Speech by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
October 5, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I have some Greek words sprinkled throughout, and I’m terrified. (Laughter.) But I’m going to give it a shot. Kalispera.
AUDIENCE: Kalispera. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right, one for one. Well, good afternoon, and welcome. And thanks for joining me. Thank you, Ambassador Pyatt. And thank you, Nikolaos, for that warm introduction. I feel as if I’m truly among friends, just like when I’m with Greek Americans back in Kansas, who always keep me straight.
I’d like to welcome Foreign Minister Dendias for being here as well, and many other senior officials. We had great meetings today. I also want to thank Stavros Niarchos Foundation for this absolutely stunningly gorgeous facility that you let us be in today. I think it’s completely appropriate that we’re here in this very special space that is so beautiful, so gorgeous, like the relationship between our two countries.
It is a – it’s a privilege for me to visit the cradle of democracy. As many of you might know, I first ran for Congress now a decade ago as a conservative, constitutionally-faithful Republican, a small-government, pro-economic-growth Republican.
The whole idea was to return America to our roots and put power back in the hands of ordinary people. And of course, we trace that idea to this very place, back to Greece. Where would we be without you?
A decade ago, I would have been delivering a very different set of remarks here today. The outlook for both of our countries was frankly pretty bleak. Our economies were struggling. Our defenses were weakening. Our futures looked a lot more dim than they do today.
But no more.
Today I’m pleased here to talk about renewal – American renewal, and Greek renewal. And what we can do together to show the way forward.
Earlier this year I had the chance to be in the Netherlands. I co-hosted a Global Entrepreneurial Summit. One of the individuals who came was a woman named Daphne Tsevreni, a Greek co-founder of an app named Clio Muse that offers customized tours. Today she’s adding new subscribers, building her business, and helping people see the world. And I’m glad that she’s with us here today. Daphne, thanks for being here. (Applause.)
I tell that story because for me, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit across this nation is a game-changer. It’s a game-changer for Greece, it’s a game-changer for the region, it’s a game-changer for America.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen both of our nations recognize that we have to put faith in risk-taking, and not redistribution.
And we didn’t come to that conclusion because we were forced to do so. Our voters simply saw what did and did not work.
We’ve done this too. We once layered on red tape, which made it impossible to achieve business growth. We – now we’re slashing it.
We once deterred investment, which made it hard for companies to get the capital that they needed. And now we’re attracting it.
We once stifled entrepreneurship, which kept good people with good ideas, people like Daphne, stuck in unproductive jobs. And now we’re encouraging these risk-taking entrepreneurs.
And we know – we know that this formula works because it’s succeeded everywhere it’s been tried: The Reagan and Thatcher revolutions. India in the 1990s. The Trump expansion today, and we think in Brazil in the days and weeks and months ahead. And we know it will work here, too.
So the question is this: How do we sustain this virtuous cycle of investment and expansion and hiring for ordinary people who want a job to take care of their families? That is, how do we keep showing the way forward together?
It’s what my team, Ambassador Pyatt and his team here on the ground, are doing in Athens as we discuss this daily with our counterparts. And I – it’s what I discussed with Greece’s leaders earlier today.
It begins with a fundamental faith that cultivating and growing our private sector ties works between our two countries. Risking private capital is the ultimate sign of confidence in an economy, and America is prepared to do that by investing here today.
We’ve seen it already, companies that are truly betting on Greece. Pfizer and Cisco have recently announced new investments. Tesla and Deloitte are already here. ExxonMobil has now joined a consortium to search for new energy sources near Crete. And earlier this week, the prime minister inaugurated a new 300 million Euro gas-fired power plant featuring GE technology.
This way forward – this way forward is sustained by a stable and predictable rule of law, and basic property rights, and a commitment to honoring them always.
And it’s solidified on a personal level. There are more than 1.4 million Americans of Greek descent. And American tourists of all backgrounds are flocking to the ancient stones of the Acropolis in greater numbers than ever before, and I am confident they’ll do so more and more and more.
It’s exciting that our renewal has arrived at this important moment. And as President Trump at the United Nations General Assembly just last week, “our time is one of great contests, high stakes, and clear choices.”
And that’s just as true for the Eastern Mediterranean as it is for the rest of the world.
Take the Balkans, which remain an area of strategic competition.
