Washington sees Greece as a pillar of stability and as a strategic partner in the Southeastern Mediterranean region, US Ambassador in Athens Geoffrey Pyatt has said, adding that bilateral ties between the two countries are in better shape than they have been in many decades.
“We see Greece as an important partner, not just because of the way that we work together – for instance our military forces in Souda Bay – but also the way in which Greece is deepening its partnership with American friends in the region,” Pyatt said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Thursday.
Pyatt welcomes the outcome of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s recent trip across the Atlantic in bolstering Greece’s appeal as a target for foreign investment, and hails the embassy’s role in promoting the country as a tourism destination. “Greece is a safe and secure country for Americans to visit,” he says.
You have been stationed in Greece for approximately one year. How would you judge Greek-American relations?
The good news is that our bilateral relationship has always been strong but today it’s better than it’s been for many decades. I think we benefit from a lot of hard work from both governments, strong support from the United States for Greece and the people of Greece during a difficult economic period, but also a clear decision from the Greek government to work to develop the bilateral relationship. It’s important that over the past year we had President [Barack] Obama here, just a year ago, speaking at the Niarchos center, hosted by the prime minister, and then 11 months later an incredibly successful visit by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Chicago and to the White House where he heard a clear message from President [Donald] Trump, Vice President [Mike] Pence and our Congressional leaders regarding our appreciation for the alliance with Greece and our commitment to continue doing all that we can to help Greece emerge successfully from this period of economic difficulty.
Do you think that the Greek prime minister’s visit to the US helped in promoting bilateral relations?
Absolutely. The prime minister was very effective in Chicago and in Washington in his meetings with businesspeople, with investors, in sending a message that the Greek economy is coming back, that Greece is open to foreign investment, that Greece appreciates what Americans bring in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship, the digital economy, and that he is very committed to working with us to continue to grow our trade and investment relationship. We are extremely excited to be the honored country for the Thessaloniki International Fair in September 2018 and that’s the focus that we will have from now until then, building TIF as a platform to highlight the best of America and to continue to expand our trade and investment relationship.
Greece needs foreign investment in order to boost its economic development. Can the US help in this direction, and in what way?
I think one of the forms of assistance that President Trump provided during the visit was to send a clear message in terms of US support for Greek economic recovery, US appreciation of the difficult reform steps that have already been accomplished and a message of continued US engagement. President Trump made the decision to appoint his Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to head a joint commission with Economy Minister [Dimitris] Papadimitriou to work on investment issues, and here on the ground in Athens my economic team is meeting every two weeks with Minister Papadimitriou’s team to identify opportunities, to clear away obstacles, to figure out how we drive our investment relationship forward in a way that helps sustain economic recovery in Greece.
As far as the energy sector is concerned, what is the level of cooperation between the two countries?
We have an excellent energy diplomacy relationship. Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson gave an important speech yesterday in Washington DC where he talked about the US policy framework for Europe and he emphasized the importance of supporting European energy security and energy supply diversification. Greece is a critical part of that energy diversification agenda. Prime Minister Tsipras, when he was in Washington, talked about important projects like TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline), like the IGB Interconnector, like the FSRU (Floating Storage Regasification Unit) in Alexandroupoli where we hope to see an American investor. He talked about Greece’s intention to become the third EU member-state to begin importing US liquid natural gas. All of these are steps which illustrate Greece’s emerging role as a European energy hub but also the convergence between the US energy diplomacy agenda in Europe and the work that Prime Minister Tsipras and the Greek government have done.
We are also excited about the potential for expanding cooperation in areas like renewables. I was part of an event a few months ago where we announced the re-engagement of GE Wind in the Greek market; you’ve got Greek companies which are successful wind power developers in the United States. Greece also has enormous potential of course in sectors such as solar and then all of the areas that go with the application of advanced technologies to improve energy efficiency. So this is an area with tremendous potential both in terms of Greece’s role in Europe but also in terms of the US-Greece trade and investment relationship.
Millions of tourists visit Greece every year. We are hoping that visitor numbers will increase. How can the US help in that aspect?
One of the things the embassy has done, that I have done in my travels in the United States is to emphasize how welcoming Greece is to American visitors, the fact that Greece is a safe and secure country for Americans to visit. I’m very excited about the growth that has already happened in American tourism numbers. One good thing about American tourists in Greece is they tend to come here for a longer period of time than Europeans because it’s a longer trip and that helps puts more money into the economy. It’s also encouraging to me that we see significant investment now and growth in American tourism services: some very large investments coming down the road in terms of American tourism services companies becoming more involved here in Greece, you’ve got American hotel brands that are expanding again, you’ve got Wyndham Hotels and Resorts which came into Greece over the last year, Marriott reopening here in Athens. All of these things are positive indicators. And then of course we have an expansion in the number of direct flights between Greece and the United States and I’m confident that this will continue to grow.
What is the US view of Greece’s role in the southeastern Mediterranean?
The United States sees Greece as a pillar of stability in this region. That was the message that Vice President Pence underlined when he met with Prime Minister Tsipras last month. I was glad to see that Foreign Minister [Nikos] Kotzias was speaking in very similar terms when he was in New Delhi, India, a couple of days ago. We see Greece as an important partner, not just because of the way that we work together – for instance our military forces in Souda Bay – but also the way in which Greece is deepening its partnership with American friends in the region, countries like Israel, Cyprus, the trilateral between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, the very important role that Greece plays in the Western Balkans. In that speech that I referred to earlier by Secretary Tillerson, he talked a lot about our commitment to help countries in the Western Balkans continue moving towards Euro-Atlantic institutions, European institutions, that’s of course an agenda that Greece plays a critically important role in and we’ve been very impressed by the way in which Foreign Minister Kotzias has engaged constructively and proactively to build this network of relationships, demonstrating how Greece leverages its democracy, its status as an EU member-state, as a member of NATO to help build a more stable and prosperous neighborhood.