"Strategic partners with a global agenda" said U.S. Ambassador to Greece Charles P. Ries to describe the relationship between the United States and Greece, at a Sept. 26 Policy Forum on "Democracy, Prosperity, and Regional Security: The Future of U.S.-Greece Relations," hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project in Washington, D.C.
Amb. Ries assessed the range of issues that have laid the groundwork for a broad U.S.-Greece strategic partnership, including Greece's leadership role on the U.N. Security Council since January 2005, its successful EU presidency during a turbulent period in U.S.-EU relations in 2003, the successful prosecutions of November 17 terrorists that killed and injured scores of Americans and Greeks since 1974, the signing of mutual legal assistance treaties, and the superb execution of the successful Summer Olympiad in 2004.
Taken together, said the ambassador, these developments have led U.S. policy makers to view Greece as an ally that can play a more significant role in resolving complex problems in the Balkans and throughout southeastern Europe.
Highlighting the security aspect of the relationship, Ambassador Ries noted that Greece was the first NATO member to commit financial resources to train Iraqi security forces. Greece has also offered to move excess military equipment, as well as Hungarian tanks, to Baghdad. In Afghanistan, Greece offered to enhance its longstanding contributions with the purchase of a mobile medical facility for deployment in Kabul. Greek officials also successfully recruited three Balkan countries to contribute further medical assistance in Afghanistan, according to the ambassador.
Stressing the importance of Greece's naval contributions, through Operation Active Endeavor, to securing vital shipping lanes in the region, Ambassador Ries announced that Greece will soon establish a Maritime Interdiction Center to help stem the regional proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal migration, and contraband. He also explained that the Greek Ministry of Public Order will establish a Balkan- Mediterranean Center for Security, through which Greece will provide counter-terrorism expertise - developed in preparation for the 2004 Olympics - to train Balkan counterparts for large-event security provision.
Ambassador Ries emphasized the progress of Greece's economy against the backdrop of recently introduced domestic structural reforms. Noting that Greece has not been a very attractive foreign direct investment market for multinational corporations, or even for small- to medium-sized companies, he stressed the importance for Greece of growing a healthier, more stable, and more transparent economic base.
The increasing attractiveness of emerging Balkan markets positions Greece as the logical entry point into that region, and from a U.S. perspective, the "natural" partner for joint ventures in the Balkans, according to Ambassador Ries. He described a major deal in which Proctor and Gamble acquired the brand rights to Greece's comparable Rolco under a collaborative agreement through which P&G brings its superior marketing skills to expand Rolco's market share in Balkan and EU markets, even as Rolco continues to control product manufacturing.
Ambassador Ries applauded such corporate agreements and stressed that similar opportunities for such joint ventures are currently available. He added that U.S.-Greek cooperation was further enhanced by the Karamanlis government's decision to purchase American F-16 fighter jets to strengthen Hellenic Air Force capabilities.
Greece's diplomatic stance on the issue of Turkey's EU accession program, based on Greek recognition that its own strategic interests are enhanced by EU-Turkey engagement, has been favorably received in Washington. Ambassador Ries also commended Greece for its leadership role in advocating Turkey's membership drive, despite ongoing concerns in Athens about setbacks in resolving the Cyprus problem.
Ambassador Ries concluded his remarks with renewed emphasis on improved U.S.-Greece trade relations as the path to even stronger political ties. He noted with satisfaction that of the 25 EU member states, Greece has the largest proportion of higher education students in the United States, a key opportunity, he said, for building an even surer foundation for the future of U.S.-Greece relations.
The next day, Ambassador Ries was joined by John Sitilides, Chairman of the Southeast Europe Project Board of Advisors, on a panel organized by Johns Hopkins University to assess the reciprocal impact of Turkey's EU accession drive on the UN's Cyprus reunification efforts.
The Wilson Center program was organized under the Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Lecture Series, dedicated to the idea that democracy and reason are gifts of Classical Hellenism to the modern world. The lecture series serves as a unique Washington, D.C. forum for world leaders and distinguished scholars who study, understand, and manifest Hellenism's many lessons in contemporary statecraft and society.