NEWS

Greek-American relations and Athens’s regional aspirations

NIKO EFSTATHIOU

Former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias.

TAGS: Delphi Economic Forum, Diplomacy, Security

After the constant efforts of successive governments and with anti-Americanism on the left of the political spectrum at unprecedented low levels, Greece appears to be vying for the geostrategic role it deserves in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. This was reflected in Friday's parallel discussions at the Delphi Economic Forum, whose central theme was the boosting of Greek-American bilateral ties and Greece’s increasing influence in the developments taking place in the wider region.

The Forum kicked off with former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias’s discussion with Athanasios Platias, professor of strategy and director of graduate studies at the University of Piraeus’s Department of International and European Studies.

“Although within the context of the European Union we are medium-sized to small, in the Balkans we are very powerful with a GDP that is many times larger than that of all the region’s countries put together,” Kotzias said, adding that the Prespes agreement has opened the path to greater diplomatic and commercial exposure for the wider region. Asked about the role the US played with regard to the Macedonia name dispute, Kotzias denied that he came under any pressure from foreign ambassadors and diplomats. Referring to a comment about the pro-American stance during his term in office, he said sternly, “I want to reiterate that even the harshest regimes – such as that of the Soviet Union or Mao Zedong – allied themselves with the US.”

The viability of Greek-American ties returned to the fore in a lively discussion on the future of the Eastern Mediterranean during which the unpredictable character of US President Donald Trump was discussed.

Ian Lesser, vice president for foreign policy at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that the American political system has many checks that do not allow one individual alone to draft policy. He also clarified that the development of ties between Greece and the US is backed by both Republicans and Democrats. He said the US hopes Greece will remain anchored to the West, regardless who is in government after the next general election. For his part, New Democracy’s secretary of international relations, Yiannis Smyrlis, said the conservative party expects to improve ties with the US at all levels, although not to the point of dependency.

Early in the afternoon, the discussion took an interesting turn with the question of Turkey’s unpredictable relationship with Europe and its seemingly collapsing bid to join the EU. New Democracy shadow foreign minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said the future lies in building a customs union with Turkey with terms and conditions attached.

Lesser reckoned that growing nationalism in Europe prevents it from recognizing that a strategic alliance with Turkey is necessary and unavoidable.

In a lively speech brimming with humor, Kemal Kirisci, a Turkish researcher at the Brookings Institution, said he believed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did Turkey and the West a big favor in 2002 when he opened up the economy and integrated his country into the European market.

He added that the Pan-Islamic agenda – and not a Neo-Ottoman one – of Ahmet Davutoglu has collapsed and the world has come to see that relations between Turkey and Europe can only be beneficial.

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