Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony of the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Agreement with Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias in Athens, Greece, on October 5, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

At a Press Availability

Athens, Greece

October 5, 2019

FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: Dear Secretary of State, dear Mike, allow me before I begin to extend to you in English and to everyone in your delegation a very warm welcome to Athens. Your presence here today is a proof of the strong bond that links Greece and the United States, a bond which officially dates back two and more centuries, and today is stronger than ever. And now you will allow me to turn to Greek.

(Via interpreter) I’m particularly happy since along with Mr. Mike Pompeo, my peer from the States, we signed the new MDCA between Greece and the United States of America. This is an agreement the update of which today is helping us to considerably upgrade our strategic cooperation between the two countries. At the same point in time, we are thus showcasing in the best possible way the fact that there is a shared volition on our part in order for us to secure the efficiency, the effectiveness of our defense capacities and capabilities.

Now, on this occasion, and from this podium, let me extend my thanks to Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos, the Greek minister of defense, for his contribution and his cooperation in this joint venture of ours. The new dynamics that relations between the United States of America and Greece have acquired is not something haphazard, it’s not happening accidentally. After ten years of introversion due to the crisis, our country is now reverting, and it’s again there in the global scene. We are now redefining our relations with our closest allies, and we are in position to fulfill our role as a pillar of stability and security in this neighborhood, but also the wider region – a wider region that is – has been going through trials and tribulations. It’s been subject to threats and clashes, and also serious violations that are undermining international – the international legality.

Obviously, ladies and gentlemen, I’m referring to the intention of Turkey to proceed with new drillings within the Cypriot EEZ. And this decision comes after a multitude of violations at the expense of the sovereign rights and the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. This is in violation of international law, it’s in violation of the European acquis, and it’s certainly undermining any possible effort whatsoever with a view to consolidating peace and cooperation in the region.

The strategic upgrade of our cooperation and partnership with the United States of America as such is a guarantee of security, and it’s also a source of stability, a source of growth, development, and welfare as well – prosperity as well. And it would be no exaggeration on our part to state that today our bilateral relations have reached an apex, historically speaking. And now the culmination of this new phase is no doubt our strategic dialogue, the second round of which will be starting this Monday.

It’s also tangible proof of the fact that Greece is – and the United States of America are both committed to holistic, strategic understanding and vision of our cooperation that will encompass all those fields and sectors that we’re so far developing without being connected to one another. And so our partnership and cooperation spans a huge range of issues, including regional issues, defense, but also the economy, commerce, trade, investment projects, combating terror, relations between our societies and communities, and of course, the energy issues.

Now, when it comes to energy, there is an important issue at stake. We are both interested in diversification of energy sources, diversification of energy routes. And in order for all of the aforementioned to materialize, we are certainly intensively working together with our partners, our American allies – we are both promoting cooperation, regional stability, regional security – always, nonetheless, on the basis of international legitimacy nonetheless.

And with these thoughts in mind, again, let me welcome my dear colleague, Mr. Mike Pompeo. Welcome to Athens. I’d like to wish you a very pleasant stay. I would also like to share with you my conviction that today we are inaugurating a new era.

And allow me by way of conclusion to say something in English, yet again. And I’m now turning to you, and I am quoting an unpublished letter that Theodoros Kolokotronis sent to Edward Everett, a senator, back in 1826. I will read it out in translation.

(In English) “The people of Greece are not ungrateful to their benefactors. We are grateful to those who, with stentorian voice, proclaim our epic struggle. We inscribe their names with ineffaceable letters upon the chronicles of the regenerate Greece so that they may be delivered to eternity and to the respect of the coming generation.”

Thank you very much. You, Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Foreign Minister Dendias. I think this is the third time that we’ve seen each other in 90 days, or 89 days. And it has been important and productive each time we’ve met, so thank you very much for spending so much time with me. It’s an incredible privilege for me to be here today in Greece representing the United States of America. Our countries have always been linked, and not only because Madison and Jefferson looked to ancient Athenians for democracy and wisdom. Freedom-loving Americans fought on your side during your war for independence, and we will soon celebrate the 200th anniversary of your liberty in 2021, and we’re looking forward to that.

After World War II, our two nations grew even closer together through the Marshall Plan and NATO. And the Greek people living in America keep the bonds between our people strong. There were many in home district in south central Kansas, and they kept me straight. These ties have helped set the table for the historic period we’re in today. This is truly a pivotal point in American and Greek relations. And I’ll talk more about that this afternoon.

The Greek-American relationship has literally never been stronger. This was clear from the first Greek-American Strategic Dialogue I hosted in Washington last year. Our countries will host a second one starting on Monday of this week. It’s a chance to make progress on bilateral issues, but much more, too. This dialogue represents the dawn of a new day between our countries. It demonstrates our shared commitment to democracy, and it will help Greece grow as a partner for strategic stability in Europe, and indeed throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

My conversation with Greece’s leaders today touched on each of these themes. Last summer, after trying many different ways forward, Greeks voted for leaders who will cut red tape, lower taxes, privatize key sectors of the economy. These reforms will help Greece recover fully from hard times, will create jobs for Greek citizens, and give young people reason to put down roots in or return to their home country.

