Grande Bretagne Royal Room
November 29, 2017
Καλησπέρα and welcome everyone. I want to tell you how much of an honor it is for me to be here up on this stage, especially with Alternate Minister Vitsas, who has been such a strong and effective advocate of the alliance between the United States and Greece, and also, of course, Ambassador Koumoutsakos. I was glad to see the comments today from Mr. Kikilias in Washington, signaling the very strong support from the opposition as well for what we’re trying to do, especially on our security and defense relationship, which is the topic of discussion this evening.
It is always an honor and a pleasure for me to be part of AHI events. AHI is one of the shining examples I often use of how Greece’s large American diaspora community can most constructively work with Greece and help us strengthen our bilateral relationship. I would count some of the programs that Nick and Tom talked about as important examples: AHI’s indispensable support for Prime Minister Tsipras’ recent visit to Washington, the tremendous programs that Nick and the team put together for Admiral Apostolakis, General Stefanis, Admiral Tsounis, all of our key partners. I share his optimism that we will have General Christodoulou in Washington as well. I know all of your colleagues, sir, are looking to get you there as well. But these are examples of AHI’s truly unique role as a facilitator of the strategic relationship between the United States and Greece.
The last time I had an introduction like this from Tom was a panel at the Thessaloniki Summit, which was a particularly exciting moment for the Greece-U.S. bilateral relationship. We unveiled there our official logo as the honored country for the Thessaloniki International Fair in September, and we were just announcing Prime Minister Tsipras’ visit to the White House. And since then, I’m glad to say, we have maintained a very strong pace in advancing our bilateral relationship; building on the Prime Minister’s very successful visit to Chicago and Washington.
This time, I am getting ready to travel to the U.S. again with Minister Tsakalotos, Minister Papadimitriou and others, including you, of course, Tom – we tend to follow each other around – to continue some of the important discussions we had with top U.S. companies in October about how we can grow the investment relationship between our countries.
New York will also be a chance for us to strengthen our cooperation through the new bilateral investment committee formed under the leadership of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Minister Papadimitriou.
Then in January, I am very much looking forward to the official kick-off, in partnership with the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, of our celebration in 2018 of America’s role as honored country at TIF.
So I approach today’s topic, Greece as a Strategic Partner in the Eastern Mediterranean, from a very optimistic point of view. We are certainly at a high point in terms of Greece-U.S. relations, as we heard from President Trump in October that the United States considers Greece to be a pillar of stability in this volatile region, a trusted partner and ally, and a potential energy hub for Europe.
So let me start by talking about our security relationship, which, as Nick pointed out, centers on our cooperation at Souda Bay, but as the past few weeks have demonstrated, the relationship is much bigger than that. Just in the past days, for instance, we had NATO and KFOR operations occurring at the ports of Alexandroupoli and Thessaloniki, and a few weeks before that, we saw a refueling drill over the skies of Athens that demonstrated the interoperability of our respective aircraft in a NATO context.
We also had a successful, complex missile defense exercise at the NATO missile firing installation in Crete. I mention this variety of activities because they demonstrate how deep our cooperation goes both bilaterally and through our shared Euro-Atlantic institutions. In fact, the operation at the port of Alexandroupoli, transferring American UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from NATO exercises in Romania to their home base in the United States, was really a first of its kind and a model for future cooperation: how we can best use existing resources in a bilateral and multilateral context to advance shared security interests.
I’ve called our ongoing military cooperation at the Souda Bay Naval and Airfield complex a global model. This strategic base enables us to service Sixth Fleet ships and aircraft on missions throughout the region, and I fully expect it to get even busier in the future, given the instability that Greece faces on its borders and NATO’s robust role in promoting peace and security in this region.
This cooperation is facilitated by Greece’s status as one of only six NATO countries that currently meets its defense spending commitments under Article 3, a status which reflects very well on Greece and on the Greek government, particularly given the economic challenges the country faces at the same time. And certainly on the U.S. side we commend Greece for its sustained commitment to our defense.
Greece will continue to be our critical strategic partner both because of its commitment, and ours, to NATO, and also because Greece occupies a key geographic location. I often describe a map with a Venn diagram to illustrate the three strategic problem sets that surround Greece.
One, and the most critically important right now, of course, is the challenge of ISIS in the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria; another is the challenge of terrorism and disorder arising from the Maghreb, particularly around Libya; and the third is the challenges which arise from the Black Sea region, in particular increased Russian presence and malign behavior, and then also the challenge of helping to move Greece’s Balkan neighbors fully into our Euro-Atlantic community.
And when we’re also talking about geography, it’s also clear how important Greece is to energy security in Europe. I just spoke at the Greek Energy Forum with European Commission Vice President Šefčovič, and we practically gave the same speech noting the important role that Greece could play as the region’s energy hub. Just 30 minutes or so north of Alexandroupoli, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline will connect to the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, allowing gas from Azerbaijan to flow into the European market.
