Washington has been “strongly engaged” from the “first hours” with regards to the arrest by Turkish authorities at the start of the month of two Greek soldiers who strayed across Greece’s northeastern border while on patrol in bad weather, US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt said in an interview on Wednesday night.
Speaking on News 24/7 television, Pyatt expressed his surprise at reports in some Greek media suggesting that during his recent visit to Athens, US Assistant Secretary of State Wes Mitchell told Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos that Greece and Turkey need to deal with the issue on their own.
“I was surprised by those reports because they didn’t reflect the nature of US engagement. Washington has been strongly engaged on this issue from the first hours,” Pyatt said. “Nothing could be further from the truth than to suggest that somehow the United States was washing its hands of this issue. To the contrary, these are two NATO allies and we are keenly interested in seeing this issue resolved.”
Regarding the spike in tensions between Athens and Ankara over the past few months, the American ambassador said that “Greece and the United States have a very similar interest vis-à-vis Turkey and that … is in seeing Turkey remain anchored in the West, anchored in NATO and focused on Euro-Atlantic institutions.”
“We have a lot to gain from maintaining very close communications between each other,” Pyatt said, expressing support for the Greek government’s efforts to keeping the channels of communication with Ankara open.
“One of the things that has really impressed me in my year-and-a-half in Greece is the significant soft power influence that Greece has on Turkey,” Pyatt added, referring to growing Turkish tourism and investment in Greece.
“Those are the aspects of the relationship which I hope will over the long term shape the contours of the relationship between Ankara and Athens. These are issues that Greek government has to manage. The United States is not the referee, we don’t have a yellow card that we can pull out at a moment’s notice,” he said.
On the issue of increasingly aggressive rhetoric from Turkey concerning hydrocarbon exploration off Cyprus, Pyatt said that “the United States has been very clear… about the right of the people of Cyprus to develop the resources of that country’s EEZ.”
The American ambassador, meanwhile, was optimistic of a breakthrough in name talks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), saying that the US is “interested in seeing the two sides take advantage of this window of opportunity which has opened.”
“It is very clear to the United States… that the Greek government would like to find a solution. Our experts in Skopje have a similar assessment of the politics there,” Pyatt said, a day ahead of a visit by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to Skopje, where he will be meeting with top government officials to discuss Greece’s proposals for ending a dispute that has dragged on for more than a quarter of a century.
“Resolving the name issue is the key that unlocks a broader process of cooperation” in the region, he added.
Pyatt also stressed Greece’s strategic role as a “pillar of stability” and “a builder of bridges” in a volatile region.
“The ability to bring in key partners – Israel, UAE, Egypt, Italy, the UK, the US, Greece, Cyprus – is something very few players in this neighborhood could accomplish,” he said in reference to the ongoing Iniochos multinational defense exercise, which ends on Friday.