Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
Athens 9,84 Radio
April 21, 2020
Athens 9,84: Today we have a special guest, the Ambassador of the United States here in Greece, here in Athens, Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt. Good morning, Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Pyatt.
Ambassador Pyatt: Good morning. Kalimera.
Athens 9,84: Thank you for joining us here. This is Athens 9,84. I wish you all the best.
How was your Easter, by the way?
Ambassador Pyatt: It was really different, but it was nice. This was our fourth Easter in Greece, and we have come to learn what a fantastic holiday it is. Last year we were in Corfu. The year before, Hania; year before that, Peloponnese. This time we were in our backyard, but we stayed up until midnight, we watched the fireworks and had our own little private celebration, and we had some lamb on Sunday.
Athens 9,84: Different experience. Different Easter for all of us and for all over the world.
We’re going to go into COVID-19, but before that, Mr. Ambassador, first time on the radio show?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’ve done it a couple of times but it’s been a while. I always enjoy it because you get real people and everybody is out driving their cars doing other things, so I’m happy to have the opportunity.
Athens 9,84: Thanks for joining us once again.
Let’s start, take it step by step. We’re going to talk about the number one topic all over the world, about COVID-19, Coronavirus. How are you doing? How are you managing in this period?
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, we’re trying to adhere very strictly to the government’s measures for social distancing and to try to tackle this virus. I think all of us at the Embassy feel very lucky to be here in Greece right now. The government deserves great credit, I think, for the way in which they have managed their response. I’ve stayed in regular contact with Minister Kikilias.
We’ve also been working with some of the American companies that are working on vaccinations, that are working on medical therapies, that are working on testing. So we are committed to staying close to the Greek government as it works to tackle this terrible disease. And I think, as I said, everybody around Europe, certainly friends of Greece in the United States, have nothing but admiration for the way in which Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his team have managed this issue so professionally, relying on the scientists, relying on data, and demonstrating through the statistics an exceptionally well-managed response to this global problem.
Athens 9,84: Well, you were ahead of my question. What do you think about the Greek government and the scientists here in Greece about the situation? Very good words from you for the Greek government, and this is the truth. Greece is an example in the whole universe for what is happening around the earth.
Ambassador Pyatt: I think the government has really set the bar in terms of how to manage this issue in Europe, and you compare Greece to similarly sized European countries like Belgium or the Netherlands, it really jumps out at you.
But it’s also the Greek people. We’ve all made sacrifices, and especially this time of year I would much rather be someplace other than sitting at home, but I think everybody has understood the importance of making these sacrifices now and working together. Because there’s going to be a day after and we hope it comes sooner rather than later.
Athens 9,84: Well, the Greek people when they come up to a very difficult situation they stick together. That’s probably a great example.
Let’s go abroad. Let’s go to the States. Your country. What do you think about the States, Mr. Pyatt? Are they doing well —
Ambassador Pyatt: Well, we’re a big country, and everybody is watching the situation at home very closely. My parents, my family, my kids are all in California. We have 40 million citizens of California who are living under a lockdown regime very similar to what we have here in Greece. I think the Governor in California — and in the United States each state government has a lot of authority and a lot of responsibility in dealing with this problem — the Governor of California moved relatively early and so the situation has been manageable.
We all are heartbroken by what’s happening in New York City. I’ve met so many Greek friends who have said to me how moved they are — there are a lot of people in Athens who think of themselves as New Yorkers, and I’ve heard from so many people who have really been deeply affected by the terrible stories out of New York City.
Athens 9,84: We have families there, we have relatives there, we have a lot —
Ambassador Pyatt: Exactly. And we will get through this.
The other aspect that’s really important is that the United States remains the global capital of science and technology, bioscience. My home city of San Diego is in many ways the center of the American biotechnology industry. There’s a lot of effort that is going into right now finding a cure, developing therapies, mobilizing our medical resources so that we deal with this. Also there’s been a very clear message from the United States of our commitment to leading internationally. We are the largest humanitarian donor to the UN agencies that are involved in this fight. We have given very large sums of assistance, including here in Europe. You saw just this weekend an announcement of additional support to Greece’s neighbor Italy which is a country that, as you know, has suffered terribly through this. So we are trying to maintain our leadership as well.