Take Russia, which undermines the sovereignty of your neighbors, it tries to stifle religious freedom for many Orthodox believers.
Take the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose terrorist proxies have destabilized the Middle East, turned Lebanon into a client state, and helped create a refugee crisis that continues to impact Greece to this day.
Take China – China, which is using economic means to coerce countries into lopsided deals that benefit Beijing and leave its clients mired in debt.
Take, too, the fierce competition for energy resources – which could create serious economic and strategic instability in this region.
What’s great about each of these is that we are seeing Greece take on these challenges, showing the way forward.
You’ve secured the Prespa agreement. It’s a step towards stability in the Balkans.
You’ve upheld sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
You’ve refused an Iranian ship filled with oil, oil for the Assad dock in Greek harbors.
And you’re taking a hard look at the risks of allowing China to build sensitive 5G networks.
Instead, you’ve made good decisions. You’ve grown ties with Israel to secure energy supplies.
And you’re also beginning to see the world just as we do.
It’s why I wanted to be here, it’s why I’ve come to Greece – to expand a partnership that’s already at the best level that I think it has ever been.
I was very proud, last year, to have the opportunity – I was fairly new as Secretary of State – to host the first U.S.-Greek Strategic Dialogue. Starting on Monday, our holds will – our teams will hold the second such meeting. And much has come from these.
You’ve given us greater access to your military bases, and we’ve made new investments in them to our mutual benefit and to the communities surrounding them.
Our troops are training together more frequently, and yours even hosted ours for a Thanksgiving at a base.
Our law enforcement and border security cooperation has helped to manage the flows of migrants and refugees arriving here in Greece.
And just this last March, I had the opportunity to meet in Jerusalem with your former prime minister, and the prime ministers of Israel and Cyprus, to talk about energy.
And we are eager to set down clear rules and a strong line of cooperation between our two countries.
My aim – the aim of President Trump, the aim of our State Department – is to help Greece reap its own windfall in energy just in the same way that America has.
We know this, too. We know that doing this together is producing a strong and prosperous Greece. It’s good for you, it’s good for us. And more broadly, it’s good for Europe as well.
I look around and I don’t see strong and stable governments in many places on this continent. Growth is stalling in parts of Europe, places that were the traditional engines of prosperity.
Greece can show the way forward.
The Greek democracy has proved incredibly resilient; now the Greek economy can show the same ability to bounce back strong.
Look, it’s a bit selfish; America needs to keep Greece successful and to help secure the Eastern Mediterranean.
So let’s continue our work to stop malign Russian influence, both within Greece, and within your neighbors’ borders.
Let’s continue to exert pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, until that regime becomes a normal nation.
Let’s take the EU seriously when it calls China a “systemic rival.”
Let’s uphold the rule of law and build partnerships with free nations, so that we can extract energy resources in a peaceful and coordinated way.
I’ll close, and then I’ll have a chance to answer some questions, with a short story. This story is about Olga.
Olga, for those of you who don’t know, is a dredging barge. She sunk to the bottom of the harbor nine years ago – all 150 feet and 800 tons of her.
That’s a problem. The hulking mass of metal, and the debris that collected on top of it, blocked the access to a cargo pier that was critical to NATO operations. It limited the port’s capacity for commercial growth.
But the United States came to help. We put up more than $2 million to lift and remove Olga from her watery grave.
The U.S. military, the Greek military, contractors, a local dive team began working in August. They’ve been cutting Olga into 30-ton sections and raising her from the bottom.
The good news: The project is on track. It’ll be completed at the end of this month, right on schedule.
And now, now our militaries together will be able to make use of this port and its strategic capabilities. New commercial doors will open soon as well.
And so whether it’s Olga’s story, or Daphne’s, the future looks very bright for Greece.
Your democracy has held true.
You’ve taken bold steps forward for economic growth.
And you’re shoring up a relationship with America and other free nations that value democracy in the same way that you do.
You should know America’s eager to keep showing the way right alongside you.
Good luck, God bless you, and may God bless Greece and the United States of America. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Welcome, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for being here with us today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you.
MODERATOR: Great. I understand that you have been travelling in the region during the last few days, and this is your last stop, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, that’s true. It’ll be good to get home.
