NEWS

Greek PM’s Washington visit was two years in the making

Greek PM’s Washington visit was two years in the making

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ upcoming visit to Washington on May 16 has been in the works for the past two years, Kathimerini understands, with sources saying that the original idea had been for a trip and an address at a joint session of the US Congress to mark the bicentennial of Greece’s 1821 Revolution.

The original plan did not materialize, however, as the pandemic curbed US President Joe Biden’s social engagements within the context of foreign leaders’ visits; in fact, no visiting leader has addressed a joint session in the past two years.

The discussion for such a visit returned to the fore last fall, mainly as a result of Washington’s appreciation for the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with Greece in October, knowing that the Greek prime minister had come under pressure to delay its signing. The agreement came after the fall of Kabul, at a time when the US State Department was eager for a diplomatic win. Of course, no one could have predicted the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the fact that the northern Greek port of Alexandroupoli – which was included in the Greek-American pact for the first time – would play such a vital strategic role for US interests.

Another factor that came into play and paved the way for this month’s visit was Mitsotakis himself, who is viewed across the pond as a transatlanticist who is prepared to make tough decisions, while at the same time upholding fundamental pro-Western and pro-business ideals.

Mitsotakis also surprised Washington with his decision to send weapons to Ukraine, with American analysts noting that it was a domestically unpopular move taken at his own initiative despite the potential political cost – in northern Greece in particular – ahead of an election year. The expulsion of 12 Russian diplomats – another move that was deemed particularly risky – came as additional proof of the Greek prime minister’s character.

As far as the invitation to address the joint session is concerned, this was the result of the combined efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents California’s 12th Congressional District and has a close relationship with the Tsakopoulos family there, and Senator Robert Menendez, a staunch supporter of Greek positions.

According to sources, an important role in organizing the visit was played by Father Alex Karloutsos, a personal friend of Biden’s, Greek-American businessmen Dennis Mehiel and George Marcus, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (nee Tsakopoulos), Andy and Mike Manatos of the Manatos & Manatos consultancy firm, and Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) Executive Director Endy Zemenides.

What will be attracting particular attention during Mitsotakis’ visit will be the positions adopted publicly by the US president and other high-ranking officials meeting with the Greek prime minister, who will be addressing the subject of Turkish aggression. There are those in Washington who believe that Ankara needs to be sent a stern message, but also others who say keeping Turkey “in the fold” is more important.