Athens 9,84: In your opinion, Mr. Pyatt, what do you think that Greece and the States or the whole universe should do after, the day after, when everything will be over about this COVID-19?
Ambassador Pyatt: That’s a big question. Let me say what we’re going to do here at the Embassy. Our number one priority as Greece begins to emerge from this health crisis is going to be to focus on how we work with the government to help turn the focus back to the priority that we have placed over several years now on helping to support Greece’s economic recovery, encouraging American investment in key sectors of the Greek economy like energy, like infrastructure, like technology; helping to get the word out to American investors about the fantastic human capital that Greece enjoys and about the opportunities that we see here to leverage a very strong government-to-government relationship with Greece to help build the economic foundation for moving forward.
I know that’s the Prime Minister’s priority as well, and I’ve already been having conversations on these issues with Minister Georgiadis and others.
I think one of the success stories behind this sad situation is what’s happened during the crisis with Greece’s digital economy and what Minister Pierrakakis has done. That’s an area that has a natural synergy with American technology companies, some of whom have done a lot to support the Greek government. So we have companies like Microsoft, Google, Cisco, that have stepped up their engagement with the Greek government to help build tools that the government’s using to meet this challenge.
But job one after the health crisis is addressed is going to be to turn to the topic of economic growth.
Athens 9,84: Good. Thank you very much for your assistance. In other words, the big American companies are willing to help us.
Ambassador Pyatt: They’ve all demonstrated that. Our technology companies, companies like Envipco which has provided assistance; ONEX which did the Syros Shipyard which has been supporting the Coast Guard with its testing capabilities. I’m very proud of what American companies across the board have been doing.
Also, our medical companies have been working closely with the Greek government, with Minister Kikilias to bring the best of technology to bear and to help ensure that Greece is able to get back on its feet as quickly as possible.
Athens 9,84: That’s very nice to hear from you.
Mr. Pyatt, finally when we want to conclude this chapter, COVID-19 here in Greece, here in Athens but all over the world also, what is your message that you want to send out to our listeners according to this Coronavirus thing?
Ambassador Pyatt: The most important message is that the United States is committed to international leadership to help meet this unprecedented humanitarian challenge; that we understand this is something that we can only tackle together; that we are in this together, and that the United States has continued to demonstrate, is committed to continuing to demonstrate leadership to bring our resources, our private sector, but also our scientific knowledge to bear to help tackle a threat of the sort that the world hasn’t seen for 100 years now, and which ultimately is going to have to be solved through collective action. None of us can deal with this alone.
Athens 9,84: And of course, we stay home.
Ambassador Pyatt: Exactly. At least for now.
Athens 9,84: How’s your Greek?
Ambassador Pyatt: It’s getting better. It’s hard because everybody in Athens and almost everybody I deal with speaks English better than I do. Greece is a very cosmopolitan country. But I certainly work on it from time to time. Thank you.
Athens 9,84: We’re going to go for a short break and we’ll come back for more Geoffrey Pyatt.
Athens 9,84: Mr. Pyatt, thanks once again for being with us. Now we’re going to go in more personal questions and a little bit about your story and your experience living here in Greece.
If you’d like to tell us a little bit about where were you born, a little bit about your childhood years and your studies.
Ambassador Pyatt: Sure. I was lucky. I was born in Southern California, in San Diego, in a part of the United States which is more like Athens than any other, especially as I get around Attica, as you get out of the city. I’m always — I’ll be driving along and come around a corner and think boy, this looks exactly like home. We have many of the same plants. We have very similar weather. The coastline looks very similar. So for my wife and I, coming to Athens in many ways was like coming home.
So I was born in Southern California. I grew up there, lived in the same house most of my childhood. My parents still live there. Both of our children live in Los Angeles.
Athens 9,84: How many children?
