January 13, 2020
Ambassador Pyatt: Thanks Bill, and let me echo Bill’s wish of Happy New Year to everybody. Happy jetlag to those of you who were with us in Washington, DC. I’m deep in it right now, of course, because I was in California. So it was actually nice to be in Washington for once without feeling like I was a little bit of a zombie the whole time, but now I’m especially wiped out because we had a very busy time.
Let me start at the top and just emphasize the most important take-away, which was how fantastic this visit was. I think some of you saw my tweet last week, but it really is true. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Very rarely in my experience do you have the kind of fantastic success that we had with this visit in terms of the warmth of the reception, the bipartisan Republican and Democratic support for the U.S.-Greece relationship, and that’s an especially important accomplishment as we head into an election year in the United States with a lot of distractions.
I will walk through the program really quickly just so we all have the same baseline in terms of what the Prime Minister did, but I would start at the end, which is the fantastic reception at the State Department on our 8th floor and the remarkably warm words from Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo and what that says about where we’ve come in the U.S.-Greece relationship over the past couple of years — even the progress that we have made since October of 2017. One of the things, when I saw the Vice President, we were reflecting on his meetings at the time with then Prime Minister Tsipras, which focused a lot on what became the Prespes Agreement and the name issue and all of that.
I think the Prime Minister was extraordinarily effective in terms of making Greece’s case on all of the key issues. Obviously, security questions, issues around Turkey loomed very large. But it’s all the more remarkable that he was able to do that during a very consequential week of the Trump administration with some huge issues swirling around Iran and Iraq and everything that was happening, even on the day of the White House meeting.
I think it’s important not to lose sight in all the attention to the security and defense issues — it’s important not to lose sight of the other areas where we noted progress around this visit.
One that I would really lift up because I think it’s fantastically important over the long term is education. First of all, the presence of Minister Kerameus, which the Prime Minister repeatedly referred to in his meetings with the President and in his meetings, in his public events with the Diaspora, with the Atlantic Council, and the work that she was able to do on the margins. Our announcement of U.S. State Department funding to a project that Minister Kerameus is leading to bring American university administrators to Greece to identify opportunities to deepen partnerships for educational exchanges here. Also the Minister’s announcement of a Greek contribution to the Fulbright program. So good stuff on education.
Obviously lots of good stuff on the defense relationship, and we really benefited from what Secretary Pompeo accomplished when he was here in October meeting with Minister Panagiotopoulos and Minister Dendias and the Prime Minister — the signature of the updated Defense Cooperation Agreement, but also the commitment to move ahead now in dialogue on F-35s, continuing to deepen our defense partnership.
And then obviously as well on the economic and investment side, where Greece’s best investment marketing officer is Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He is a fantastically effective advocate for the opportunities in Greece. And then very important and positive discussions that happened on the margins led by Minister Georgiadis and Deputy Minister Fragogiannis. This is an area where the United States is going to continue to put our muscle in to help encourage American companies to identify and build on opportunities and sectors like energy, like maritime and shipping and building on our success with ONEX in the Syros Shipyard, in property and tourism. And then of course, in the areas of technology and the knowledge-based economy.
So there was a lot going on around what the Prime Minister pointed out was just 72 hours in the United States.
Another thing that I would emphasize here, and I always — when talking to people outside of government, I always try to emphasize the importance of personal relationships. Ultimately in diplomacy, the individual relationships matter. Prime Minister Mitsotakis — he exudes competence. The message that he sends to a Washington audience whether at the White House, at the Congress, at the State Department, it’s that this is somebody we can trust. This is somebody who is looking to develop solutions. This is somebody who shares America’s vision for the future of our transatlantic relationship, somebody who’s committed to the kind of market-oriented reforms that the Trump administration has stood for: reducing red tape and bureaucracy, reducing taxation, building opportunity. And I think that will matter a lot. At the end of the day, it matters.
