Athens, Greece (PortSEurope) January 9, 2020 – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the United States between January 5-8 and met with the leadership of the Atlantic Council, participating in a panel with Atlantic Council Vice President Damon Wilson. He also met with the Director-General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva and visited the White House where he met with US President Donald Trump, and visit the Senate and members of the Foreign Relations Committee.
He was accompanied by the Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, the Minister of National Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos, the Minister of Development Adonis Georgiades, the Minister of Education Niki Kerameos, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Foreign Minister in charge and government spokesman Stelios Petsas.
The meeting comes at a time when the East Mediterranean region has been in the news for several reasons.
Greece considers that Turkey has behaved in an “extremely aggressive way”, with its recent actions including possible drilling in a stretch of sea recognized as Greek by an international maritime treaty, which is linked to oil and gas exploration in Cypriot waters and possibly to the implementation of the East Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline, a joint project between Israel, Cyprus and Greece.
EastMed is a planned offshore/onshore natural gas pipeline, directly connecting East Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete. The project, currently in design, will transport natural gas from the offshore gas reserves in the Levantine Basin into Greece, and in conjunction with the Poseidon and IGB pipelines into Italy and other European regions.
Separately, Turkey and Libya have signed an agreement which seeks to create an exclusive economic zone from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis described the deal as “geographically ridiculous,” saying it ignores the Greek island of Crete.
Relations between Greece and the U.S. have improved in recent years, with Washington interested in the forthcoming privatisation of the Greek port of Alexandroupolis.
In October 2019 during a two–day visit to Greece, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias signed a renewed Mutual Cooperation Defense Agreement (MDCA), first signed in 1990, and since 1998, renewed annually.
The utilization of the Port Authority of Alexandroupoli, which is scheduled to be privatized in 2020, is expected to be put on ice following the signing of the MDCA that provides for the partial use of the port’s infrastructure by American defense forces.
The U.S. is interested in the port of Alexandroupoli for energy and military reasons, especially after the privatisation of the Thessaloniki Port Authority. The Thracian port offers access to maritime, road, rail and air transport.
It is located at a point that is now directly linked to Egnatia Odos – the highway that runs across northern Greece – and the railway line to Thessaloniki and to the borders with Turkey and Bulgaria. It is also near the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the route of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), both of which will transport natural gas to Europe upon completion.
A railway connection was recently launched between the new container terminal at Alexandroupoli port and the national rail network, allowing for connection with Balkan states and countries on the Black Sea and providing the option of combined transport (train and ship).
Alexandroupoli is also the focus of plans to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) quantities into the Balkans through the planned construction of an offshore LNG gasification station by U.S. Greek and Bulgarian business interests.
The American plan foresees the creation of a vertical corridor starting in Greece and heading north to Bulgaria, from there to Romania and then to Ukraine, ensuring its energy self-sufficiency. At the heart of this design is the FSRU, which will be powered by many different sources, including U.S. LNG.
The Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas are key to U.S. interests in Southeastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Black Sea, and Washington faces increased regional security challenges by Russia, China and Iran.
These actions suggest a renewed U.S. interest in the East Mediterranean region, an area that seen a huge amount of Chinese investment in recent years, as Chinese companies have acquired transport assets around the sea, including port infrastructure and logistics connections with Northern Europe, as part of its new Silk Road strategy.
The new Silk Road (part of the Belt and Road initiative – BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road – OBOR), is a Chinese economic strategy to seek better access for Chinese-made products in European markets, which includes acquiring stakes in ports and other transport facilities, and cooperation agreements with countries along the Silk Road routes.
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