Ambassador Pyatt: Two. A son and a daughter.
Athens 9,84: All the best.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you very much. Obviously we worry about them a lot with this whole Coronavirus situation. But I was really fortunate to grow up in Southern California. I lived just a couple of hundred meters from the beach. Thought I wanted to be an oceanographer for a long time until I got to university and discovered that organic chemistry and I did not agree with each other. It was a lot tougher than I thought, which is how I ended up on the track to be a diplomat.
Athens 9,84: You studied in Yale University and in Irvine also.
Ambassador Pyatt: Exactly. So undergraduate that was the University of California in Irvine which is Orange County, between Los Angeles and San Diego, and then a graduate student at Yale in Connecticut. But I very much think of myself still as a Californian. I try to get back every year.
Athens 9,84: Why not.
Why did you choose diplomacy?
Ambassador Pyatt: Good question. My undergraduate major — after I didn’t become an oceanographer — my undergraduate major was political science. I became interested in international relations as an undergraduate. In 1984 I had the opportunity to do a summer internship at the Department of State. I had no idea when I applied for that job what diplomacy really involved or what the Department of State did, but I knew it was something international and it seemed interesting to me.
I was really impressed by the people, the Foreign Service Officers that I was working with that summer, inspired by their commitment to government service, but also their professionalism, their intellect, their fantastic sense of mission, their commitment to representing the very best of the United States internationally and trying to make the world a better place.
So it was about then that I decided I wanted to join our Foreign Service. Like in Greece, when you enter our professional diplomatic corps, you come in through a competitive examination. So I did that. Then as soon as you come in they tell you you’re never going to be an Ambassador, you just need to understand that. The sooner you accept it, the better off you’ll be. So for all of us who sort of rise up through the ranks, it’s a happy surprise if you end up doing what I’m doing today, which is to represent the government and people of the United States.
Athens 9,84: So you must be happy for this, doing this. What is diplomacy for you?
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, you have to be a good listener. Part of my job is to help ensure that the views of the Greek government are communicated clearly and effectively to policymakers and decision-makers in the United States, in my government. But you also have to be a good talker. You have to be able to explain what the United States is doing, sort of like what we’re doing today in this conversation — but also to represent the views of the U.S. government, to explain those views including when we have a disagreement and to figure out what is the route to dialogue, to figure out how we can reconcile our interests and to represent, as I said, the people and government of the United States.
There’s a lot more to diplomacy. At the Embassy we have a large team that’s committed to the consular services we provide, looking after the welfare and security of American citizens which is a very important part of my job; helping to support American business, American businesses seeking to provide goods and services here in Greece, but also looking to build opportunities with Greece; our national security agenda, the military to military relationship.
So you sort of, by the time you get to the place that I’m at, you know a little about a lot of things and you have to pull the team together. So that’s sort of what I do.
Athens 9,84: A great manager in other words, also.
Ambassador Pyatt: One of the best parts about the job is I never know what I’m going to — I’m never bored and I never know what I’m going to do from day to day.
Athens 9,84: What about your main stops in your diplomatic career? Do you know what is the next stop for you? Or —
Ambassador Pyatt: That’s an easy question. I have absolutely no idea. I expect to be surprised but I’m committed to Greece for now. I have no successor. I have no departure date.
My career has been split about 50/50 between Asia and Europe, so I’ve spent a lot of time in India, in China, in Hong Kong, in Pakistan, but I’ve also lived and worked four years almost now here in Greece, in Ukraine, in Vienna, Austria. Every place is different. Then, of course, like all of us I have to spend a certain amount of time in Washington, DC. I think I’ve been lucky. I’ve been in going on 31 years now and of those 31 years if my math is correct I think I’ve only been in Washington, DC about six of those. So I’ve spent much more time overseas than I have back at headquarters in Washington.
Athens 9,84: So what were you feeling when it was announced you were coming here in Athens?
