Council for International Relations-Greece
September 8, 2021
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, Professor Nikias for that warm introduction. It makes me terribly homesick to see your background there with the USC campus. And I also want to thank Ari and CFIR for giving me this opportunity to be the inaugural speaker before the Council’s Ambassadors’ Forum.
It’s a fantastic time, as you say, to talk about the U.S.-Greece relationship and how our two governments are working together to promote security, stability, and prosperity in three different contested spaces – the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Before I get into my remarks I also want to say how fantastically excited we at the Embassy are about the partnership that we’ve formed with Ari and with CFIR to launch Greece’s very first Master’s program on American Studies at the University of Piraeus later this month. I’m very proud that we’re going to have four scholarships for the first year of that program which were part of the bicentennial campaign, “USA and Greece: Celebrating 200 Years of Friendship” that the Embassy has been running since March. As Professor Nikias pointed out in his opening remarks, there is an indelible tie between the Greek Revolution and the American Revolution. Just as America’s founders were inspired by Athenian democracy, so too did the success of the American Revolution against all odds, 45 years later, inspire the Greek Independence fighters.
If there’s one idea that I can leave with everybody today, it is the importance still today of those democratic values. President Biden believes deeply in the values that were born here in ancient Athens, and the importance of the United States, Greece, all of our European allies working together to support that democratic consensus at a moment when there is tremendous change underway in the international system, at a moment when the global COVID-19 pandemic has placed new strains on our international community. But also at a moment when there are two global rivals – Russia and the People’s Republic of China – who are seeking to advance a very different view of how the international system should be organized and how individual freedoms should be secured.
I think one of the challenges that we face now is to think about how the United States and our transatlantic allies, including, importantly Greece, work together to meet that challenge. I say this recognizing that our relationship is, as Professor Nikias noted, truly at a high point in terms of the quality and breadth of our cooperation, but also that our interests are more closely aligned across this wider region perhaps than they have ever been before.
I’ve had the privilege of serving here now for five years. Five years during which I have seen Greece transition from being a problem for the European Union, a country where officials worried about the stability of the financial system, whether Greece would comply with the requirements of the European Troika, or whether Greece might even fall out of the Eurozone, to becoming today an example of vibrant democracy, good governance, a country which did better than most in managing the first phases of the global pandemic, and as we saw in yesterday’s extraordinary growth figures, a country that is poised to emerge from the global COVID economic shock more strongly than most others in Europe. Greece has become a source of solutions, a country that is looked to by the United States as a partner for building stability and prosperity in the Balkans, in the Black Sea, and in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I want to talk a little bit this afternoon about the rising ambition that we see in Greece’s foreign policy in the region and beyond, and the commitment that we have on the part of the United States to bolstering this partnership and building new opportunities for our countries to collaborate.
Let me start with the Balkans because that’s been the area of perhaps greatest transformation during my time here in Athens. The Prespes Agreement has had a dramatic impact on Greece’s relationship up and down the Balkans, helping to unlock the potential of Greece and especially Northern Greece to play a catalytic role in helping its northern neighbors continue to move towards European reforms, to achieve energy security and independence from their historic dependence on Russia as a source of gas, and building the kind of economic opportunity that will help to reinforce stability on Greece’s northern frontiers.
I want to really commend the visionary role that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his government have played in building on the legacy of the Syriza government, particularly vis-à-vis the Prespes Agreement, but also in terms of rapidly advancing Greece’s partnership with Albania, with Bulgaria, with Serbia, with Kosovo. We see special prospects in the area of energy diversification, where Greece continues to build out the infrastructure but is helping the countries of the Western Balkans to escape their historic dependence on a single source of Russian gas, whether it’s the TAP pipeline, the Alexandroupolis Floating Regasification unit, the IGB pipeline, the new gas interconnector between Greece and North Macedonia. These are all projects that have attracted interest and support from the United States, from the European Union, but also from Bulgaria, from Serbia, from Kosovo, from North Macedonia.
And it was very impressive just in the past couple of weeks to see Foreign Minister Dendias’ successful trip to Kosovo, Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ July meeting with Prime Minister Kurti, the commitment of both of those governments to move towards the further normalization of their relationship, the great work that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Prime Minister Rama have done to normalize Greek relations with Albania. Greek-Bulgaria relations are at the best level they’ve been in hundreds of years. And just the other day, we saw Foreign Minister Dendias’ trip to Kosovo, where he very genuinely declared Greece’s commitment to being North Macedonia’s closest NATO ally, and to work with that government to see continued process towards accession to the European Union and reform in modernization of the state.
