at the Fraport role in Greece today, it’s been very positive. I was watching yesterday in Thessaloniki the upgrade and modernization of the runway that’s taking place at that airport, which will allow Thessaloniki to handle larger aircraft which will be good for the economy, good for growth.
Nobody can answer the questions that I’ve put on the table or that I have in my mind about exactly how this Thessaloniki privatization is supposed to work.
Sia Kosioni: So you are implying that the money is not clean, is what you’re implying. And let me add this. There are those reading between the lines, recognized Mr. Savvides is behind your words? Are you ready to name him?
Ambassador Pyatt: No. I’m not, again, I think it’s a question, this is not about personalities, it’s not about individuals. It’s about principles and how best to reinforce the principles of European standards, European roles, that have served Greece and served investment well, and making sure that there is not any kind of a step backward from those standards as a result of the economic distress that Greece has experienced over the past decade.
Sia Kosioni: Why should this matter, you know, American concern, somebody would ask. Greece is a member state of the EU and its authorities have given the green light. So there are supervision institutions that said that this privatization is okay. So many, you know, translated your statement as an interference in interior affairs.
Ambassador Pyatt: Not at all, and I think I would say two things. One, I will have great confidence if all of the European regulatory hurdles are fully satisfied as this process moves ahead. And it’s important that that be the case.
Again, it’s not about personalities. It’s about principles.
The American interest is a strategic one. When I got here a year and a half ago, and I remember on one of my first visits to the north, to Thessaloniki, I had some very senior political personalities ask me where are the Americans? How come we don’t see you anymore? And I worked hard over my tenure with the very strong support of the embassy team and the Washington team, to try to change that. So you’ve seen a more visible American business presence in the north, the AmCham’s pita-cutting Monday night in Thessaloniki, everybody told me was the biggest they had had in many years. We’ve had an increased footprint in terms of our military engagement. We had an exercise to move some Blackhawk helicopters through Thessaloniki last winter. We had helicopters moving out to Alexandroupolis at the end of 2017. We are very engaged on the energy issues. And I should emphasize, our interest in the energy picture in Northern Greece is not commercially driven, it’s strategically driven. We see Greece —
Sia Kosioni: You mean Alexandroupolis —
Ambassador Pyatt: Not just. Of course the Alexandroupolis, the FSRU, the regassification unit. And that could get a commercial angle and we would be delighted to see Greece, and we should talk about this later, see Greece emerge as an importer of American LNG, to see American capital being part of the FSRU. But it’s not just about Alexandroupolis. It’s about TAP. It’s about the IGB Interconnector. And this goes back to my point about the geopolitics of Greece, that at a moment when one of the priorities of the United States vis-à-vis our engagement with Europe is to support energy diversification, energy security, as Prime Minister Tsipras notes, almost all the new energy infrastructure that’s going into Europe today will flow through Greece. Again, it’s this geopolitical hinge that I talked about.
So that’s another aspect of our interest in seeing, first of all, seeing, our top priority is to see Greece emerge successfully from crisis, but also to see Greece emerge as a regional energy hub.
Sia Kosioni: Someone could associate your reaction to the privatization of the Thessaloniki port with American energy interests in the area as you describe it.
Ambassador Pyatt: Not so much. My concern, our concern about Thessaloniki has to do with transparency, has to do with certainty about the ownership, the origin of the capital, and then ensuring that the investment delivers. Thessaloniki Port, especially because of the success of Piraeus, and we have to understand these as two complementary undertakings. Piraeus is growing very fast in terms of the volume of throughput, in terms of the capital that COSCO has committed to the further expansion of that facility. The integration with the rail lines, all the rest of it. And their very ambitious vision to develop Thessaloniki — excuse me, to develop Piraeus as a competitor of Hamburg. They’re now talking about this as one of the most important European entry posts.
Thessaloniki is a little different because Thessaloniki goes to this vision which I talked about as the economic hinterland, stretching up through the north to Odessa and to Venice.
So I think finding ways to make sure that that investment delivers and that it’s connected to this wider vision of regional integration and regional cooperation is strategically important.