Ambassador Pyatt: I was delighted, of course. This is in many ways a dream assignment. It’s a beautiful country. I knew it as a tourist. Like every educated American I understood the importance of Athenian democracy, the debt that we all owe to this city, the extraordinary heritage, the food, the people, the philoxenia. So this was in many ways a dream assignment for me, and I’ve been lucky. Generally in our system ambassadorships for career officers are three years, so I’ve been extended in this position and I’m obviously delighted by that.
Athens 9,84: Good. And we are happy having you here in our country and we wish you all the best.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you.
Athens 9,84: Mr. Pyatt, we’re going to go for another break and then we come back with more questions for you.
Athens 9,84: Mr. Pyatt, now we come to the point where we’re going to talk about Athens. Have you been in Athens before?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’d been here as a tourist before. In fact our family came here when we were posted in India. So we spent a week, it was right about the time of the Olympics and we spent a week in Athens. Like every American tourist in those days we went to Mykonos which is one of the places I have not been as Ambassador, but we had a wonderful time. Our kids were younger at that point, so they were incredibly excited to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon and everything else so it was a terrific visit. We were here in summer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, there’s nothing like the Greek summer. It’s a really unique cultural institution. So I knew what we were getting into.
I think what I’ve been really pleased with is the fact that the time that I’ve been here has coincided with this extraordinary positive growth in the U.S.-Greece relationship, which began under the previous government and which we’ve accelerated under this one.
Athens 9,84: Very nice.
You came here in Greece like 15, 16 years ago, and now we have 2020. Greece has changed?
Ambassador Pyatt: Well, of course, Greece went through this amazing economic crisis, and I think one of the things that’s most impressed me through that has been the resilience of Greek society, Greek democracy — the fact that you lost 25 percent of your gross domestic product, you went through this incredibly deep recession, unemployment, but your democratic institutions remained intact. That’s a really important accomplishment.
So that has changed. Athens has more traffic than I remember. There’s a lot more tourism. Islands that in those days were still relatively unknown are now covered with tourists. But the great thing about Greece is you never exhaust it. There are always things waiting to be discovered. And I’ve traveled a lot around this country over the past four years, every corner — north, south, east and west. But I know there are a lot of things that I still have to see and do.
Athens 9,84: Let’s come to Athens now. What do you like in Athens?
Ambassador Pyatt: First and foremost, the weather, the light. Athenians don’t understand how special the light of Athens is. Whether it’s the sunset — and I’ll walk out of the Embassy some evenings and the way the light reflects off of Lykavitos and lights up the sky, it’s really magical; the views out to the Saronic Gulf and to the islands on the days when it’s clear; when I’m at the Foreign Ministry and you can look out and see Aegina and almost touch it. So for me that’s one of the things.
I love the food. I love the people, the sense of life. People are happy here. I’ve lived in a lot of different countries, and I’ve visited many, many countries around the world. There are few places where the culture is as full of life as it is here in Greece.
I love the beach. I grew up in Southern California near the beach, as I said, and one of the cruel jokes of my Foreign Service career is that most of my time has been spent in landlocked capitals, so it was really wonderful to be in a place where I could get to the beach every weekend if I wanted to, and looking forward to that again as soon as this crisis is over.
Athens 9,84: So you say the light, the people, the beach, food. That’s nice things here in Athens, here in Greece, but there must be something that you don’t like. What do you dislike?
Ambassador Pyatt: That’s easy: the traffic. But I have family in Los Angeles, so every time I think the traffic is bad in Athens, I remind myself of what it’s like when you leave the airport in Los Angeles which is unreal, unlike anything here — even on its very worst days.
But if I could have one wish it would be for more progress in terms of public transportation, decongestion of the streets, more for cycling — I’m a cyclist, I think you know. So I’d love to be able to ride safely around the city a little more. I know that Mayor Bakoyannis is working on all of those things, and I look forward to seeing the progress he makes in the next few years.
Athens 9,84: Since you mentioned the Mayor, what is the message you want to send to him? We belong to the municipality of Athens, this radio station.