So Greece is working with its Balkan neighbors to redraw the energy map of Southeast Europe, to strengthen governance, rule of law, anti-corruption, and to see that all of these northern neighbors continue to advance their vision of being members of the European Union and moving towards European standards of prosperity and governance.
I’ll have the opportunity later this week up in Thessaloniki to talk a lot more about the regional energy relationship, and I’m delighted that I’ll be joined in Thessaloniki by my ambassadorial counterparts, the American Ambassadors from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Albania. That alone speaks volumes of how closely the U.S. has been focused on this prospect, and how we are bringing a regional vision with Thessaloniki and Northern Greece at its center. We are absolutely convinced of the importance of this energy agenda. Gas which comes from non-Russian sources is critically important to these countries’ ability to exercise their own sovereign decisions about their future. LNG gas from the United States or elsewhere is more flexible and secure than Russian pipeline gas, but it also denies Moscow the ability to manipulate gas supplies to extract political concessions, and serves as a bridge to the greener future that all of us know we must move towards.
At the same time that it’s emerging as a regional energy hub, Greece is also moving ahead as the digital hub of southeast Europe. It’s incredibly exciting for me to see what’s happening in Thessaloniki with U.S. technology companies like Cisco, like Pfizer, but also the huge new investments that are being made here around Athens by Microsoft, by many of our top technology companies who are viewing Greece as a natural partner as they seek to grow their footprint here in southeastern Europe.
Finally, we see continued progress in the people-to-people ties which are so important to building long-term stability.
From the Balkans, I would turn to the Black Sea, a region that I spent a lot of time thinking about in part because I was in Ukraine for three years during Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the undeclared war in Donbas, the illegal annexation of Crimea. Greece of course has had thousands of years of history around the Black Sea region and has become a very important partner, especially for the U.S. Army in Europe as we seek to continue to grow our defense and security relationship, demonstrate the capacity for NATO to project power into the Black Sea region, and especially the Port of Alexandroupoli has become a crucial element of that.
In 2019, we updated our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which has facilitated extraordinary growth in U.S.-Greece military cooperation at the Port of Alexandroupoli, validating the investments that the U.S. military has made to enhance the capacity of that port, removing a sunken dredger and making other investments that have allowed Alexandroupoli to achieve a 30-year high in terms of the throughput of that port. We’ll be doing more in November when we have another major military rotation through Alexandroupoli. I’m convinced that this is going to become a permanent feature of our defense and security cooperation, just as Souda Bay has long established itself as the real jewel in the crown of our relationship.
In July alone, Alexandroupoli hosted three major U.S. military force rotations and three separate ship arrivals moving more than 750 pieces of military equipment, and I expect we will surpass that record in the months ahead.
Thanks to our expanded Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, we’re also enhancing and increasing our collaboration at Souda Bay. The work we do together at Stefanovikeio and at Larisa, we are demonstrating across the board and across Greece the strength of our alliance, the strength of our military partnership, and the commitment from both sides to stand by each other.
I’ve also been really impressed to see the quickening pace of military exercises that Greece has engaged in with the United States, and also the way in which Greece has been able to leverage one of the things that makes its foreign policy unique, which is Greece’s ability to build bridges both to the East and the West. One of the best examples, of course, of that is the Iniochos Air Force Exercise. I was able to participate in my fourth Iniochos this spring in Andravida and to see there not only NATO pilots working and training together, but also partners from the Eastern Mediterranean like Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, and from the Gulf, UAE, all of which illustrates this bridge-building capacity that is such an important facet of Greece’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
We also see the energy dimension of Greek foreign policy manifesting itself in the Black Sea region, in particular with the efforts that are underway in order to develop an option for delivering gas from Greece, from Alexandroupoli, north as far as Ukraine. In fact, last year, the U.S. company ERU sent a test shipment of gas from Revithousa here outside Athens to Ukraine through the currently empty Trans-Balkan Pipeline, demonstrating a potential new route to diversify energy sources to Ukraine, and this is an area that our Embassies here in Athens and in Kyiv continue to discuss with the Greek and Ukrainian governments.
The last area of cooperation that I want to talk about before we get to questions is the Eastern Mediterranean. The basic, the founding idea of U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean is to look beyond borders and embrace opportunities for regional collaboration, to develop partnerships that position us to deal with this new era of great power rivalry that I talked about earlier, and to do so in a way that leverages our very strong relationship with democratic allies and partners like Greece, Israel, and Cyprus.