Sia Kosioni: Now Ambassador, let’s switch to Greek-Turkish relations.
mbassador Pyatt: An easy topic.
Sia Kosioni: Yes. Easier than this.
A few weeks ago the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Athens and in this way there was the spotlight, you know, showed the tensions between the two neighbors. Are you worried about the two relations, Greek-Turkish relations as a result of this visit?
Ambassador Pyatt: No. I’m encouraged by the visit. I’m encouraged by the political energy the Prime Minister and his team invested in the visit. But what was perhaps most interesting to me was the people to people reaction. It was really —
Sia Kosioni: What do you mean?
Ambassador Pyatt: Well, on the day when President Erdogan was here in Athens, I was outside my embassy and as the motorcade was coming down Vasilissis Sofias, all of our embassy employees, the Greek embassy employees, were out and they were watching it, and they had their phones out and they were filming it. And I think in part it was the spectacle because you had the helicopters and the sirens and everything else. But it was also a genuinely historic occasion. And I think it reflects the fact that this is a very important relationship for Greece. It has been historically. Turkey is a geopolitical reality. There are lots of things that Greece can change, but one thing that Greece can’t change is its geography. So your biggest neighbor is always going to be Turkey. And I think the Prime Minister has correctly diagnosed the importance for Greece of getting our relationship right.
And this was drawn out for me when he was in Washington in October. If you remember the press conference in the Rose Garden, there was one of your American colleagues, an American journalist who asked Prime Minister Tsipras something along the lines of Prime Minister, do you believe that Turkey is a democracy and should it be part of NATO? And I was very impressed by the way the Prime Minister answered that question, because the point he made was that Turkey is an inevitability for Greek foreign policy and foreign relations. So Greece needs to reach out.
And I think, and here I’ll finish up. One powerful asset that Greece enjoys in its relationship with Turkey is the soft power of the people to people relationship.
When I traveled last summer to Chios, to Lesvos, to Rhodes, you know, you visit any of the Eastern islands, every restaurant menu is in Turkish, and you look out in the yacht marinas and every boat, the biggest boats, all have Turkish flags.
Sia Kosioni: Yes, people live together in areas.
Ambassador Pyatt: And they’re comfortable with Greece. They see Greece as —
Sia Kosioni: On the other hand, there is politics, Ambassador. Turkey continues making claims on the Aegean Sea. Infringement in Greek airspace has become a daily occurrence. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of it.
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m very aware.
Sia Kosioni: So does the U.S. have any concerns about the situation today in the Aegean Sea?
Ambassador Pyatt: Yes. There are two questions there.
First of all, we have made very clear and the State Department spokesperson reiterated, in the aftermath of, I believe it was the Erdogan interview with your colleague Alexis, the State Department spokesperson was very clear in reaffirming our commitment to Greece’s sovereignty and there should be no question on that at all.
On the question of the military relationship between these two NATO allies. Let me tell you a story. One of my favorite corners of Greece. I have a lot of favorite places in Greece, but one of my favorite corners of Greece is Pelion. It’s really magical. My wife and I have spent two wonderful weekends near Chorto. But when you’re in Chorto you’re right in the flight path of the F-16s coming out of Larissa, and both times when I was there a couple of times a day F-16s would scramble and you’d hear these guys racing out to the east, and all of the Greek employees say there go out boys, somebody crossed the airspace again. So you’re reminded this is a daily occurrence.
These are NATO allies, and I have said before that our concern, my worry is about an accident. As long as you have these lethal, complicated military systems operating in close proximity with each other, there is always the risk of a terrible accident that would obviously have major implications for the relationship.
So we strongly support the efforts that the Greek government has made following up the Erdogan visit to reopen and intensify a dialogue on military confidence building and channels of communication.
