COMMENT

Washington ready to strengthen ties with Greece, says official

TOM ELLIS

Deputy chief of protocol at the State Department Michael Karloutsos (at right), was at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s side throughout his Washington visit.

TAGS: Interview, Diaspora, Diplomacy

Last week’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was held in a very cordial atmosphere, with the American leader appearing ready to deepen bilateral ties and support Greece, the deputy and acting chief of protocol at the State Department, Michael Karloutsos, tells Kathimerini.

The Greek-American official was at the prime minister’s side for much of the Washington leg of his trip to the US: He welcomed Tsipras at Andrews Air Force Base and sat in on his meetings with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Karloutsos sees genuine American investment interest in Greece and notes that discussions between the two sides also focused on energy and defense, stressing that Greece’s position in Washington is strengthened by its cooperation with Israel and Egypt.

Also noting his own very different ideology to Tsipras and calling on the Greek prime minister to show the “proper respect” to the Greek Orthodox faith, Karloutsos says that the diaspora will always be ready to help Greece, regardless of who is in power.

What is the US administration’s assessment of the meetings with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras?

Obviously I am not the spokesperson for the State Department, or the White House for that matter, but as a Greek American who happens to be a member of the Trump administration I can say it was a successful visit, which upgraded and strengthened the level of the bilateral relations and US-Greek cooperation. I believe President Trump very much appreciates the sacrifices Greeks have made in order to restore their economy. Working closely with Ambassador [Geoffrey] Pyatt and Ambassador [Haris] Lalacos, our goal was to strengthen the timeless friendship the two countries share; I believe we accomplished this in full. Besides, it’s always important to keep in mind the United States and Greece share common values and mutual interests on the international stage. Greece is an important ally and a strategic partner with NATO, in Europe, and in the East Mediterranean.

What was the main focus of the discussions?

The discussions were intensive and sincere at all levels. As a member of the diaspora, I have one more reason to feel happy for the momentum, because I personally experienced the sincerity and the positive feeling throughout the discussions. The atmosphere was very comfortable and friendly in the Oval Office as well as during the extended discussions. President Trump, PM Tsipras, and their ministers agreed that the two countries have many things in common; together we can do more in the short term as well as in the future. I believe it is time to look forward towards the things that we have in front of us and to those that we have started building.

How real is the possibility of the meeting leading to more American investments in Greece?

The question of investments was at the forefront of the discussions between the president and the prime minister. The two men and their teams also spent time on strengthening trade relations, defense and energy cooperation. In his Rose Garden address, President Trump mentioned with emphasis the investment opportunities that exist. I believe that if we keep up with the good work in this sector, we will soon realize very impressive results. President Trump totally reaffirmed his support for a responsible debt relief plan.

So, there are prospects.

On a daily basis, I monitor information about the investor interest of several businessmen; some of them with Greek roots. They have been researching the perspectives of making use of their funds. These people look forward to a tax policy free from unpleasant surprises, a stable financial environment, limited bureaucracy, transparency, and equal opportunities. In any case, as the PM himself said, the manpower of the country is exceptional. I also consider it my responsibility to mention the active interest shown by the diaspora. It’s important for me to again mention the very recent move of Greek-American and Brother Archon John Calamos, who bought 75 percent of the Ethniki insurance company. Finally, please allow me to note the excellent work done in this sector by our ambassador in Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, who works day and night in order to bridge the two countries.

What is Greece’s image in Washington?

As you can see, I started smiling before you completed your question, because this is a conversation I often have in Washington DC with members of the Congress as well as governmental officials in the margins of my duties. The image of Greece is very positive. Even those who were reluctant are convinced that Greeks are trying hard; they recognize that Greek people have made huge sacrifices. Personally, I hope that from this position of honor I will contribute to further raising awareness on the challenges facing Greeks. People I share these discussions with ask me about the consequences of the financial crisis in citizens’ everyday lives. However, they feel optimistic that recovery is about to come. By default, these conversations end with an expression of respect for the Greek ideals and the tremendous influence of the Greek element in the development of the Western civilization.

And in Congress?

Because of the good works of my dear friend and Brother Archon Congressman Gus Bilirakis, and his like-minded colleagues, Greece is held in very high regard in Congress. Additionally, strategic alliances with Israel and Egypt have helped make a strong case for Greece with critical advocates on the Hill.

How do the White House, the State Department and the Department of Defense view Greece’s role in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Greece has been a stable and timeless strong partner of the United States in the East Mediterranean as well as a strategic partner with NATO. As you know, the two countries share common efforts in fighting terrorism, while Greece has a stabilizing role in a sensitive, challenging area. Besides, the security and defense cooperation among the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department with the Greek authorities is of the highest level and bears fruit. This has a particular value given that our main goal is to fight ISIS. The use of the Souda Bay is essential for the USA. We feel grateful to Greek people for this cooperation which is of key importance for the US Naval forces operating in the region of the East Mediterranean. I have one more reason to maintain warm feelings for Crete and the Cretans, because of the time I spent there and the relationships I developed during the preparations and through the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

How does the Greek-American community feel about Tsiras’s visit? Will they invest more in Greece?

The Greek community actively supports the Greek recovery efforts and this should be recognized by all parts. Greek-American businessmen, the Greek-Orthodox Church and those who act around Washington DC build the close US-Greek relations day by day. Also, the contribution of the Greek-American community in the American economy is remarkable. You can find Greeks all over the United States. So, every time that a Greek leader visits our country, we experience feelings of nostalgia and love for the land of our forefathers.

What are your personal thoughts on your interaction with the Greek premier?

The prime minister was very warm. He went out of his way to shake every hand and thank all he met. On a personal level, as I even explained to the prime minister himself, we come from very different backgrounds and have totally different political ideologies but it’s important that we all do what we can for the “Patrida.”

As a child of the Church, I wish the prime minister and his government would show the proper respect to the faith of the overwhelming majority of Greece’s citizens. We cannot on the one hand fight for the name of Macedonia with the argument being “it’s a rewriting of history” and at the same time ignore the Church’s indisputable contribution to modern Greece. That said, I always believed Greeks are strongest when they stand united with one common cause. Our common cause now is Greece’s recovery and I am fully supportive of this effort.

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