The best manifestation of this, of course, is precisely the 3+1 framework that was launched in 2018. President Biden’s administration has made clear its ongoing commitment to the 3+1 framework and our intention to continue it, to expand the scope of that 3+1 cooperation. The United States is proud to host the 3+1 technical working group on renewable energy, building on what is a very robust program of 3+1 energy cooperation.
But that’s by no means the end of the conversation. We’re looking at what we can do together in areas like hydrogen technology, energy storage, cyber security. The role of Greek shipping is an obvious one in this area, but we’re also going to move the 3+1 into new domains like technology, wildfire mitigation, dealing with the consequences of global climate change, counterterrorism, and our broader security and counterterrorism interests.
In addition to the 3+1, of course, Greece is rapidly developing a more ambitious geography for its foreign policy, increased cooperation with Egypt which is important for promoting greater economic integration and stability in the East Med. We also see opportunities for Greece to increase its role as a regional energy hub through proposed natural gas and electricity linkages with Egypt to facilitate the further penetration of renewable energy and the diversification of energy sources across southeastern Europe.
Let me finish up, and then we can turn to questions, just by emphasizing both President Biden’s deep and abiding commitment to our transatlantic relationship, but also the centrality of something Professor Nikias talked about, which is our democratic values. Values matter to my President, and whether the issues that we’re working together on are climate change, the global pandemic, or the rise of China and the consequences that has for our national interests, we start from the premise that we have no stronger partners than our democratic allies, and Greece is proudly at the front of that line.
We want the Eastern Mediterranean region to be a zone of peace, stability, and shared prosperity, and that’s why the United States remains committed to deepening the U.S.-Greece relationship and taking a relationship that is stronger than it’s ever been and continuing to expand it into new areas of cooperation.
I have come strongly to believe that a stronger and more prosperous Greece is in the interest of the United States. We want to work together to build on a 200-year record of friendship between our countries, to build stability across a broad region that has become one of the important arenas for this great power competition that I talked about. We want to ensure that we are listening to our Greek partners, internalizing your priorities and your interests, but also that Greece is receptive to critical concerns that the United States enunciates, and we had the opportunity to do a lot of that over the past couple of weeks. I was very proud to host both Senator Menendez for a fabulously successful visit, and then just the other day, Senators Murphy and Ossoff, who covered very similar ground, but all starting from the premise of support for the strongest possible U.S.-Greece relationship.
So it’s a fantastic time to be the American Ambassador. I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished over the past couple of years, but I’m also confident that we’re not done, and I look forward to a conversation about how we can work together to advance our shared interests and goals.
# # # #
Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
Ambassadors Forum – CFIR-GR
Dr. Botsiou: Your Excellency, Ambassador Pyatt, it has been a great honor for all of us and for Greece, I think, to have had you as an Ambassador in the past years. Thank you very much for that, and thank you very much for what you offer to Greece and what you offer to us today with this comprehensive analysis of the region and of international politics as well. I could not think of a better inaugural speech for the CFIR Ambassadors’ Forum.
Now allow me to moderate the panel from now on, following the great warm introduction by Professor Nikias, and please let me use the privilege of the chair to pose the first question regarding security and energy, two issues that you connected very closely in your speech as well.
When recently President Biden gave in a way the green light for the construction of the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Germany and Russia which will bypass many countries, including Poland and Ukraine, in which you served as ambassador, you know it very, very well in critical times.
Does this agreement help refresh U.S.-German consensus in more urgent strategic issues like for instance the relations between the U.S. and China? That’s the first question.
And the second part of the question is what will be perhaps the cost for the East Med Project? A project that is like to the heart of the Greeks and the Cypriots in the past years, and generally for their energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean including the energy stations?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, Konstantina. First of all, it’s great to see you. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to sit down live and in person. Your question is a really important one, and I want to answer it at some length, but let me take issue with part of the premise, because I want to make clear that American policy on Nord Stream 2 is clearly understood.
That policy is unchanged. We believe that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. That the pipeline is a threat to European energy security, and that it is principally a political project which can be used by Russia to enhance its capacity to use gas as a political lever against the interests of Europe and the United States.
As you note, I lived through this phenomenon very dramatically during my time as ambassador in Ukraine. I also lived through it when I was posted in Austria. I vividly remember the winter that Russia decided to turn off the flow of gas to Austria and the other Western European countries. I remember the sense of fear about people literally dying from the cold. There was a clear political agenda there.
