Ambassador Pyatt’s SKAI TV Interview with Apostolos Mangiriadis

October 20, 2021

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with SKAI tonight.

Ambassador Pyatt:  It’s great to be with you.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Last week Greece and the U.S. signed the defense deal.  I would like to ask you how this deal is expanding Greece’s defense capabilities and whether you’re considering more bases in the future.

Ambassador Pyatt:  We had a big week in U.S.-Greece relations, a very successful week.  I want to talk about the MDCA but I would also put a spotlight on everything we did with the Strategic Dialogue, because it really reflected the extraordinary progress that we’ve made in the U.S.-Greece relationship over the past couple of years, but also the mandate we have from President Biden and Prime Minister Mitsotakis to keep building and to go even higher.

On the defense agreement, I have a signed copy.  This is my copy of the document signed by Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Dendias.  It’s a very important accomplishment for both governments.  I’ve said it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary.  It builds on what we agreed in 2019, but it also reflects importantly a reaffirmation on both sides to the continued upward trajectory of our defense relationship.  It adds additional facilities and, critically, it brings the U.S.-Greek MDCA into compliance and into conformance with our agreements with our closest NATO allies.

You asked how does this build Greece’s security.  It builds Greece’s security by reaffirming and deepening the commitment we have to each other under Article 5 and our intent as NATO allies to come to each other’s defense.

It also provides a very important reassurance to Greeks and NATO allies across southeastern Europe that the United States remains committed to our alliance, we remain committed to our presence here on NATO’s southeastern flank.  And in fact we’re doubling down on the bilateral U.S.-Greece aspect of that through our intent both to extend our MDCA, to continue the investments that the United States is making at Alexandroupoli, at Stefanovikeio, at Larissa, at Souda Bay, and to send a message to the wider region that the United States and Greece are committed to the closest possible defense and security relationship.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Foreign Minister Dendias made reference in his Kathimerini review on Skyros.

Ambassador Pyatt:  He did indeed.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Would you like to clarify on that?

Ambassador Pyatt:  No, I don’t think I need to add much to what the Foreign Minister said.  We talked about this a lot.  It was a negotiation.  The United States made clear, including in the very important letter that Secretary Blinken sent to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, that we remain committed to continuing to grow and expand our defense and security presence including on Greek islands.  And at this point we’re not focused on Skyros, we don’t have an operational requirement there.  But in no means does that rule it out for the future.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  The indefinite duration following the five years is something that the opposition has already voiced its criticism on.  I would like you to comment a little bit on that.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I’m a little surprised because I’ve said in the past this renaissance of U.S.-Greece defense relations really began under Syriza.  The four sites that we are continuing to build out as part of the MDCA are sites which were identified by Syriza, and where we began operations in Larissa and Alexandroupoli and Stefanovikeio during this Syriza period.

Greece is a democracy like the United States is a democracy.  The opposition’s role is to oppose.  But I also know from my conversations with Party President Tsipras, with former Foreign Minister George Katrougalos, who remember was in the chair for the first U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue in 2018, and others in the party, they understand the importance of the U.S.-Greece strategic relationship and they share that commitment.  And I would just emphasize to my colleagues in Syriza that the language which is in the agreement is not exceptional.  It’s language which brings the agreement into line with our other NATO allies.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  So we here in Greece, should we view this deal as complementary with the Greek-French defense deal? How did you react as U.S. government when you figured out that Greece and France are putting down this defense deal?

Ambassador Pyatt:  It’s not just me saying it, it’s also the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister, have all underlined that the U.S.-Greece agreement and the France-Greece agreement are complementary.  We’ve made very clear our support for the investments that Greece is making in its defense capabilities.  We’ve also made clear that we intend to continue working to deepen our bilateral defense ties including the arms sales aspect of that.  We’ve talked about the F-35, we’ve talked about the MEKO upgrades.  When Secretary Blinken was with Foreign Minister Dendias, he had the opportunity to point out that he had recently returned from Paris where he met with President Macron and Foreign Minister Le Drian to talk about the importance of the U.S.-France alliance.

So no, we do not see these as any way competing with each other.  In fact they all help to send an important message about NATO’s commitment to its southeastern flank.  Frankly, they also help to reinforce the message that President Biden has emphasized from his first days in office, which is this administration’s very strong commitment to our transatlantic relationships and to the NATO alliance in particular.  It’s an alliance that is essential to everything that the Biden administration is trying to accomplish around the world.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  And what about Turkey?  Are you worried about the country’s turn to Russia for military cooperation?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I think one of the points that you heard from Foreign Minister Dendias very clearly when he was in Washington and which I’ve also commented on, is the fact that Greek foreign policy is not defined by Turkey.  The United States and Greece share an interest in seeing that Turkey remains anchored in the West.  We also have a strong shared interest in the resolution of disputes through non-military diplomatic means, especially disputes between allies.

The United States has also spoken very clearly about our concerns about Russia’s persistent efforts to undermine the NATO alliance, to drive divisions among NATO allies, including in Turkey through actions like the S400 sale.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  It makes sense.  The last time we spoke together we were in Patras and you said everyone expects a quiet summer except Mykonos.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Yes.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Now the summer is over —

Ambassador Pyatt:  We had a quiet summer and Mykonos was crazy.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  True.  But should we expect a cold winter?

Ambassador Pyatt:  I can’t predict the future, but what I can tell you is that I know Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Foreign Minister Dendias, Minister Panagiotopoulos, they’re all working as hard as they can to continue that climate of quiet. It’s important to all of us, especially as we’re focused on recovery from the pandemic, continuing to attract foreign investment, and frankly, to extend the tourism season.