That level of confidence matters much more than any declaration, and I think especially useful for Bill and David and me and all of us here at the Embassy on the State Department team, it helps enormously that Secretary Pompeo has become such an enthusiastic supporter of the U.S.-Greece relationship. He and I have been talking about Greece for quite a while now. It was really encouraging for me to hear from him and from his senior staff how pleased everybody had been. The sort of take-aways from the visit in October, the importance that he attached to the MDCA, how gratified he had been by his visit in October and the warmth of the reception that he was given by the Prime Minister, by the Foreign Minister — Mrs. Pompeo’s reception from Mareva. All of this matters, and it helps to thicken the bilateral relationship.
And frankly, and I mentioned earlier, this is an election year in the United States. One thing that came through very clearly for me is that more and more the Washington conversation is being dominated by the campaign for President. But it’s a huge advantage to all of us who are going to keep working on the U.S.-Greece relationship day to day, and frankly, who try to stay out of politics. That’s part of my job is to have nothing to do with U.S. domestic politics. But it’s really helpful against that background to have a strong impulse of positive energy behind the U.S.-Greece relationship. And we’ll continue to use that energy in the weeks and months ahead, whether it’s through visits by Frank Fannon, our Energy Assistant Secretary — and I look forward to hosting Frank again in the next couple of weeks. Matt Palmer from the European Bureau will be out here for the Delphi Forum. Our Assistant Secretary in the European Bureau, Phil Reeker, made very clear he expects to be back in the next few months as well. So we’ve got a lot of positive energy behind the relationship.
Let me just walk through the visit and what, for me, were the most important landmarks. You all saw the trip to Tarpon Springs. Monday evening, he arrived in Washington, DC and went to the basketball game: Celtics versus the Washington Wizards.
Tuesday morning: Atlantic Council. I think one of the papers out on the table — there is a very good summary of the Atlantic Council discussion, but that presentation was really a master class in how a national leader can make his case to an influential Washington think tank audience across a broad range of issues in a way that exuded competence and confidence and reliability. This idea that Greece, which for so long was sort of typecast in Washington, DC as being a source of problems — whether it was the financial crisis or the refugee crisis — but now Greece is looked at not as a source of problems but as a source of solutions, and that there is value to investing in that, and I think it’s terrific that Atlantic Council continues to raise their profile here, that AmCham, our AmCham, the Hellenic American Chamber, has announced a new partnership with the Atlantic Council. This will help to keep a positive spotlight in Greece, in a think tank community.
There was the IMF meeting. There was the White House. You all saw the photo opportunity at the top. I would emphasize from the private discussions, in particular the role of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who continues to be a great champion of the Greece relationship, is committed to using the resources of the Department of Commerce to help propel our trade and investment relationship — real appreciation from Secretary Ross of the progress that we’ve seen on issues like tax reduction, capital controls, the clear signals from the Prime Minister publicly and privately on the question of 5G networks, and the importance of building a reliable next-generation telecommunications infrastructure. Important positive news from the Ministry of Digital Policy also on the question of software legalization which has been a longstanding irritant on the U.S.-Greece trade and commercial agenda that has now been resolved by this government. So you had a lot of goodness there.
After the White House there was the media briefing which some of you were part of.
The next day there was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). What I would emphasize at SFRC, that was done as a members-only briefing. I was told that there are very few precedents for the level of turnout that the Prime Minister attracted at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and of course you had the positive highlight there of the recent signature of the East Med Act. You saw that Senators Rubio, Menendez, and Chairman Risch presented the Prime Minister with the signed copy of the East Med Act, which is an important positive signal of congressional intent, which complements what the administration has been trying to do with its Eastern Mediterranean Strategy.
We had the meeting with Speaker Pelosi. The investors meeting. Again, everything I heard from the American companies who were part of that was that they were very encouraged by the messages they heard from the Prime Minister. We’re going to be building on that in the weeks ahead. You’ll see a series of U.S. government-supported business and investment delegations coming to Greece, all of which are part of helping to address the challenge which the Prime Minister put very directly to President Trump and to the U.S. government which is you — we — are underweight relative to the size of the U.S. economy, that American companies, American investors need to do a better job of recognizing the opportunities that Greece presents, that Greece for today, as he put it, is an inexpensive market, relatively speaking, but it’s not going to stay that way. So those who move now will be rewarded.