What President Biden’s decision on Nord Stream 2 reflects is a pragmatic judgment that, given how advanced the pipeline was, our interests would be better served by forging an agreement with Germany on how we would work together to continue to advance European energy security, to continue to support Ukraine’s vital struggle to define its own national security interests and national identity, and to support Ukraine’s continued work on the energy transition and the transition of its whole energy economy to European standards, where gas and Russian gas is at the heart.
I think Greece actually has a very important potential role to play in this regard, and I alluded to it in my remarks. One of the challenges that we will face as Nord Stream 2 is completed is how to ensure that Russia cannot credibly threaten to cut off gas flows to Ukraine. The United States and Germany are pledged to work together on that goal.
Because of the physics of pipeline infrastructure around Ukraine, one of the most promising routes for delivering non-Russian gas to Ukraine is the one I talked about, bringing either TAP gas or LNG to Alexandroupolis or Revithousa and then using the Trans-Balkan Pipeline to move that gas up into Ukraine.
When I was ambassador, we worked very hard with the Ukrainian government in order to eliminate Ukraine’s reliance on gas from Russia through extensive use of reverse flow, but most of that reverse flow is gas molecules which originated in Russia. If that gas is cut off by Russian policy decisions, then it becomes very important to identify alternative routes. Indeed, identifying alternative sources and routes has been a guiding principle of U.S. energy policy in Europe for more than 20 years.
I’m very proud of all the work that we’ve done with Greece in this area. There are few governments anywhere in Europe that have done more than Greece has to advance the goal of energy diversification in Europe. That work goes back to the Syriza government and Greece’s conclusion of an agreement for the completion of the TAP Pipeline. TAP, of course, was finished last December and is now delivering non-Russian Azeri gas to Greek consumers. That will be very important over the course of this winter. But it’s not just a question of the TAP Pipeline. It’s also the expansion of the Revithousa terminal, which is what has allowed the United States to become a major source of LNG into Greece. Last year, we accounted for about 50 percent of Greece’s LNG deliveries. The Alexandroupolis terminal, which is invested and supported by Bulgaria, by Serbia, by North Macedonia, will be important to further deepening that capacity.
So there’s a whole complex of energy projects around Greece which are advancing this goal of energy diversification.
You asked about the East Med Pipeline. I think the answer to that question is not going to be a function of what happens with Nord Stream or how successful Greece is in continuing to build out its energy diversification infrastructure. It’s going to be decided by the markets. The East Med Pipeline, if it were to be constructed, would be the deepest and most expensive pipeline project ever in the history of the world. I think all of us watch what’s happening with the global energy transition and the rapid shift to renewable sources, and we understand that while LNG is going to play an indispensable role over the short term – and by short term I mean the next few decades – as a vehicle to energy transition, it’s not the long-term answer to our energy requirements. In fact, our climate can’t support that.
So whether or not the East Med Pipeline is constructed in my mind has nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with diplomacy. It’s a question for the markets. At least for now, the markets seem to be signaling that that pipeline is unlikely to be pursued.
The United States has been very clear that we will support what the market supports, and we also support strongly the efforts that Greece has made with its allies and partners in the Eastern Mediterranean to build a cooperative set of energy relationships. That’s why it’s so important to the United States that Greece has made clear its view that the East Med Gas Forum should be an open forum. We’re delighted that the United States now has observer status in the East Med Gas Forum. We also have heard clear messages from the Prime Minister, from Foreign Minister Dendias, from Energy Minister Skrekas that Turkey too is also invited to be part of the East Med Gas Forum, but it has to do so on the basis of neighborly relations and international law.
So that’s how I look at these issues. Also, critically important is the incredibly bold decision that Prime Minister Mitsotakis has taken to phase out coal-based power by 2025. This is exactly the kind of ambition that all of us need to demonstrate if we’re going to deal with the global climate crisis. We recognize and salute the political courage that Prime Minister Mitsotakis has demonstrated in committing to this step, but we’re going to all have to work together to figure out how we identify the pathway which gets to that phase-out and then accelerates the deployment of new technologies, the use of hydrogen, but also the rapid deployment of renewable sources like wind and solar.
So there’s a lot going on in this energy space. This is one of the real bright spots of our bilateral relationship. I talked earlier about how proud I am of the strength and breadth of the U.S.-Greece bilateral agenda. We have our Strategic Dialogue coming up next month, and I’m confident that you will see there that energy is one of the areas where we have the most progress that we can all point to.
