January 27, 2020
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, Dimitri. I’m going to just sit here because that podium is very tall, and it will make me feel like I’m delivering a lecture, and I feel tonight like I’m really among friends, and what I want to do is actually have more of a conversation. So I’m not going to read prepared remarks, I’m just going to put a couple of ideas out on the table and then really take the conversation in whatever direction would be of greatest benefit to all of you.
I want to say what a pleasure it is to be invited back by the Brown Alumni Club. You all are beneficiaries of the best education that America can provide, and you personify the human links between our two countries.
Dimitri offered some very nice remarks about my role here, but all of us as diplomats come and go. The human ties are what endure. I think it’s wonderful to have such a strong and large Brown University contingent here in Athens. So I’m delighted to be speaking with you again.
We advertise this as a Pita Cutting, so χρόνια πολλά. We’ll get to that part later on, I think with one of your most distinguished graduates, Mayor Bakoyannis.
Let me just say a couple of things about where I think we are here in January of 2020. It’s been a very long month for me. There’s been a lot that’s gone on, and it really started with a bang with Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington, DC.
I want to emphasize, first of all, how spectacularly successful that visit was. It came at a very crowded time in American politics. We’ve got a lot of drama going on right now in our domestic politics. And I thought the Prime Minister was brilliant in managing to cut through all of that and offer a very clear message about the opportunities that Greece represents, how Greece is changing over the past few years, and also the really important role that Greece has defined for itself as a pillar of stability in this region. A country which, frankly, when I was preparing to come to Greece in 2016 was associated with lots of problems. There was anxiety about the sustainability of the financial situation, about whether Greece would fall out of the Euro Zone. There was the refugee crisis.
Today, I think it’s clearly the case that Washington views Greece first and foremost as a source of solutions. It is a central pillar of our strategy for engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean region on a broad range of issues. It’s one of our most important partners in Europe on the agenda of energy diversification and energy security. It’s a country, as I was reminded repeatedly during the Prime Minister’s visit, with a fantastically strong Diaspora, and especially in an election year in the United States, it helps a lot to have three million Greek-Americans who are active in our politics and who both of our political parties are chasing after.
So it’s a very exciting time to be working on the relationship.
The Prime Minister was very clear in his messages in Washington about the regional security situation, some of the sensitivities that Dimitri’s opening remarks pointed to. But also making clear that this government was not seeking to define the success of U.S.-Greece relations in terms of the failure of U.S.-Turkey relations. To the contrary, that Greece, like the United States, has a strong interest in a Turkey which behaves as a good neighbor and which is anchored in our EuroAtlantic community, anchored in European institutions like NATO. And which helps to build a wider community of stability and prosperity.
It helped greatly that the Prime Minister arrived in Washington just a few weeks after President Trump at the end of December signed the East Med Act, which was a law promulgated by our Congress which specifically directs the United States government to step up our engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re seeking to look at the Eastern Mediterranean as a coherent strategic space to reinforce the very welcome cooperation between our three democratic friends — Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. To accelerate our cooperation with all three countries especially on issues of energy and regional security. And to identify additional opportunities to deepen an already very important relationship that Secretary of State Pompeo highlighted when he traveled to Jerusalem last March for the first of what we call the 3+1 meetings.
The visit also benefitted from the fact that my boss, Secretary of State Pompeo and his wife had a terrific visit here in October. The letter which Dimitri talked about from Secretary Pompeo, that is not an ordinary diplomatic communication. It reflects the really strong personal relationship between the two leaders, but also Secretary of State Pompeo’s confidence in Prime Minister Mitsotakis and our desire to signal both to the government but also to the region that the United States is strongly committed to supporting Greece’s stability and prosperity, but also to reinforcing the need for the peaceful settlement of disputes and our rejection of unilateral measures that heighten instability and controversy like, for instance, the Maritime Delimitation Agreement that Dimitri talked about between Turkey and part of the Libyan government.
So we’ve built a very strong foundation of human relations. Dimitri described my very long service as an American diplomat. More than 30 years now, in every part of the world. Probably the most important thing that I’ve learned, especially watching relations at the most senior level: at the White House, at the 7th floor of the State Department, is that human relations matter. At the end of the day, all of these leaders, they’re human beings. They put their clothes on one leg at a time. They have problems with their kids. Their dogs get sick. They’re human beings. And because they’re human beings, what really matters, especially in the moments of crisis or moments of difficulty, is do you trust the person on the other end of the line? Do you have confidence in that person? And Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his cabinet through a lot of hard work both here in Athens but also in Washington, have managed to develop some exceptional personal relations with the U.S. government and with Republicans and Democrats in Washington, DC.
Another central feature of the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, DC is the work that we’re committed to doing together on investment and economic growth. It’s clearly understood in the United States that this is job one for the Greek government. That after a historic ten-year economic crisis, nothing is more important than helping to ensure that Greece now returns to solid growth, to create an environment that reverses the process of brain drain, that attracts new foreign investment, which is going to be indispensable if Greece is to recover the ground which was lost over the decade of crisis.
And in that regard, you heard from Secretary of State Pompeo, from Secretary of Commerce Ross, from Vice President Pence and President Trump, great admiration for the really remarkable turn-around story that Greece represents.
One of the statistics that I know grabs President Trump’s attention is the fact that the Athens Stock Exchange was the best performing exchange in the world last year. The fact that big American investors like Pfizer and Cisco and DeLoitte have begun to double down on their presence here in Greece.
And the fact that it’s not just American companies in one or two traditional sectors that are identifying opportunities here. It’s the emergence of new sectors driven by high tech and the knowledge-based economy. Things like the Pfizer Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence which will be established in Thessaloniki.