I told the foreign minister that our diplomats would do their part to help Greece bounce back. We already have, and we will continue to do that. We can make the case for Greece to American businesses. Already companies like Pfizer, Cisco, and Tesla are investing in this new Greece, with others potentially coming in as part of the Hellinikon Project. Will – many more U.S. companies will recognize that Greece is adapting its business climate in a very favorable way.

Further, on the topic of Greece’s economic growth, as I’ve done in other nations on this trip, I raised our concerns about Chinese investments in technology and infrastructure, but I spent a lot more time encouraging Greece’s leaders to see that American businesses operate with the highest levels of transparency and respect for law. We are natural partners for this important moment.

We just signed an important document, too. Our security cooperation continues to grow. This agreement will allow our burgeoning military cooperation to continue and make way for investments in military infrastructure that we will both benefit from.

And finally, too – the foreign minister touched on this – the United States is eager to grow our partnership with Greece on a range of energy issues for the sake of your prosperity and a stable Eastern Mediterranean region. Last March I met with the leaders of Cypress, Greece, and Israel in Jerusalem. We, free countries with free markets, want to achieve energy security together. We want to make sure that rules govern international exploration of the Mediterranean Sea’s energy resources, and that no country can hold Europe hostage.

There’s no shortage of good developments happening in this relationship, and we seek to make our new level of unity permanent. And I’ll talk more about that this afternoon. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) The ministers will take a rather limited number of questions. Yes, please. Mr. Michalis Ignatiou from OPEN TV channel.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I’m Michalis Ignatiou from OPEN TV. And I wanted to ask you this: Prime Minister Mitsotakis spoke to you today about the provocations by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. And as we understand, he asked for your help. Is it possible to tell us what was your answer? If you share his concerns about this? And also I have another question. Your people in Washington told us many times that buying S-400 by Turkey means sanctions. Why we don’t see any sanctions today, Mr. Secretary? Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll answer your second question first. We are having conversations with the Turks. We’ve made clear our view with respect to the S-400 and U.S. law, and we’ll continue to always make sure that we do that.

With respect to Turkish – you’re speaking about their actions off of Cyprus with respect to energy, is that right? The first question?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so I won’t tell you what I told him, because I don’t talk about private conversation, but I can certainly tell you how America thinks about this. We’ve made clear that operations in international waters are governed by a set of rules. We have told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable, and we’ll continue to take diplomatic action to make sure that we do as we do always: ensure that the lawful activity takes place in every space where international law governs.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay. David Brunstromm, Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’ve got a couple of questions for Secretary Pompeo, please. Firstly, a quick one on North Korea. Are you making any progress with the North Koreans in Stockholm this weekend? And also, given the level of interest back home in the United States, can I ask you about Ukraine? Did President Trump direct you, Mr. Secretary, to assist in efforts to persuade the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens? And do you still believe all State Department staff acted appropriately in dealing with Ukraine, as you said last week?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s too early to know if we make any progress in Stockholm with respect to North Korea. I’m hopeful that we will. We came with a set of ideas. We hope that the North Koreans came with a good spirit and a willingness to try to move forward to implement what President Trump and Chairman Kim agreed to back in Singapore. And so our team is on the ground, it’s a broad team with a full range of expertise to deal with the broad range of issues related to the – every element of that agreement. There were four pillars that the two leaders agreed to, and we – we’re very hopeful that we will make some progress.

We’re mindful this will be the first time we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time, and that there’s – remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams. But we hope these initial meetings can set the course for a set of dialogues that can take place in the coming weeks and months that’ll really deliver on the commitments that were made in Singapore.

And real simple, with respect to Ukraine: State Department – and you can see this, I think from what everybody’s seen – Ambassador Volker said on Thursday – the State Department was very focused – at the direction of the President, we were very focused on creating space that we could ultimately deliver a good relationship with this new government. That was my guidance all along, it was the guidance that I took on board as we were thinking about all the various components of that relationship. You saw Ambassador Volker worked diligently to try and create that opportunity. Look, we’ve all known there’s been corruption in Ukraine. The United States Government’s been engaged in trying to push back against corruption in Ukraine for quite some time, and this administration’s been full-fledged on committed to that as well.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Mr. Athanassopoulos, To Vima daily.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome to Athens. I would like to follow up to my Greek colleague’s question, and I would like to ask you: Would the United States consider offering some clear and unwavering guarantees, political or other ones, in order to support Greece against Turkey’s aggressive stance both in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO: You actually asked a really easy question; I’ll ask the foreign minister to chime in a little bit, too. We never get out in front of our diplomacy and talk about things we will never do or things that we intend to do until we have made decisions about that. That would certainly apply here as well. But you should know we understand the risks, we’re very well aware of the activities that are taking place. We’re working closely to try to accomplish a couple things. We made clear that the militarization of these conflicts is not the right direction to go, so we’re working to get the parties to – everyone to de-escalate and find a set of outcomes that are mutually agreeable. But a couple of boundaries, including what I said earlier: We can’t let anyone – Turkey is the topic of the day – engage in illegal drilling activity.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Jessica Donati, Wall Street Journal.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Jessica, I’m sure you have a question for Foreign Minister Dendias.

