Ambassador Pyatt in Conversation with Alexia Tasouli, Diplomatic Correspondent, Open TV

Olympia Forum

International Olympic Academy, Ancient Olympia 

October 22, 2021 

Ms. Tasouli:  Good day, Mr. Ambassador.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Good afternoon.  It’s wonderful to be back here in this part of sestern Greece.

Ms. Tasouli:  Allow me to start our conversation about the 3rd Strategic Dialogue in Washington last week.  You participated in these meetings, you were there.  Can you share with us some of the atmosphere?  I mean how did Secretary Blinken’s meeting go with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dendias?  And should we expect Secretary Blinken soon here in Athens?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you for asking.  The most important thing I would say is that this was an exceptionally productive set of discussions.  The atmosphere between Foreign Minister Dendias and Secretary of State Blinken could not have been warmer, and the depth of the conversations that took place across a broad range of issues was really quite remarkable.  It reflected how far we’ve come in the relationship.

I know that everybody is committed now to building on that foundation.  We already are planning a series of follow-up visits to Washington.  The Minister of Citizens Protection will be in Washington next month.  I’m looking forward to that.  We’re also working on the Minister of Defense’s visit before the end of the year.

We’ll have a series of visits also coming here to Athens because there’s a sense that we have arrived at a moment of extraordinary opportunity and everybody wants to build on that.

Ms. Tasouli:  Great.  Regarding the MDCA agreement, has the U.S. position changed regarding the Aegean?  If there is a clash, for example, between Greece and Turkey over the territorial rights of the Greek islands, what will your position be now?  Will it be different now since we have an upgraded agreement between United States and Greece?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I always try to avoid speculating too much about the future, but what I would emphasize more than anything else is our commitment to our alliance relationship that was reaffirmed last week in Washington, DC.

And in terms of your question about the crisis, we hope we don’t get there.  The whole point of our alliance, our relationship, is to maintain stability including in the Eastern Mediterranean region and in the Aegean which is so geopolitically sensitive.  So that’s our focus right now.

Ms. Tasouli:  President Biden is a very good friend of Greece.

Ambassador Pyatt:  He is indeed.

Ms. Tasouli:  How do you think the U.S.-Greece relations will advance under the Biden and Harris administration?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I think we’re going to continue to see rapid acceleration under President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Blinken.  Secretary Blinken spoke a lot about this with Foreign Minister Dendias last week, emphasizing the President’s personal commitment to our alliance, to our relationship, the special relationship that he has with Greece and the message that has gone out across the administration to continue building, as the President himself put it, the strongest U.S.-Greece relationship the world has ever seen.

Ms. Tasouli:  Since we’re now here in Olympia, can you tell us about the work that the United States is doing here in Western Greece and the investment plans and the investment opportunities you see here?  What significance does western Greece hold for the United States?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you for asking.  First of all, I was so pleased to hear Governor Farmakis talk about his investment plans.  We’ve already spoken this afternoon and we’ll follow upon some of the specific opportunities here.

We have one of the flagship success stories located in Patras.  Advent is a hydrogen energy company headquartered in Boston with its research and development facilities in Patras that perfectly encapsulates both the spectacular human capital that Greece possesses but also the opportunity for our technology experts to work together in a way that tackles the most pressing challenge including all the climate issues that the Minister talked about so compellingly in his presentation.

So that’s one aspect of it.

It’s always special to be here in Ancient Olympia.  What a spectacular site this is.  And I’m so excited that Microsoft will soon be launching its projects with the Ministry of Culture to make Ancient Olympia more accessible through digital platforms.  It’s just a fantastic opportunity.

Also in many ways, western Greece is the cradle of the Greek Revolution.  And I would emphasize especially in this bicentennial year how important the Greek gift of democracy is to my country.  It’s something that President Biden talks about all the time.  We will have a Democracy Summit in Washington, DC at the end of this year which Prime Minister Mitsotakis will participate in, and that will be part of the administration’s efforts to underline our commitment to our democratic values.  And so much of that is connected to the Greek bicentennial.

I should also note, and again I spoke to the Governor and some of his colleagues about this, all of us who know this region of Greece were heartbroken by the fires in August.  And I’m very proud that tomorrow we will have experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development coming here to Ancient Olympia to work with local authorities to share best practices on issues like reforestation and erosion prevention.  They’ve already been working first in Evia and then in the northern suburbs of Athens but now they’re coming here to Ancient Olympia and I know that will be an opportunity as well.

