Washington D.C.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Top government officials and legislators from Greece and the United States, along with think tankers and business professionals, gathered in Washington on November 18 and 19 for the First Conference organized by the Delphi Economic Forum and the Greek daily “Kathimerini” with the cooperation of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), to explore new strategies and perspectives in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean and ways to strengthen the strategic partnership between Greece and U.S.
The speakers and panelists focused on the strategic role of Greece in the area, the Greek economy and the investment opportunities it presents to U.S. investors. On the other hand, Greek officials, professional and academics had the opportunity to hear first hand from the U.S. policy makers on how they see Greece and on hot issues such as the relations with Turkey, and the prospects for American investments to Greece.
Among the participants are: Minister of Development of Greece Adonis Georgiades, Minister of Tourism Harry Theoharis, Alternate Minister for Migration George Koumoutsakos, Deputy Foreign Mnisters Fragogiannis and Diamataris, Deputy Minister Dimas, Foreign Minister of Cyprus Nicos Christodoulides US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Assistant Secretaries of State Francis Fannon and Philip Reeker etc.
Delphi Economic Forum CEO, Symeon Tsomokos told the “Greek News” that their goal is to create an annual event in Washington that will bring together people from Greece and the United States to discuss ways to improve the relationship of the two countries.
“We have seen what more should be done for next year and I think we will create a very good institution for the years to come. The US-Greece relation are at a very good level, but there are many issues that concern Greece and they need do be addressed.”
“Kathimerini’s” executive editor Alexi Papahelas pointed out the two positive messages that came out of the conference. First, there is a consensus in Greece on the need for a strategic relationship with the United States and Israel. And second, the tremendous sense of optimism for the new Greek government and its message for reforms.
“There is an opportunity not to be wasted. We should explain the message, because it opens up a huge opportunity”.
On U.S. – Greece relations, Alexi Papahelas said that while all speak about their high level, we need to see more commitments from the U.S. side on the security.
One of the highlights of the Conference was the statement by former Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns, who suggested that in the case of a hot crisis between Greece and Turkey, “not to call President Trump”, but instead Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross spoke at the official dinner of the conference and he began his remarks by recognizing the Deputy Prime Minister Kocho Angjushev of North Macedonia.
“This a happier time, than my last contact with Macedonia; that was at TIF. There were some protestors outside the auditorium where I was speaking. They broke through the police lines and they were greeted with tear gas. Today there is no sense of tear gas, we just have some nice wine…”.
Secretary Ross described the event as an indication of “how hard all of us are working to strengthen America’s ties to Greece, South East Europe and Eastern Mediterranean.”
He said that Greece has emerged like a Phoenix from the depths of the financial crisis not so long ago.
“Who could imagine that Greek debt could trade at a lower yield than Italy? Or borrow at a lower interest rate than the US Treasury?”.
After praising the Piraeus port deal with China, Secretary Ross offered caution that China has a history of luring cash-starved nations into biased deals.
“I don’t believe Greece will fall into that trap or shift in alliance”, he said.
Speaking at the dinner, Minister of Development Adonis Georgiades stressed that Greece is coming back and is open for investments and offered himself at the service of everyone that wants to invest.
Replying to Secretary Ross, Minister Georgiades said that Greece always remembers that the relationship of Greece with the United States has started since the first days of Greece as a modern state.
“Don’t look at the polls. Never the United States was so popular in Greece as is today. If the parties in the parliament can agree in one issue, this is that we want U.S. to become our strategic partner. And this cannot be jeopardized by any foreign investment.”
Addressing the issue of the Chinese investments to Greece, Minister Georgiades said that “we always tell our Chinese friends that welcome their investments to Greece as we welcome any other investment, but we are in the core of the Western Alliance and this is something that cannot change. Our decisions in critical matters always take into account the view of the United States.”
Senator Menendez – who introduced the EastMed Act in the U.S. Senate – called Ambassador Pyatt “the best of the best” and praised his contribution to the improvement of the US-Greece relations.
Addressing the dinner, Menendez said that in order to “confront these challenges we need to find friends and partners that truly share our values and goals… In Eastern Mediterranean the United States could find no better partners than Greece, Israel and Cyprus”.