I think a number of you were at, and I think it was on-line as well, the big lunch with the Diaspora. And I was glad there, again, that the Prime Minister lifted up the education story and all the work that Minister Kerameus is doing, but also the issue of the Greek Bicentennial in 2021. You’ll see that that also figured, those themes figured very prominently in Vice President Pence’s remarks. I think we’re all starting — I’ll be meeting with Gianna Angelopoulos in the next couple of days, but we’re starting to think as a government how do we work with Greece to celebrate this important landmark in Greece’s history. The very long relationship between what was a very young United States of America in 1821 and the Greek Independence fighters.
Then just to wrap up where I started with the reception at the State Department. There are two things I’ll say. One, kind of funny. First of all, fantastic turnout with billions of dollars of capital, lots of political leadership — the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a number of other senior congressional leaders. I particularly enjoyed that a number of my Greek American friends came up to me in this spectacular setting of the 8th floor of the State Department and they said, “Gosh, I had no idea the State Department had such a nice office building.” And I promised them that the other seven floors of the State Department do not look like the Ben Franklin Room and the 8th floor. But it really was an exceptional gesture. It’s relatively unusual to do that for any foreign leader, to have the Vice President and the Secretary of State do it together is exceptional. And I think it does reflect this very special moment that we’ve arrived at in the U.S.-Greece relationship.
A last comment, and then I’m happy to open it up to questions. I’ll let Bill sort of orchestrate all of that. For us, this was a visit that was partially about celebrating all of the progress that we have made, building on the momentum from the Strategic Dialogues, Secretary Pompeo’s visit, Secretary Ross’s visit over the summer, the 3+1 last March, our 3+1 Energy Ministerial, the East Med Act, U.S. support for the East Med pipeline, dramatic progress on some of the other energy issues, TAP, Revithoussa, IGB, FSRU, progress in deepening our people-to-people ties through education. But it was also about agreeing on a way forward. I think what was striking to me as I listened to the Prime Minister’s presentation, in most cases, on many of the issues we could have just handed the talking points over to the other side because we are all saying the same thing right now. And it reflects how we have arrived at a moment where U.S. interests and Greek interests are highly convergent, and we have a commitment at the senior-most levels of both governments to capitalize on that opportunity.
This has been a long time coming. I’ve been doing this for quite a while now here in Greece, and it was greatly satisfying for me to be sitting in the same room in almost the same chair that I was sitting in when Prime Minister Tsipras was at the White House in October of 2017, and to see how we have been able to build on that and to take what was a strong relationship under the previous government and really build it into an exceptional one — one of the strongest partnerships that we have anywhere in Europe right now, and it’s one that I think both governments are committed to continuing to invest in.
So big success. I wrote here on my notes to remind myself, this is as good as it gets. It’s really true. Our job at the Embassy is to continue leveraging that, not to just rest on our laurels, but rather to figure out how do we take this uniquely positive moment and continue to build in it for the future.
That’s where we are. Again, thank you to, especially to everybody who traveled to Washington to be part of this because it was quite a show.
Question: Are there any bad news from this situation? [Laughter].
DCM Burger: It was snowing in Washington.
Ambassador Pyatt: The Celtics lost. [Laughter]. I say that 200 meters from Panathinaikos, our neighbor here. No, I think this was the culmination of a lot of hard work on both sides, a convergence of perspectives. I had said, I think I made the point in some of my remarks over the fall that I thought perceptions in the United States and frankly also in parts of Europe were lagging in terms of how things were changing, how much progress Greece was making. I think last week took a huge step in the U.S. context towards updating that database. So that’s certainly good news as well.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, about the two memoranda between Libya and Turkey.
Ambassador Pyatt: Yes.
Question: For this, it is null and void, these two memoranda, for us and many other countries as well.
Ambassador Pyatt: Yeah, I think the Prime Minister called it ridiculous.
Question: I want to ask the legal opinion of yours, of the State Department about this memoranda.
Ambassador Pyatt: We’ve been very clear on this. First of all, we’ve been very clear in our belief that these issues — that we want the Eastern Mediterranean to be a zone of cooperation and stability. That’s why, for instance, we strongly support the East Med pipeline. That’s a positive example.