Finally, I can’t be in this region without mentioning INIOCHOS.  We’re just a couple of kilometers from Andravida.  I think I’ve been to four INIOCHOS exercises.  It is the most important Air Force exercise in NATO’s southeastern flank.  It’s gotten bigger and more impressive every year.  And in April I had the opportunity to fly over this region in a U.S. Air Force F-16, so I will always remember INIOCHOS 2021 and I very much look forward to the U.S. Air Force coming back in 2022.

Ms. Tasouli:  It’s a very important exercise, INIOCHOS, and it’s widely accepted from the international community, what’s happening there.

Ambassador Pyatt:  And it reflects Greece’s unique ability to build bridges.  So you have UAE, Israel, Egypt and many NATO allies.  The United States, Italy, UK, France, all participating, all sharing experiences and building the kind of capacity and interoperability that is the essence of our alliance.

I don’t think there’s anybody else in NATO that could pull off something so big and so impressive, and I know the U.S. Air Force loves it.

Ms. Tasouli:  That leads me to the next question regarding the leading role of Greece, because you have talked a lot about the U.S. support or Greece leadership in the region, in the Peloponnese and elsewhere, and the Easter Mediterranean.  So can you tell us more about how the United States views Greece as a leader and its stabilizing role in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Western Balkans and beyond that?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Sure.  This was a big part of our conversation during the Strategic Dialogue.  And Secretary Blinken talked about how impressed he was by the variable geometry of Greek foreign policy today, the success that Greece has enjoyed in building out structures like the 3+1.  But not just the 3+1, the expanded relationship with Egypt.  The new electricity connection with Egypt is a perfect illustration of how that cooperation is moving from the foreign ministries into the practical operational cooperation.

Greece has worked with the UAE, very welcome for the United States.  Greece’s outreach to India, building an arc of cooperation that stretches all the way through the Gulf to the Indo-Pacific region.

And then likewise in the Black Sea and Balkan regions where Greece plays such a critically important role in supporting the U.S. goal of helping all of the countries of the Western Balkans to continue their progress on reform and to continue moving towards EuroAtlantic institutions and EU membership.

Ms. Tasouli:  You used the specific word Monday when you had some conversations with some journalists, you said about changing geometry of Greece foreign policy and the U.S. support for Greece’s ambitious foreign policy agenda.  Can you elaborate more on that?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Sure.  The United States and especially President Biden’s foreign policy is grounded on the principle of allies and partners.  Everything that we want to do in the world, whether it is tackling the pandemic, restoring economic growth, dealing with global climate change, hinges on the strength of our alliance relationships.  It is the core of this administration’s foreign policy.

And our alliance relationships in the EuroAtlantic community are uniquely strong because we have a 70-year history of cooperation but also because of the democratic values that unite us.  And Greece is a perfect example of that.  It’s a country which exists on NATO’s frontiers which is deeply committed to EuroAtlantic institutions.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis makes this clear at every opportunity with American political leaders.  A country which has emerge from economic crisis and has now demonstrated itself to be a source of solutions.  You see that with the Prespes Agreement, you see that in the way that Greece has supported the Abraham Accords.

And again, I mentioned the 3+1, but it’s also significant that last week when Foreign Minister Dendias was in Washington he also met with the Foreign Ministers of Israel and UAE.  And we saw just yesterday when Foreign Minister Dendias and Deputy Foreign Minister Fragogiannis were in Tripoli reinforcing our shared objective which is a successful election in December in Libya, the stabilization of the political and security situation, and most importantly, the exit of all foreign forces and mercenaries.

I was so pleased that the Foreign Minister had the opportunity to coordinate with the American delegation, and this was a rich subject of conversation when Foreign Minister Dendias and National Security Advisor Dokos and Deputy Foreign Minister Fragogiannis were all in Washington last week.

Ms. Tasouli:  You have talked a lot about how Greece has changed over the last five years.

Ambassador Pyatt:  It has indeed.

Ms. Tasouli:  What are the greatest changes you have seen so far?  And what are the worst and best moments for you here in Greece?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Hard questions.

