“Increasing the dynamics of a strategic relationship with the US”

Interview at the weekly Greek newspaper Greek News, to Apostolos Zoupaniotis

1.What is the agenda and the goals of your visit to the United States for your meetings with President Donald Trump and other US government officials?

It is a great pleasure to be in the US these days because I will have the opportunity to meet with the large Greek American community, which I know loves and cares about our homeland. Now is the moment that our country – after many years – is regaining the future it is entitled to. Greece is emerging from the economic crisis and upgrading its geostrategic role in an extremely important and, unfortunately, increasingly destabilized region. We are in an extremely positive, but also crucial period for our country, which is regaining its prestige; moving away from mistakes of the past; it is regaining a key role in the European and regional developments and, of course, it is moving steadily on a path of economic development, leaving behind the tough period that unfortunately has cost the country in many fields beyond the economy.

In this context, the growing dynamics of our strategic relationship with the United States – especially in the economy, energy and defense / security – is crucial. With President Trump, we will have the opportunity to discuss all these issues.

2.What is the current level of the Greek-American relations?

The level of Greek-American relations has been steadily upgrading in recent years and gaining momentum. I believe that the decisive factor for the upgrading of our relations in recent years is the fact that Greece – despite the setback during the crisis – has managed with great efforts and sacrifices to stand, once again, steady on its own feet. Greece is now a country synonymous with determination and hard work; a country that overcomes difficulties and it is once more in a position that is worthy of its people and history. I think this is acknowledged by the US leadership, and for that reason, there is a growing interest on their part to further accelerate the recovery process in our country.

3.Both you personally and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias have presented Greece as a pillar of stability in a volatile area. How does Greece’s role match with US interests and what role does the Souda Bay play?

Recognizing the major challenges in our region, our government has chosen a specific foreign policy strategy, which –as it is commonly accepted – has borne fruit. Of course, also crucial is our internal policy, in order to have a solid basis to use as starting point. We are guided by the principles of an active, multidimensional foreign policy, which allows the country to be a pillar of stability in a more destabilized region. It is a choice that paves the way for the strengthening of alliances and the peaceful coexistence with the neighboring countries and, of course, the enhancing of the strength and prestige of Greece. We are located at a very critical point on the map, and this fact considerably elevates the role that our country is called upon to play.

It is clear that given its interest in the stability of the region, as well as our extremely important defense cooperation – including in Souda Bay – the United States has a particular interest in working towards this direction. We are at a time that the foreign policy objectives of Greece find common points with US strategy in the region.

4.Traditionally, the United States has been involved in the process of Greek-Turkish disputes, in the process of resolving the Cyprus issue and in resolving the dispute between Greece and Skopje on the name issue. What do you expect from the Trump Administration?

In a series of open issues, such as those that you mentioned, Greece has consistently defended its sovereign rights on the basis of international law, while at the same time it seeks to consolidate stability in the wider region. The ending of the aggression of the Turkish side in the Aegean Sea, a mutually accepted solution to the issue of FYROM, and a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, are not only for the benefit of our country but also for the benefit of Europe and the international community. I am convinced that our dialogue and cooperation with the US Administration in this direction can only benefit our interests and the region.

5.The Obama administration has been supportive by intervening with the Europeans during the difficult negotiations of 2015 and onwards. Is there such sensitivity from the current US Administration and how is it deployed?

I have repeatedly mentioned the clear support that Greece has found by the U.S. Administration during that difficult period. I believe that this will continue, as Greece has shown that it can honor its commitments and manage to overcome difficulties. Today, Greece is in a process of dynamic recovery. After a long period of recession, the country is on the path of growth; we are expecting in 2017 growth rates above 2%; in July we have returned to the capital markets, proving that confidence in the Greek economy has returned and, of course, we are once more a very attractive investment destination, given the opportunities that have been untapped during the crisis. Therefore, the support we are seeking from the United States is also about strengthening this positive course, which will be beneficial to both sides.