As regards the agreement between the government of Turkey and part of the Libyan authorities, first of all, I made clear in December that the State Department legal interpretation was unambiguous. That, as far as we’re concerned, islands including big islands like Crete, have exactly the same maritime rights as any continent. Issues such as this of maritime delimitation need to be solved not through unilateral action, but through dialogue among the affected states on the basis of international law and in a way that is characterized by accommodation, not by unilateral actions.
So that’s our view on this. I thought the Prime Minister was very effective in all of his Washington interactions. Presenting both Greece’s concerns, Greece’s red lines, but also frankly, Greece’s desire to have with Turkey a normal, neighborly alliance relationship. Greece and the United States, I’ve said often, share a very strong interest in working through our differences with Turkey in a way that does not result in Turkey becoming untethered from the West. We both have a strong interest in Turkey remaining part of our EuroAtlantic institutions. So we need to work through the differences on that.
I think there’s been a lot of attention in the Greek press, and different outlets taking different interpretations of what was said or what wasn’t said. I think from my standpoint, and I think you heard it in my opening remarks, one of the things that was most successful about this visit was the way in which the Prime Minister, even in a very crowded environment on that fateful Tuesday in the Oval Office with all the other issues swirling…the Prime Minister was very, very effective in presenting Greece’s position, presenting Greece’s case in a way that will be remembered by all of my bosses, from the President on down.
So I think that’s where we are on this. We were encouraged by the signal that the Prime Minister indicated both publicly and privately when he was in Washington of the government’s intention to revive the long-stalled dialogue between the Foreign Ministries on confidence building measures. This is the way these issues need to be sorted out. Not through unilateral declarations and press releases, but through serious, respectful negotiations that recognize the sovereignty and the rights of all the parties that are affected.
Question: We are a little bit confused about the Mr. Pompeo’s initiative. Does this exist? Have we something to wait for in order to deescalate the tensions with Turkey?
Ambassador Pyatt: So let me answer it this way. First of all, I’ve obviously seen the reports in Kathimerini. I saw the Twitter exchange between Katerina and my friend Angelos over here. You know, everybody —
Question: I didn’t know everybody was awake so late at night. [Laughter]
Ambassador Pyatt: I think this debate is all rather silly. Of course the United States is going to be engaged on these issues. Of course we want to see the de-escalation of tensions. Of course we want to ensure that our two NATO allies — Greece and Turkey — do not reach a crisis point. This has been a longstanding aspect of American diplomacy. It comes with my job. When General Wolters started as the Commander of European Command, he said the same thing. It comes with my job. I need to work on Greece-Turkey issues.
Just in my 3.5 years, I’ve worked through two significant periods of tension: one provoked when the two Greek soldiers were detained on the land border, and the other provoked when the Turkish Coast Guard vessel ran into the Greek Coast Guard vessel. In all of these cases, I’m engaged, Washington is engaged, my counterpart, Ambassador Bass at the time in Ankara was engaged. General Scaparrotti was engaged. Wess Mitchell — I remember vividly the case of the two soldiers because it happened when we were up at Delphi, and I got a knock on the door at two o’clock in the morning there in Delphi. I was on the phone with Wess Mitchell, our Assistant Secretary of State, who was calling in the Turkish Ambassador instantly. I know in his interview with Skai when he was here in October, Secretary Pompeo said exactly the right thing.
That’s why I think this issue of was there a diplomatic initiative or not has been a little bit overblown in the Greek press. The answer to whether there’s a diplomatic initiative — yes. The United States is going to continue to work on these issues. Does it reflect a dramatic break with the past? Not really. This is an area where we are going to remain engaged.
What has changed as a result of the Prime Minister’s visit, as I said, but I want to emphasize it because it’s so important — your Prime Minister did a fantastic job of laying out the Greek case in a way which made very clear that he is not defining the success of U.S.-Greece relations in terms of the failure of U.S.-Turkish relations. That he is not trying to diminish Turkey. That he’s trying to lift up Greece and lift up the U.S.-Greece relationship. That is the spirit in which we approach these issues.
