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Breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, Mr. Geoffrey R. Pyatt

The U.S., the strong U.S.- European relationship, our transatlantic alliance through NATO, the most successful military alliance in the history of the world, is key to everything else that the United States seeks to achieve globally in terms of building a safe, prosperous and democratic world

By: Athanase Papandropoulos - Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017

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So I think the U.S.-European relationship will remain very important. It’s also one of the reasons that the U.S. relationship with Greece is so important, because it is understood in Washington that we can’t have a prosperous Europe without a prosperous Greece. That is to say, the U.S. interest in a strong European Union, the U.S. interest in a stable and prosperous Eurozone cannot be achieved if Greece is somehow left behind. So that’s the reason we’ve invested as much energy and time as we have over the past eight years, in helping Greece to grow itself out of this economic crisis and to accomplish the reforms that are necessary in order to move forward.
So I think the U.S.-European relationship will remain very important. It’s also one of the reasons that the U.S. relationship with Greece is so important, because it is understood in Washington that we can’t have a prosperous Europe without a prosperous Greece. That is to say, the U.S. interest in a strong European Union, the U.S. interest in a stable and prosperous Eurozone cannot be achieved if Greece is somehow left behind. So that’s the reason we’ve invested as much energy and time as we have over the past eight years, in helping Greece to grow itself out of this economic crisis and to accomplish the reforms that are necessary in order to move forward.

MORE ON Interviews

by Athanasios Papandropoulos

European Business Review: I would like to ask you according to several new events, what are your expectations of the future of the American-European relations?

Ambassador Pyatt: Let me start with transatlantic relations and U.S.-European relations. And I think this is a good year to have that conversation because, of course, we just celebrated the 70th anniversary or the Marshall Plan. And as I reminded everybody here in Athens at the events that the embassy arranged around the Marshall 70th celebration, the transatlantic idea in many ways began with the commitment that the United States made to the success of Greece in 1947: through the Truman Doctrine, through the Marshall Plan and the idea that the United States was going to work for the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace because we need a strong Europe to build a strong and peaceful world. And that idea is as valid today as it was 70 years ago.

The U.S., the strong U.S.-European relationship, our transatlantic alliance through NATO, the most successful military alliance in the history of the world, is key to everything else that the United States seeks to achieve globally in terms of building a safe, prosperous and democratic world.

The essential foundation of that U.S.-European relationship as I talked about earlier is our shared values. The fact that Americans and Europeans - when we sit down together, and we start talking about the world, the world as we find it - there is an instinctive understanding of what it means to have a free and democratic society and the importance of those values to the prosperity and success of both of our societies.

So I am an optimist about the transatlantic relationship. I’m an optimist both because I have seen over the course of my diplomatic career the importance of the personal relationships between European and American leaders, but also because I’ve seen how when we work together we can get things done that are globally important. Whether it is fighting the scourge of Ebola; tackling the challenge of global terrorism, the enormous challenges that we faced after 9/11; or dealing with threats like global climate change. 

So I think the U.S.-European relationship will remain very important. It’s also one of the reasons that the U.S. relationship with Greece is so important, because it is understood in Washington that we can’t have a prosperous Europe without a prosperous Greece. That is to say, the U.S. interest in a strong European Union, the U.S. interest in a stable and prosperous Eurozone cannot be achieved if Greece is somehow left behind. So that’s the reason we’ve invested as much energy and time as we have over the past eight years, in helping Greece to grow itself out of this economic crisis and to accomplish the reforms that are necessary in order to move forward.

European Business Review: Do you think that the role of NATO will be the same after the Brexit? And according to your point, what are the chances for the EU to create its own defense policy?

Ambassador Pyatt: The shape that Brexit is going to take over the long term of course is still unknown.  

European Business Review: Finally will the Brexit be realized?

