Ambassador Pyatt’s Interview to “Chaniotika Nea”

September 1, 2017


Ambassador Pyatt:  Maybe I’ll start with just a couple of words about why I’m here.

Reporter:  Yes.  This is the first question, about the purpose of your visit.  Chania is [inaudible] Greece.

Ambassador Pyatt:  So this is a very quick visit for me, in support of a visit to Chania of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Europe Subcommittee.  Senator Ron Johnson.

So Senator Johnson is a senior Republican.  The Foreign Relations Committee is very important because it has the authority over everything having to do with State Department budgets, with foreign policy decisions, with sanctions with foreign relations, and in our system, the Senate is especially important.  Our constitution gives the Senate special responsibilities for the approval of treaties, the ratification of treaties, the approval of ambassadors, political appointments.  So it really is a coequal branch of our government.

So our Senate Foreign Relations Committee is very very powerful on issues having to do with international relations.

Senator Johnson travels in Europe a lot.  It’s his area of responsibility.  On this trip he started out in Poland, and then was in the Balkans, and also in Turkey.  I reached out to him.  I know Senator Johnson well, we worked together when I was in Ukraine and I see him every time I’m in Washington, D.C.  I said you should come to Greece.  So it was August, things are still in transition, but I knew it would be useful for him to see what we’re doing together at Souda Bay.  So he had a military plane, he was able to land.  You’ll see it on my Twitter, he was able to land at Souda.  Julia and our Defense Attaché, Captain Palmer, showed him the old part of the city last night, so he got a little bit of the flavor of Chania, and then today, this morning, we had an extensive briefing at both the top side and port side, as we say, both in terms of the airfield, the airfield operations, but also what happens at the port.  There are two U.S. ships in the harbor today, which is pretty typical.  Lots of people and operations coming and going.

Reporter:  He wants to see how the base —

Ambassador Pyatt:  How it works.  What are we doing here.

And for me, for us, it’s an opportunity to highlight the critical role that Souda Bay plays as both a place for Greek and U.S. militaries to cooperate and work together like at the NMIOTC, the Maritime Training Center.  There was actually a training exercise happening when we were there.  But also to see the kind of support that Souda provides to U.S. security operations across a very broad swath of the Eastern Mediterranean.

So it was a very good visit.  I was delighted to be able to get him to talk to a few Greek military officials as well, so he got some flavor of what for me is the really distinguishing aspect of the Souda facility, which is this partnership between Greek and American officers and personnel.

And then since I was in town I had, as you noted, a meeting with the Mayor, who I had not met before, and also with the Vice Governor, who I had met before.  Really just an opportunity to say thank you for the terrific partnership and Greek support that we get from the local authorities for the work we do together at Souda.

Reporter:  Greece and the United States agreed to expand the Defense Cooperation Agreement.  What does it mean, this with Souda base?  We have had times before that there are some plans about an upgrade of the base.

Ambassador Pyatt:  We are already involved in significant upgrades in terms of infrastructure there.  There was a, on the military side there was a big expansion of the ramp space to accommodate more aircraft.  We are working with U.S. resources to complete a new degaussing range which is a facility in the water which is used for ships to calibrate their sensors.  But it will be a resource for the Hellenic military, for the Hellenic navy and for NATO forces that are coming through Souda Bay.  We’re working on a new road to facilitate access between the pier and the airway.  So there’s already been lots and lots of investment.  Tens of millions of dollars of new infrastructure that was built in recent years.

Reporter:  This is the plan.

Ambassador Pyatt:  It’s already happening now.  There is a plan to do more.  Some of, for instance, the road is still under discussion.

We’ve also had very good discussions at the policy level with Minister Kammenos, with the Prime Minister, with Deputy Minister Vitsas about how to continue to both broaden and deepen our defense cooperation.  Looking at ways to create more opportunities for our forces to work together, to train together, but also to advance our common security [inaudible].

So that’s our focus right now.  You saw on the news we just had the extension of our Defense Cooperation Agreement for one year.  We appreciate that.

I have 100 percent confidence in our defense relationship.  I’ve discussed this on many occasions with the Prime Minister, also with Mr. Mitsotakis, the leader of the opposition.  I think there’s a broad consensus in your politics, in your society, on the value that comes from our high-level defense cooperation.

I was also really encouraged by the messages I heard today from the Mayor and from the Vice Governor about the positive relationship between the community of Chania and the base. Appreciation of the resources that the base puts into the local economy.  For instance, I think it’s terrific that we had an aircraft carrier come through for about two weeks in March, which is low season for tourism.  It meant a lot of money coming to the country in the off-season.

