Ambassador Pyatt’s interview w/Michail Ignatiou

November 6, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump and the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras showed signs at the White House, of having an excellent working and personal relationship.  Do you think that the US-Greece strategic relationship is even more upgraded than the recent past?

We are at this unique moment in history where it’s clearer than ever before how closely Greek and American interests in this region align.  We saw that play out in a very positive way in Washington during the Prime Minister’s visit.  I believe that the steadfast U.S. support for Greece throughout the economic crisis, the President’s very explicit support for responsible debt relief, and the wide-ranging interest from U.S. businesses in Greece as an investment opportunity are important factors in how the two leaders got along.  Our whole Mission in Greece, Embassy Athens, Consulate General Thessaloniki, the Naval Support Activity in Souda Bay, everyone –myself included – we are all looking forward to what’s ahead in advancing the U.S.-Greece relationship at this particular time.  The U.S. as honored country at TIF 2018 is one of many opportunities on the horizon.

According to reports, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is pleased with Trump Administration’s choice to increase U.S. cooperation with Athens by “upgrading its naval base” at Souda Bay in Crete. Could you please tell us more about the content of this agreement?

The Prime Minister has been open to expanding our cooperation at Souda, which serves the interests of both our countries.  And President Trump expressed great confidence in Greece’s military, our determination to help Greece remain a pillar of security in its region, and acknowledged our shared security goals here.  Greek-U.S. cooperation at Souda Bay is truly a model for how such security cooperation can be done worldwide.  I also want to mention also that, just as important, is the added emphasis on regional exercises, for instance, with Israel, Egypt, the UAE, Cyprus, and our other NATO allies.  As for the agreement on Souda Bay, the current renewal takes us through 2018, and I’ve said before that, while we would welcome a multi-year agreement to facilitate longer-term planning and infrastructure investments, equally important is the quality of the daily cooperation that happens there between Greek and American military personnel.  We saw another dimension of this cooperation last week in Alexandroupoli, where we worked closely with the Port Authority, the Hellenic MOD and Hellenic Coast Guard to assist a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter brigade return back to the United States from an extended deployment in Romania.  The same week, we did a refueling exercise with the Hellenic Airforce over the skies of the Aegean for the first time in years, confirming NATO interoperability.  On November 9, we will hold a joint firing exercise at NAMFI with Hellenic and German forces.  That’s what NATO is all about, ultimately — the sincere commitment on the part of all allies to fight together, to work together.  And Souda is a critical place, but just one place in Greece, where we develop and sustain that confidence.

According to Greek and European sources, the Trump administration can help keep Turkey cooperating with NATO and the European Union. Do you intend to take initiatives in this direction?

Continued engagement with Turkey, discussions of its European track and its membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions remain critical goals both for Greece and for the United States.  There is continued appreciation in Washington for Greece’s efforts, including these senior diplomatic conversations and visits, military cooperation, Prime Minister Tsipras’ phone calls, and President Pavlopoulos’ visit to Istanbul.  We will continue to support efforts to find opportunities to bring countries in this region closer to our Euro-Atlantic institutions and alliances.

What is the state of the discussions on the F-16?

As President Trump announced, we agreed on a framework to modernize and upgrade Greece’s fleet of F-16s over the next ten years that supports our mutual interests: not only keeping Greece’s fleet up-to-date and ready to promote regional security, but having a positive impact on both our economies.  There was a notification to the U.S. Congress, providing an uppermost limit for the cost of the upgrades.  This provides a starting point for the Greek side to determine exactly what it wants; and then allows for commercial negotiations between Lockheed Martin and Hellenic Aerospace Industries to precede on a Letter of Offer and Agreement (LOA).  Through the process, we’ve listened closely to Greece’s requests: we stretched the payments to 10 years and lowered the cost of the most expensive years.  This flattens the payment schedule, which is not the standard way an LOA works but is something we adapted to fit Greece’s economic situation and defense requirements.

What are the benefits for Greece from the F-16 upgrade agreement?