I have the greatest respect for the Foreign Ministry Secretary General, Ambassador Paraskevopoulos, who is a professional of the highest order and has a tough job, because he’s the guy who is negotiating with the Turkish Foreign Ministry on this, and I was glad also to hear from Admiral Apostolakis who I enjoy a very close relationship with and who has a very strong partnership with General Dunford, General Scaparrotti and the rest of our military leaders. But I was glad to hear from Admiral Apostolakis that at the last NATO Chiefs meeting he was scheduled to have a conversation with General Akar. Those are very, very important conversations, and our message has been a clear one, that we believe our two NATO allies should be able to find a way to work through these issues that doesn’t involve F-16s screaming over the Pelion Peninsula every day.
Sia Kosioni: You referred to a possible accident, Ambassador. The U.S. has traditionally played the role of the mediator in the Aegean Sea. Can we still count on an American mediation in case of an accident? Of an incident, a hot incident?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think that falls into my category of hypothetical questions, but let me try to answer it in a way that’s useful.
First of all, we are absolutely committed to our relationship with Greece. I think you saw that very clearly in Prime Minister Tsipras’ visit in October. The strong message that he heard from Secretary Tillerson what President Trump’s policy is about our commitment to our alliance with Greece and our appreciation for the role that Greece plays as an ally, as a partner. That is unquestioned and absolute.
I think on the question of managing the relationship, it is not a secret that there is significant tension right now on the U.S.-Turkey agenda. You saw the statement that Secretary of State Tillerson put out in response to the recent Turkish military moves, and that is just one of a rather long list of issues that my colleagues who work on U.S.-Turkey are engaged with right now.
So that makes it even more important that Greece continues to work this issue the way the Greek government is doing. And as I said, you benefit from the fact that some of your best professionals, people like Admiral Apostolakis, Secretary General Paraskevopoulos are the ones who are working on this particularly thorny set of issues, and I know because I talk to him about it all the time, that Admiral Apostolakis treats these issues even more seriously than we do in terms of his concern about —
Sia Kosioni: The reason —
Ambassador Pyatt: — the military —
Sia Kosioni: — and not the asymmetry as far as the military forces of the two countries are concerned.
Ambassador Pyatt: Yes.
Sia Kosioni: Is this of any concern for you?
Ambassador Pyatt: The military and strategic asymmetry between Greece and Turkey is a function of size, of physics. That can’t be changed. What Greece benefits from is its strong alliance with the United States. Our absolute commitment to stand by our Greek allies. And as I said, it’s soft power as a democracy. I think Greek people sometimes overlook that, but I think it’s one of your great strengths. It’s certainly something, as I look at the history of eight years of economic crisis, it is a fantastic accomplishment that through all of these difficulties Greek democracy is alive and well. Your press is free. Your courts are respected.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t stresses. We have stresses on our democracy in America. But I think Greek democracy has been stressed in a way that very few countries have experienced, and it has come out of that stress test successfully, and I think that is one of your inherent strengths as you deal with this extremely complicated neighborhood.
Sia Kosioni: You referred to American-Turkish relations and the tension this period. Does it have any implications to the military forces in Turkey, Incirlik Base? There is a rumor that Souda will replace Incirlik Base. Is there any truth in this?
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me answer the two questions separately.
Ambassador Pyatt: So let me answer the two questions separately.
On the issue of U.S.-Turkish relations, fortunately I have colleagues who work on that every single day and I will leave that to them.
But on this comparison between Incirlik and Souda, it’s really apples and oranges, and they are not replaceable or alternatives to each other. But what I would say is first, we are hugely grateful for the support that the Greek government provides through NSA Souda Bay. It is an indispensable facility in terms of the operations of the 6th Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean. Because of what’s happening in the neighborhood with the counter-ISIS campaign in North Africa, with the campaign to destroy the Caliphate in Syria, Souda is busier than it has been in a very long time. We have a very high tempo of military operations there, both on the air base side and on the Navy side, and we couldn’t do it without the support and the facilitation that the Hellenic Armed Forces provides us. So a huge thank you for that.