Dr. Botsiou: Thank you very much for this enlightening answer.
I have the privilege of sitting on the same panel with distinguished professors and dear colleagues like Aristotle Tziampiris and Petros Liacouras from the University of Piraeus, and now I’m giving the word to the first one, Professor Tziampiris please, take a word.
Dr. Tziampiris: Thank you Konstantina and Ambassador Pyatt. Thank you so much for all your kind words.
A few days ago, I actually heard not one but two U.S. Senators call you not a student of history but a student of deep history, which is altogether a different level. So I’ll skip very quickly to a couple of historical questions.
One thing that I think we’re all witnessing is a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards great power competition. There’s not much debate about that. And it’s not just about malfeasance, which you often talk about, but it’s also about direct competition, economics. We’ve seen, for example, China’s deals increase with ports of Greece, in Turkey, and in Israel.
My question is, after what has happened in Afghanistan, does this great power competition intensify? How does this great power competition affect developments in the Eastern Mediterranean? Also, how does it affect the way that the U.S. views changes in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Ambassador Pyatt: Ari, thank you for recalling the conversation with Senators Murphy and Ossoff, and it’s great to see you again so soon thereafter.
I would start by emphasizing a historical point, which is that we are clearly at an inflection point where the United States is seeking to position itself for an era of competition in which, really for the first time since the end of the Cold War, we face an adversary in China which has an alternative view of how the international system should be organized. It’s seeking to build out a network of international relationships to advance that alternative view, and it’s making clear that it is playing a long game, which is where history comes in.
The United States approaches this global competition starting with the principle that our strongest asset in engaging in this competition is our global network of alliances and partnerships. When the United States comes to an issue, whether it is the global pandemic or dealing with the crisis in Afghanistan, we do so not as a hegemon seeking to impose our will on others, but as a partner seeking to build international coalitions. I’ve seen that over and over through my diplomatic career, and I think it remains the great strength of the United States.
Greece is a fantastic example of that because it has been a coalition partner with the United States from the beginning. As my friends in the Greek American diaspora like to point out, Greece has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in every major conflict of the 20thcentury. You can’t go into the Greek Pentagon without seeing those battle flags from the Korean conflict, the proud record of the Greek alliance with the United States, oftentimes far afield, including in Afghanistan. And we were reminded by the valiant efforts that Foreign Minister Dendias and the Greek government made to secure the extraction of Greek military interpreters who worked with the Greek forces who were part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. We see that in the way our governments work together in counter-piracy missions off the coast of Africa, in the way we work together every single day at NSA Souda Bay.
You only have to look back at the geopolitics and the historic geopolitics of this region to understand that Greece, really going back to Themistocles, going back 2,500 years to the Athenian fleet, this has been an arena of strategic conflict because it is the place where the Eurasian land mass comes together. It’s where Europe, the Europe of values, the Europe of democracy, collides with Eurasia and all the challenges that Eurasia historically has produced.
So it’s very, very important that we continue to refine our partnership with Greece. It’s also important that we have a clear understanding of each other’s priorities. I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the dialogue between the Greek government and the United States on issues like China. We recognize that China is an economic factor in Greece. They are in Piraeus, you cannot deny that, but we’ve tried to develop a positive agenda in terms of the work, for instance, that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is doing to support American investment in strategic sectors in Greece. We’ve also greatly appreciated the wisdom that Prime Minister Mitsotakis has demonstrated in excluding non-secure Chinese companies from sensitive sectors like Greece’s 5G infrastructure, like Greece’s future energy infrastructure.
So this is a good news story in my mind. You asked how does Afghanistan change this, and I think I would fall back on what you heard from Senator Murphy when he addressed the same issues to a group of us earlier, which is to note that the end of a war that had dragged on for 20 years in Afghanistan will allow the United States to recalibrate and refocus its foreign policy; to take the hundreds of millions of dollars of resources that we were committing in Afghanistan every single month and begin to channel that in other directions in a way that will strengthen our ability to work together and to ensure that our democratic community prevails.