First and foremost, the upgrades need to reflect Greece’s national and regional security goals for the next decade.  Both the Greek government and the main opposition have been supportive of Greece’s efforts to modernize its military over the years, and we believe U.S.-Greece cooperation on defense and security goals in the region is critical. But the agreement also will have benefits for both our economies.  The relationship between Lockheed Martin and Hellenic Aerospace Industries (HAI) is decades long and significant.  They will have commercial discussions regarding the implementation of the deal, and if approved, it will definitely create many jobs both here and in the United States.

The opposition, and especially the ND, reacted negatively to the deal. What is your comment Mr. Ambassador?

I’m not going to get into Greek internal party politics, of course.  What I can say is that public debate and transparency are obviously key hallmarks of democracy, and I think it’s healthy that Greeks deliberate on matters of national security.  At the same time, I also note that all the major parties have agreed on the need for Greece to modernize its military capabilities and that, as far as this agreement goes, it’s clear that Greece’s long-term security goals mirror those of the United States and the agreement would further our joint goals both in NATO and as allies.  I also appreciated in this regard Mr. Mitsotakis’ statement on October 16 pointing out that, “The visit of the Prime Minister to the United States is taking place at a particularly favorable moment for our country.”

Are you more optimistic about US investments after President Trump meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras?

Yes, without question.  And it wasn’t just the President’s clear support for responsible debt relief, or the creation of an investment working group led by our Secretary of Commerce and the Greek Minister of the Economy.  Nor was it just the President’s endorsement of Greece as an energy hub through support for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline and the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector, as well as the development of LNG facilities, which will allow Greece to bring new sources of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Europe, including from the U.S.  In addition, Prime Minister Tsipras had a series of meetings in Chicago and in Washington that brought him directly in touch with representatives of the Greek diaspora and American businesses that could really move the needle on American investment in Greece.  The Prime Minister made an effective “sales pitch,” as I heard from several of the companies present, and he made clear that his government would be favorable to international investors.  So there was a lot of interest.  Now, we need to make sure that Greece provides the right environment for businesses to operate, including things such as predictable regulations and transparency.  U.S. investors will be looking for positive signs in that regard.

What does it means for America the proposal by the Greek Government to be honored at the Thessaloniki International Fair?

We see the TIF as the best, most high-profile opportunity for us to highlight our strong relationship with Greece, particularly in northern Greece.  Throughout this coming year, and not just next September, we will emphasize our economic support, our defense and security relationship, and our incredibly important cultural, people-to-people relationship.  That’s why President Trump said he was proud to announce that the U.S. will be next year’s honored country and promised a high-level U.S. delegation for the event.  My Embassy team, in cooperation with the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, is already working hard with local government officials in northern Greece, with HelExpo management, and with the Greek government to plan a series of events around TIF.  The high-level business representation at the TIF will showcase American enterprise, innovation, and digital technology, as well as, expand upon the strong ties between the U.S. and Greece.  So I’d say stay tuned: follow our new USATIF2018 accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as the website,

Why do you think anti-Americanism in Greece has fallen so much?

I’ve always made it a practice as a diplomat to focus on the future, not so much on the past, which cannot be changed.  U.S. support for Greece throughout the roughest times of the last eight years has been steadfast.  Also we draw great support from the Greek American community, which has been an invaluable resource to sustain the bilateral relationship over the years.  And so the relationship between the U.S. and Greece is really at its peak.  I’m of course aware, however, that it hasn’t always been this way.  But that hasn’t impeded my work.  Greeks have been very gracious and generous hosts to me and my wife Mary, to our personnel based in Souda, to the many Americans that come here for tourism and business, and I have had the great fortune to experience firsthand the depth of Greek hospitality, φιλοξενία.  I know I speak for all my U.S. Mission colleagues in saying that we all feel lucky to live in this beautiful country and to serve at such a hopeful moment in U.S.-Greek relations.  There is a lot still to do, but we are making progress!