Ambassador Pyatt: I don’t know. I will leave that to my colleagues in London and Brussels and elsewhere who have to work that through. What I can tell you is that Britain will remain one of our most important NATO allies, one of our most important local military partners, and in no way do we see the decisions that the British people have made about their future in the European Union as detracting from the strength of our alliance relationship.

European Business Review: According to the defense programs, what is the importance that the United States gives to Souda Bay? Is it important for NATO and especially for the United States?

Ambassador Pyatt: Souda is a critical NATO asset for both, for NATO and for the United States. In fact it’s more important today than perhaps ever before, because there is so much of relevance that’s happened in the Eastern Mediterranean. I always make the point that there are three strategic problems which orbit around Souda Bay.  The most immediate and important, of course, is in the Eastern Mediterranean: the challenge of ISIS, stabilizing the situation in Syria, and ensuring the complete military destruction of the ISIS Caliphate. But we also are critically focused on the challenges of North Africa, the situation in Libya. And then also the challenge of Russian malign influence which is so apparent in the Black Sea and in the Balkans. And the one place where all three of those problem sets, strategic problem sets, come together, is Greece. 

So Souda is a critically important platform for NATO, for the United States, for 6th Fleet military operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.  But also, critically, it is the most important site where the U.S. and Greek militaries work together. And one of the things that has really impressed me over my initial period here in Athens has been the strength of the military partnership between our countries. The way in which our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen work together. It’s a deeply respectful relationship from the very top - from Admiral Postalakis and General Dunford - all the way to the individual sailors and airmen who work together every single day at Souda Bay. It’s a deeply respectful relationship, and Souda is the most important location where our forces work together and develop the capacity for interoperability, for joint action, which is the essence of our alliance relationship.

European Business Review: Isn’t Souda Bay a counterweight to the Turkish Inchirlik bases?

Ambassador Pyatt: Not really. It’s apples and oranges. Very different categories. Again, the unique geography of Souda Bay, and this is something which as somebody who’s traveled in Crete a lot -a year ago I had a wonderful opportunity to hike through the Imbros Gorge where you come out on the southern coast of Souda - you realize when you arrive at the Libyan Sea, I mean you’re very close to Africa at that point. And that’s one of the distinguishing attributes of Souda, that it is both very close to Europe’s southernmost point, and it very much reflects this unique strategic geography that Greece occupies, at the meeting point between Europe and Eurasia.

So Souda is an extremely important platform. We’re grateful for the support that we receive from our Greek allies and especially the partnership with the Hellenic Armed Forces. But I think it would be a mistake to view Souda through the lens of any other U.S. bilateral relationship.

European Business Review: Do you foresee new evolutions in the Middle East according to rumors saying that the alliance will be created between Israel and Saudi Arabia? How do you think that Iran will react in this case?

Ambassador Pyatt: I will leave Middle East policy to my colleagues who work on that issue every single day.  What I will say is that the United States is very supportive of Greece’s more ambitious engagement with key partners in the Middle East and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The triangular relationships between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and Greece, Cyprus and Egypt are very important. I actually think one of the most interesting conversations that’s going to happen over the next couple of years, as we hopefully see the further deepening of these relationships in terms of energy, in terms of economics, in terms of security, in terms of law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation, how does Greece catalyze these dialogues?  

In a region that has not seen a lot of cooperation historically, where there’s a lot of conflict, Greece has a unique ability to facilitate cooperation and dialogue. That was underlined to me during the conference that Foreign Minister Kotzias hosted a few weeks ago here in Athens on religious tolerance in the Middle East in the assortment of senior leaders: the Muslim cleric, Orthodox leaders, Catholic leaders, representatives of faith communities across the wider region. There are very few countries that have the ability to convoke in the way that Greece does, precisely because of your historic relationships. For me as an amateur historian, it’s one of the great pleasures of Greece that there are so many layers of history that you come across here. Anywhere you travel.