There is, in no sense are people thinking of replicating a facility elsewhere, whether at Incirlik in Turkey or Ramstein Air Base in Germany here in Greece. But there’s a very important document which was published last week by our Pentagon, the National Defense Strategy. It was the first time in ten years that the U.S. published this strategy. The unclassified version of it is worth reading because one of the things that it underlines is the importance of our European relationships, the importance of building up our key partners in Europe, and Greece is certainly one of those. But also the imperative of flexibility. That if you look at the current security environment, one of the defining characteristics of that security environment is unpredictability. And the report, the National Defense Strategy, emphasizes the challenge of rival powers in a way that has not been the case for a very long time, and it specifically names both China and Russia in that capacity.
But it also talks about how we need to work with our allies to develop flexible options. We are able to do that very effectively with our Hellenic Armed Forces counterparts because you are the definition of flexibility. You have a very complicated strategic environment. You have one of Europe’s longest coast lines. And you have facilities which are strategically located. And I would, you know, I would not just mention Souda. I would mention Andravida where we do the Iniohos exercise every year. Last week we had U.S. Marines in Volos for the Alexander the Great exercise. We had the rotations of helicopters through Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki that I mentioned. All of these help to build capacity, but most importantly, build interoperability because we’re allies and we work together.
Sia Kosioni: Ambassador, during the visit of the Greek Prime Minister in the White House, they brought up…the sale of the upgrade of F-16 was announced.
Ambassador Pyatt: I noticed.
Sia Kosioni: And causing an uproar as you also noticed in Greece. Because this deal was seen as one-sided. Would you describe that criticism as unfair?
Ambassador Pyatt: Yes, I think that’s not a good characterization of it, and I would say that for two reasons. One, there’s been a lot of controversy about the pricing the simple fact is these are issues that are still being negotiated between the Greek Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin as the vendor.
But I think it’s important to understand also the value that Greece derives from its relationship with Lockheed Martin. I had the opportunity last summer to travel out to Hellenic Aerospace, see the work that’s being done there on the modernization and upgrade of Greece’s P-3s, an important project that will enhance maritime domain awareness. But also the work that Hellenic Aerospace does as part of the global supply chain, for instance, for the C-130. Every single C-130 around the world has a significant central component which is manufactured here in Greece. Likewise, the importance of Greece as part of the global supply chain of the F-16.
So this development, this is, the maintenance and the development of this capacity in aeronautical engineering is something that Lockheed Martin has been committed to in Greece over decades,
and the F-16 upgrade program, which is a significant investment. We —
Sia Kosioni: And what is the status of this deal?
Ambassador Pyatt: So I think that’s a question that you have to put first and foremost to the Greek government. They are the customer. They will decide when they are satisfied. It’s just like any other commercial transaction. They are the customer, so they have the power to decide when they are satisfied by the combination of pricing and options that has been put on the table. But I’m very confident, and this was what we reaffirmed, what President Trump and Prime Minister Tsipras reaffirmed in Washington. I’m very confident this will get done, and it will get done in a way that both enhances and sustains Greek defensive capabilities, but also helps to continue to develop the capacity of Hellenic Aerospace and the Greek aeronautical engineering complex more generally.
I’m very excited, and I’ve talked on a number of occasions with General Stefanis about the opportunities that will derive from the recent deal, much smaller, for Kiowa helicopters, but how that relates to the development of Greece as a maintenance and repair hub for these helicopters as well. And not jut for Greece, but for the wider neighborhood. And that goes back to this geopolitical connection, especially with the countries of the Western Balkan that I talked about.
Sia Kosioni: Allow me a last question, as far as Greek-Turkish relationship is concerned, what is your opinion about the pressure Turkey puts onto Greece for the extradition of the eight military officers that are assumed to have taken part, their assumed involvement in the coup of 2016? There is a similar dispute between the U.S. and Turkey as far as the extradition of Gulen is concerned.
Ambassador Pyatt: And in both countries, both Greece and the United States, we have a very strong tradition of judicial independence. That’s something which is not understood by some of our partners, but I think in this case we have full confidence that the Greek judicial system, the Greek courts, will deal with the issue in an appropriate and constitutional manner.
Sia Kosioni: So let’s have a short break here, Ambassador.
Sia Kosioni: Ambassador, you frequently express confidence about the progress of the economy of Greece. How would you describe the situation today? Is Greece back as Mr. Tsipras said in American soil?