Senator Menendez stressed the need for the United States to play active role and facilitate private sector efforts to invest in energy infrastructure across the region, including in renewals, and increase the security bonds.
Addressing the issue of the expansion of Chinese influence across Europe, Senator Menendez said that this is an area that the United States comes short.
“When China came to buy the Port of Piraeus, where was the U.S. strategy? Where is the leadership of the United States to build a durable coalition of like minded countries and create viable alternatives? I want to be clear. Just saying ‘don’t do it’ is not a strategy. America needs to work hard, diplomatically, economically and strategically to address China’s rise and develop credible alternatives. Otherwise the march of Beijing to Europe will continue unhindered.”
Menendez suggested that the efforts to put the spotlight to the Eastern Mediterranean as the strategic key element of the U.S. interest in mutual cooperation can be the beginning.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kostas Fragogiannis underlined that Greece is a pillar of stability and is now emerging as an important investment destination.
As the Greek minister explained, this is a difficult task, due to a combination of old and new challenges presented in a volatile region such as the southeastern Mediterranean. In this context, Frangogiannis made it clear that promoting political stability and respecting international law are a strategic choice for Greek foreign policy.
Regarding the initiatives taken by Greece, the Deputy Foreign Minister noted:
* In Southeast Europe, Greece values regional cooperation and the accession of individual countries to the EU as an effective tool for the overall development of the region.
* Greece seeks enhanced coordination and cooperation for the development of interconnection, transport and related infrastructure in the wider region of Southeast Europe as a means of rapprochement between countries and peoples.
* In the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece’s strategic goal is to promote peace and stability through a series of trilateral cooperation schemes with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.
* The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that it is vital to formulate and promote a positive and multifaceted cooperation agenda in the country’s international affairs, focusing on developing synergies and joint activities.
* The Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral cooperation has proved extremely useful, contributing significantly to the security and stability of the Middle East. In this context, the three countries have pledged their joint commitment to the implementation of the East Med pipeline, a project that is expected to further boost neighbouring countries’ economic cooperation by enhancing energy security.
Deputy Foreign Minister Antonis Diamataris participated in a panel on the role of Congress to the US-Greece relations, moderated by Endy Zemenides. The other participants were Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Mike Manatos.
Describing the development of relations with Congress as a “vital goal” in the inaugural forum, Diamataris recalled that there had been difficult times that had troubled the course of Greek-American relations in modern history, such as Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
As he explained, these difficulties highlighted the role of the Greek Diaspora in stabilising bilateral relations during crises.
Diamataris said that these events had taught the Greek community was “important lessons about how the political system operates in general and about the role of Congress, in particular, in shaping foreign policy … Times have changed. Greece and America are as close as they can be and should be … But the issues remain and are as threatening as ever. Fortunately, the lessons of the past have not been forgotten,” Diamataris said.
On the current level of Greek-American relations, he noted that Greece has built strong channels of communication with Congress, while building alliances with other communities that serve as a multiplier of strength.
Diamataris stressed that the “work is not over” and that there is no room for complacency in such a sensitive geopolitical neighborhood. As he put it, “one can never relax when it comes to a part of the world like Greece, Cyprus and Israel … And we have to be aware that this is a continuous process that takes a long time to build, but only a short time to derail.”
On the status of the Greek economy and on things that need to be done, Diamataris repeatedly said to put their full trust on Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Speaking at the same panel on his priorities, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt said the biggest challenge that we have right now with the U.S.-Greece relationship is helping those, whether in Washington or New York or Brussels or Berlin, to recognize how fast things are changing in Greece. He pointed out that the present Greek government found a solid foundation from the previous one and works on furthering the bilateral relations.
“This is a government that has been in office for 130 days more or less. They have made remarkable progress. Whether it’s in terms of our defense relationship, the Defense Cooperation Agreement which was signed when Secretary Pompeo came and which is helping us already deepen the presence of our forces in Alexandroupoli, the work that we do together in Stefanovikio, the breadth of our engagement with Souda Bay, but also on the economic side, trying constantly to lift up the bill on economic development and reduction of red tape that Minister Georgiadis pushed through the system. [inaudible] We’re seeing progress on energy engagement; we’re seeing progress on our education agenda which is one of the real investments that we think for the future.