And as progress is made on that critical piece of the Southern Gas Corridor, the United States is supporting another key link in our joint efforts to move new, non-Russian gas into European markets, the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector – the IGB. And we are supportive of efforts to create a floating storage and regasification unit in Alexandroupoli that would serve as a new point for entry of LNG into Greece and the Balkans.
These projects, as well as the expansion of the Revithoussa LNG terminal here near Attica, are creating the infrastructure to bring new sources of natural gas into Europe, putting greater power in the hands of consumers and diluting the influence of suppliers who have used energy as a tool of political coercion.
Secretary of State Tillerson addressed exactly these issues in an important speech last night at the Wilson Center in Washington, where he noted that “Enhancing European energy security by ensuring access to affordable, reliable, diverse, and secure supplies of energy is fundamental to national security objectives. The United States is liberalizing rules governing the export of liquefied natural gas and U.S.-produced crude, and we’re eager to work with European allies to ensure the development of needed infrastructure like import terminals and interconnecting pipelines to promote the diversity of supply to Europe.”
Secretary Tillerson added that the United States will continue to support European infrastructure projects, such as LNG-receiving facilities in Poland and the Greece Bulgaria Interconnector, to ensure that no country from outside Europe’s Energy Union can use its resources or position in the global energy market to extort other nations.” He emphasized that “we continue to view the development of pipelines like the Nord Stream 2 and the multiline TurkStream as unwise, as they only increase market dominance from a single supplier to Europe.”
There are few regions where providing options for energy and breaking the leverage of monopolies is more critical than here in Greece and the Balkans. Diversifying energy supplies is a way to get there. While we understand that Russian gas will continue to supply a significant percentage of European gas demand, it must do so in a competitive market. European countries should no longer face the prospect of Russia using energy supplies as a political weapon.
President Trump discussed these matters at some length with Prime Minister Tsipras on October 17, and publicly expressed our appreciation for “Greek contributions to European energy security through its support of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector, and other liquefied natural gas facilities that are capable of transporting diverse sources of energy to Europe.”
Now, if you’d allow me, I’d also like to turn to a less discussed facet of our strategic partnership, and that’s the people-to-people relationship that has been largely built by a dynamic Greek-American diaspora and by organizations like AHI, who continue to demonstrate how improving the relationship between our two countries enriches both our societies and allows us to better achieve our interests worldwide.
Next year is the 70th anniversary of the Greek Fulbright Foundation, Europe’s oldest, and its success has included improving the capacity of our diaspora and Greek scholars to network and collaborate. For instance, Fulbright administers the Greek Diaspora Fellowship Program, which has awarded 51 fellowships to Greek and Cypriot-born, U.S.- and Canada-based academics, enabling them to collaborate with universities throughout Greece to develop curricula, conduct research, and teach and mentor graduate students in areas identified by the Greek universities as top priorities. And throughout Greece – and I’ve traveled a lot over the last year and a half – I have met Fulbright alums in so many diverse sectors, from bee-keeping to music, engineering, and political sciences, and I’m constantly reminded how much of a force multiplier these kinds of exchange programs can have.
And last, I want to talk just a minute about our support for Greece’s recovery from its sustained economic crisis, which has been constant throughout the last eight years, and as President Trump committed in October, will continue as Greece exits the crisis and returns to growth. It is also a product of how critical a strategic partner Greece is for the U.S., and we truly believe that the more stable Greece is, the more stable its region will be.
Greece has accomplished an historic fiscal adjustment over the last five years, and has made significant steps towards reforming its economy and returning the country to sustainable growth.
I’ve made the point that 2018 could be a turning point for the Greek economy, as long as the Greek government can create the right investment conditions for economic growth and for attracting foreign investment, especially, I hope, from America. And I have more American investors coming to my office right now than at any time since I arrived in Athens.
Whether it’s interest in a Hollywood-style film studio on Syros, or interest in investing in the Alexandroupoli port, in civil aviation, or in big property developments like Hellenikon, American investors and companies are looking for ways to partner with Greek companies to invest here, and they are seeking an investment climate that allows for predictability and economic growth.
The Prime Minister was very clear on these investment issues in his presentations in Chicago and Washington, and his American audience was receptive to what he had to say. In this regard, I particularly welcome the establishment of a new committee in the Prime Minister’s office to bring together the various parts of the Greek government and eliminate obstacles to investment and economic growth.
And there’s potential here in Greece for early breakthroughs with U.S. companies. We can look at Calamos Investments’ commitment here, which is nearly one billion U.S. dollars, and we can look at other opportunities that I’ve already mentioned that are coming on line, like the Syros shipyard. And as American Ambassador, I want to do all I can to encourage more American investment here, to help create jobs and help create private-sector-led economic growth.
Thanks again, Nick and AHI, for arranging this event, for your very generous comments, and I’ll give the floor now back to Tom and to the very distinguished panelists. All of them have been great partners in enhancing and expanding our bilateral relationship. I look forward to hearing all of your views and our continued partnership in building the strong alliance that serves both of our countries’ interests. Ευχαριστώ πολύ.