Piraeus, Greece (PortSEurope) January 15, 2020 – The U.S. Embassy in Greece has published the text of an interview with U.S. Ambassador Pyatt by ERT journalist Dimitris Apokis.
The interview covers a number of topics including: the recent visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Washington, USA; tensions with Turkey following Ankara’s deal with Libya and encroachment of Greek national waters; the U.S.-Greece defense relationship; U.S. corporate investment in Greece; and Alexandroupolis port interest.
Below is the published text of the interview:
January 13, 2020
ERT: Ambassador, thank you very much for the opportunity —
Ambassador Pyatt: I’m delighted.
ERT: — to talk with us about the important visit of the Prime Minister in Washington.
You were there. You were part of the meetings with President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, other senior administration officials. Give us your prospective about this visit – how it went – what happened there.
Ambassador Pyatt: So the visit was fantastically successful, both as a way to recognize all the progress we have made in recent years with U.S.-Greece relations — there was a lot of reference to our new Defense Cooperation Agreement; to the 3+1 with Greece, Israel and Cyprus; to our energy cooperation — but also to set a course for the future.
I was very, very impressed by how effective the Prime Minister was in delivering his message. And I will say, I’ve been an American diplomat for more than 30 years now and I’ve rarely seen the kind of genuine warm welcome that the Prime Minister received in all of his meetings. It was a fantastic reflection of where we are in our alliance.
ERT: There was a lot of discussion the last few months, a lot of tension in the [inaudible], a lot of activity by [inaudible] Mediterranean. Agreements with Libya that we have. The U.S. is on a daily basis involved in that. The diplomats in Washington, in Athens, in Ankara. Talk to us a little bit about what happened on this, the U.S. involvement, because there is a lot of discussion about this involvement the last few days. And the U.S. position on what Turkey does in the area.
Ambassador Pyatt: We have a longstanding interest in the peace and stability of this region. We want to see a normal, neighborly relationship between Greece and Turkey. And in this regard, the Prime Minister was very effective both in terms of presenting to the President, to the Vice President to Secretary Pompeo, but also to Congress, to the think tanks, Greece’s concerns about recent developments, but also making very clear that Greece is not a source of problems, that Greece wants to be a stabilizing factor, that Greece and the United States share an interest in seeing that Turkey remains anchored in the West.
As you say, there’s been a lot of press speculation about mediation, about how the United States will approach this issue going forward. We’ve always been involved. We’ve worked through our Ambassadors here in Athens and in Ankara, through European Command. I’ve worked very closely with both General Scaparrotti and General Wolters on issues around the dynamic between Greece and Turkey. At the end of the day these are two NATO allies, and we want to see these NATO allies having a normal neighborly relationship. It was important in this regard that while he was in Washington the Prime Minister talked about the commitment from Greece to seeing the early reinauguration of the Political Directors Dialogue, the talks between the Foreign Ministries to manage these issues which are significant.
ERT: The relationship between the U.S. and Greece, a very good relationship for the last probably many, many years.
Ambassador Pyatt: Better than ever before in history. I think everybody agrees on that.
ERT: I want to discuss a little bit about the relationship starting from the Defense Secretary.
Ambassador Pyatt: Sure.
ERT: We have the F-16s, we have now the talk about the F-35 probably participation of Greece. We have the presence, important and intensive U.S. presence in Greece, [inaudible], Souda Bay, Volos, a lot of —
Ambassador Pyatt: Larissa.
ERT: Larissa. Alexandroupolis. All these things. Tell us about defense and [sector] of defense that is the relationship, a little bit about that.
Ambassador Pyatt: We’ve made fantastic progress on the U.S.-Greece defense relationship, including in the first six months of Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ government. It was very important to Secretary Pompeo when he was here in October, was able to sign an update to our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement. It’s an agreement that’s in the interest of both countries, and frankly, it builds on the steps that we were able to accomplish under Prime Minister Tsipras, so I hope very much that SYRIZA will continue to support this process as well.
The defense relationship was a central part of the conversations that Prime Minister Mitsotakis had, both at the White House and with Congress. There’s tremendous support in Washington from Republicans and Democrats to continue to build on this. We were very glad to hear the Prime Minister’s proposal for Greece’s involvement in the F-35 consortium. We responded already. Defense Minister Panagiotopoulos — on Thursday I was able to introduce him to Clark Cooper who’s the U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for Military Affairs who deals with these issues. I know they have already begun the dialogue in terms of what a future Greek F-35 program might look like. And in the meantime, for the next couple of years, our major focus will also be the successful execution of a very large program to modernize Greece’s F-16 fleet and bring it up to the kind of generation 4.5 capabilities, in terms of new avionics and sensors, new communications packages that will help the Hellenic Air Force to prepare itself to operate a 5th generation fighter like the F-35.
So defense is a highlight of our broader alliance relationship, and it reflects shared interests, the way in which our militaries work together at all the different sites that we talked about.
ERT: The next thing, the strategic relationship kind of thing.
Ambassador Pyatt: Right.
ERT: We have [inaudible], the U.S. [inaudible]. We have the [inaudible] in Alexandroupolis, the project there. We have also on the maritime issues the shipyard Syros that is from the [inaudible] and some other places around Greece. Tell us a few words about that, cooperation on that.