So I’m very focused now, having benefited a lot from strong engagement from both the House and the Senate, from Republicans and Democrats, I think especially right now it’s going to be hard to do it in Washington but it’s really important that we sustain that momentum of congressional engagement as we go into 2020. Because as Ambassador Burns pointed out, one of the really positive attributes of the relationship right now is that it transcends politics in the United States. I want to keep it that way, but I also want to make sure that we recognize how wide the aperture is open with Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ government and do the most that we possibly can both to take advantage of this for the purposes of American interests, but also to help reinforce our interest in the success of this government as a pillar of stability, as a government which shares America’s strategic objectives across a broad range of issues from stability in the Eastern Mediterranean to seeing right now North Macedonia become a successful member in NATO. These are all areas that we need to continue working on, regardless of the transition that we’re going to see, in the elections that we’re going to be having in the United States in the same way that Greece successfully navigated the transition from Prime Minister Tsipras to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, without missing a beat, and frankly, without slowing down at all. So that’s the homework we need done.”
Ambassador Pyatt called the engagement of U.S. Congress a fantastic force multiplier,, because Congress is an integral part of our national security governance system.
“Congress has the power of the purse and you cannot exaggerate how important that is in terms of helping to resource the day-to-day engagement that makes the strategic relationship happen. I think the one thing that makes me slightly more confident than Mike Manatos about where we are now is the fact that we have been quite strategic about how we’ve approached our engagement to Greece. All of the terms of the new East Med strategy which is a written document of the administration, signed off by the Secretary of State, presented to the interagency as “this is our strategy for the Eastern Med,” which specifically endorses the 3+1 process. That’s why Secretary Pompeo went to Jerusalem to signal his support for that, to provide the overarching approach for our engagement on Eastern Mediterranean energy issues and counterterrorism issues that Foreign Minister Christodoulides talked about earlier today.”
On issues concerning things the US government could do to create incentives for U.S. companies to invest to Greece, Ambassador Pyatt spoke about the role of the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation.
“If I had to single out one specific issue which is still very much in play and is something that we spend a lot of time talking to Senator Menendez about and which will be on my agenda this week, it’s the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation which is the congressionally chartered body which the Trump administration is currently rolling out to be the United States single channel of U.S. government support for American trade and investment overseas.
The DFC was initially put together with a particular view of, and a particular concern about Chinese checkbook diplomacy in places like Africa or South Asia where China has used its concessionary financing to lock countries into unsustainable projects which both undermine sovereignty and detract from American foreign policy goals, but this is still very much a work in progress. I know Senator Menendez has said that he is a personal supporter of the idea that the Development Finance Corporation should be chartered in a way that also allows it be effective in places like Greece which have been targeted by China to be, as President Xi said, the dragon’s head of the Chinese engagement in Europe. And in a region where the United States has clear strategic interests, but also, frankly, has a very strong business case to make in terms of the technology, the know-how, and the capital that our companies can bring to bear, but could benefit from the extra leg up that activities of the sort the DFC will engage in could provide. So that’s my priority. I’m particularly glad that Minister Georgiadis is meeting tomorrow I think with the new CEO of the Development Finance Corporation and I’ll be doing the same thing on Wednesday. So we’re going to keep working on this. But again, because it involves money, Congress is involved. Congress has a critical role.”
Deputy Development and Investment Minister Christos Dimas referred to the importance of innovation for improving the Greek economy’s competitiveness, in his address to the conference.
“The first symbolic but also essential step is the transfer of the general secretariat for research and technology to the development ministry,” said Dimas, underlining that the orientation of the general secretariat’s actions focuses on cutting-edge technologies and connection these with entrepreneurship.
The minister presented the Greek government’s plan and the three pylons of its policy for improving the country’s performance in this area. These included:
– Attracting investments in research and growth by providing incentives to top tech and research firms to invest in Greece
– An environment that favours the transformation of research results into innovative products and services
– Support for startups through a special platform that will map the Greek ‘ecosystem’ and allow access to specific incentives to any enterprises that meet the requirements and wish to avail themselves of them.
On the sidelines of the conference, the deputy minister met with US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios. The meeting focused on the deepening of the cooperation between the two countries in the field of innovation, particularly in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cutting-edge technologies where Greece may play a leading role. In this context, they agreed to launch an initiative on joint actions that will be decided over the coming period.