Washington’s new top diplomat for Europe


The recent unexpected resignation of US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Wess Mitchell made some people wonder whether and to what extent his departure would affect the American approach to issues that are of particular concern to Greece.

US foreign policy is obviously not the purview of just one man. There are interests and constants that are espoused by different presidents and secretaries of state. However, the administration of President Donald Trump has brought to the workings of Washington’s foreign policy establishment a new and unprecedented reality, whereby nothing can be considered a constant anymore, not even the so-called traditional American interests.

The moment the president himself chooses to expose the intelligence services of his own country over relations with Russia, which is one of the US’s most sensitive issues, or when he suddenly announces the withdrawal of American forces from Syria without the proper deliberation, let alone approval, of the departments of State and Defense, it is clear that nothing can be taken for granted anymore.

That said, and however uncertain the new environment of US diplomacy may be, Greece should and does care about who is charge of America’s European policy. Any final decisions rest with the president, but the initial planning and direction of Washington’s approach vis-a-vis specific countries and regions is determined by the relevant officials – in Greece’s case, for all practical purposes that is the Assistant Secretary of state for European affairs.

Mitchell will be replaced by Philip Reeker, a career diplomat who served as US ambassador to Skopje from 2008 to 2011, an embassy he had also served in during the late 1990s. It would, perhaps, have been more useful for Greece if the person chosen to replace Mitchell were someone with diplomatic experience in Athens and, therefore, with a deeper understanding of Greek concerns. On the other hand, it is good that the new Assistant Secretary is familiar with Southeastern Europe, where Greece is seeking to play a more prominent role following the deal with North Macedonia.

Mitchell regarded Greece as a lynchpin of stability in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Reeker has every reason to adopt the same approach, acknowledging the role Athens deserves and can play in this volatile region.