The American side appears keen on making the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), which starts this weekend, a symbol for a deepening of relations between Greece and the United States.
To that end these past few months there has been a flurry of activity from the State Department bureaucracy aimed at securing the highest possible American presence at the event, where this year the United States is the honored country.
The US participation will be led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has invested in Greece in the past in a private capacity. The possibility of him being present at the fair was floated last October during Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s visit to Washington. Efforts were also made to secure the attendance of Vice President Mike Pence, though they did not bear fruit. Either way, this year’s TIF represents an expectation by both sides of a stronger American presence in Greece.
High-ranking State Department officials who deal with the region – Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wes Mitchell first and foremost, and, of course, Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt – have made it clear in public comments and private briefings that Washington is determined to see Greece become a true pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. As such the US believes it shares many common interests with Greece in the region.
Part of the thinking in Washington has to do with the development of the northern Greek ports of Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli so that they become major transit routes for commercial goods, as well as American, Israeli, Cypriot and Egyptian gas, to the Balkans and beyond.
Moreover, during his recent visit to Athens and his meeting with Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, the chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, spoke of the possibility of an upgraded role for Greece’s military bases and ports, confirming that the relationship in the area of defense is already deepening and gradually moving from an initial interest to the implementation phase.
For such plans to come to fruition, however, Greece needs to have a healthy economy, and in this regard the focus is on investments that will boost growth and strengthen the country’s standing so that it can play a more decisive role in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The prevailing sentiment at TIF and the present circumstances in the region offer an opportunity for mutual benefits. It is up to the Greek government and the US ambassador and his team to make the most of this opportunity. The most pressing challenge is to attract serious long-term private American investment that will generate jobs and contribute to an economic rebound, while at the same time increasing Greek exports to the world’s biggest market – something that, of course, is not helped by the harsh imposition of tariffs that seriously damage a strategic partner and ally in a volatile region.