“U.S.-Greece Relations: Common Values and Shared Interests in a Time of Complex Diplomacy and High-Stakes Geopolitics in Eurasia”
Tuesday, February 1, 2022, 7:00 pm.
Thank you very much Professor Arvanitopoulos for that very warm introduction. Thank you, Professor Prodromou, for putting us all together and making this happen, and framing the conversation. Good evening to all of my friends and colleagues here in Athens and good afternoon to those of you in Massachusetts.
I also want to say a huge thanks to The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy for hosting me, for giving me this platform. And I am delighted that we are joined by faculty and students from Panteion University. This is very much a transatlantic conversation.
The title of my remarks today refers to “complex diplomacy.” And the timing could not be better, because we are coming together at a moment of exceptionally complex diplomatic efforts, as the United States and our allies in Europe are engaged in high-stakes discussions with Russian leaders that will have lasting implications for European security and indeed for the whole world. It is a good moment in history to be reminded of why diplomacy matters. In that spirt, I hope that when we get to the questions and answers, somebody, especially on the Massachusetts end, will ask me about careers in the State Department which I’d be really happy to talk about as well
It’s great to have an audience of people in both Greece and the United States who are generally interested in international relations. This global focus could not be more timely or more important. As I look back on a very long diplomatic career, one thing that’s become increasingly clear to me is that all of the most most challenging problems that we face – the climate crisis, emerging great power competition, transformative technology, fighting disinformation, preserving our democracies — all of these challenges are going to require you, as our future leaders, to work collaboratively and across borders to find solutions that transcend geographic boundaries.
In the next few minutes what I want to do is to share a few thoughts, then move on to questions and answers. I really do want to hear your perspectives as well, so let’s try as best we can in this virtual setting to make this a dialogue.
Of course, no discussion about our common values and shared interests in Europe can take place right now without addressing the events that have seized the world’s attention on the Ukrainian border, which I would point out is a country that’s only about 400 miles north of Greece’s northern border with Bulgaria. So, I will start with that, then review some of our key areas of focus in Greece’s wider neighborhood.
I will conclude with some of the highlights in our bilateral relationship, which demonstrate how Greece has emerged as a key strategic partner to the United States actively promoting security, stability, and democracy not just in Europe, but across several regions of importance to the United States.
So let’s start on Russia/Ukraine. I’m sure that everybody online here tonight is well aware of the United States’ urgent concerns, which are shared by countries throughout Europe and globally, over Russia’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric, misinformation, and the unprecedented build-up of military forces that we see on Ukraine’s borders today.
The intensity of U.S. diplomatic engagement on this problem over the past few weeks is really unprecedented, meetings led by our Secretary of State Tony Blinken, our Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, the Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia, conversations at NATO, with the EU, at the OSCE in Vienna, are all part of a full-court press on this problem.
It’s a problem that goes beyond Russia’s military build-up and disinformation campaign. We see Russia’s actions today and its demands as examples of how Russia has repeatedly turned away from the agreements that have maintained peace and stability across Europe for many decades.
To allow Russia to violate the principles that we have agreed to in the first decades following World War II with impunity would drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time. That’s why the United States and our allies and partners throughout Europe, including here in Greece, have been so focused on what’s happening in Ukraine.
It’s much bigger than a conflict between two countries. It’s bigger than Russia and NATO. It’s a crisis with global consequences and it requires global action.
As the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention my genuine concern for the people of that country. I was Ambassador in the winter of 2013-2014, when the Ukrainian people stood up to defend their choice for a democratic and free European future.
I have seen firsthand how difficult life has become living under the shadow of Russian occupation in Crimea and aggression in Donbas and eastern Ukraine ever since. I have traveled all over eastern Ukraine, and I have met with hundreds of Russian speakers who are dismayed at what Moscow has done to their country. And I have seen young Ukrainians, like many of you on this Zoom line tonight, risk everything to achieve the democratic freedoms, rule of law, and options for the future that most of us take for granted.
So, this is not just a distant border dispute or yet another example of Russia bullying its neighbors. What’s at stake are the principles that have made the world safe and more stable for decades and the rules that have given Europe an unprecedented run of peace and prosperity. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias put it exactly right yesterday when he visited the frontline city of Mariupol where Greeks have lived for thousands of years, and he described your country’s firm commitment to the principles of Ukrainian sovereignty and international law.
The United States is hopeful that our steadfast work with allies and partners in NATO, the EU, the OSCE, the G7, and the United Nations will make absolutely clear our shared message to Russia that it has two paths: the path to diplomacy that can lead to peace and security for all of us, or a path of aggression that will lead only to untold violence, severe punishment, and international condemnation.