I was in Monemvasia last weekend, and like any other historical site in Greece you literally have layers and layers of civilization there. And I think Foreign Minister Kotzias and the Greek government have done a very effective job of leveraging those historic relationships to advance Greece’s strategic interest in a stable and prosperous region, which coincides completely with the American goal.

European Business Review: According to your experience in China, do you think that the famous Silk Road is a reliable project? Because Greece is a part of this famous route, especially northern Greece.

Ambassador Pyatt: I think it remains to be seen how this is going to translate into practical developments. We talked earlier about the Marshall Plan, and one of the things that makes me very proud of the American legacy in Greece is almost anywhere I travel in this country I find examples of the generosity that the American people showed during the Marshall Plan years. Whether hospitals or irrigation systems or bridges or highways, or whole industrial sectors, there was a very clear, concrete impact.

As you noted, I spent some time in my career in China and a lot of time in Asia, and one of the lessons that you take from that experience is that China is becoming a much bigger factor in the global economy. That’s obvious.  What type of factor it will be, especially further afield as we get into regions like Europe, very much remains to be seen. The United States’ interest is to see the continuation of the characteristics of the European economy: regulatory transparency, rule of law, level playing field for investment. Those are principles that are as valid in the United States, as they are here in Greece or elsewhere in Europe. It will be an interesting feature of the years and decades ahead to see how a rising China fits into that contest.

European Business Review: Do you think, according to the level of the future threats, what is the position of Islam?  Because we must take in account that in Europe now we have more or less 60 millions of Muslims.

Ambassador Pyatt: I’ll say a couple of things on this. First of all, I talked earlier about the Foreign Ministry’s Conference on Religious Tolerance. And Greece, of course, has a very long history engaging with the Muslim world, going back 200 years to the Greek War of Independence and the encounter between Hellenic society and the Ottoman Empire. So Greece I think has some things to teach us on this.  

One of the great successes of the United States is our multicultural, multi-religious tolerant society. I think one of the advantages that America enjoys economically and politically is precisely that we are a multicultural society.  We are a melting pot. Many European societies do not have that melting pot history. And so managing these issues of integration, of assimilation, can be a challenge.  But certainly in the case of the United States, our diversity has been our strength. Look at Silicon Valley. Look at our IT industry. How many of our Silicon Valley companies are founded by immigrants, including immigrants from Muslim minority or countries with a significant Muslim majority or significant Muslim minority.  

So this is an issue that all of our societies need to work through, and I think it would be a mistake when you talk about, when we talk about religious intolerance, I think it’s a mistake to attach that label to one particular faith or another. And again, this is why I was so impressed by what Foreign Minister Kotzias did with his conference on religious tolerance and the message that that event tried to transmit in terms of rejection of absolutism and the rejection of intolerance. 

European Business Review: You mentioned in a public discussion your positive experience in Patras, during your visit at the University and the technological park. Do you think that this area could be something like a micro-Silicon Valley?

Ambassador Pyatt: One of the real untold success stories of Greece is the resilience of the startup culture.  And Silicon Valley is not in Washington, D.C. There’s a reason why our IT industry flourished on the other side of the country.  Because it was away from politics, and it was focused on creativity. And I thin Patras has a lot of potential because it’s got a strong regional identity, has a strong outward orientation towards Europe, and also because of the excellent, the superb human capital. A strong university with a very strong tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

I was impressed by what I heard from the Chamber of Commerce about Patras IQ. I look forward to seeing that unfold next year. 

I was impressed when I was at TIF, at Thessaloniki, in September, to see the strong presence of several Patras startups at the university exposition there. And these were companies which had their roots in the laboratories of the universities, but where the scientists at the university had realized that they had discovered these innovations which were commercially applicable. And so they built corporate structures to market their products, whether in areas of nano technology or carbon fibers or other things.  

