FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: Dear Secretary of State, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you in Athens. It has been almost a year-and-a-half since our Third Strategic Dialogue in Washington. In the meantime, we have seen war returning to Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have also witnessed a revisionist rhetoric in defiance of international law emanating from a number of international actors.
The fact is that, in the middle of all this, the strong Greek-U.S. cooperation has been enhanced even further. That speaks volumes for our relation. The strengthening of this cooperation promotes our mutual interest, as well as regional peace, stability, and prosperity. It is also based on shared values and on our respect for international law.
The Fourth Strategic Dialogue is a culmination of a series of working group meetings and initiatives of our experts from various ministries. There has been progress in all the Strategic Dialogue subjects: defense and security; law enforcement and counterterrorism; humanitarian challenges; trade, investment; energy and environment; and last, but certainly not least, people-to-people contacts.
Moreover, we will be conducting open and in-depth discussions on regional political issues. This Strategic Dialogue is an excellent symbol of the strategic relationship between our two countries. It also shows the continuing interest of the United States in our wider region. Our cooperation on defense and security has been going back for decades, but there are plenty of things to show since the last Strategic Dialogue.
The planned inclusion of Alexandroupolis in the MDCA allowed it to play a crucial role when it was most needed. We are looking forward to speeding up our electric interconnections with the two neighboring continents, Asia to Israel, and Africa to Egypt. At the same time, tourist flows have regained their pre-pandemic levels. The Strategic Dialogue is an excellent demonstration of the strategic relationship between our two countries.
I know that you have brought with you a group of remarkable high officials from Washington, who will shortly be meeting with our team. Being aware of the dedication that everybody involved has shown in preparing this Fourth Strategic Dialogue, I am certain that it will be a success. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Nikos, my friend, thank you so much, and forgive me because my voice is struggling a little bit. But it is wonderful for me and for us to be back in Athens, and I am especially excited to be joining you, to be joining our teams, to kick off this Fourth U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue.
The dialogue is, in fact, a reflection of the partnership that our citizens have had for more than 200 years. And indeed, the delegation today that you referenced demonstrates the depth of our relationship. We have representatives here from the State Department, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, USAID.
Today’s discussion builds off of the last Strategic Dialogue that we held in 2021, which I remember very well. And among other important steps, as you noted, we amended the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement between our countries, strengthening our preparedness and shared security by allowing our troops to train together in new ways and in more places. And as you mentioned, one of the new sites supports military transport around the Port of Alexandroupoli, which has become, indeed, a key strategic hub, including bringing in defensive weaponry, trucks, artillery for U.S. military units that are operating in Eastern and Northern Europe, as well as NATO Allies.
The United States worked to upgrade the port has created jobs in both of our countries. We’ve made similar investments in other parts of Greece, including $123 million in infrastructure improvements in the Souda Bay and Larissa.
This port has been vital to reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank since President Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. The United States is grateful for Greece’s unwavering support for Ukraine since the invasion, including by opening its doors to 20,000 displaced Ukrainians. Greece has also helped lead the humanitarian response to the recent tragic earthquake in Türkiye, from where I came. Greece rapidly deployed dozens of firefighters, doctors, search and rescue personnel, and provided crucial humanitarian support, including 80 tons of medicines, blankets, food, and other supplies.
Nikos, I think you were the first foreign minister from Europe to travel to Türkiye, visiting just six days after the disaster. And I took the same helicopter ride that you did with the Turkish foreign minister, our colleague Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. We saw, as you did, the incredible devastation of this earthquake, and we had a chance – both of us – to be briefed on the rescue and relief efforts.
I recall you, Nikos, pledging Greece’s support. And importantly, both foreign ministers – both of you – pledged to increase bilateral cooperation, saying, and I quote, “We shouldn’t wait for another earthquake to improve our relations.” The United States, in turn, pledges to do whatever it can to seize this historic opportunity to strengthen relations between two critical allies in a pivotal region at a key moment for NATO and the world.
In the Strategic Dialogue that we’re about to embark on today, we’ll have an opportunity to talk about our shared work on other regional priorities, including promoting clean energy and strengthening energy security. Greece’s energy transition has been a model for the region. In 2012, coal-powered plants provided 50 percent of Greece’s electricity needs. Here we are a decade later, and renewable sources like wind, like solar, like hydro, are powering half of Greece’s electricity needs, eliminating 17.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. That’s the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the roads. So that’s a powerful record of progress and success.
And of course, Greece is also helping NATO strengthen their energy security by helping diversity their sources and reducing dependence on Russian gas, also deepening their integration into Europe’s broader energy market. Bulgaria, for example, used to depend on Russia for up to 90 percent of its natural gas. The newly constructed Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, that gas pipeline is allowing Bulgaria to transition away from that source. In the next year, Bulgaria will import nearly 100 percent of its domestic gas needs from Azerbaijan and the United States as a result of this Interconnector.
We’ll also talk about ways to strengthen our people-to-people ties. Over 1 billion Americans live, visit Greece every single year. Millions more, of course, have Greek heritage, including our own president, or Joe Bidenopoulos, as he likes to call himself. (Laughter.) Every day our people study with, learn from, each other. They innovate. They run businesses together. They watch each other’s movies. They listen to each other’s music. They enjoy each other’s food.
Last November we took our educational cooperation to new heights by launching the Pharos Summit, an initiative dedicated to increasing collaboration between our universities and our exchange programs between our students. We had a record delegation of 30 U.S. universities come to Greece to build partnerships with their Greek public university counterparts, and our governments agreed to grow the number of Fulbright students from 70,000 in 2022 to 100,000 this year.
At the summit, Prime Minister Mitsotakis remarked that Greece is an appealing destination for cultural exchange because this vibrant, dynamic country is a workshop of constant change. It’s a wonderful way to describe Greece and, I think, our own country, because the same can be said for us, and the same can be said for our friendship.
Ours is a relationship that is always evolving, innovating, ultimately leading the way to a better future for us both. So I’m confident that today’s Strategic Dialogue will further all of these efforts and help us better deliver for the Greek and American people and for the world, because, after all, that’s our responsibility.
And with that, we’ve got lots to discuss, so let’s get started. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: Thank you.