  1. During the past, we have seen the U.S. Ambassador in Greece showing interest in attracting US investment to Greece. What will you ask President Trump?

President Trump has a long track record in business. He knows when an investment could be beneficial and when not. Looking at Greece today, I think he can easily realize there are large investment opportunities in critical sectors of the economy. Greece is a country of the Eurozone and NATO, which is coming out of a multi-year crisis; it is in a geographical position between three continents; a country with political stability, it has an extremely capable and skilled workforce – especially young scientists – and it is attractive to new investments. All these are prerequisites for a path of growth and prosperity, in which both President Trump and the US investors could make a crucial contribution.

7.Both Greek American and US investors, addressing various investment fora in the United States, while acknowledging Greece’s attractiveness as an investment destination, are also speaking about a delay in the reform process. What is your message to them?

It is true that during the years of the “blind austerity,” Greece lagged behind reforms, mainly in the field of strengthening growth and creating new wealth. Since the first day that we are in government, my government’s first priority was to do everything in our strength to reverse this path, because it is the only way to stand on our own feet. So, within two years, we have undergone reforms that have lagged for decades. We offered incentives to investors, we simplified the process of creating a new corporation, we launched large infrastructure projects that were abandoned during the recession, and we managed with transparency and efficiency the funds appropriated from the EU. These are just some of the things we have done to boost growth and the results are already showing. During the last two years, unemployment has declined by 6%; for the third consecutive year, we will have a primary surplus above target; exports in the first eight months of 2017 are up 15%; Foreign Direct Investment in 2016 broke a decade-old record, while in 2017 it is expected to be even larger. My message to the investors is that those who trust Greece today can only gain.

8.You begin your U.S. visit in Chicago, where you are expected to speak to the Council of Global Affairs and have contact with the Greek American Community. What is your message to the Greek Americans?

First and foremost, I want to thank them for their love and support to their homeland, and for their decade-long efforts to maintain the high levels of cooperation between Greece and the United States. Our Omogeneia now plays a decisive role in our country’s path to recovery. The country needs the active support of the Greek community, its efforts to promote the country and its interests – with its prestige and its strength – in the business community and beyond. The Greek American community consists of people who came to the United States, worked hard, succeeded and created a better life for themselves and their families. Their example is what gives strength and confidence to all those who live in our homeland; we work with the same passion that they have worked in order to be once more successful. We therefore need our Greek American community to be helpful in the collective effort of all Greeks, to return our country to the position it deserves. I am sure that the Greeks of the United States realize it and they are ready to do their upmost for Greece.

9.Greek Americans who love and care for Greece for years and support the efforts of Athens and Nicosia for our national issues, have a permanent concern: to see stability in our homeland, friendly relations with the United States and for Greece to not be a pariah country. What is your commitment?

I know very well the concerns of our Omogeneia and since the first day, our government considered it a duty to have open channels with Greeks abroad. I believe that the progress made by our country is now clear. The instability of the times of crisis has long passed and we are now experiencing a period of political stability that allows the country to plan and organize its present and its future. But more broadly, as I said earlier, Greece is a pillar of stability and security for the wider region. We have stepped up our efforts for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, and so we will continue. We are stepping up our contacts with FYROM with new confidence-building initiatives.

At the same time,

  • our position in the hard core of the countries of Europe has been strengthened
  • we are taking initiatives such as the Southern EU Summit, and we are strengthening our cooperation with the Balkan countries
  • along with the Republic of Cyprus, we are in tripartite co-operation with Israel, Egypt and other Middle East countries, while our Foreign Ministry is taking important initiatives such as the Rhodes Conference or the Conference of Ancient Civilizations.

My commitment is that we will continue unhindered on this path, which ensures the continuous upgrade of the country’s position internationally and protects our sovereign rights and our national interests. In such a course, the upgrading of our strategic relations with the US remains an ongoing goal, in the context of a sincere cooperation and mutual respect, as is the case today.