And I think he also did a very effective job of making clear to the President, to the Vice President, to National Security Advisor O’Brien, obviously to Secretary Pompeo, who had heard it before, both where the red lines are, where Greece is looking for American help and engagement. And this is something — I had a specific conversation, while you all were busy cornering Secretary Pompeo on these issues, I was off in the corner with Mr. O’Brien, and we had a very good conversation about exactly how we need to keep working on this stuff. What I can promise you is that Washington is going to keep working on it, just like we’ve been doing for a very long time. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important that we have developed in our U.S.-Greece conversation the kind of confidence in each other that allows our leaders to speak very honestly and directly about what their concerns are, what their red lines are, what we’re trying to do. We have confidence in each other, and that confidence is incredibly valuable.
Question: Ambassador, [inaudible] I want to follow up on the question. From what you said, my understanding is that this is business as usual. I mean, the United States was here —
Ambassador Pyatt: Oh, come on, I’m not — nothing that I do is business as usual. [Laughter].
Question: I mean, the United States is here to actually help Greece and Turkey and sort out, you know, these kinds of differences. I think that the misunderstanding came up because when someone is talking about a diplomatic initiative, it means that there’s something maybe more formal, and it could possibly look like mediation. That’s why I think that maybe there was some kind of misunderstanding.
So from your position, I think it’s clear that this is business as usual from the part that you’re going to pick up the phone, you’re going to say what you have to say, the Secretary of State will say what he has to say, and that’s it. This is my first question.
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, as a matter of policy, I’m not going to take sides … on the question of what comes next. But it’s a serious question, so let me answer.
I think I would not say it’s just business as usual because I think the region itself is changing, the level of American seriosity, the seriousness of our engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean has grown because, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, great power competition has returned to the Eastern Mediterranean in a big way. We are engaged directly in a competition for positive influence in a region that we, in past years, have taken for granted.
So business as usual implies that nothing has changed, but I think in fact, some things have changed. One is this era of great power competition that we find ourselves in. Something else that’s changed is the broader quality of the U.S.-Greece relationship.
It’s quite important when you have the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and the Prime Minister of Greece all standing up in the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department and saying U.S.-Greece relations are better than they’ve ever been. Period. That is a powerful, powerful statement. And of course, it influences how we approach these issues.
So I would take issue with the suggestion that this is business as usual, but I would also emphasize that we are not talking about Winston Churchill pulling out a map and drawing lines at the end of the 2nd World War in terms of where the Eastern Bloc is and where the Western Bloc is. That’s not the character of our diplomacy today.
I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I desperately don’t want to only have you guys report on this issue.
Question: So let me put it in a different way. [Laughter]. This is the same topic, though, because we’re interested in that. Let me put it in a different way. Are we talking about an American initiative that is imminent? In other words, do the U.S. administration, or do you, are you concerned that we’re heading towards a military confrontation in the Aegean Sea, or are we talking about this thing?
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me put it this way. I did an interview with Sia…about three years ago where I said I worried about accidents. That became, for the next six months, all anybody would ask me was, are you more worried or less worried? I’m not going to speculate one way or another. I really don’t want to make predictions for the future.
The Prime Minister did a very effective job when he was in Washington of making Greece’s case. All of my bosses are now thinking about how we build on that, what our next steps are. In the context of an ongoing process of U.S. engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean where you have voices not just from the White House and the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress in a very clear and important way, through the East Med Act, expressing its views.
So I think in terms of what the next steps will be for American diplomacy, I’ve talked already about what we’ve done in the past. In terms of what we do in the future, I think I’m going to say, in newspaper terms, watch this space. We’re going to stay engaged on these issues. Let me leave it at that.
Question: Secretary Pompeo spoke with Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu yesterday. Did he mention at all the Mediterranean issues and the worries about a Greek-Turkish confrontation?
Ambassador Pyatt: All I have is the public read-out, so I’m just going to leave it. I haven’t seen the official telegram yet, so I really don’t want to speculate one way or another, so I’ll just leave it to the public read-out and Bill can get you a copy of that.
Question: The establishment in Washington is engaged in this Greece-Turkey relationship and the tensions and everything. But what leverage do you really have in Turkey? Because we see Russia’s role becoming more and more important in the Aegean and the Middle East.