Ambassador Pyatt: I would say this. Greece is in a much better situation than it was when I first came to this country in the summer of 2016. When I came here, and when I was getting ready to come here, there were a lot of questions about whether Greece would remain in compliance with its reform program. There were questions about the stability of the government, whether there was a risk of snap elections. There were questions about the stability of the banking system. So big structural risks. And from an investor side, nobody was interested, nobody was looking.
Sia Kosioni: Now they are?
Ambassador Pyatt: Now they are. Now they are. People have come back. And I think the important thing is there’s a window of opportunity which has opened up. Greece has made significant progress in terms of especially fiscal reform. It has been through, Greece has gone through one of the most significant fiscal reform programs of any European state. And it has demonstrated its ability, its commitment to remain in conformance with the requirements of the troika.
I think there is now widespread optimism that 2018 will be the year where Greek people see the end of the “mnimonia” that there will be a new environment. And the burden will then be on the Greek government, whichever that government is, to demonstrate a continued commitment to reform. I think especially in the administrative area, fiscal reform has clearly seen dramatic progress. The area of administrative reforms is one where continued effort is required if Greece is to be the kind of globally competitive economy that its leaders want to see.
From an investor side, I was in New York in June with Minister Papadimitriou and members of the AmCham as part of a road show that we were putting on. And then I was back in December with Minister Tsakalotos, with Minister Papadimitriou, with Minister Kountoura. It was amazing to me to see how much had changed just in those six months because of Greece’s successful return to the bond markets, because of Greece’s completion of the review, because of the sense that Greece had turned a corner.
Sia Kosioni: Does it mean that Greece is an investment friendly country now?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think that’s still to be determined.
Sia Kosioni: — to exist for investor, that make investors not want to come, do not exist anymore?
Ambassador Pyatt: So that’s, I think that’s the most important question for 2018. Will the government be able to demonstrate that it has created an environment where large foreign investments can move forward? We already talked about TAP which is a hugely important example, but you’ve got a lot of others. Hellenikon gets a lot of attention. You have the upcoming, other upcoming privatizations in the energy area which are particularly important, like DESFA ahead. I’m very hopeful that you’ll see large European energy firms that become involved there. We have Americans that are interested in the privatization of Alexandroupolis. And I was glad, when I was up in Thessaloniki on Monday I ran into the manager of the Alexandroupolis Port. His first question to me was Ambassador, when are the Americans coming?
So I think there are a lot of low-hanging fruit, as we would say, but the jury is out. In many ways, the markets will be much more unforgiving than the troika because they have no emotion. They are —
Sia Kosioni: Well, troika has?
Ambassador Pyatt: There are some politics there. But with markets, it’s just, it’s black and white.
Sia Kosioni: Yes.
Ambassador Pyatt: But this is a critically important year. Because that systemic risk that I talked about is off the table, investors are now taking a look.
Sia Kosioni: What’s your opinion about, on the clean exit as it is called? Do you think it’s possible for Greece?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think there is widespread agreement in the United States, in Europe and here in Greece on the desirability of Greece reemerging as a normal European, normal Euro Zone economy. And if you look at some of the other countries that have been through this kind of a severe adjustment, and Portugal is one that people are talking a lot about now, that’s a case where you had a very significant upturn in the economy as the country emerged from its period of supervision.
I saw the interview in “Kathimerini” with Thomas Wieser who is a friend of this country, and he laid out in European terms what the world after August 2018 is likely to look like. But I think a lot depends on how the government positions itself. Frankly, starting this spring, how the government talks about what its policies will look like in the period after the completion of the “mnimonio”.
I’m encouraged by some of what I’ve heard from Minister Tsakalotos, from others. But what I think doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters most is the markets. And as I said, they don’t have the emotional attachment to Greece that I have. They will just be looking at results.
Sia Kosioni: What about the IMF role. Do you still think Greece plays for the IMF for the Greek program?
