The US-Greece Strategic Dialogue starts on Thursday in Washington, a process that signals a significant deepening of bilateral relations. The meeting loses some of its luster due to the fact that Greece will be represented by its alternate foreign minister as a result of the recent resignation of Nikos Kotzias and the decision of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has taken over the portfolio, to attend a summit of European Union leaders on the same day.
Nevertheless, the takeaway here is that this is the first time the State Department bureaucracy – with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell at the forefront – has seen Greece as such an important partner and ally. The emphasis on Greece’s role and importance is a lot more than the usual over-the-top platitudes that lack substance. Greek observers with good knowledge of how Washington works can attest to that.
Broader geopolitical developments favor closer ties. Uncertainty in the Balkans, the role of Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly erratic behavior, the energy prospects in the Eastern Mediterranean and the broader area, and the close cooperation between Greece and Israel are developments that have put Athens at the center of US policy planning. Moreover, the fact that this multifaceted cooperation is being carried out under a leftist-led government in Greece safeguards it to some degree from future populist reactions from that side of the political spectrum that has traditionally been anti-American. The strategic dialogue will develop on a solid foundation that supersedes individual politicians and parties, and will also be utilized by the next Greek government, whatever that might be.
A relationship that was once undercut, demonized or even hidden is now being recognized for all the potential benefits it can bring the country. For decades Greece has hosted one of the most important US military bases at Souda Bay in Crete, but every government during that period avoided talking about it and consequently taking advantage of it. Partly as a result of the support America gave Greece through the crisis, but also regional developments, Greek public opinion no longer has such a negative view of the US military presence here or of joint exercises between the two countries.
Greece is stepping up to assume its rightful role as a pillar of stability in a volatile neighborhood. And that is not the usual rhetoric. It’s the reality on the ground. At the same time, a consensus of opinion between the leftist government and the conservative opposition over the relationship with the US is making it easier for Washington to draw a long-term plan, something that can only be beneficial to this country.