We will look for more opportunities to do that kind of cooperation.

Reporter:  Also, — we have a lot of times of quarrels and not so good things.  My next question is about the legal status.  When something happened between Greek citizens and American personnel, then it, the trial must be held at the United States.  It is kind of, this is something that the local societies don’t like it so much.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I would stay away from the legal issues, because that’s not my area of expertise.  What I will just say is, I think all of the sailors and marines and others who come to Greece know that they are guests.  They are also reminded by their officers that they are representatives of the United States and they are asked to behave that way.  But I’m going to stay away from the legal questions.  I just don’t have the background.

Reporter:  Another question also, ____ Square.  Every month, every two or three months we have a protest against the base, against the [American presence] over time.  By the post we see that there are a lot of, a big part of Greek people and also _____, they are not so welcome with American forces, and they are not so friendly with the base as an idea.  Is this something that you are worried about?

Ambassador Pyatt:  First of all, it’s good for Greece and the United States that our countries are both democracies.  We took our democracy, our democracy finds its inspiration in Athenian democracy.  So, and part of democracy is the right of free speech, the right of people to express their opinions.

I will say regarding attitudes towards the United States, I was very gratified by the message I heard today from the Mayor and from the Vice Governor about the appreciation of the partnership.  Certainly when I speak to the Defense Minister, to Deputy Minister, or Alternate Minister Vitsas, there is great comfort with the strategic relationship, the alliance relationship between our two countries.  That relationship is grounded in common interests, common values, and it’s something that we value a great deal.

I think in terms of attitudes towards the United States, everybody tells me that attitudes have never been as favorable, as positive as they are today.  And certainly in my own travels around Greece I have received nothing but the most positive reception.

So you know, my impression is very favorable about attitudes toward the United States.  Do we have differences, different perspectives on issues from time to time?  Of course.  That’s normal.  But it is, that’s a conversation that takes place between our governments, but anchored on our shared alliance.

Reporter:  The base on an island, there are a lot of people who are worried about maybe be a target for ISIS for some radical immigrants, Islamists, whatever.  There is any reason to, for this?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I think the challenge of terrorism and radical extremism is something that all of our democracies have to be alert to.  Europe faces this in a very real way.  Whether it’s the attacks in Brussels or in Nice, Paris, this is a global problem.  It’s a challenge to our democracies.  And again, based on my conversations with the government, with Minister of Citizens Protection Toskas.  There is a very clear recognition that our cooperation is important to both countries.  It’s how we keep Greece secure, it’s how we keep America secure.  And I think the unfortunate lesson of recent history is terrorists will strike at targets that they believe will attract attention, and again, you just have to look at what’s happening in other parts of Europe today to see that the presence or lack of an American facility is not what’s driving these groups.

Reporter:  You tell us you can walk around the base and be safe, as an American citizen, can normally walk around whatever —

Ambassador Pyatt:  I always say that to Americans.  Greece is a wonderful place to visit.  Minster Kountoura tells me that almost a million American tourists were in Greece this year.

The message I always send to American visitors, to American tourists is of course be careful as you would be careful in any large city, but that Greece is a welcoming, wonderful place to visit.  And I’m very happy about the fact that we’re getting more tourists.  It’s good for the economy.  It’s good for the islands.

I try to encourage the idea that they shouldn’t all go to Mykonos and Santorini, that there’s a lot more of Greece to explore.  And I’m confident that that will happen over time.

Reporter:  Some general questions.  We talked before about ISIS.  A lot of people are [afraid] and [inaudible] the United States should power.  Why so much time on ISIS?  I mean why they don’t finish with Islamic [fight]?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I think ISIS, the Caliphate represents a unique threat because of the territory that it tried to control, because of its international reach.  The good news is we are making progress, significant progress in terms of destruction of the Caliphate.  We will continue to need to work on this challenge.  And again, I don’t need to tell anybody in Greece about the problem of terrorism.  You’ve suffered from this problem, we’ve suffered from this problem.  But this is about defending our democracies, it’s about defending European values, Euro Atlantic values.

Reporter:  Because [inaudible] with another [place], another [inaudible].  There are [inaudible] against the United States about the policies.  Because the first year or so when the [inaudible] was here, starts, American policies, they talk it was [inaudible] region.  But this, now they had some radical movements that some years after become [inaudible] al-Qaida, you know, ISIS.  Some different kind of [inaudible] conversation.  This is something that you think about?  I mean sometimes when you have a target as a policy maybe to, not against the government.  Maybe your policies goes another way.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I would, again, I will leave this to my colleagues who work on the Middle East, aside from making the point that the reason for the chaos in Syria today lies at the doorstep of Mr. Assad.  And anybody who suggests anything differently misunderstands the nature of that regime.