Ambassador Pyatt: So Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin talked about this when Prime Minister Tsipras was in Washington, and he mentioned the important positive role that we believe the IMF has played up until now. Obviously there are some big issues that have to be worked out in the months ahead on the question of debt sustainability and debt relief. And on that you heard in October from President Trump a clear description of the U.S. view, which has not changed, about the importance of debt relief to make Greek debt sustainable over the very long term.
But that’s ultimately a conversation between the Fund and the Europeans, so we are bystanders, but we are bystanders who have made our views pretty clear.
Sia Kosioni: Not a long time ago you publicly expressed your relief, let’s say, about the latest government reshuffle given the conference priority in investment. So may I ask you if you are satisfied with the progress it’s made?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m not sure which comments you’re referring to. I try to keep out of Greek domestic politics and things like cabinet reshuffles and everything else. What I will say is we are gratified, we the Americans, are gratified by the strong signal that we hear from the government regarding its commitment to the relationship with the United States. That was reflected in the team that the Prime Minister brought with him to Washington in October. It was reflected in the team that traveled to New York in December. And it’s reflected in the comments that we hear all the time from our counterparts here.
But importantly, our commitment, my job is the U.S. relationship with Greece, with the people of Greece, which means I work very hard on my relationship with the leader of the opposition, with Mr. Mitsotakis. But with all of the key players on the non-government side of the political equation. But I also have a very big agenda that the embassy team works on every single day with the governments of the day. And our job is to try to take advantage of this opportunity created by more positive attitude towards the United States, which a lot of people have contributed to over the years in order to help Greece now be successful. And most importantly, to be successful in our number one goal, which is to see Greece emerge successfully from this period of economic crisis move forward politically, commercially, economically. Precisely so that it can play this geopolitical role that I talked about as a pillar of stability.
Sia Kosioni: And in this, in these terms, many notice that anti-American sentiment in Greece has faded for the first time in decade. What’s your analysis of that?
Ambassador Pyatt: I wish I knew. I’m very grateful to be American Ambassador at a time when we have a positive dynamic. You know, we have been committed to Greece for a very long time. I was reminded of that last year as we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan, and I heard all of these stories that people came to me with about how their communities, their towns had been touched one way or another by some Marshall Plan project or another.
I made the point when the elder Mitsotakis passed away last year, in my public comments I made the point that he had demonstrated tremendous political courage in his partnership with President Bush, Bush the elder, and his willingness to support a strong U.S.-Greece alliance at a moment when it was politically less popular.
The nice thing today is it’s not controversial, and I think it’s good for our countries. It’s obviously good for all of us at the embassy. But it’s something which is a function of time and the passage of time, the evolution of attitudes.
I am encouraged by the opportunities we have before us now. We’ll talk about TIF in a minute, but also everything that happens with the people to people relationship. The thousands and thousands of Greeks who are hugely successful when they go to study in the United States. We’re going to celebrate this year the 70th anniversary of our Fulbright program, the second oldest Fulbright program in the world, and one which has had an enormous impact in building Greek human capital, building Greek leadership.
So you’ll have to answer the question why did it take so long. My job is to capitalize on that and ensure that we continue to lay the foundation for that so that this isn’t a passing phase, but is rather established as the natural and normal course of business.
Sia Kosioni: I’ll make you smile now, but how do you deal with the fact that today’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, used to be one of the demonstrators for many years outside of your embassy.
Ambassador Pyatt: It’s true. People change. People change for the better, and I think both of our countries benefit from the fact that our leaders are as committed as they are today to this relationship. And I’m fortunate because in the United States, this is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. There is a strong bipartisan agreement on the importance of our relationship with Greece, and that makes my work a lot easier.
Sia Kosioni: Let’s turn to terrorism issues now. You were one of those who strongly reacted to the decision for a 48-hour furlough to convicted member of 17th November terrorist, Dimitris Koufodinas. What is your specific concern about this?
Ambassador Pyatt: We found the furlough of Mr. Koufodinas deeply offensive to the memories of his victims. We respect the independence and integrity of the Greek judicial process, but we hope that those who will decide these issues will take into account the sentiments of those who were victims of his crimes.