We are committed to doing all that we can to support this at the end of the day. Investment decisions, as you all know well in the United States are going to be driven by individual companies who are accountable to their shareholders, who are looking for predictability, a level playing field, and the opportunity to compete.
But there has been a dramatic change in the work that I do, the kind of visits that I get from American companies. I know the Prime Minister’s sales pitch to the CEOs and corporate leaders he met with in Washington, DC was extremely effective. We’re already seeing the proof of that in terms of follow-up visits and commitments to invest, and I think we’ll see quite a bit in the months and weeks ahead.
Another area I want to highlight because it doesn’t get nearly enough press, but as you all well know is very important, is our educational ties. It was fantastic that Niki Kerameus was part of the Prime Minister’s delegation. She made a couple of key announcements there. One, is the Greek commitment to support financially the Fulbright program which has been one of the great force multipliers for U.S.-Greece relations over the decades. She also announced that in March, she, with the support of the State Department, will be bringing to Greece a delegation of American university administrators who are coming to look at opportunities to grow their presence here in Greece. I encourage all of you who answer those annual Brown Alumni contribution solicitation letters, to contact your colleagues at Brown and encourage them to take a look at the opportunities that Minister Kerameus is establishing here.
As a Yale graduate, it’s a source of great pain to me that Harvard has the strongest program in Greece of any of the Ivies. But I know that this government and this Education Minister in particular is really looking to take it to the next level in terms of the kind of educational ties that we have here for exchange programs, and going both directions. I say this as a parent recently liberated from university tuition payments for both of my children, the biggest thing that’s changed in the United States since I went to college, having just gone through this experience with my kids, is that international experience has really become a sine qua non, an essential part of being an educated American.
So our universities, whether they’re Ivy Leagues or state institutions or something in between, are all looking for opportunities to build international programs, semester abroad programs. They’re looking to embed themselves inside international institutions.
Greece has a fantastic brand that has fantastic potential in this area, but it’s always been hard for the university bureaucracies to leverage these opportunities. I think that’s started to change now, and Minister Kerameus is driving the change.
It was interesting to me on a couple of occasions in his public presentations, the Prime Minister talked about these issues with President Trump. He cares about them a lot. But on a couple of occasions in his public events, he was also asked about university exchanges. And it was clear to me, this is something he cares personally about. As a Harvard, Stanford graduate, he understands the power of educational exchange, and he spoke with tremendous passion about his commitment to working with us in this area. So we’re very excited about the potential there.
A couple of other quick issues, and then we can open it up to a conversation.
The defense ties continue to be front and center in the Washington appreciation of the Greece relationship. It is very important that when Secretary Pompeo was here in October, he signed an amendment to expand and revise our Defense Cooperation Agreement. That will be considered this week by the Greek Parliament. I hope very much my friends in Syriza will find their way clear not to vote no on that amendment because frankly, almost everything that the amended Defense Cooperation Agreement writes into Greek law began under the Tsipras administration. Whether it’s our cooperation at Larissa, our expanded military footprint in Souda Bay, our work together at Alexandroupolis. All of the things that the revised Defense Cooperation Agreement is meant to accomplish. But there was tremendous appreciation in Washington, DC, across the board, from Republicans and Democrats, for the fact that Greece has been such a strong ally, for the fact that at a moment when we are challenged as rarely before in this region between the civil war in Syria, spiking violence in Libya, continued destabilization from Russia in the Balkans and the Black Sea, Greece is an ally we can count on, and that matters a lot in Washington, DC in 2020.
So this Defense Cooperation Agreement is something that we are engaging on because it’s in both of our countries’ benefits. Foreign Minister Dendias has spoken eloquently about why this is in Greece’s interest, as has Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos.
But we see this, and what I would emphasize to you, is how important this is in this repositioning of Greece that I talked about.
Finally, I would note as well my hope that we are going to see over the course of the next few months, some significant new success stories in terms of our concrete cooperation, how Greece and the United States work together. It is a given on the part of both governments that our interests align. That we will now have the opportunity to expand our cooperation, whether it’s how we work together on energy issues, the new TAP pipeline, the new IGB gas connector to Bulgaria, the hopeful gas terminal FSRU (Floating Regasification Unit) at Alexandroupolis, a rapid expansion of our cooperation in areas like wind, solar, and electricity storage, leveraging the Prime Minister’s ambitious goal to decarbonize the Greek economy by 2028. Or close the lignite power plants at least.
So these are all opportunities for continued growth in the way in which we work together.
But I think we really have reached a new normal in terms of how our governments work together and what the expectations are. And all the enthusiasm which was reflected in the reception that I saw for Prime Minister Mitsotakis capitalizes on this convergence of interests, but also the confidence that Greece has managed to build in Washington, DC.
I have been doing this for a long time. I’ve been in Greece for a while now, but I’ve been doing this diplomatic thing for a long time. I have rarely seen the kind of sincerely enthusiastic reception that Prime Minister Mitsotakis received when he was in Washington, DC. It made me enormously proud to have played a small part in getting us to this stage, but I’m also confident that the best is yet to come, and we have a lot to do together.
I’m also confident that whatever happens in American elections over the next few months, and it’s going to be quite a show to watch, it’s not going to affect in any significant way the positive trajectory that we’ve set now in U.S.-Greece relations.
So that’s a very important accomplishment. I think it’s one of strategic importance to the United States. It’s one that we on the part of the U.S. government are going to continue to invest in. And it’s one that I hope I can count on all of your support in helping us to advance.
So thank you very much. Thank you for hearing me out. And as I said, I really hope we can have a bit of a conversation here.