Reporter:  And some [inaudible] about the, over the new government, the Trump government.  Anything change about the Greek and U.S. relationships?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Not really, and that’s a good sign.  One of the positive aspects of the relationship is that there is broad bipartisan Republican and Democratic support for our alliance with Greece.  It’s helped a lot by the people-to-people relationship.  Millions of Greek-Americans, a lot of whom trace their roots to Crete, that live in the United States, who come back every summer, feel a sense of connection to Greece.  That helps with our politics.

The number one goal of the United States government in Greece right now is to help Greece emerge successfully from the seven-year economic crisis.  That goal has not changed at all from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.

The strategic importance of Greece, the reason we care about the future of this country was laid out 70 years ago when President Truman advanced the Marshall Plan.  The same strategic logic which induced us to prioritize post-war recovery in Greece from 1947 forward, helps to explain why we should be interested now in Greece’s economic recovery.

The good news is we’re making progress.

As a result of that progress, the challenge is less how to deal with debt payments from month to month than how to help accelerate the return to growth.  I’ve worked very hard on that issue.  I was meeting yesterday with Minister Papadimitriou.  Minister Papadimitriou and I traveled together to New York and Washington in June to meet with American investors to talk about the opportunities here.  We’re clearly beginning to see a return of investor interest.


I know from talking to the Prime Minister, in fact he was at an American company, American Tobacco, and giving his speech this week where he talked about the importance of attracting foreign investment.  So that’s where our priority is.


On other issues, the Trump administration is still developing its policies.  The good news is there is an excellent, on the security pillar of our relationship there’s an excellent dialogue between our security officials.  Secretary Mattis had a very early meeting with Minister of Defence Kammenos.  One of the first NATO defense ministers to travel to Washington to meet with the Trump administration.

Secretary Mattis’ Deputy who handles Europe, Tom Goffus, was here in Chania last month, traveled to Greece.  We met with Admiral Apostolakis.  We met with Alternate Minister Vitsas.  And then Tom came down here to see what we were doing in Souda, see how we work together.

So there has been no significant change in terms of the content of U.S.-Greece relations from Obama to Trump.  And the basic pillars of the relationship remain the same.  I always talk about three.  The economic relationship — trade, investment, economic development.  The security relationship — defense cooperation, counter-terrorism.  And the people-to-people relationship — students, tourists, Greek-Americans.

The three of those together, it’s like a rope with three strands.  Very very robust.  And my job, our job at the embassy, is to try to continue to build and strengthen those ties.


Reporter:  I would like to ask you also your opinion about, okay, about the climate change.  The U.S. side would withdraw from the agreement on [inaudible].  This is something that is a great concern to many people.  Your side is concerned?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Let me say two things.  Of course on the changes [and the shift], the United States is going to remain a leader in battling climate change.  I’m from California.  It’s one of the global capitals right now of sustainable energy, on solar, on power, Tesla.  There’s a huge amount of technological innovation that is taking place in the United States, and particularly California, on the sustainable energy issues.  That’s not going to change.

What President Trump has said is that he wants a better deal.  And so that’s the instruction that he’s given to his cabinet, is to find a better deal on climate change that doesn’t disadvantage American companies, American industry, American business.  But I am 100 percent confident that the United States is going to remain a leader on these issues, precisely because we have one of the world’s most innovative economies in the world on this issue.

Reporter:  That’s it.  You want to —

Ambassador Pyatt:  I didn’t really answer your first question about impressions of Crete and everything.  What I was saying, we were talking about —

Reporter:  You told me you been here five times?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Five times.

Reporter:  [Inaudible].  And not only for —

Ambassador Pyatt:  Not only for a job.  As a tourist.  Again, it’s a fantastic part of Greece with wonderful combinations of mountains, sea, food, people, culture.  And I think it’s one of the really great aspects of my job is that I get to travel and meet, and talk to people.  One of the things that comes through very clearly whenever you’re from Crete, is that this is a very proud culture, a very dignified culture with a unique identity.  It’s different from the mainland.

Reporter:  Very different.  That’s the truth.

You are from California?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Yes.  Southern California.

Reporter:  Lakers —

Ambassador Pyatt:  Yes.  My daughter is a huge Lakers fan.

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