Events

Resilience and Transition: Resetting U.S.-Greece Relations

March 26, 2009 // 10:00am11:30am

Opening Remarks by John Sitilides:
The U.S.-Greece relationship was forged sixty years ago in the aftermath of the Second World War, when massive U.S. aid helped Greece defeat the communist insurgency and Greece joined the NATO alliance.

The relationship was jolted by the Greek colonels' coup in Cyprus and the subsequent Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern third of the country. At the same time, successive Greek governments have sought U.S. support in resolving Aegean Sea territorial and sovereignty disputes with Turkey.

In the early 1990s's, after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared independence without first resolving political legal, constitutional and security concerns in Greece. The use of the name "Macedonia" remains unresolved.

Conventional wisdom in Washington points to these three issues – Cyprus, the Aegean, and the "Macedonia" name issue – as the three main elements of the U.S.-Greece relationship, a formula essentially unchanged since the end of the Cold War.

But over the past ten years, the NATO alliance has welcomed ten new members, the European Union has nearly doubled in size – with Cyprus as a member and Turkey as a serious aspirant with Greece's support, the U.S. came under major assault by Islamist terrorists, NATO has been conducting a war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. led large-scale military operations in Iraq, Europe is increasingly dependent upon Russian energy supplies, hostile regimes develop their nuclear weapons capability, international piracy threatens maritime security, and the current financial crisis and worldwide recession looms over all aspects of international relations.

How have these upheavals affected U.S. strategic, regional and functional interests that shape the current dimensions of U.S.-Greece relations?

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently spoke of pressing the "re-set" button in U.S. foreign policy, we've invited U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard to discuss what remains enduring in U.S.-Greece relations, what new developments are emerging, and how this "re-set" function can best benefit both countries.

The title of the ambassador's presentation is "Resilience and Transition: Resetting U.S.-Greece Relations." Mr. Ambassador, welcome to the Woodrow Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project.

Remarks by Ambassador Daniel Speckhard:
It's a real honor to be here, and thank you to the Wilson Center for hosting me. It's a pleasure to be here with so many interested people in Greek-U.S. relations. It's also good to see some old friends and some people who worked at the embassy before and others who worked on the bilateral relationship here in Washington.

For me it's been a fascinating time in Athens as Ambassador there. It's a beautiful country with warm and friendly people and enough political, economic and security issues to keep diplomats, political scientists and economists fully employed during this economic downturn.

After spending time in Greece one conclusion is inescapable. Greece as a geostrategic location makes it an important and needed ally and partner to the United States. This has always been the case during the Cold War where Greece's position at NATO's southern flank and a front line state with communist adversaries made it indispensable. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe, the cohesiveness driven by the Cold War threats started to wane, and not surprisingly, the relationship started to drift. With the attention of the U.S. shifting to the emerging new threats and Greece no longer feeling threatened on its borders with the communist world, turned its attention to more local and regional issues.

The NATO military campaign in Kosovo in response to Milosevic's brutal actions was a sore point for the Greek Orthodox population and deterioration in attitudes was accelerated with a string of significant policy differences with the previous administration from the Kyoto Protocol to Iraq.

In turn, the previous administration was sometimes frustrated by the lack of support of Greece for its top foreign policy priorities, leaving both sides in the end questioning the strength of the longstanding partnership and alliance. However, the world changed on November 4th. Greeks who had lost their faith in America and defined us as a nation by our policies of the time rather than our enduring values and principles were once again reminded of what has bound us together over all these years. The inauguration of the new President has given us a rare opportunity to fundamentally alter the course of our relations with Greece and that could have longstanding benefits to both our nations.

Why is this important? Well, in spite of the changes in the world since the end of the Cold War, Greece remains fundamentally a geostrategically important country at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and the Muslim world. Our interests are shared ones in today's globally interconnected world.

If you're interested in anchoring Turkey in the family of democratic nations and see it as an example for modern, moderate Islamic countries, Greece's role in supporting Turkey's EU accession and in maintaining good neighborly relations is critical.