MODERATOR: And it comes as you say that the U.S.-Greek relations are now at their best time ever. So this makes your visit very timely. And I wanted to focus first a little bit more on that, the U.S.-Greek relations. We can all observe that the U.S. is shifting its attention lately in the broader region – not only Greece, but also the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean. So is this a new phase, a new front for the U.S.? And what kind of long-term commitment can you offer Greece to guarantee that this not just a temporary shift in attention?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I don’t know that it’s new, but it’s certainly reinforced. It’s the case that you have to have – challenges have to – have times when opportunity presents itself to strengthen and create relationships that can, in fact, be lasting. I see that opportunity, and you can see it. You can see it with permanent infrastructure that’s being built that’ll last for decades and decades. You can see it in the political infrastructure that’s being built out as well, the relationships that will go beyond any particular administration in America, or any particular government here in Greece that will be truly structural and lasting.
We have focused now on these opportunities. We watch – we know the importance of the transatlantic relationships with Europe, but we’ve also seen that within Europe, there are countries where we really feel like there’s space for American investment to come in, for America’s military to continue to grow and succeed in a strategic way. And we think Greece can certainly be part of that. You have seen, and will continue to see, our continued efforts not just here but throughout the Balkans. We’ve appointed a couple of new leaders to take on the challenges between two of the countries here to try and deliver an outcome that will create stability here in the region.
So we’ve put a real priority on it, and it was great for me to get a chance to come here. I had a chance to travel to Italy, and then to Montenegro, and then to North Macedonia, now to here. It’s been a fantastic trip, and one that I hope will put my teams on the ground, who will be here after I leave, to continue to work closely with these countries to develop better outcomes for those countries, for the region, and things that will benefit the United States of America as well.
MODERATOR: Okay. And you also just signed a revised defense deal with the Greek Government. And this comes at a moment when the U.S.-Turkey relations are – the tensions in the relations are heightening. So I wanted to know if these two are connected, and if you plan to remove or reduce your troops currently in Turkey.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, they’re not connected. This agreement was done because this was in the best interests of Greece and the best interests of the United States of America. It’s – I read some things today that talked about it being about basing rights. That does not fundamentally capture what it is our two countries actually achieved in this new agreement. It’s much deeper than that, it’s much more strategic than that; it will have a much greater impact on the capacity for the United States and Greece to work together militarily, and to be supportive of NATO.
So no, this agreement was connected to the relationship between the United States and Greece, and there was no other country that drove this other than our knowledge that two countries working together with this amended agreement will lead to better outcomes for each of us.
MODERATOR: Focusing a bit more on Turkey, because I know most people in the room would like me to focus on that: What can Greece and Cyprus expect from the U.S. regarding Turkey? For example, if Turkish troops land on a Greek islet, as it happened in 1999, what should we expect? Should we expect an equal distances stance, or something more supportive from the U.S.?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, you know, one of the good things about doing this a year and a half is I know not to talk about hypotheticals. (Laughter.) And so, I won’t.
But here is what you can expect: The world knows how America engages in the world, certainly under President Trump. We have deep respect for the rule of law. We’ve talked to countries that have engaged in activity that we say is fundamentally at odds with our value set, and in – and with the value set of Greece.
So what we’re engaged in is a set of activities that will prevent precisely what you just described from happening, to try and create a set of incentives that say, “That’s not the way for countries to benefit.” Take a look. There’s no country that has put as many sanctions on Russia as we have during the now three years this administration’s been put in place. Why? Because they engaged in behavior by taking one-fifth of the Ukraine. That’s unacceptable. We ask every European country to care about this as much as we do.
And so you can watch how this administration behaves, and you can be confident that we will act in ways that protect and preserve these basic ideas of sovereignty, these basic ideas of the rule of law, and these basic ideas around the protection of private property – the same value set that the people of Greece have.
MODERATOR: Now moving to Cyprus. The U.S. has indeed warned Turkey to stop drilling in Cyprus, in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone. But so far this has been ignored. And in fact, Turkey plans to start offshore drilling, a new one next week. So should we expect something more punitive, a punitive move?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’ll keep working to convince the Turks this isn’t in anyone’s best interest. We’ve made clear that these – this conflict shouldn’t be militarized. We’ve made clear that illegal drilling is unacceptable; violating international rules of law is unacceptable. And we’ll continue to communicate that – not only to Turkey. We do this all across the world. We use our diplomatic power to convince other nations that this isn’t in their best interest, and continue to work on this particular problem set as well. And we’ll do so alongside our partners here in Greece. We’ll do so with friends around the world. And we hope we’ll do so with Western European countries that have a deep and abiding interest in making sure that this happens.
