Ambassador Pyatt’s Fireside Chat with Apostolos Mangiriadis, SKAI TV

Delphi Forum, Delphi
April 7, 2022
As Delivered

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Ladies and gentlemen, hello from Delphi.  This is Apostolos Mangiriadis, I’m a political correspondent with Skai Television, and I have the honor and the privilege to introduce Geoffrey Pyatt for his farewell talk at Delphi under the capacity of the American Ambassador in Greece.  Because you never know we’re at Delphi Oracle nearby, and I have some questions from that actually about the future.  But there are so many things we have to discuss.  We only have twenty minutes.

I will start the conversation backwards, and I will ask you, you’re getting to the end of the journey, a five years journey.  It started with the Barack Obama visit to Athens.  There were so many things that you had to tackle.  I would like to ask you, what is your major takeaway from this five year journey?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thanks Apostolos.  It’s really great to be back here in Delphi.

I haven’t done my full reckoning of these five years, but if there was one thing that I would highlight as having changed most dramatically it’s confidence.  The confidence that the Greek people have in themselves, having escaped this terrible decade-long economic crisis.  But also the confidence that Greece enjoys in the United States.

This has become a very important relationship for us in the strategic sense.  We’re all focused today, of course, on the tragedy in Ukraine, and the brutality that Putin has unleashed.  But eventually that war will be over, and when it is over, Greece’s role in the southeastern flank of NATO is going to be more important than it has ever been.

And we’ve built confidence in each other through our expanded military relationship.  The confidence of investors.  The fact that unlike five years ago when I went on the stage and Alexis Papahelas and I were talking about whether the Greek economic story was going to collapse.  Today we’re talking about enormous new investments by Pfizer, Microsoft, AWS, Digital Realty.  It’s all incredibly exciting.  And it’s good for the United States, but it’s obviously good for Greece and the people of this country.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  We have to credit you a lot for this five-year period.

Let me ask you, you’re concluding a nine year tenure in Europe.  Five years in Greece, four years back in Ukraine, and we’re seeing a dramatic shift in our continent lately.  Europe of 2022, the world in 2022, has nothing to do with the world in 2013.  I’d like to ask you, how could you outline the security architecture that we’re now looking into for the next following months or years?

Ambassador Pyatt:  The most important thing is that it became clear to everybody on the 24th of February that the post Cold War era is over, and that we are going to have to deal with a revisionist Putin regime for some time to come.  This is a period — I’ve worked for three American Presidents who have a very different style — but one thing I am proud of is how as I begin to pack up my bags we have such a strong transatlantic relationship which has been the sine quo non of the Biden administration’s response to the invasion of Ukraine.

As we look to the future, we have a new vocabulary of issues that we’re focused on.  In areas like climate which certainly here in Greece, everybody who lived through the terrible fires of last August, as in my home state of California, there is a deep appreciation that climate is an emergency that has to be dealt with along with the energy transition that is part of that.  And I want to applaud the leadership that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Minister Skrekas have exercised in this area, represented by yesterday’s inauguration of the new PD Park in Kozani, the fourth largest solar facility anywhere in Europe.  Who knew that Greece was going to play this leading role?

So we’ve got a lot that we need to work on together.

I was speaking to Carl Bildt just before the panel and I was reflecting that, I wish people had listened more to folks like Carl in 2014 after the invasion of Crimea, to recognize the challenge that a revisionist Russia presents to our transatlantic security order.  But as we move forward now, it’s clear that we’re going to have to work together, both to ensure that the Ukrainian people prevail in this titanic struggle between totalitarianism and democracy, between legitimacy and the rule of force.

But we’re also going to have to figure out how we continue to build confidence between our peoples.  The United States has tested our own democracy in very severe ways.  You only have to look at the events of January 6th to remember that.

That’s one thing that has been inspiring to me to be here in Greece, to see a country that has come through a very severe economic crisis not only with its democratic institutions reaffirmed, but in many ways with its democracy strengthened.

I am a huge fan of Kyriakos Pierrakakis and the way he and the Prime Minister and the rest of the team have used technology to strength Greek democracy and to make the Greek government work for the people better.  I will share with you, I’ve had several state level politicians from the United States who when they meet with Minister Pierrakakis and his team, they all say how can we hire this guy to come to work for us?  He has transformed the way the Greek state operates in such an impressive way and has helped, frankly, to have Greece be a model of success in confronting the pandemic.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  I’ll make sure I send Kyriakos a note to send his resume over.

Ambassador Pyatt:  It wouldn’t sit on the shelf very long.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  I’m sure.

Let’s turn the discussion back to the Ukrainian crisis.  There was some talk in the Greek press regarding the bells you rang to the Greek government on the Russian invasion.  I want you to clarify this point.  Do you think Europe as a whole took seriously the American warnings?