I joked earlier about Mykonos, but speaking to Governor Hadjimarkos and others in the Aegean region.  I was on Syros two weeks ago.  Syros had a bigger tourism year in 2021 than they’ve ever had before.  They exceeded even 2019.  That’s a huge contributor to the Greek economy.  I’m very encouraged that we have so many Americans continuing to visit.

I flew back from the United States on Friday evening on American Airlines from New York.  Every single seat on that aircraft was taken, and I’m the only person who was wearing a suit.  Everybody else was coming on vacation.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  That’s very optimistic.  One more question on Ankara.  Yesterday your colleague in Ankara, and another nine ambassadors, received complaints on their appeal to release Osman Kavala.  I wonder if this is another stain on the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

Ambassador Pyatt:  I will leave the rest of the U.S.-Turkey relationship to my friend and colleague Ambassador Satterfield.

I will say I had the opportunity when I was in Washington also to meet with Senator Flake.  We had a really very encouraging conversation about the importance of the mission that he’s about to undertake on behalf of President Biden and the United States in Ankara, and also the importance of continued close coordination between our two embassies, exactly as Ambassador Satterfield and I have done and I look forward to continuing that.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Let’s expand the discussion on the third Strategic Dialogue.  Where do we go from here?

Ambassador Pyatt:  Onward and upward.  The sky’s the limit.  It really is.

As I said, what was most impressive to me about the Strategic Dialogue conversation was the breadth of issues on which our interests and perspectives converged.  Energy, counterterrorism, regional stability, climate, wildfires, investment, technology, the Eastern Med and the 3+1 process, the Indo-Pacific, the role of Greece as a stabilizing factor across a huge swath of territory stretching from the Black Sea and the Balkans all the way to the Indian Ocean. The way in which our people to people ties are growing through educational exchanges, through cultural exchanges.

I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but it was a really impressive tour de force by the Greek government.  We spent nine hours together putting under the x-ray almost everything that we have accomplished jointly over the past couple of years, but also with a very ambitious vision for where we want to go in the months and years ahead.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Another optimistic answer.  Now next month marks the fifth anniversary from the start of your tenure as the American Ambassador here in Greece.

Ambassador Pyatt:  End of September.  So I’m already into my sixth year at this point.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  True, exactly.  I’d like to hear your assessment about those five years, and maybe your outlook for the country both on the geopolitical side and on the economic one.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Let me say first, thank you for asking, I’m not done yet.  I’ve got some runway in front of me, and I look forward to continuing to work as hard as I can until my successor is confirmed and has an opportunity to get out here to Athens.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of the U.S.-Greece relationship during a very positive period.  A period in which Greece has gone from being an object of scrutiny by the European institutions, by the Troika, a country where people worry about its financial stability, where they even worry about its democracy, to being an example of good governance.

What I am most proud of is the way in which the United States has stood with Greece throughout that process and the way in which we have been able to build out new areas of cooperation.  What we’re doing together on climate and wildfires.   The massive expansion of our defense relationship.  The huge expansion of our energy partnership across the wider region.  The way in which we’ve leveraged the 3+1 to reassert U.S. engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean at a moment when our global rivals including China and Russia are both more active there.  But also the way in which we’ve built that out as an architecture for cooperation.

I was very encouraged to hear Foreign Minister Dendias in Washington talking about his vision for the future of the 3+1 which could become a 4+1 or a 5+1, bringing in Egypt, maybe the UAE, others as well over time.

So this is a new geometry of Greek foreign policy in which the United States is cooperating very closely.

The other big change, of course, that has come is Greece’s return to economic normalcy.  Greece today is a normal EU member state Eurozone economy.  It has done better than most in its management of the pandemic.  And I’m very proud of the role that American technology has played in helping that process and also the huge expansion of our footprint, our company’s footprint in the Greek tech sector which really didn’t exist when I came here five years ago.

As I said, it’s too early for me to do the final accounting of my tenure.  There will be plenty of time for that in the months ahead.  But I am very positive that it is going to be an optimistic interpretation, but also an interpretation which leaves tremendous scope for the future.

Greece has become one of our closest allies in Europe.  It’s a country that shares perspectives with the United States on so many issues.  We haven’t even talked yet about the bicentennial or democracy.  We have the Democracy Summit coming up where Greece will play a foundational role given the debt that we all owe to Athenian democracy in our own republic, but also the way in which Greece has revalidated its democracy.  And these issues are so important for President Biden and his administration.

So there’s an awful lot going on and, as I said, we’re not resting on our laurels.  We are continuing to work this every single day.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  And do you have a sense of your next appointment?

Ambassador Pyatt:  That’s a question for the oracle.  Let’s wait until the Delphi Economic Forum in the spring and maybe it will be revealed at that point.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Okay.  Finally, the last question, as you said Microsoft announced last year a huge investment here in Athens.  I would like to ask you if we should expect more tech U.S. companies coming, and how easy it is to invest in Greece nowadays, in 2021?

Ambassador Pyatt:  It’s already happening.  It’s not just Microsoft.  In Thessaloniki, it’s Pfizer, it’s Cisco, it’s Deloitte.  Here in Athens, you’ve got Amazon Web Services.  And the great thing is there’s clearly a halo effect in this sector where when you get one big company, others follow along.  We had the groundbreaking recently for Digital Realty, a multi-hundred-million-dollar investment also in this cloud computing space.  And this infrastructure is going to be helpful not just to putting Greece on the tech map, but also helping to incubate Greek startups and the next generation of Greek technology companies.

I’m also very impressed at how these investments by American companies are becoming a driver for brain gain, where Greeks who left the country and took their talents elsewhere during the crisis years are now coming back.  That’s a very good thing for both of our countries.

Mr. Mangiriadis:  Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador, for being with SKAI tonight.

Ambassador Pyatt:  It’s great to see you.  Thanks for the conversation.

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