This is the point that President Biden comes back to again and again, and I think it’s one that’s important for us all to think about, especially sitting here in Athens in the birthplace of democracy. We have to understand that there has begun now a great battle between two different models of how society should be administered. One taken from what the ancient Athenians set in place 2,500 years ago, grounded in the rule of law, individual liberty, democratic accountability of leaderships; and another model which is authoritarian, which uses technology surveillance to place sharp limits on individual freedom, and which is premised on the strengthening of the state over the individual. I think that’s a very big decision, and societies have to think about how they position themselves in that great battle. But I’m also confident after five years that if you ask a Greek to make the choice between the model of Aristotle or the model of authoritarian surveillance and algorithmic-driven scrutiny of individual choices, there would be no contest. Greeks are democratic to their very core, as are Americans. So I know that we’re going to continue to work together on these issues, but we need to build a common understanding of what we’re up against.
Dr. Tziampiris: Thank you.
Dr. Botsiou: Listening to you, Ambassador Pyatt, I have to confess I remember the deep knowledge you delivered in the beginning of your stay in Greece, because in the Marshall Plan in Greece, which encompasses these U.S. and Greek principles in a nutshell, 70-plus years ago.
Now we’re moving to the next question posed by Mr. Petros Liacouras.
Dr. Liacouras: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, and welcome. And thank you for being with us tonight.
I suppose that staying in Greece for five years is most rewarding for you after this strong post in Ukraine, and I suppose that you had good times here.
My question revolves around Afghanistan as well because Afghanistan reminds us about the combating of international terrorism. That’s how it started. And then it changed into, regime change, something that is a dead end, as we found out.
So in this case, Joe Biden opted for Murphy’s Law, so he opted actually for an exit strategy. But that has some repercussions. After Joe Biden came into office, he committed himself to the strengthening of U.S.-EU relations. Nevertheless, the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, he has generated an anxiety that this might signal the abandonment of European allies. To some observers, because of that, it shows that the time has come for Europeans to develop their own independent foreign policy.
Is there really a change towards closer or not U.S.-EU relations? Or the “America first” approach is still dominating the American foreign policy, especially after Trump’s administration?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you for the question, Petros. Again, I’m going to dispute the premise a little bit, and I think I can do so with some authority because I have been at the Munich Security Conference as part of President Biden’s delegation. I have seen the way in which he believes in our transatlantic relationships. If you look at the priority that he has given to those relationships since coming to office on January 20th, it’s a mystery to me how anybody could say that he is somehow distancing the United States from our transatlantic alliances.
To the contrary, this is a President who has probably devoted more of his professional life to transatlantic partnership and transatlantic engagement than any U.S. President – I’m just thinking about it right now – probably since Eisenhower, who of course fought and sent some of his soldiers to the ultimate sacrifice on European shores.
But President Biden is a transatlanticist. He knows everybody. He knows the issues. He has worked on the issues. If you look at his own travel calendar. Look at Secretary Blinken. I’ve lost track of how many trips Secretary Blinken has made to Europe since becoming Secretary of State. I’m sure it’s now into the double digits. In fact, he’s in Germany today with Secretary of Defense Austin continuing to work on the issues around the decision to end the war in Afghanistan.
You used the phrase “abandonment” to characterize the American approach to the very difficult military withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the United States built a huge military coalition to remove tens of thousand of people, working closely with our European allies at the Kabul Airport when the Afghan government collapsed. So how one could extrapolate from that the idea that the United States is not committed to its work with its European allies is a mystery to me.
We talked about this issue when Senator Menendez was here. Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos made the point that there had been extensive discussions among the NATO Defense Ministers about the decision to end the war in Afghanistan. There was not extensive discussion about the collapse of the Afghan government because nobody anticipated that that would happen over the course of a weekend, and we’ve had to react to that development. But in doing so, we’ve moved in lock-step with our European allies.
President Biden has met with G7 leaders. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, another great transatlanticist, has been meeting almost every single day with a group of 28 allies and partners to continue to work on these issues.
So I would come back to the point that I made in response to Ari’s question. In an era of great power competition, the United States’ greatest asset is our global network of alliances, and the strongest of those alliances are our transatlantic alliances, because they are grounded in values, a history of cooperation that goes back to 1945, and a common view of how the world and the global economy should be organized. So I am quite confident that we will continue to demonstrate that, and I am relieved that I hear relatively little of the talk here in Greece that you hear some other places in Europe, suggesting that this is the moment for Europe to go it alone, because in fact, I think this is the moment when we as Americans and as Europeans in fact need to recommit ourselves to the principles that, as Konstantina reminded us, we first committed to at the time of the Marshall Plan 75 years ago.
That’s how it looks to me. I recognize, of course, how disturbing to everyone the images from Afghanistan have been. But again, to extrapolate from that the suggestion that the United States is somehow abandoning its European relationships I think misunderstands the nature of American foreign policy.
