Assistant Secretary Nuland’s Remarks at U.S. Embassy Athens, March 11, 2016

Assistant Secretary Nuland Gives Remarks at U.S. Embassy Athens,March 11, 2016 (State Department Photo)
Assistant Secretary Nuland Gives Remarks at U.S. Embassy Athens,March 11, 2016 (State Department Photo)

A/S NULAND:  Good morning everybody.  Thank you for coming to see us today. I am happy to be back in Greece.  As you know, I came this time to illustrate U.S. solidarity with Greece at this intense moment of challenge in the migration situation as the borders are closed to your north.  To better understand what is happening in Northern Greece with the migration situation and to see how the United States might be helpful.  We also had usual round of broader consultations with the government today.

Yesterday, we were up in Northern Greece at one of the new relocation centers, Diavata, established by the Greek military and the Greek Migration Agency.  I have to say that that center is really a model of how to shelter a migration community; very well-run, very well-organized, refugees are getting good support both in health terms and in terms of their options for relocation.  So, that is the kind of center that needs to be replicated in other parts of Greece to help refugees to resettle as we work on implementing the EU agreement and also the agreements with Turkey.  In stark contrast, were, was our time up at the border at Idomeni where, as you know, it was raining yesterday, it was muddy, there were families in really desperate straits, in leaky tents, children in the rain and the cold.

I want to commend the efforts of the Greek Police, the efforts of UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders to serve that community and particularly commend the local Greek community for their enormous generosity in trying to help the suffering people there on the border.  But, it is time for them to have better shelter and that was one of the things that we discussed today; is how to create more centers like the center at Diavata so that people can be housed so that they can understand their options for resettlement, for relocation, and so that we can support Greece in helping to implement both the EU agreements and the EU-Turkey agreements.

The Greek government has made some direct requests of the United States for support, I am hopeful in the coming days that we will be able to answer these requests with some urgent humanitarian support here, and to continue the work that we’re doing together on appropriate resettlement, relocation of migrants. I also had a chance today, both at the Foreign Ministry and with the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss other issues that we’re working on together, particularly the return of the institutions to Greece, to continue to work on the economic situation. We encouraged Greece to use this visit well, to come to an agreement, so we can then move on to the next stage, including debt relief. As we always do, we talked about energy security, we talked about other regional issues, including Cyprus, and other things that we work on together, but primarily this was a visit to better understand the challenges here, better understand how the United States can help Greece to manage and to express our solidarity at this difficult time for Greece.

I’ll take a couple of questions.

QUESTION (Mr. Athanasopoulos – To Vima): Good morning Madam.  Thank you very much.  Two questions if I may: first, you said you went to the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office. Usually you also see the Foreign Minister when you come here, I wonder why this time you didn’t have any high level meeting with any Greek official, and, second question, you went also to Skopje yesterday to see the situation there, so, I would like to ask you if you believe that the tension that we have observed because of the refugee crisis between Athens and Skopje in the last few weeks, if this influences in a negative sense the talks for the name issue, and if it also influences the perspective of Skopje in the Euro-Atlantic structures especially as the NATO Summit is approaching.

A/S NULAND:  Well, first of all, just to say that my visit here was not long in the planning; I literally came on a couple of days’ notice as the border closed because we wanted to better understand the situation here, so, on that basis, we saw the folks that I work with most closely.  The Foreign Minister had another appointment today.  He is always very open to seeing Secretary Kerry, to seeing me when I’m around, so, I don’t take anything from that at all and we had very good meetings today with Minister of State, with Secretary General Paraskevopoulos, who I work with very intensely, he was just in Washington, as you know.

With regard to the name issue, as you know, the government in Skopje is now in a pre-electoral period, so they are very much focused on preparing for elections, on level playing field for elections, those kinds of things. We always talk to both Athens and Skopje about our interest in seeing the name issue resolved and what U.S., what help the United States can give to the UN process but that was not a major subject of discussion today primarily because Skopje’s focused on its internal politics.  I was on the other side of the border, I wasn’t up in Skopje; that was primarily to look at the very well-established transit center that is just on the other side of the fence from Idomeni.  There was only one family there when we were there because, of course, the border has been closed since Sunday.

QUESTION (Ms. Boitard – AFP):  [Inaudible] Does the United States support the EU-Turkish plans, especially the plan to return asylum seekers to Turkey, and is the U.S. ready to increase [inaudible] the number of asylum seekers it’s willing to take in?

A/S NULAND:    Well we are, first to start where you ended, we are increasing the number of refugees that we are taking in to the United States, including the number of Syrians that we are taking in.  I think you know that we are one of the largest, annual accepters of refugees from around the world and our, the bulk of our refugee numbers are now coming from Central America where there are also numbers of people fleeing concerns about crime and drug activity, etc.  But, we will continue to be a welcoming place for refugees, including for Syrians.

We are watching the emerging conversation between the EU and Turkey.  We are interested in a system that is fair, that is clear, that is transparent, that we can support the implementation of, both at the European level and between Europe and Turkey.  So, one of my purposes today was to better understand where Greece and Turkey are in their bilateral conversation, so that we can support both sides in implementation of that, and how Greece sees the intra-EU dialogue on solidarity and fair relocation of migrants.  So, it was very useful to be here to get that perspective so that the U.S. can support emerging agreements, both on the EU level and between the EU and Turkey.

And then, of course, we’re working with Greece and with Turkey and with all the countries in this region on trying to strengthen the cessation of hostilities in Syria and support the UN process on a political settlement, which is obviously a major issue that has to be addressed to get to the root causes of all of this migration.

But, before I go, I just want to again say how impressed we are with the generosity of spirit of individual Greek citizens and the way they have been volunteering and trying to help these migrants.  There is a lot more work to do and the U.S. will be your partner as you move forward with this.  Thank you very much.