Greece as a Regional Leader
So, we all have our work cut out for us in the days ahead to counter Russia’s aggression. And as allies and friends, we have to speak with a unified voice. Greece, an EU member state, close to the United States, and a NATO Ally with a distinctive connection to the Greek speaking diaspora of Mariupol and the Azov coast, has an important role to play.
During my tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to Greece, I have been excited to witness Greece taking a much more prominent role in its foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Balkans, Black Sea region and beyond. It has done so with the strong support of the United States.
Over the past few years, the world has witnessed a remarkable transformation of Greece from being considered a “problem child” for Europe during the worst years of its economic crisis, to the role it now plays as a driver of economic growth, an example of smart governance, and a promoter of stability in a complicated and strategically important region.
Let’s start with the Balkans. Greece signed the Prespes Agreement with North Macedonia in 2018 under a previous government, but Prime Minister Mitsotakis has seen to it that there would be no loss in momentum in the normalization of relations between the two countries, which in turn has unlocked a more ambitious Greek role across the former Yugoslavia.
Three years after Prespes, it is remarkable how much Greece is collaborating with its Balkan neighbors on energy security and diversification, guiding them towards Euro-Atlantic institutions and reforms, and helping advance our shared goals for law enforcement and good governance.
Greece helped North Macedonia join NATO and we have seen impressive cooperation between the two countries’militaries. Greece and its Balkan neighbors have redrawn the energy map of Southeastern Europe, transforming the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupoli into a regional hub and helping Thessaloniki to rekindle its role as a cosmopolitan gateway for all of the Western Balkans.
Shared ownership in energy projects like the floating regassification unit in Alexandroupoli, and the connected Alexandroupoli natural gas power plant, the Greece-North Macedonia Interconnector, and the deepening ties between Greece and its northern neighbors,
Thessaloniki and northern Greece play an important role today as a gateway to the Balkans, a market of 30 million people. The potential for expanding and deepening those regional economic ties is virtually limitless, as illustrated by new investments by companies like Deloitte, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services, all of which have a specific regional focus.
Of course, Greece is also playing a prominent role in the Eastern Mediterranean.
With the creation of the 3+1 cooperation framework in 2019, Greece committed to work with Israel, Cyprus, and the United States to advance a shared vision for stability and prosperity in this region.
The agreement has united three democracies that enjoy strong, dynamic relations with the United States, working together not only on energy, but also on several other areas of interest, including how to spur economic growth, recovering from the pandemic, counterterrorism cooperation, combatting the the climate crisis, mitigating illegal migration flows, and advancing our knowledge-based economies.
We share with the Greek government a vision that this cooperation should expand to embrace other regional players, like Egypt. And of course it is important in this context to mention Greece’s relationship with Turkey. Greece and the United States agree that conflict between NATO Allies will only benefit adversaries who seek to sow division and challenge our transatlantic ties.
I have seen Prime Minister Mitstotakis, Foreign Minister Dendias, and Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos on many occasions during my tenure taking steps to resolve disagreements and quell tensions diplomatically and peacefully. They agree with the United States that keeping Turkey anchored to the West is essential to ensuring regional stability and economic prosperity for both countries. And Greece is working on practical cooperation, like the “positiveagenda” championed by Deputy Foreign Ministers Fragogiannis and Onal, that will deliver concrete benefits for the citizens of both countries.
It is worth reiterating that Greece’s aspirations for its foreign policy today extend beyond its relations with its closest neighbors. Foreign Minister Dendias and his team have been strategic and ambitious in their approach. The Foreign Minister visited Cairo several times in 2021 to discuss bilateral efforts to promote regional stability, and he also met with the Secretary General of the Arab League. Foreign Minister Dendias visited Angola and Nigeria just in January. He hosted the Foreign Minister of India here in Athens last June. And Greece has leveraged the Abraham Accords to strengthen ties with UAE and other Arab countries in a way that the United States welcomes.
These efforts all point to a rising ambition for Greece to have a more global profile and impact. Due to its strategic geographic location and these enhanced efforts, Greece is now projecting power in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia in a way that nobody was thinking about when I came to Athens in 2016.
Greece’s efforts to create new transregional connections show tremendous potential. From President Biden, who is a great friend of Greece, and throughout the United States government, we strongly welcome these efforts because we know Greece is so committed to promoting our shared democratic principles, religious freedom, human rights, creating new avenues for trade, and exporting stability and security not just to its own neighborhood, but around the world.