Well, indeed, all countries around the world, every nation has an interest in protecting the sovereignty and the international rule of law – in this case, laws regarding economic zones around countries. Every country knows the rules, and sometimes countries try to pretend that they don’t. Every country understands these basic rules about who owns what, and there’s a handful of places in the world that it’s pretty complicated, and there’s a bunch of places where people assert that it’s complicated when in fact everyone knows the reality. And the world – not just the United States – needs to hold nations accountable for this.
MODERATOR: You mentioned energy in your speech, and this is a very crucial part in the U.S.-Greek relations. Greece indeed wants to become an energy hub in the region. And it wants to help Europe facilitate turning to alternative energy sources other than Russia. And the main project, the – potentially the biggest project is the East Med pipeline. I understand that this is very important strategically and for the U.S. How feasible is it financially business-wise? And how close are we to its implementation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t know the answer to the how close are we, other than to say that we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were 12 or 14 months ago. So there’s been real progress made, progress with governments to make sure that everyone’s onboard – not only onboard with creating rules and systems so that this can be built out, but it has to work, right. It has to work commercially. And so creating a space where there’ll be actual demand for the product at the price that it can be delivered.
I think we’re getting closer, but there’s still an awful lot of work to do.
MODERATOR: Do you think that U.S. companies will be interested in investing in the project in the future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: If they can make money. (Laughter.) I mean – look, this is – I didn’t mean that as a joke. I mean, that’s – right? This is about – companies invest. Whether it’s here, in Greece, or around the world, they invest when they have a stable government, a set of rules that are predictable so that they can make what will be a decades-long investment, and then for the biggest companies in the world for sure – and this would be many of the energy companies that might participate, American companies, European energy companies – they have shareholders. And so their mission set is to find those projects where they can get the right return for the capital they have available.
So the – go back to the answer to my previous question. You have to create a set of conditions where you have multiple companies, that there’s a fight, that there’s demand that exceeds supply, to say, “Yes, we want to do that. We want to be the one that builds this out. We want to be the one that provides the product. We want to be the ones that are on the back end doing distribution.” All of the elements that go into completing the project that will be successful in the short run, and in the medium and long run, turn on creating projects that can get done quickly – so getting red tape, I think the Greek government – new Greek government’s done fantastic work at speeding permitting processes and the like. I think that’s incredibly important. For so long, people looked at investments here in Greece, and said, “Goodness, I won’t even know if I can do that investment for longer than my investment horizon.”
These are the kind of things that the private sector rallies around. You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. You can’t urge them to do it because it’s for the good of the world. They’re going to do it because there’s a good outcome for them and for their business. And I think that pipeline will have that model, but it remains to be seen.
MODERATOR: Okay, makes sense. You mentioned China before in your speech, and you called it a “systemic rival.” So the U.S. has warned its allies to avoid Chinese companies and Chinese intervention in infrastructure projects. Considering the fact that China already owns Greece’s biggest port and is investing heavily in the whole region, how concerned are you about that? Is it something that you have discussed with the Greek Government? And also, another factor: Greece is coming out of a steep crisis, and urgently needs foreign direct investment. So taking this into account, how realistic is to expect that it will surpass this big investor?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am confident that the Greek people and the Greek Government will make good decisions about when and how, or if to take Chinese investments. A sovereign nation, it’ll make its own decisions; we fully respect that. Having said that, sometimes when a deal looks too good to be true, it turns out it is. And when the Chinese show up with cheap money – and I will tell you, the number of nations that I have talked to who have said, “You know what, it turns out they built a big energy project and it produces nearly nothing,” – they showed up and said they wanted to build a bridge, and there you see it, it’s halfway finished; or better still, yeah, they finished it, and six months later no one would stand behind the work product.
