Samaras at the White House

Today is a big day for Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as he will finally meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington. We should note here that with the exception of the late Constantine Karamanlis, all of Greece’s six elected premiers in the post-1974 years visited the United States; but there was hardly a follow-up to the pledges made at the time.

That does not mean to say that top-level meetings and contacts with America’s leaders serve no meaningful purpose – in fact, the opposite is true. They are extremely necessary and it would be more productive if the political class in Athens treated them as a means to bolster cooperation and not as a public relations stunt to boost the profile of the occasional government leader. The essence after all lies in what follows after an official visit.

So Samaras is meeting with Obama today during what is an extremely difficult period for the Greek economy, notwithstanding government efforts to put a positive spin on recent developments. However, the White House is not just a complaint box where Athens can vent its frustration over Ankara or, more recently, over rigid fiscal discipline imposed by officials in Berlin. To be sure, the Obama administration and the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel are not singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to dealing with the broader economic crisis. Greece is a member of – and it depends on – the European Union, which is dominated by Germany.

Restoring stability in Greece as well as the euro area at large is of course in Washington’s interest, but the “rescue program” is mainly hammered out in Berlin before it gets implemented in Athens.

In terms of geopolitics, the exclusion of Russia (which was in line with Greek interests) from the privatization of DESFA is in sync with US policy, which aims at creating a Greek-Turkish energy axis. Bringing this strategy to fruition presupposes a closer relationship between the two states on energy issues in the Aegean Sea, but Greece could still buy some time here.

A lot is being said about America’s gradual disengagement from the Middle East but the microcosm that is Greece, Israel and Turkey is still high on the US agenda. Greece should expect calls to participate in a workable tripartite alliance with its two neighbors in the region. As the crisis deepens, the need for further harmonization is growing. After becoming evident in the realm of the economy, this is now being felt in the area of foreign policy.