If you're worried about the continuing threat of international terrorism, cooperation with Greece is key. It's a front line border country for the entry to European visa free Schengen zone and it had 140,000 known illegal immigrants just last year -- 50,000 alone from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq.

If you care about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Greece is an important maritime country central to implementing UN Security Council resolutions. In addition to its naval forces supporting the NATO non-proliferation mission in the Mediterranean, its government is helping and working with Greek ship owners that control one-sixth of the world's merchant marine fleet to stop ships carrying UN-sanctioned materials.

If you believe that maintaining the nation's stability in the Balkans is essential to Europe's peace and prosperity, Greece is a vital anchor for the region and a partner for economic development.

And as we prepare to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of NATO, Greece has always been and remains an important NATO and military ally in international efforts providing support in Suda Bay; contributing troops and missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and UNIFIL, and working together to counter piracy efforts off of Somalia.

So this relationship is of vital importance to both our countries. The new administration recognizes this and has, as the President has said, put an emphasis on renewing old alliances and forging new partnerships. It has set a new tone in our international approach emphasizing dialogue and listening to our partners, engagement, and the role of multilateral institutions. These are key points our Greek friends have been asking for over the past years.

Five weeks from the start of the new administration, the Greek Foreign Minister met with Secretary Clinton in Washington, one of the first ministers to visit the capitol. And the President reaffirmed the importance of this relationship just yesterday in his remarks at the White House ceremony honoring Greek Independence Day where he said, "Greece stands as a testament of the unflinching character, as does the steadfast allegiance between our two nations."

It's equally important as we reinvigorate this relationship that Greece also examines the way it engages the United States and that we together review our agenda. We need to take a global view of our shared strategic interests. The issues of the Aegean, Cyprus and the name issue remain important for stability in the region and its future prosperity and development, and we need to continue to focus energetic diplomatic efforts and attention on solving them. But we need to be equally interested in engaging on Afghanistan where Greece's interests equal our own with 25,000 illegal Afghan immigrants entering Greece in just the last year. We need to work together as we reach out to the Muslim world to break down the barriers and build bridges for the future. We need to cooperate to find new ways to ensure the success of efforts to counter the proliferation of WMD. We need to coordinate our economic policies to ensure that we overcome the global economic crisis. And we share a common interest in having much higher on the agenda our concerns for the environment, renewable energy and global poverty.

This is a tall order, but essential to taking our relationship to a new level where it is not evaluated solely on a few very important and significant regional issues, but expanded to include a broader common agenda.

It's important that we not let our relationship be defined by our problems or comparisons to our relationships with others. This is no longer a zero sum world and both countries stand to benefit from the engagement and dialogue that the new administration has embraced and the Greeks have been long promoting.

Finally, let me highlight that the task of reinvigorating this relationship is not one for diplomats and political leaders alone. As the new President has highlighted in reaching out to our citizens using the internet and the new and modern forms of communications, so too must we tap into more direct links between our citizens to build the bridges and understandings that are going to shape our world.

In addition to the traditional exchange programs which we celebrated yesterday I think here at the Wilson Center such as the Fulbright, the 60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program that's brought thousands of Greeks and Americans together over the past 60 years, we need also to now think about bringing hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Americans together in the virtual world, reaching well beyond the Greek-American community that's always been a steadfast supporter and taken such a strong interest, but we need to also broaden that to other Americans who are less aware of the common heritage that they share with the citizens of the birthplace of democracy.

I'll close by asking for your patience. Let's not try to measure progress based on day to day news items, but by results we achieve over time through our common commitment to take this partnership to a new level.

Let's trust each other, that we are sincere in this endeavor, and give the new President, who has engendered so much hope for so many in America and around the world, some time to build these new relationships and to tackle together these truly enormous challenges we face.

It's a great honor to be able to speak with you today as someone who deeply loves my country and has a profound respect and appreciation for the country in which I serve.

Thank you.

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