Greece is smart. You all will figure your way through this. I’d add only this: It is also the case that nations, sovereign countries, have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to make sure that when a country shows up with a facially commercial product but it turns out that that product is being offered for political interest – that is, you’re loaning money knowing that it is likely that you will foreclose, and take over the real estate; or you’re showing up to provide maybe a telecommunications network because you want your communist party to be able to steal all the information that’s going to move across that network – I’m confident the Greek people will be able to evaluate that, and the Greek leadership will make a good set of decisions.
It’s very important. These decisions impact every nation a great deal. We have Chinese investment in the United States that no one has suggested – least of all the national security leaders in the United States – that there are no ways that we can work with China. President Trump has said repeatedly we want China to be successful, and we want them to prosper. What we don’t want them to do is steal the property of Greek citizens. You all work too hard to create it. You’re asking to build out your high-tech sector, and if you open it up in the wrong way to China, you’ll do it, you’ll be successful, and then they’ll steal it.
I think you all will figure your way through that. And so if they show up with a commercial deal, and a European company bids, and an American company bids, and a Chinese company bids, and the Chinese company is participating in a straight-up commercial enterprise, and that’s the best offer, that’s the deal that should be taken. But it’s eyes-wide-open. And there’s a lot of countries that didn’t get that right. And so we’re spending a good deal of time making sure that the risks connected to some of the infrastructure projects that have a national security implication are fully evaluated. And so that we’re share our information, and then each country will make decisions for itself.
MODERATOR: At the final point, I can’t help but ask you about the political developments in the U.S. Since you have confirmed that you were present during the call on July 25th between President Trump and President Zelensky, can you tell us, do you think that there were any red flags raised during that call that require further investigation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t think anybody here is particularly interested in this. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: I’m sure they are. I’m sure they are. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t think so. I think they want to know about the relationship with America and Greece. I’m convinced of that. Right? This is what’s wrong. When the world doesn’t focus on the things that are right, the things that matter, the things that impact real people’s lives, and instead you get caught up in some silly gotcha game – you see, that’s not healthy. That doesn’t help democracies flourish. It doesn’t help grow economies. What it does is it destroys people’s belief, it – that – the people who have this charge, right, as a reporter, as a journalist, the people who have this charge aren’t really focused on the things that matter to people.
Look, I was on the phone call. I’m on almost every phone call with the President with every world leader. The President has every right to have these set of conversations. I know precisely what the United States Department of State – indeed, sitting in front of you is the previous ambassador to Ukraine. We know exactly what we were doing there. We were trying to create a situation where it wouldn’t be a corrupt government, right. We wanted to make sure that they didn’t interfere in our election in 2016. We wanted to make sure that if we underwrote Javelin missile systems – something that the previous administration refused to do – we wanted to make sure that we were doing this with a government that was straight-up, and would use that money for the things that it said it would use that money for.
Those are the kinds of things that we do when we’re trying to deliver on behalf of the American people appropriately.
MODERATOR: And can you assure your allies – Greece, other countries of the Balkans, the U.S. allies – that they will not be subject to political pressure based on their willingness or unwillingness to help the interests of a U.S. president?
SECRETARY POMPEO: What’s the question? To do what? (Laughter.) No, no, you’re going to be under enormous political pressure, let me assure you. Right? This is what we do. We work together in a political environment to achieve what the Greek people want. Right? And America tries to advance its interests around the world. And I am confident that I feel pressure when I talk to your foreign minister. He pressures me all the time. (Laughter.) It’s totally appropriate.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Right? Isn’t that right? Yeah, it’s totally right.
MODERATOR: So you don’t think that —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Go ahead and say it. You can admit it; it’s okay. (Laughter.) It’s completely right. He’s – right? (Laughter and applause.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s okay. It’s okay. I understand. No, it’s okay. It’s fine.
Look, nations do this. Nations work together and they say, “Boy, goodness gracious, if you can help me with X, we’ll help you achieve Y.” This is what partnerships do. It’s win-win. It’s better for each of us. I don’t – I’m not offended when your prime minister asks me, “Can you help us with X?” Right? It doesn’t bother me a lick.
MODERATOR: So you don’t think it will have any lasting damage on the U.S. diplomacy, to wrap it up?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know what you’re – what will have any lasting damage? The fact that we’re engaged in the world, trying to create a partnership with Greece? No, I think it’s going to be great.
MODERATOR: Okay, okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Please join me in thanking the Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.