Dr. Liacouras: Thank you, thank you very much.
Dr. Botsiou: Before giving the word again to Ari, please allow me to insist a little more on Afghanistan. Not the U.S. departure per se, which has been amply explained and also today, but mainly regarding the possible consequences for Europe, which is something that’s in the minds of many people. Namely that there is a widespread fear that the Taliban regime might violate human rights, especially women’s rights, and will also produce massive waves of migrants and refugees coming to Europe in order to find rule of law. Could this magnify xenophobic parties in Europe and upset European politics at a time when political peace is much needed? And could be the solution to that? Perhaps a different EU migration policy?
Ambassador Pyatt: Let me first address your question about the status of Afghan women, because it’s one that I know and feel strongly. I’ve traveled in Afghanistan. I saw the extraordinary transformation achieved in the status of Afghan women over the past 20 years. When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, there were no women in school. Now there’s a whole generation of Afghan women who have come up through education, they’re literate, they participate in the economic life of the country. It’s also striking if you watch the demonstrations that have broken out in Afghanistan in recent days. Of course, they’re all recorded on cell phones, and they’re broadcast to the world, none of which existed the last time the Taliban was in power.
The Taliban face a lot of questions that they have to address in terms of how they exercise the power that they’ve taken. The United States is going to remain very strongly focused on the status of women. As you know, Konstantina, we have the first woman Vice President in the history of the United States. We have a woman Ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield, at the United Nations. We have a woman Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, as far as I can remember, the first woman ever to hold that office. So you can be very, very sure – oh, and a woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, our most senior Congressional position. So you can be sure that the United States is going to speak out very strongly on these issues.
I only hope that our European allies do the same because these are issues where we have to work together. We have to be absolutely unequivocal in our signal to the Taliban that they have decisions to make, and that their reception by the international community and especially the United States and our European allies, the transatlantic community, will hinge critically on the degree to which they uphold the obligations they have made, including the free travel of individuals, something on which Greece and the United States have joined in multiple declarations now. But also sustaining progress for women and girls, respecting fundamental human rights, forming an inclusive government.
So these are issues where Greek and American interests align. We both hope very much that there will not be a huge new wave of migration. That’s going to depend on the quality of the human rights and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, and that in turn is going to be a function of the decisions the Taliban themselves make.
Dr. Botsiou: Ari, would you like to pose your question now, and then we’ll move on to Petros.
Dr. Tziampiris: Yes, in fact, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to merge my two questions very quickly so that my colleagues can have the final word since we’re running out of time.
Ambassador, when I was growing up in Greece, and this is hard for people to understand, one of the big issues in bilateral relations was what came to be known as the battle of the statutes – younger students watching us right now can google it up. It was about which statues goes up, down, or gets blown up.
Today we heard you talk about 50 percent LNG exports, Revithousa, Strategic Dialogue. A sea change in bilateral relations. What are the deeper reasons for this huge change? And since we’re celebrating the bicentennial, it is an opportunity for people to look back. Is there something that you did not know and learned and were surprised by looking back in two centuries of bilateral relations? And what major lessons do you derive from this relationship?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thanks Ari, I’ll try to answer very quickly.
First of all, the shift in the tone and the tenor and content of the relationship. The first explanation is simple. Our interests have come to converge. Greece and the United States have a common interest in energy diversification. We have a common interest in our military partnership. We have a common interest in growing investment and trade between our two countries, especially as Greece is trying to move very rapidly into areas like clean tech and digitization of the economy where the United States leads the world.
So ultimately it comes down to converging interests. I think it’s also helped by the smart decisions that have been made by a series of Greek and American governments. I think a lot of the change began with President Obama and the insistence that the United States, including the President, especially Vice President Biden, Jack Lew, provided to Greece in the darkest days of the economic crisis, and the perception that the United States, having stood by Greece through these very difficult days, had demonstrated that it could be a good partner.
Also the way in which the United States has tried to be an honest broker in helping to stabilize the region and deal with some of the challenges of instability arriving from provocative behaviors to your East.
You asked about history and the bicentennial. Almost everything that I know about the American philhellenes, I’ve learned over the past year or two. And one of the things that’s striking to me is that both in Greece and in the United States, very few people know the history of the American philhellenes and it really is quite inspiring. I always say, we have to be modest. Americans have to be modest in our foreign policy, and Afghanistan is a good reminder of that. But what’s interesting is if you look back at it, Greece has been a successful example of American nation-building, helping to lift up Greek society, and Konstantina talked about the absolutely pivotal role of the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine. And that if the United States had taken a hands-off or a different policy in 1947 towards Greece, we would be talking about a very different historical trajectory today.