Ambassador Pyatt: I think that’s more a question for Ambassador Satterfield than it is for me. I think the fact that Secretary Pompeo had a phone call yesterday with his Turkish counterpart, the fact that President Erdogan continues to travel to Washington to speak with President Trump. Turkey, and everything I hear from my Turkish counterpart here which is my window into Turkish government thinking — Turkey does not want to be alone with Russia and Iran. I don’t think that’s the future that the Turkish government has in mind. But we have some serious differences including bilateral U.S.-Turkish differences that we need to work through.
What I would emphasize is, this is an area where Greece and the United States are working together. That was true when Secretary Pompeo was here, and he had some really honest and candid conversations with Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Dendias when he was here in October, and that was true last week in Washington.
Everybody that Prime Minister Mitsotakis engaged from the national security team. President Trump obviously deals with Erdogan. Vice President Pence traveled to Turkey last fall trying to figure out a way forward on these very difficult issues on S400 and F-35. Secretary Pompeo spends a huge amount of time on Turkey issues. National Security Advisor O’Brien emphasized to me how demanding the Turkey account is.
So the good news is on these big issues around Turkey, Greece and the United States share a very similar perspective. And we certainly have the same interests. Neither of us is interested in seeing Turkey come unhinged from the West. So this is an area where Washington, especially after the Prime Minister’s visit, has a very clear appreciation of how much of a constructive factor Greece is being on these difficult issues. And when I say Washington, I mean in the broadest sense possible. Not just the President and his national security team, but also Congress and the think tank community and everybody else.
Question: I’ll go back to…the question concerning the Libya-Turkey memorandum. Could the United States say that this memorandum is illegal, straight? That we talk about an illegal memorandum that cannot exist?
Ambassador Pyatt: We haven’t said that yet. What we’ve said is what I’ve laid out. And Bill can get you the exact language that we’ve used to characterize this.
Moderator: Unhelpful, provocative…
Question: If I may add to what my colleague just said, you said that — I want to repeat the wording you used about the Libyan-Turkish memorandum. You implied that it can’t be unilaterally. The maritime zones —
Ambassador Pyatt: Right, states cannot make unilateral declarations.
Question: So would you see some broader discussion at some point? Would the United States, would they try to push a discussion between also Turkey and Greece and Libya and probably other places in the region because that’s the main problem here. That we have a lack of maritime zones.
Ambassador Pyatt: I think this sort of falls into my hypothetical, predicting the future caveat. What I would emphasize is, first of all, our belief that the right way to address these issues, for instance on energy, is the way the Prime Minister has done. It was very important, I think, that in all of his discussions about energy issues in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Prime Minister emphasized that he wasn’t just talking about Israel, Cyprus, Greece. He was talking about Egypt. That he took an inclusive approach to these issues. That’s exactly the United States’ view.
Our view is that the unilateral actions that Turkey has taken, whether it is sending drill ships into the territorial waters of Cyprus or making unilateral declarations with a part of the Libyan government, that these actions are unhelpful and provocative and contrary to the spirit of the effort that the United States has made, and which Greece has made to try to build security and confidence in the wider region.
On the delimitation of maritime zones, that’s a natural thing that states engage in. The right way to do this is the way Greece has. For instance, its discussions with Italy about the Ionian Sea in a way that is consistent with international law, that consults all of the affected parties and does so in a way that does not cause unnecessary turbulence in regional security dynamics.
Moderator: Just a couple more…
Ambassador Pyatt: Let’s talk about education or investment– [Laughter]. Minister Kerameus is not going to forgive me if you guys only write about the diplomacy stuff.
Question: I’m sorry, I will stick to this kind of message. Have you considered the scenario that if Turkey continues this provocative —
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m not going to answer any question that starts with if, because that’s speculative by definition.
Question: But that’s —
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m not going to answer hypothetical questions. It’s just not a useful way to spend our time.
Question: Sticking on education. How would you describe Turkey’s decision to send troops in Libya? [Laughter].
Ambassador Pyatt: On questions involving Libyan internal developments, and this is one of those, I will defer to my colleague, Ambassador Norland who’s in a much better place to address that than I am.
Moderator: We have a strong statement also on the Libya-Turkey military MOU that I can send you.