Ambassador Pyatt:  The information that we shared with the Greek government is the same as the information we shared with all of our allies.  I wish we had been wrong.  Obviously this was a tough message to be digested here in Europe.  It was a tough message to be digested in Kyiv.  Remember even President Zelensky was reluctant to believe that Putin would do something so audacious.

I will say it reminds me a little bit of the conversation that we had in Ukraine in February of 2014 after the Revolution of Dignity and when we saw the first signs of the invasion in Crimea.  Even then people would say, he wouldn’t do that.  That would violate so many norms.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  — didn’t want to believe that, to be honest.

Ambassador Pyatt:  None of us wanted to.  And I the great tragedy, of course, is not only were we reluctant of what was required to practice the magnitude of the invasion that he was going to undertake but also its brutality.  The heartbreaking images from Bucha.  The city of Mariupol, a city I visited.  Very few people would have heard of before last month.  But a city with hundreds of years of Hellenistic tradition, with a thriving Greek-speaking community.  I give Foreign Minister Dendias great credit for going to Mariupol when he did just a couple of weeks before the invasion, followed a few days later by the German Foreign Minister, I should point out.

And in the same way it was so impressive for me as somebody who knows Odessa very well, to see Foreign Minister Dendias there standing in Hretska Ploshcha, on Greek Square, in front of the Museum of the Filiki Eteria, or standing at the top of the Potemkin Steps and the statue of Count de Richelieu, looking out towards the Black Sea.  A reminder, again, that this is a region where Greece has had a very important historic role and will have a critical role in the future in part because of what we’re doing together in Alexandroupoli, in northern Greece, Greece’s ability to be a principal NATO ally and helping us to reinforce the southeastern flank as we’re going to have to do.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Right, but another crucial ally is also Turkey.  I guess that Turkey’s geopolitical role is upgraded in the Ukrainian crisis.  And when I talk to Greek diplomats and the Greek Foreign Ministry I see some dissatisfaction from Athens by the fact that Turkey is keeping equal distances from the West and Russia and, for example, by not imposing sanctions to Russia.  I want you to comment on that.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I’ll say a couple of things.  First of all in terms of sanctions enforcement, the Biden administration has been very clear that we all need to impose the maximum possible cost on Vladimir Putin for what he has done.  We are going to be very rigorous in terms of our enforcement of secondary sanctions.

And as Under Secretary Nuland made very clear when she was in Ankara a few days ago, we will be intolerant of anything that any country which seeks to become or allows itself to become a hub for sanctions invasion, whether that’s in financial terms or technology terms.  This is a regime of sanctions that is going to be with us for some time.  It’s extremely important, as you note, that the Biden administration has worked so hard to stay aligned with Europe, and we’ve moved in lockstep or in coordination at each step of the way.

We’re going to continue to encourage those who are not part of our EU-US, and it’s not of course just the transatlantic community.  It’s Japan, it’s Singapore, it’s Australia.  Because we all recognize the threat that a revisionist Russia poses to the world order that has built a period of extraordinary peace and prosperity and great opportunity.

And everything that Putin has done threatens now to dismantle that.  He has rolled back in six weeks 30 years of progress in Russia’s own economy.  That is not sustainable.  He will lose this war.  There is no question about that.  And I don’t think there’s any country in the world that will want to be standing on Russia’s side when Putin loses.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Yesterday, the State Department said in a letter to Congress that the potential sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey would be in line with US national security interests.  And I want to hear if we’re looking to a situation where the American sanctions against Turkey as a consequence of the new realities in Russia are out of the table anymore.  Maybe used in a negotiation chip or a poker chip that Turkey used in that table.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Let me say a couple of things.  I addressed this issue earlier today when I was at our Orion Special Forces Exercise, which was another fantastic illustration of how we’ve strengthened our bilateral military relationship but also Greece’s really unique ability to build bridges between NATO allies and partners like Israel and Cyprus in the case of the Orion exercise.

We don’t generally speak about the specific licensing cases.  This is a very early stage of the process, but what I can tell you is first of all, the sanctions that were applied because of Turkey’s acceptance of the S-400 remain in place.  Those were a decision of the US Congress and they can’t be wished away.

But it’s also, and much more important, I would emphasize and I would urge everybody to recognize the extraordinary progress we have made in our military to military relationship.  Our military relationship today is almost unrecognizable from what it was when I arrived here almost six years ago.  We’ve had two amendments of our MDCA.  The indefinite extension of the MDCA.  Our forces are cooperating every single day not just at Souda Bay, at Alexandroupoli, at Larissa, at Volos and Stefanovikio.

We’re building confidence.  We’re helping to strengthen the Hellenic armed forces and this exercise today was in some ways I said it was like an advertisement for our Office of Defense Cooperation.  We had the Kiowa Warrior helicopters, we had the Mark-V Special Forces boats, we had the Chinooks, we had all of the specialized weapons and communication systems which we, the United States government and the US taxpayers, have provided to Greece as part of our assistance program precisely because we want a strong and secure Greece to project power in this dynamic and complicated part of the world.

