The U.S. Ambassador talks to Voria.gr about the American investments in Greece, the cooperation between the two countries and the Prespes Agreement.
Βy George Chatzilidis
The U.S. Ambassador Geoffry Pyatt talks to Voria.gr, Northern Greece's leading news website, about the American investments in Greece, the expectations for the Greek economy, the cooperation between the two countries and the Prespes Agreement.
Mr. Ambassador, people have great expectations for the US participation in TIF as honored country. You have highlighted and promoted the American participation with such fervor that one could say that this, for you, is also a personal bet. Are you satisfied by the preparations? What are we going to see at TIF?
The U.S. presence at the Thessaloniki International Fair will be impressive. It includes our top U.S. companies, a large delegation from Washington led by our Secretary of Commerce, the flagship of our Sixth Fleet, and a great roster of cultural programs. Through our participation, I’ve also been highlighting the entire U.S.-Greece relationship, which I truly believe is at a historical peak and on the rise. In the coming months, we are looking forward to launching a government-to-government strategic dialogue to further bolster our security, defense, energy and economic relationships to address the opportunities and challenges in the region, as agreed by Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Kotzias. TIF will be a landmark in our bilateral relationship, but it is only one stop on a longer journey together.
What do you think of the prospects of the Greek economy during this new era for Greece, with the exit – even if typical – from the long and painful period of the Economic Adjustment Programmes?
One of the things that most impresses me in Greece is the resilience of the Greek people, who have weathered some of the most difficult possible economic conditions with their strong democratic and entrepreneurial spirit intact. Whenever I talk to young Greeks, especially in hi-tech and in startups, I have renewed optimism on the economic trajectory of this country. And when we originally discussed the idea of making the U.S. the honored country at TIF, it was with precisely this timing in mind, right after the official end of the bailout programs. I’ve definitely had many more inquiries from top U.S. companies interested in the Greek market this last year than I did in my first year as Ambassador, and there is a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the U.S. to welcome Greece back to global markets. I’ve also noted some important reforms that the Greek government needs to continue pursuing along with high-profile initiatives, like the Hellenikon project, which can have an enormous positive impact on the Greek economy and help show the enormous potential of the Greek comeback.
In which sectors do you think this increased interest will be expressed by American businesses for investment in Greece and more specifically in northern Greece? Shall we expect any surprise announcements at TIF?
We’ve already seen significant investments in Greece’s tourism sector, including the re-entry of Avis into the Greek market, the opening of the first Grand Hyatt in Athens, and expansions by Wyndham and Marriot. Exxon Mobil is here at TIF and also expanding its investments in Greece’s energy sector, and projects like the upgrade of the Revithoussa LNG terminal and the proposed floating storage terminal in Alexandroupolis platform can pave the way for to U.S. LNG exports and more U.S. activity in the energy sector here in Greece. Tesla, seeing the potential in Greece’s human capital, opened a research campus in Athens, and we’ve seen American company ONEX breathe new life into the Syros shipyards. I’ve spoken about American interests in privatizations, including the port of Alexandroupolis. And on defense, I would look at Lockheed Martin’s huge commitment to participating in TIF and the AUSA pavilion here as clear commitments to expanding our cooperation in this sector, with economic benefits for both our countries. We really don’t see a limit to what’s possible in terms of investment, and we hope that TIF allows these top American firms, and 52 are represented at the American pavilion, to find additional opportunities for investment and I’ll let them make any announcements.
It seems that the Greek-American relations are on an excellent level – and please allow me to say that your contribution to that is decisive. How can Greece benefit from this closer cooperation?
Thank you, George. Greece and the United States have enjoyed a long history of good relations. Greece has been at our side in every major world conflict since its independence, and U.S. support for Greece has been steadfast throughout its economic crisis, as in earlier eras. I believe that both our countries are benefiting from closer cooperation, and I would point to the unprecedented level of partnership between our militaries, our growing economic and trade relationship, and Greece’s growing importance as a regional leader. U.S. policy sees Greece as a pillar of stability in this region and as an energy hub for countries in the southern Mediterranean region. Our basic understanding is that as Greece grows stronger, the whole region becomes more stable and secure – an objective that will bring us closer and benefit both our countries.
What is your response to those who support that on a series of issues - including the deportation of the Russian diplomats - Greece operates under the instruction of the U.S.? Is it not a paradox that at the time that the US – Russia relations are being normalized on the top level (Trump – Putin), there is the feeling that Greece is a place of regeneration of cold-war conditions?
Greece is an independent and sovereign country and formulates its own policy consistent with its own interests, and as Foreign Minister Kotzias has said many times, Greece acted on this basis when it took action on the Russian citizens.
It is known that the US warmly supports the Prespes Agreement between Greece and FYROM. How do you think this deal can contribute to the stabilization of the Balkans? How do you comment on the reaction of a great part of the Greek public opinion, especially here in northern Greece, about the deal?
Thanks for this question, George, and I know how important this issue is for you and northern Greece in particular. I’m not going to add anything more here than what we’ve already said through the phone calls our Vice President has made to Prime Minister Tsipras, or what we’ve seen in the scores of statements from the leaders of your Balkan neighbors, the EU, and NATO welcoming the agreement as a historic event critical to regional stability. We share with Greece an interest in ensuring that the Balkan countries remain anchored in Euro-Atlantic and Western institutions, and we jointly believe that this is the best way to ensure regional stability. We also see the Prespes agreement as an important opportunity to reassert the role of Greece as an economic gateway to the Balkans, and I was glad to hear on my latest visit to Thessaloniki that many in the business community share this view on opportunities with your northern neighbor.
It is written and said that US intervention and your personal effort was definitive for the release of the two army officers from Edirne prison. Would you please share you comment about an issue that was of concern for Greeks in the last few months.
Firstly, I should say this was a victory of Greek diplomacy and the bilateral channels that Greece has worked very hard to keep open with Turkey, whether through your respective Chiefs of Defense or through the MFA or Prime Minister’s office, and I congratulated them all, along with the Greek people, when Dimitris and Angelos were released. Greece is a critical ally for the U.S. in this region, a pillar of stability, and so we have continually expressed our concern about their captivity both publicly and bilaterally with Turkey. We are very pleased that they are home, and our State Department spokeswoman also welcomed their release.