Robert O’Brien is the White House national security adviser and one of US President Donald Trump’s closest aides. He and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are considered the two officials that shape the foreign policy of the Trump administration. In an interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition a week after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to the White House, O’Brien refers to Greece as a “pillar of stability in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean,” while praising the reform agenda and the economic policies of Greece’s conservative administration. The US official furthermore hails the strategic cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus and clearly states that Washington backs the EastMed pipeline project.
O’Brien also sends out an important message to Turkey, as well as Greece, over the need to avoid any provocations that could lead to an escalation of tension in the East Mediterranean. Asked whether Washington would use its influence “to encourage respect for international law and avoidance of provocative actions,” O’Brien interestingly points out that Trump maintains an “excellent relationship” with the Greek premier as well as the Turkish president – in what is seen as an allusion to reports that portray the US president as having a close relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
O’Brien keeps an equal distance between the two NATO allies as he urges Greece to handle its relations with Ankara in a manner that will not harm the Alliance. Nevertheless, the US official does acknowledge Mitsotakis’ efforts to “maintain open lines of communications with Ankara,” and hails the fact that the first phone call Mitsotakis made after his election was to Erdogan as an important move.
Do you see Greece as a reliable US ally in a volatile region? What is your view on recent reforms and economic achievements?
Greece has been a pillar of stability in the Balkans and the East Mediterranean. Greece’s example of building and sustaining its democracy over the past decades offers important lessons for its neighbors in the region. As President Trump stated during his recent meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis at the White House, the US-Greece bilateral relationship has never been stronger. During the prime minister’s visit, President Trump highlighted the remarkable progress of Greece’s economy – a direct result of the Mitsotakis reform agenda. The prime minister touted the recent improvement in Greece’s business environment in an effort to attract US investment. Notably, several major US companies, including Cisco and Pfizer, have already announced plans to expand their footprint in Greece.
How important is the trilateral alliance between Greece, Israel and Cyprus for the US?
The United States places enormous value on this relationship, as reflected by Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Jerusalem last March for the first US, Greece, Israel, Cyprus three-plus-one. President Trump is committed to this forum, using it as a mechanism to bolster energy security, political stability and economic growth in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Do you see Greece as a commercial and energy gate to Southeast Europe (including for US shale gas)? Will the US support the EastMed pipeline?
A key area of emphasis during last week’s meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Mitsotakis was Greece’s role in advancing European energy diversification. The completion of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the inauguration of the Greek-Bulgarian pipeline, and the commencement of US LNG exports to Greece are very important examples of how we are working together to build European energy security and diversification. We are pleased that Greece, Israel and Cyprus are moving ahead with the EastMed Pipeline Accord. The development of Eastern Mediterranean natural gas resources has the potential to increase regional cooperation, bolster energy security, and promote political stability and economic growth in this strategically vital region.
How concerned are you about the rising tension between two allies, Greece and Turkey, in the Eastern Mediterranean? Would you use your influence to encourage respect for international law and avoidance of provocative actions?
We have been very clear that all parties in the Eastern Mediterranean should be able to work together to resolve their differences and should avoid taking steps which would be seen as provocations. President Trump has an excellent relationship with Prime Minister Mitsotakis as well as with President Erdogan. The United States encourages Greece to manage its differences with Ankara in a way that does not damage our important NATO Alliance. The United States and Greece share common interests on our relationship with Turkey and we are appreciative of the efforts made by Prime Minister Mitsotakis to maintain open lines of communications with Ankara. It is important to note that the first phone call that the prime minister had after his election was with President Erdogan. We view this step as being very constructive.