Sia Kosioni: This decision was lawful.
Ambassador Pyatt: No, it was a lawful decision, but this is a man who had his day in court, who was tried, who was sentenced severely for the crimes he committed. And every day when I come into my embassy I walk past a plaque with the names of the American diplomats, the American officers, who were victims of 17th November. And I am reminded of the fact that those are individuals who left behind wives and children, some of whom I hear from from time to time, and there is nothing that will change that. So it’s important, we hope, that the judicial authorities in reaching their decisions will take that into account and take into account the fact that this is a man who has not expressed remorse, somebody who has not sought to distance himself from his actions.
I should say, and I want to be clear on this, we recognize that Greece has been a victim of terrorism, both domestic terrorism, but also the way in which international terrorism has washed up on your shores. We have a superb relationship with Greek law enforcement, with Greek security services, and it’s a relationship that makes both of our countries safer. And I want to be very clear in expressing our gratitude for that. But we hope that the courts, as they consider people like Mr. Koufodinas will bear in mind the severity of their crimes and the way in which these furlough decisions are seen by families and friends of Greece in the United States.
Sia Kosioni: Some would say, again, that this sounds like an interference.
Ambassador Pyatt: No. Because we are, it is for the Greek judicial authorities to decide how these cases should be addressed, but I want to use my office as Ambassador to make sure that there is no, in reaching their legal decisions that the authorities have a clear understanding of my government’s views, which were also expressed by the State Department spokesperson, but again, especially, the views of the families which I hear personally.
Sia Kosioni: Does terrorism, domestic terrorism in Greece still concern the U.S.?
Ambassador Pyatt: U.S, we all need to be concerned about terrorism in Europe. You only need to look at the Paris attacks or what’s happened in Brussels. And our security authorities are working together every single day to make sure that Greece is not also a victim of one of these groups. But clearly, terrorism in Europe is alive and well and the nature of our globally connected system is that we have to protect our democracies. And as I said, I am very, very proud of the relationship that we have between the U.S. government, between my authorities and the Greek government in meeting this menace.
Sia Kosioni: Is the file for 17th November still open to the U.S.?
Ambassador Pyatt: 17th November is, in legal terms, has been taken off our list of specially designated international terrorist organizations. But that does not affect our view of the crimes that Mr. Koufodinas and his colleagues committed.
Sia Kosioni: My next question has to do with strengthening of some far-right voices in Greece. Do you have any concerns about that?
Ambassador Pyatt: I think you probably saw my statement yesterday in response to the abhorrent defacement of the Holocaust Memorial in Thessaloniki. I would just say on these issues, and this is something I feel very personally about. Greece is a country — it’s not well understood I think outside Greece, the importance of Greece’s Jewish history before the Holocaust, before the 2nd World War — this is a country that had one of Europe’s most dynamic, cosmopolitan Jewish communities, and that Jewish community was woven throughout Greek society, but no place more significantly than in Thessaloniki. That Jewish component of Greekness was exterminated by the Nazis during the course of the Holocaust. I think especially, whether it’s in the United States or here in Greece or Ukraine where I was before which had a similar experience with a vibrant Jewish community that was totally erased by the combination of Hitler and Stalin. We have to remember that. We all have to remember that so that it never happens again.
I give great credit on the question of Thessaloniki to Mayor Boutaris for the leadership that he has shown, to President Pavlopoulos who has spoken personally about his commitment, for instance, to see the completion of the Thessaloniki Holocaust and Education Center precisely so that that terrible history is something that young people remember and are taught about. As I said, it’s just as important in my country, in the United States, where we have a very vibrant Holocaust Memorial and Education Center as it is in Greece.
So my view on this is partially personal, because I have, between my time here, my time in Ukraine, I have been able to get a sense of how much was ripped out of these societies, of your societies, by the Holocaust. But I recognize that it’s something we have to work on in the United States as well. It has to be taught, it has to be condemned, and it has to be something which we all recognize as part of how we preserve our democracies.
Sia Kosioni: Ambassador Pyatt, thank you so much for this discussion.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation.
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