The deepening of strategic cooperation between Greece and the United States and the mutually beneficial aligning of interests in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean are at the heart of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Athens.
Given the confusing political climate in Washington lately, Pompeo has been the main – if not the only – steady pillar of foreign policy in the US capital, though the possibility of him leaving the State Department to seek election to the Senate inevitably gives rise to uncertainty.
In any case, the visit by the head of American diplomacy comes amid a very positive climate in relations between the two countries with excellent prospects. The completion of the bilateral defense agreement confirms that Greece has made a clear choice at a cross-party level – the agreement was prepared under the previous SYRIZA administration – something that greatly facilitates long-term US planning.
However, there is no space for overoptimism or illusions. Washington will never interfere – as much as Athens would like – in the event of a Greek-Turkish confrontation. No public statement or letter from the US secretary of state can guarantee Greece’s territorial integrity. It would be very welcome and would obviously be taken into consideration by third parties, but that’s about it.
It could even be argued that the recent tensions in US-Turkish relations have limited Washington’s ability to effectively influence Ankara’s actions. Rhetoric and symbolism are useful, but what matters is substance. Increasing the presence of US forces on Greek territory, taking advantage of American military know-how and the possible transfer of excess defense equipment to the Hellenic Armed Forces are moves that will reinforce Greece’s military capabilities and, to some extent, contribute to the restoration of the balance of power in the region.
The strategic equation is of course not limited to Greek concerns about the situation in the Aegean and Cyprus. The US attaches great importance to Greece’s stabilizing role in the Balkans, which has been greatly enhanced following the Prespes agreement. Russia’s increased activity and involvement in the region has again brought Southeast Europe to the forefront of American strategic planning, a development that increases Athens’ influence.
Finally, Greece and the US are also “linked” by US support for Greece’s trilateral cooperation with Israel and Cyprus, even if it is currently stagnating due to the prolonged power vacuum in Israel. Pompeo participated in the tripartite meeting of then premier Alexis Tsipras, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last March in Jerusalem, even though he did so primarily to support the latter in the election that followed a few weeks later.
The deepening of Greek-Israeli cooperation, which has been encouraged by Washington, is also evolving at a diaspora level, as the Greek-American and Jewish communities are working very closely, a dimension with clear domestic repercussions that no US politician, Republican or Democrat, should ignore.