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, I consider Mayor Bakoyannis a friend. I had the great opportunity last year to visit him at his office when he was the Governor of Central Greece, and then we drove up to Karpenisi which I loved. I loved it so much that my wife and I actually went back to Karpenisi last November for our American Thanksgiving celebration, which was fantastic.
So it’s very exciting to have somebody as the Mayor of Athens, this global city, who is educated in the United States, who has such a demonstrated record of effective governance as Governor, as Mayor of Karpenisi and now as Mayor of the most important city in Athens, Greece.
We are very proud of the partnership that the Embassy has with the city of Athens. We’ve worked together over many years, for instance, on issues around the refugee and migrant communities. And I think the city of Athens deserves great credit for how it’s managed that problem.
We’ve also been great supporters along with the Hellenic Initiative of the various programs for branding Athens as a touristic destination.
It’s been a very exciting time to live in this city because it’s obviously going through a renaissance, a rebirth, and I think it’s very clear that under this Mayor that’s only going to accelerate. So we’re all very happy to be citizens of this global city which has given so much to the world over the centuries.
Athens 9,84: Thanks for the good words, the nice words you are sending out to the Athenians and to the Mayor of Athens. But what about, do you think Mr. Pyatt, that Greece is on the right track to catch up after the ten years’ recession?
Ambassador Pyatt: There’s no question at all in my mind that Greece is back. That was clear. You saw it in the bond markets. I saw it in investor sentiment until this Coronavirus shock came along. Greece clearly had turned the corner. Obviously the Coronavirus is a big setback, but the good news for Greece is it’s a global setback so the whole world is facing this challenge. I think as we look forward, as we look to the future, the Greek economy will be well positioned to bounce back.
I think Greece will also benefit from the skill with which the government has managed the Coronavirus crisis. That is to say, a lot of people thought of Greece as being an under-performing government because of the legacy of the economic crisis. What you’ve seen through Coronavirus as I mentioned earlier is that Greece in fact has been at the top of the curve. It has been one of the standout success stories in terms of European governance and management of this problem.
So I think that will encourage people to take a look, investors to take a hard look at the opportunities here. And as I said earlier, I certainly will do everything that I can through my office to encourage American investors, American capital, American technology to take another look at Greece as we all turn to the process of growing our way out of this short-term shock.
Athens 9,84: Very nice.
We’re running out of time but I want to make a few more questions, Mr. Pyatt.
What about something that people don’t know about you and you’d like to share it with us?
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, when I’m not doing my job as a diplomat, I’m a very avid cyclist. I’ve participated in the Attica Race from the Acropolis out to Sounion. I’ve participated in the Spartakiada from Athens to Sparta, 273 kilometers which was very hard. I’m a great supporter of the prospects for Greek cycling. I’ve been proud also to participate twice in the Race of Sacrifice from Patras to Kalavryta. There’s some world class cycling here.
One of the best cycling routes in the world is the ride out to Sounion as you get past Vouliagmeni and Varkiza as the traffic fades away, you’re there with the sea on your right-hand side. It really is spectacular.
Athens 9,84: That’s a great scene over there.
Finally, Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Pyatt, the final word, what is your message you’d like to send out to the Athenians here as they are listening to Athens 9,84?
Ambassador Pyatt: First of all, thank you for listening to me. Thank you for sharing some time together. What I want to underline is that the United States is Greece’s best ally and friend. We have been with Greece through all of its trials and tribulations, through the difficult years after the 2nd World War, through the economic crisis — the United States always stood with Greece and in the same way we’re going to stand with Greece as we work together to tackle this global health crisis and then do the hard work of the day after, helping the economy to grow and move forward.
Athens 9,84: Okay, Mr. Pyatt. It was very nice having you here on our show. I wish you all the best. Have a good stay here in Athens, here in Greece, and I wish you all the best in your career and in your life.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you very much. It’s great to talk to you and I appreciate the opportunity. Have a wonderful day. And as I said, I look forward to seeing everybody out on the beach later this summer as things return to normal.
Athens 9,84: Cross our fingers.
Ambassador Pyatt: Okay.
Athens 9,84: Thank you very much.
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you.
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