But you also can look back at the way in which American philhellenes 200 years ago rallied to support the Greek Revolution at a time when the United States didn’t have much of a foreign policy. We were a very young country. Our leaders were trying to consolidate control over our geographic territory. We had this huge expansion that took place with the Louisiana Purchase. The West was still unexplored to a large degree. So this was a very different country from the continental power that we look at today. But the fact is that you had these young American philhellenes who rallied to the support of the Greek Revolution because they had concluded that the Greek revolutionaries were the direct descendants of Socrates and Aristotle and those who inspired our founders, and that if the U.S. democratic experiment was to succeed, we had to also support the revolutionary experiment that the Greek freedom fighters had embarked upon.
It’s a fabulous history. I think the lesson you can take from it is that people-to-people relations matter. In many ways, the American philhellenes, the philhellenic committees that emerged in Philadelphia and Boston and New York, those were the first examples of people-to-people diplomacy between Greece and the United States, and it’s still the case today, that those people-to-people ties are the real vital foundation of our relationship, and that’s why we’re all so excited about and proud of this new American Studies Program at Piraeus University. But that’s for another day.
Dr. Botsiou: And we hope to have the time to see you again and discuss with you even more about history and modern politics, as both are connected in your speech in a unique way.
Now the final question – we’ll keep some questions for the next event with you – regarding American leadership since you have already answered that, going back to history, and I’ll give the word immediately to Professor Petros Liacouras for his question.
Dr. Liacouras: Thank you, Konstantina. Thank you, Ambassador.
A final question is about U.S.-Greece relations. Actually, Greece has benefited a lot from deepening its relations with the U.S., in particular after the Strategic Dialogue between our two countries has been inaugurated and continues. That happened during your time as U.S. Ambassador in Athens. How do you evaluate this specific relation, the bilateral agreements that followed, and further possibilities to strengthen it more in the future?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, Petros. I’ll say a couple of things.
First of all, just to remind everybody, the Strategic Dialogue was launched in 2018 by Secretary of State Pompeo and then Foreign Minister Katrougalos. And the idea when we created this, my idea was that I wanted to build a structure to take all of the disparate areas of U.S.-Greece cooperation – defense and security, counterterrorism and homeland security, and law enforcement, people-to-people ties, economic and trade, regional cooperation, energy and environment – and bring those under a high-level political umbrella that would provide a vehicle, first of all, to keep pushing the bureaucracy, and both of our bureaucracies need to be pushed. Bureaucracies always have to be pushed. But also to ensure that the political vision that both governments were enunciating, the vision of alliance and partnership and deepened relations, continued to move forward.
I’m very proud of how we continued to leverage that vehicle now and institutionalized it. We had the second Strategic Dialogue with Secretary Pompeo here in Athens in 2019. Last year, we had the High-Level Review of the Strategic Dialogue. And next month in Washington, DC, we will have a formal Strategic Dialogue hosted by Secretary Blinken with Foreign Minister Dendias leading on the Greek side.
What this all reflects is our deepening commitment on both sides to identify areas of cooperation, to knock down obstacles, and to build what President Biden has said should be the strongest U.S.-Greece relationship that history has ever seen.
The great thing for me and our team at the Embassy is that there is broad political support from the United States for this goal. This is President Biden’s commitment, it’s Secretary Blinken’s commitment, and it’s the commitment of our most senior congressional leadership on both sides of the house – Republican and Democrat, Senate and House of Representatives.
So we are at an extraordinarily favorable moment in the United States, perhaps the most favorable alignment of forces we’ve ever seen, and in the same sense here in Greece, there is a strong two-party consensus. On Monday, I was with Prime Minister Mitsotakis along with Senators Murphy and Ossoff, and a few hours later, we were with Syriza President Alexis Tsipras, but both spoke very strongly of their commitment to the strategic relationship with the United States.
So as a diplomatic practitioner, my obligation now is to leverage that opportunity and to build the structures that will institutionalize this new era of relations and carry it forward.
Dr. Liacouras: Thank you.
Dr. Botsiou: Ambassador, Pyatt, thank you very much for this fascinating discussion. We’re running out of time, and we hope to have you very soon back on the CFIR event. This has been a great opening of the CFIR Ambassadors’ Forum.