What’s changed most importantly is Greece’s emergence from a very severe economic crisis.  The confidence that I see today in Greek entrepreneurs and Greek young people simply wasn’t there five years ago.  That is a hugely valuable commodity.  You want to hold on to it.

And look at the examples of Greek companies that are succeeding, including in the United States.  Advent in Patras is a perfect example.  I remember visiting Advent the first time probably three or four years ago in Patras when they were a small startup with a big idea about hydrogen fuel cells.  But now they’ve had their IPO in the United States, in NASDAQ, they are acquiring companies in Silicon Valley, they have become a great success.  But their roots are deeply set here in western Greece.

Also what’s happening in the technology space.  I mentioned the Microsoft project here at Ancient Olympia, which as I said I’m incredibly excited about, but much more important than that is the billion dollars that Microsoft is committing to its Cloud Computing Center in Athens with other digital companies like Amazon Web Services, Digital Realty following close by.

Pfizer, Cisco, Deloitte in Thessaloniki.  There’s a whole narrative of American investment, especially in the high technology sector, which goes back to what you and I saw together in Thessaloniki in 2018.

And then the way in which Greece, especially with the Western Balkans, has leveraged the Prespes Agreement to open up its role across the wider region of the Western Balkans.  I think Deputy Minister Fragogiannis is in Albania today.  You see for all of these countries of the Western Balkans Greece is a natural and preferred partner bringing to life the Thessaloniki vision in a way that simply wasn’t possible when I first came here.

Greece is no longer a problem for the European Union.  Greece is a source of solutions and in fact a source of great hope.

I will share with you when I was in Washington last week, many of the senior officials of the Biden administration were also part of the Obama administration.  The Greece they remember from 2016 was a Greece where people worried about the European Troika.  They worried about whether the financial system would collapse.  They worried about refugees.  They look at Greece today and they’re amazed by the transformation, and the reputational gains that Greece has enjoyed are really quite significant.

You asked about highs and lows.  It’s so hard to say and I haven’t had time to really total it all up.  Certainly one of the highs would have been President Biden’s inauguration and the event that President Sakellaropoulou and I had together in the Athenian Agora.  It was deeply moving for me to be at the birthplace of our democratic values at a moment when Americans reclaimed their own democracy.  That was a very powerful moment for me.

I also always remember the opportunities that I’ve had to work with our military.  I mentioned my F-16 flight already and boy there is nothing more impressive than watching a senior U.S. pilot and a senior Greek pilot fly together.  Everybody’s seen the Top Gun movie, but it’s a whole different experience to do it in real life so I’ll always remember that.

I’ll always remember Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s visit to Souda Bay and to our aircraft carrier along with Minister Panagiotopoulos.  It was very important that we did that on the eve of Greece’s bicentennial, cementing our partnership.

Here is one.  I will always remember the moment when Albert Bourla was sitting on my patio at the residence in the summer of 2020 and told me that they had just gotten the first test results for the vaccine and he was confident that the vaccine was going to work.  Which again, it’s got me choked up, you think how hard that year was.

Ms. Tasouli:  So you had a lot of best moments.

Ambassador Pyatt:  A lot of memories.  I should know better than to talk about this stuff, anyway.

Ms. Tasouli:  I’m glad that you had so many good moments in Greece.  My last question is about the future, about your future.  The White House recently announced a nomination for the next Ambassador of Greece, George Tsunis.  What about the future plans for you?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you for asking.  I think the best I can say for now is we have to ask the Oracle.  Maybe we wait for the Delphi Forum and we’ll see what happens by then.

I am committed first of all to working as hard as I can in the months of my tenure that remain.  There’s a lot that we still want to do to build on the momentum that we got from Foreign Minister Dendias’s visit.  Then once Mr. Tsunis is confirmed by the Senate I will work as hard as I can to help position him to build on all that we’ve accomplished because this has been a period of extraordinary growth in the U.S.-Greece relationship and I know that the whole embassy team is committed to capitalizing on that success and continuing forward.

Ms. Tasouli:  We hope to see you stay as long as possible here in Athens.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you.

Ms. Tasouli:  Because you’ve proved your commitment in advancing U.S.-Greek relations, and we hope to you see you in the Delphi Economic Forum next year.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you so much.  It’s great to see you.

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