Ambassador Pyatt: One of the other major areas of focus for the Prime Minister’s visit was investment. I’m delighted that he was able to deliver such clear messages to American investors. He was also very clear when he was at the White House that the United States is underweight relative to the size of our economy, that we should have a bigger presence in the Greek economy. Some of the sectors with the greatest prospect for expanded American investment are the ones you just described energy, logistics, maritime. We’ve got a great example of the revival of the Syros Shipyard with an American company ONEX. The CEO of ONEX was present in Washington for the Prime Minister’s visit. We’re very excited about what might happen next with Elefsina. We also have an American group which I met with when I was in Washington strongly focused on the privatization of the Alexandroupoli port and the prospect of converting Alexandroupoli into a very important logistics and transshipment hub aimed at the Black Sea region. So there’s a lot that’s happening in that area.
Then, energy is one of the real bright spots of U.S.-Greece relations. The Prime Minister properly drew attention to the inauguration of the TAP Pipeline, the construction on the IGB, the expansion of Revithoussa, the prospect of early execution of the FSRU in Alexandroupolis. All of these reflect how Greece is emerging as a Southern European Energy Hub. I know that Minister Georgiadis, the Prime Minister and others made a very positive impression on the American energy companies that they met with in Washington, and we look forward to seeing an expanded presence there as well.
ERT: And specifically on the East Med and the relationship between Israel, Cyprus, the U.S. and Greece, a comment about that?
Ambassador Pyatt: Sure. It was a very positive thing that the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington came right after his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the signature of the East Med Pipeline Agreement. It also came immediately following President Trump’s signature on the East Med Act. I hope you saw that the sponsors of that, Senator Menendez, Senator Rubio, presented the Prime Minister with a signed copy of that act which is a very important piece of law which establishes a framework for American engagement with the Eastern Mediterranean. It signals our support for the pipeline project, for a systematic focus on energy cooperation in the wider region involving not just Israel and Cyprus but also Egypt and the other powers.
The Prime Minister was very clear that on the energy issues Greece is not about excluding anybody, including Turkey. Greece’s focus is on expanding opportunities for cooperation, to create prosperity and opportunity for the whole neighborhood. So this is an area where our interests strongly converge.
I should also add that throughout the visit one of the really important themes was the fantastic support from Secretary of State Pompeo for the relationship between Greece and the United States, and of course he traveled to Jerusalem last March for the inaugural 3+1 meeting at the leaders’ level. We had Frank Fannon here for an Energy Ministerial in the summer. And one of the things that I did while I was in Washington was to make sure that we will remain engaged as soon as the politics in Jerusalem and elsewhere allow, to continue this process of 3+1 engagement because it’s a very important part of America’s effort to develop a strategic approach to the Eastern Mediterranean region. It recognizes it as a zone of strategic competition with our great rivals including Russia and China and also recognizes it as a zone of opportunity for cooperation.
ERT: A very important issue with global implications if the 5G issue.
Ambassador Pyatt: Yes.
ERT: You spoke in the past about the importance of the consistency between Greece and the U.S. on that issue. Administration officials before the visit on the briefing from Washington, they said that there is an agreement, a [formal] prospective between Greece and the U.S. on 5G. That extends even to provide this. Because it’s [inaudible], can you talk to us about this, the 5G?
Ambassador Pyatt: You’ve understood well the importance of the issue. I would note also the prominent role in this regard that’s been played by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. He spoke to this issue at the Delphi Washington Forum in November. He spoke to this when he was here in Athens in the summer. I will say Secretary Ross was very reassured by the messages that he heard from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister addressed this publicly in his remarks at the Atlantic Council which was a superb discussion, and I would encourage you to watch the whole thing because it really was a master class in how to talk to the Washington think tank community.
But we are very reassured by the messages that we have heard from the Prime Minister, including a clear signal that Greece’s telecommunications core will be preserved to only trusted vendors. This is about security but it’s also about economic competitiveness. It’s about how we ensure that our companies — your companies and our companies — are able to move forward with a level playing field.
ERT: Finally, my final question is about you talk about investments, if you want to add something aside from what we discussed about companies other than energy, defense, and sectors like that. How do you feel this is going to play with American companies? What’s the new plan we have on this? We are outside of the economic programs of the UN and the International Military Fund? So how do you see that?
Ambassador Pyatt: I’ve said in the past that I thought perceptions were lagging behind, that the markets were slow to understand how much Greece had changed. I think perceptions are now catching up. Your best investment marketing officer is Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The Prime Minister is a very effective advocate for investment, and I think the fact that Minister Georgiadis, Deputy Minister Fragogiannis were able to use last week’s Greek Week, which is what we called it in Washington, to send a very clear message that Greece is back, that Greece is open for business, that Greece wants to hear from American companies in the sectors we’ve talked about — logistics, energy but also areas like property development, tourism, technology, high technology, the knowledge-based economy.
So this is going to be a very exciting period. We’ve already got some success stories we can point to with Pfizer, with Cisco, with ONEX in Siros, with ExxonMobil and the Crete energy blocks. But we’re not finished. I’m going to continue as I have done for the past several years to work very actively to help American companies recognize the opportunities here. I think you’re going to see a series of American delegations — some from the government, some from the private sector — visiting Greece in the next few months, precisely because at the senior most level — the President, Secretary of State, Vice President Pence — look at their remarks last week — they all sent the same message, that we appreciate Greece’s economic recovery, that we want American companies to be present, and that we congratulate the Prime Minister for the signals that he’s sending through new legislation like Minister Georgiadis’ development bill, like the efforts that Minister Staikouras has been making to reduce taxes. These are the measures that will help to propel the Greek economy forward, but also get American investors to come and look seriously again at the opportunities here.
ERT: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
Ambassador Pyatt: Good to talk to you. Thank you.
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