The Bilateral Relationship
Finally, let me say a few words about the U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship. The United States sees eye to eye with Greece on many of its foreign policy goals and priorities because our interests are closely aligned. And because we see eye to eye on so many different areas, our ties have reached a generational high point.
President Biden has made clear his personal commitment to take the U.S. relationship with Greece to even greater heights, and Greece consistently receives strong support from both Republicans and Democrats in our Congress. As the U.S. Ambassador to Greece, this is a goal that I, along with my entire team, work to achieve every single day.
Our relationship with Greece today spans the full range of geopolitical, security, economic, cultural and educational cooperation, all of which is underpinned by our Strategic Dialogue, our recently updated Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, and our shared commitment to upholding democratic values.
Last fall, in October, we completed our countries’ third annual Strategic Dialogue, in which we renewed our commitment to strengthening the relationship in key areas including regional cooperation, defense and security, law enforcement and counterterrorism, trade and investment, energy and environment, humanitarian challenges and disaster preparedness, and people-to-people ties.
Our updated Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement represents a commitment from both of our countries to deepen and expand our strategic defense relations. And it’s important to note in this context that Greece has consistently exceeded NATO’s 2% of GDP defense spending benchmark.
The jewel in the crown of our defense relationship is the U.S. Navy base at Souda Bay, which is busier than it has been in many decades, not just because of its unique capabilities, but because of the great partnerships we have built with the Hellenic Navy and Air Force that allow us to expand our operational cooperation.
And we have made huge strides through our work with Greece to strengthen and open economic opportunities for both of our countries and to make Greece an attractive destination for international investment.
Greece’s recent reforms, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his team, have led to a surge of U.S. investment in Greece’s tech sector. For example, Amazon Web Services selected Greece as one of 21 countries to launch what they call Local Zones in 2022. Microsoft’s decision to invest hundreds of millions in a series of data centers around Athens is another marquee investment by a tech giant from the United States.
Other leading American companies like Pfizer, Cisco, Digital Realty, Google, Deloitte, JP Morgan, and Applied Materials are expanding their footprint in Greece, reflecting new confidence in the future of Greece’s economic recovery after a decade-long crisis, and encouraging American industry leaders in other sectors to take a look at how Greece has changed and the superb human capital available here.
Finally, speaking of human capital, I want to say a word about U.S.-Greece people to people ties, which have been forged over two centuries of our countries’ shared commitment to defending and advancing our democratic values that were born right here in Athens.
The ties between the peoples of our two countries add a special warmth to the relationship and bind us together. Our shared values are the foundation upon which these numerous areas of cooperation I have mentioned today are built. We do not take them for granted; we know they must be nurtured, which is why we dedicate so many resources to our public diplomacy programs that seek to bring Greeks and Americans together for dialogue that will deepen those ties and encourage us to learn from one another and share areas of expertise.
And this is not just the effort of the U.S. Embassy. The Greek Embassy in Washington and consulates across the United States are doing the same. Panteion University promotes these ties through its annual American Studies Seminar that our Embassy has supported for more than 20 years. And the list of Fletcher School activities is very long, but I would start with its hosting of the prestigious Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies. Even through gatherings like this one today, we are promoting greater understanding between our peoples.
So let me wind up where I started, by coming back to Russia’s activities on the Ukrainian border. In the face of Russia’s aggression, the United States knows that we have a stable and committed NATO Ally in Greece that will join all of its allies to respond, if necessary, if Russia chooses the confrontational path rather than the diplomatic way forward that we all hope to achieve.
One of the methods Russia employs to threaten Ukraine is a disinformation campaign that reflects a longstanding pattern that stretches back for decades. We know the Kremlin creates multiple false realities and inserts confusion into the information environment when the truth is not in its interests.
My boss, Secretary of State Blinken, recently called Russian disinformation “one of the fundamental challenges of our time.” To counter it, we must use all available means to “relentlessly and effectively tell our story.” That’s why it is so important that as allies, we speak with one voice and in solidarity.
To achieve that solidarity takes an immense amount of trust. We have built trust with Greece by tending to our relationship through the slow and methodical work of diplomacy, which is something that has taken place over many decades. We have done this because we understand that the deepening of the U.S.-Greek relationship is not only good for our two countries, but because it makes NATO and all transatlantic institutions stronger.
And we support Greece’s regional and global foreign policy ambitions because we know they strengthen the rules-based international order upon which our collective prosperity and security depend. This is at the heart of the complex diplomacy that we’re talking about today.
And with that, I want to thank you for your invitation, and I look forward to a dialogue and hearing everybody’s questions.