Question: Is there anything that could ruin the good relationship that we have built?
Ambassador Pyatt: You guys tell me.
Question: In terms of what Greece chooses to do. I’m thinking of Greece’s relationship with China, for example. Or Russia. The way U.S. views Greece.
Ambassador Pyatt: I don’t think so. I think part of our job — David, me, Bill — is to work through the areas where we have differences, and we don’t agree on everything. But I think we’re working together more closely today than in many, many years. I think on areas where our tactics may differ, I mean, let me give you an example: We remain concerned about the role that Chinese investment plays. The Prime Minister was asked explicitly about this issue when he was at the Atlantic Council, and I thought he did a very good job of sort of putting a frame around the Chinese investment at Piraeus and the other areas where China has been active in the Greek economy. But also quite fairly presenting it as a challenge to the United States. That if the U.S. wants to compete for influence with Chinese investors, then we need to bring American companies, which is why you see me talking all the time about Alexandroupolis and about Volos and about some of these other big privatizations and Kavala, these other privatization opportunities that are coming up.
On the question of Russia, again, it’s natural that Greece has a relationship with Russia. I don’t worry at all about the content of the Greece-Russia relationship. I think the Prime Minister sent a very clear message in all of his interactions that Greece is with the West and that that is non-negotiable, and that will be the defining orientation of Greek foreign policy.
And on some of the big issues where we compete with Russia, where we’re concerned about Russia, our best regional partner is Greece. So on energy diversification, all the projects that I talked about — TAP, IGB, FSRU, Revithoussa — all of these help to reduce European dependence on Russian energy supplies. Unlike the second pipeline of Turkish Stream, unlike Nord Stream II, which has the effect of continuing and deepening European dependence on Russian gas.
Similarly in the Western Balkans, where Russia continues to be a powerfully negative factor, whether the coup attempt in Montenegro, meddling in the politics of North Macedonia. Prime Minister Mitsotakis conveyed a very clear message in terms of Greece’s shared interest with the United States in seeing all these countries continue on the path towards reform, particularly Albania and North Macedonia continuing to move towards membership in the European Union and the reforms that it will take to accomplish that objective.
So I don’t worry about that much. This is a relationship today where we have the ability as allies to speak very frankly about where our respective concerns lie.
Question: After the visit of Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the U.S., a lot of people here in Greece believe that the U.S. considers Turkey as a more powerful, important ally than Greece. I’d like a comment on that.
Ambassador Pyatt: I don’t know how to answer that question. This is as good as it gets in terms of the U.S.-Greece relationship. It’s a huge mistake, I think, and certainly Prime Minister Mitsotakis did not seek to define the success of the U.S.-Greece relationship in terms of the level of difficulty in the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
These are very different relationships today. The people-to-people piece of the U.S.-Greece relationship is really unique. The President talked about that in the Oval Office, the importance of the U.S.-Greece Diaspora, and in fact, in many ways the event at the State Department on Wednesday night was in large part a celebration of that Diaspora network.
I think it’s just, again, I’m not sure how you want me to answer the question. I’m not going to tell you the U.S. relationship with Turkey is not important, because it is. It’s important for — and I think Greece would agree with that — and certainly when I talk to Greek officials under this government and under the previous government, the last thing either the Mitsotakis government or the Tsipras government would have welcomed would be a U.S. decision to just walk away and say we’re done with Turkey. You guys sort it out. That’s not a good outcome I’ll leave it at that.
Question: You think that after the efforts from American diplomacy, will Turkey step back? Or at the end of the day, we’ll see that the two countries have to go to international court for their differences?
Ambassador Pyatt: Again, I’m going to put off to the side the hypothetical question part of that. I will say the Prime Minister conveyed a very clear message that he sees this issue being solved not by military force but through international law and dialogue, and that’s exactly the position of the United States government as well.
Question: The Prime Minister made also in his public speech with President Trump, said that Greece wants to be part of the F-35 program.
Ambassador Pyatt: Right. And we welcome them to that family —
Question: Yes, and what happens next? What happened during the visit? Did he have any talks on that? Did you consider the financing issue? Did you —
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you. I’m actually really happy to get this question.