Clearly, nobody is going to be able to replicate Silicon Valley. It is a one of a kind center of excellence. But I am completely convinced that Greece has the capacity to develop some strong centers of excellence in information technology, in innovation in entrepreneurship, and Patras will obviously be on that list.

European Business Review: But in Greece we have a tremendous problem of brain drain. So, what do you think about it?

Ambassador Pyatt: There’s been a real challenge of brain drain, but this is not unprecedented in Greek history.  Greece has a very long history of sending people abroad. It’s one of the things that’s helped build the Greek-American Diaspora. In fact, you talk about Patras, I remember when I visited this summer, I was also down in the port at the harbor master’s office and with the Coast Guard, there were some wonderful photographs of the steamships which used to travel directly from Patras to New York, to Ellis Island. That’s where there was a long history of Greek Diaspora which departed from Laconia, from the area around Tripoli, leading from Patras directly to the United States. So this is in no way a new phenomenon. What’s interesting to me about the Greek Diaspora is that it because the Greek Diaspora is so proud of its roots here, it comes back. They come back every summer.  They come back, they circulate.  

And that’s different from a lot of other Diaspora experiences in America, where, and we are a nation of immigrants. But a lot of those immigrants, like my grandparents who came from Scotland, and they were very proud of their Scottish, their European heritage. My grandfather, the only thing that brought my grandfather back to Europe was fighting in the 1st World War. He returned to Europe as an American soldier to fight in the 1st World Wat. But it was not in his view to return to Scotland. He had left and like my grandmother, they both left seeking economic opportunity with no anticipation that they would be returning.

The Greek Diaspora has never been that way. It’s always been a circulating Diaspora.

European Business Review: But speaking about the European heritage, do you think that the European heritage can resist to the new issues, in all levels of our globalized world?

Ambassador Pyatt: You know, America seeks a strong Europe.  Europe has enormous strengths in terms of its cultural legacies, in art, in music, in civilization. Athens is ground zero for many of these contributions to global society.

I think how you approach that from a legal standpoint, I’ll leave that to the experts and I will just make the point that America has benefited much more from openness than from restrictions. I’m a strong believer in building bridges because I’ve seen that that is what has made America the strong and vibrant society that it is today.

European Business Review: Yes, but in the new competition situation do you this openness could stay on?

Ambassador Pyatt: I think so. I really do, because, again, it’s the responsibility of government to manage international affairs, to ensure that they are conducted fairly. But I think the United States is an inherently an international society. Everything about America today has been shaped by our openness. We’re a society of immigrants. We’re a society whose economic prosperity has been defined by looking outwards. In fact if you look back at American history, because we are a continental power, we are defined by our Pacific identity and our Atlantic identity. And those interests, that American identity with our two coasts forces us to be inherently outward looking. That is the story of the American experience after the 2nd World War, and I’m confident that will be the story of the American experience in this era of globalization.

We have debates about how those forces should be managed. We had a great debate after the 2nd World War, which was so costly in blood and treasure to America and many other countries.  

There are a lot of Americans at the time who said it was time to come home and to let those European kingdoms sort themselves out. That’s what the whole debate about the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine was shaped by. When you go back and listen to Secretary Marshall’s speech at Harvard, what he was explaining there was the reason why the United States needed to remain engaged in Europe; the reasons why the United States needed to have an assertive, outwardly focused foreign policy. And I’m confident that the strategic logic that applied in that era remains valid today.

European Business Review: Yes, but what about when President Trump speaks about the bilateral relations.  What is the meaning of this kind of new speech?

Ambassador Pyatt: The important thing is that the President and Vice President Pence - and I was, you know, I was there in Washington for the Prime Minister’s meetings - they were very clear. There’s a strong commitment to the U.S. partnership with Greece, an understanding that Greece has been a strong ally over time, that Greece has been through a difficult period, and that we need to, both sides, need to continue investing in this relationship as allies, as partners, as countries whose societies are interwoven deeply with each other.  

European Business Review: Thank you.

Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you very much.

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