QUESTION: I do, actually.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I do. We were directed to – we’ve prepared one. So for the foreign minister, we would like to know, since you have just signed this pact, what concretely you hope to get from the United States out of this. We’re aware that Greece is already supporting the U.S. in operations in places like Syria, places like Libya, and we know that the U.S. relationship is tested with Turkey when it comes to Syria. So do you think that there’s any space for Greece to contribute? And how do you see this pact expanding?

Mr. Secretary, again, on Ukraine. As I mentioned to Morgan, we wouldn’t have to ask these questions if we had a little bit more clarity from the State Department in the days up to this press conference, but back home we have a lot of questions about – did State provide the documents requested in the subpoena? And could you say explicitly whether you believe that the impeachment inquiry, at which your – the State Department is the center of, is a witch hunt, as President Trump does? Or do you believe that there is a possibility that some people did not behave appropriately, as the Democrats suspect? If you could give us some explicit yes or no, that would be great. Thank you.


FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: (Via interpreter) Thank you for the question. I want to be accurate. This agreement has three facets, three aspects to us. First, there is a national aspect of this agreement. To Greece, this is an absolutely beneficial agreement. It is a good agreement because it enhances the American imprint in Greece, and this is a positive imprint. And then it helps us in the sense that there will be transfer of know-how from the States to Greece, and for the benefit of the armed forces of Greece. And third, this is a wider parameter in favor of economic activity in this country. But when it comes to the wider context of relations within NATO, and again, when it comes to the wider role we wish to be playing in this region as we’re exiting the crisis – and as I’ve said before while expressing the sentiments on the thoughts of Prime Minister Mitsotakis, we are getting out of this crisis context.

And so this is a pact and agreement that acts as a parameter of stability. This is helping Greece out. It’s strengthening Greece. It’s certainly catering to the needs, if you will, of the States, but it’s certainly helping consolidate Greece as a pillar of stability and peace within the wider region. And of course, this is a very good thing within the context of rules that have been provided for.

And this very agreement is also a good tool and a good message communicated to anyone who in this region thinks they could work against international law and the law of the sea in this region. We believe that everyone should be working on the basis of international law and legitimacy. The world community – humanity, mankind if you will – has put behind it the days of using cannons, and now this is the time of bringing closer nations together. We believe that any leadership who fails to understand that is certainly living in a different era. But we sincerely wish to have good neighborly relations with everyone. We sympathize, we understand the position of everyone, but nonetheless when it comes to the 21st century, the absolute keys in the 21st century is the international law.

SECRETARY POMPEO: The State Department sent a letter last night to Congress which is our initial response to the document request. We’ll obviously do all the things we’re required to do by law. I was a member of Congress once; Article I has a certain set of powers, and Article II has an obligation to make sure that we protect officials at the State Department. And sadly, there have been congressional inquiries that have harassed and abused State Department employees by contacting them directly and seeking to have them provide documents – documents that belong to the State Department, that are official U.S. Government records – and ask them to do so without – saying, “Hey, don’t bother calling the State Department lawyers; just talk to us directly.” That’s harassment, and I’ll never let that happen to my team.

So we’ll work through this process. I remember once when I was on that side and we were looking for documents, I remember precisely how long it took for those documents to come across. So – and we’re going to beat that. We’re going to be more responsive than the Obama administration was in the years preceded this particular congress.

And as for the question of the appropriateness of the investigation, I think it’s very clear – and I don’t want to belabor this; I’m here in Greece on this important mission – but I think there’s clearly politics involved in this. This administration was incredibly focused on making sure that we worked with Ukraine in a way that was appropriate. And it is not only appropriate, but it is our duty to investigate if we think there was interference in the election of 2016, I think everyone recognizes that governments have an obligation – indeed, a duty – to ensure that elections happen with integrity, without interference from any government, whether that’s the Ukrainian Government or any other. And so inquiries with respect to that are completely important, and if we need another government’s assistance, it’s very reasonable to ask that government, to say, “Do you have any help that you can provide so we can protect the American people, so that they can vote in free and fair elections without interference from any other country?”

And so there’s been some suggestion somehow that it would be inappropriate for the United States Government to engage in that activity, and I see it just precisely the opposite. I see our duty to engage in activity that ensures that we have fair, free elections. I only wish that the previous administration had protected our elections back in 2016. You’ll recall that the interference that took place took place under the previous administration.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Thank you very much. The members of the media are kindly requested to stay seated until the delegations go. Thank you very much.