Our US-Greece military relationship is qualitatively different from our relationship with Turkey and one of the things I’m most proud of when I look back on my time in this job is the fact that today the US-Greece relationship A, it stands on its own; and B, it’s anchored in its wider strategic context, in terms of how we work together in the Western Balkans, in terms of how we work together in the Eastern Mediterranean, in terms of how we work together in North Africa.

This is a very different conversation from what we were having when I got here, and I’m very confident that it’s going to endure precisely because if you look at the map after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this southeastern flank — the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean — is absolutely vital both to Russian strategy but also to our strategy for reinforcing our alliance.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  You mentioned East Med, and today Victoria Nuland in Kathimerini newspaper expressed her preference over LNG and the electricity connections, because there’s no time or money for pipelines.  Should we expect any announcement soon?  And is also Turkey included in this game?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I’ll say a couple of things.  First of all, one of the other institutional legacies I’m proud of is the work that we’ve done both with Syriza and with the New Democracy government on the 3+1 process.  You saw that manifest as well in Victoria Nuland’s quick meeting with Foreign Minister Dendias and Foreign Minister Lapid, reaffirming Secretary Blinken’s intention to engage with all three as quickly as possible.  We also will continue our work on energy.  We actually have an Energy 3+1 coming up in the weeks ahead as well.

A lot of that leverage is off the geopolitical changes that are happening in the region.  The Abraham Accords.  The fact that Greece has thriving relationships with Egypt, with Israel, with UAE, with India.  So you have an arc of engagement where our interests coincide and where we are able to build confidence between each other.

On the East Med, in particular, obviously a priority task for everybody in Europe after the 24th of February is to identify non-Russian sources of gas.  You’ve seen a number of European countries just since the 24th that have announced that they will go to zero Russian gas.  I know that Commissioner Simson has spoken or will be speaking here at Delphi as well, and I’m sure she’ll address these issues.

Greece is in a better position than many countries in Europe precisely because of the work that we, the United States and Greece, have done together on projects like TAP, the Alexandroupoli FSRU, the future pipeline with North Macedonia, the expansion of the Revithoussa terminal.  George Prokopiou is here, somebody who’s been right in the center of the global role that Greece plays in LNG carriage and the fact that US LNG deliveries to Greece went from zero.  We sent zero molecules of LNG to Greece when I arrived in this country.  Last year we accounted for 50 percent of Greece’s LNG offtake.

So East Med is another sources of that gas, but that’s gas that needs to get to European consumers very quickly, in the next year or two.  Not seven or eight years from now, and not on the basis of a pipeline that may cost 8 billion euros or more which nobody in the market has yet indicated a willingness to pay for.

At the same time, we’re extremely supportive of the work that Greece is doing with Egypt, with Israel, with Cyprus, with the Commission on electricity interconnectors.  There’s an obvious economic play that rests in taking the relatively low cost of electricity generation especially in Egypt and especially renewable electricity generation, and delivering that to the European grid through Greece.

So we’re going to work together on all of these issues.  It’s an area of converging interests.  And I think the fundamental consideration on the East Med pipeline is the lack of a business case.

On the question of Turkish involvement in all of this, Turkey is already a partner in the TAP pipeline, of course.  The gas comes from Azerbaijan through Turkey.  Over the longer future it’s very hard to predict.  What I will say is it’s interesting to me, and I’m really delighted that I’m joined here in Delphi by my new counterpart in Ankara, Ambassador Jeff Flake, who is, of course, a leading American political figure but also a really smart human being.  One of the things Jeff and I talked about is the degree to which Turkey — just like everybody else in the region — is trying to figure out how to reduce their dependence on Russian gas.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Makes sense.  Last question, when is George Tsunis coming?  And what is your next post?  In our last interview you said let’s wait until Delphi Forum.  We have the Delphi Oracle here.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I wish I could tell you what the Oracle has in mind for me.  What I can tell you —

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Let’s go together.

Ambassador Pyatt:  What I will say is, first of all, it has been an enormous privilege to be the American Ambassador here at a time of such clear progress in the US-Greece relationship, at a time when we have seen Greece reemerge as the leading voice of European democracy that the United States wants it to be.  Working now for a President who is one of the great Philhellenes in American politics, Joe Biden, Joe Bidenopoulos.  [Laughter].

So Mary and I will pack our bags at the beginning of May.  We will be going back to Washington, DC.  They have something in mind for me that I’m not privileged to share just yet, but I’m sure you’ll be one of the first to know.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Thank you again, and on behalf of everybody here and in Greece we’ll know that we have a friend in Washington.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you.