A couple of things. First of all, we’ve already started working on this. Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos had a good meeting with Assistant Secretary Cooper. I was able to introduce — Clark is a friend — I was able to introduce Assistant Secretary Cooper to Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos on Thursday afternoon, literally five minutes before I left for the airport. That’s the part of the State Department that is responsible for defense sales, licensing, technology transfer, finance, all of that kind of stuff. This is going to be a long dialogue, and that’s understood by both sides.
We also have a big short-term project in front of us, and that’s the Viper upgrade of the existing F-16s. We both are committed to the success of that, and that’s a huge project unto itself. So we’ve got to get that one, that needs to be our first focus. But the success of the Viper program is a natural stepping stone to an F-35 program. Because all of the skills and the technologies that will be transferred to Greece as part of the Viper upgrade, the new avionics, the advanced radars, the maintenance, the pilot skills to operate in that kind of a networked environment, all of that is the know-how that Greece will need to be a successful and effective part of the F-35 program. So this is all part of a natural progression, but it’s a progression that’s going to unfold over years, not months.
Question: How about the Arleigh Burke? The two destroyers? It’s on defense.
Ambassador Pyatt: On the broader defense relationship, the systems that the Prime Minister emphasized, so what we’re hearing from the Greek government are we’re on the Air Force side and then also the MQ-9s. I think some of you went up to Larissa and saw what General Atomics was doing with those platforms.
The question of Greece’s next generation of Navy capability is an area where the United States has a lot to offer, but at least so far there hasn’t been any specific request put to the U.S. government. But it’s an area where we will be very competitive and where U.S. companies really excel because of their experience in Greece with real technology transfer. That’s, again, the example of Hellenic Aerospace’s participation in the Viper upgrade is a good example of how American companies, much more so than our international competitors, whether they be from Europe or Israel or elsewhere. American companies really excel at technology transfer and indigenization and building up local capacity, and I’m confident that will be true in the maritime and shipbuilding sector just as much as it is in aerospace. And of course, there’s a great natural synergy as Greece moves ahead, trying to revive Elefsina and Skaramagas. That’s an opportunity to take a close look at this sector as well. We’ve got a successful record now with Syros, and you’ve got American companies that are clearly interested in building on that success.
Moderator: Thank you very much, sir. Do you have any final words – I know there are a lot of questions. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time.
Ambassador Pyatt: A last political question.
Question: It’s rather simple: Do you see continuity in Greek foreign policy towards the United States, having worked both with the previous government and the new one?
Ambassador Pyatt: That’s a really good question. So, one element of continuity is me. [Laughter]. Another is Wilbur Ross. I think by and large there has been continuity, and certainly what we have accomplished over the past six months of the Mitsotakis government builds in a positive way on the foundation that we were left with by the Tsipras government and all of the hard work that was done on defense cooperation, on energy, on investment. That work has clearly accelerated under the Mitsotakis government, and in some areas, that acceleration has been dramatic. For instance, the amendment of the MDCA and the progress that we have seen on some of the big investment climate issues like, for instance, the software legalization.
On others, it’s been more incremental. Energy, for instance. A lot of what we’re celebrating today, whether it’s TAP or Revithoussa or IGB, or the ExxonMobil tender off of Crete, began under the previous government. So, politics is politics. The opposition’s job is to oppose. I fully intend to sit down with former Prime Minister Tsipras and others or others he designates from the opposition to brief them on the outcomes of this visit, exactly the way I did for Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the New Democracy leadership after the visit of October 2017, because for the United States, one of the real successes of this relationship has been the fact that it has enjoyed support from all the major political forces in Greece and certainly in the United States.
One of the things, if you looked at the reaction in the Washington Twitter sphere to the visit, you had prominent people in Democratic foreign policy circles, including my greatly esteemed predecessor Nick Burns, all making the point that the success that we are seeing in U.S.-Greece relations today is something that’s celebrated by both Republicans and Democrats. The U.S.-Greece relationship, to my eternal and great good fortune, is not a partisan issue in American politics today. It’s something that Republicans and Democrats emphatically agree on.
Moderator: Thank you, everybody. I know there are a lot of other questions. You know where to reach us.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thanks everybody.
Question: Thank you.