In the volatile landscape that is unfolding in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean – not only in the field of Greek-Turkish relations, but also with regard to the stability of the wider region – Greece’s close relationship with the United States is a given.
To a great extent the shape of this relationship will be defined through contact with Donald Trump. As a result, the upcoming meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the American president on January 7 is of increased significance.
Recent developments in Syria, including the withdrawal of the US and a major shift in alliances, have demonstrated that despite the institutional safeguards in the American political system – primarily, the role of Congress – the final say lies with the president. Direct contact with Trump himself remains the most effective way to work with Washington.
Given that, caution is needed as Mitsotakis’ visit will take place amid Trump’s impeachment inquiry. The Greek prime minister will have an opportunity to highlight Athens’ positive role in the Balkans (with an emphasis on the geopolitical as well as the commercial dimension) and the Eastern Mediterranean through its close cooperation with Israel and Egypt. In addition, he will get a chance to draw attention to the problems caused by Ankara’s provocative actions.
It will be a delicate balance. The Democrats take a hard line on Turkey, particularly in the House of Representatives where they are the majority, but Mitsotakis should avoid creating the impression that he is siding with them. The message should be clear. Athens works with the president. At the same, it naturally is in contact with Congress, which has its own role to play, and welcomes the understanding of its concerns wherever this may come from.
It is clearly useful that Greece is one of a handful of NATO allies that meet the 2 percent spending goal on defense. Because of that Mitsotakis is one of the few European leaders who will join Trump for a working lunch on the sidelines of the NATO summit in London.
Reaching out to Trump on the issue of Greek-Turkish relations is not easy. During the NATO summit as well as at the White House meeting, Mitsotakis will work on his personal relationship with the US president, while trying to draw attention to the problems created by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, it is known, has a good personal rapport with Trump. Tomorrow’s meeting in London offers the Greek PM a good opportunity to start building that relationship.