Reacting swiftly to an editorial by The National Herald Publisher Antonis H. Diamataris calling for him to be transferred for interfering in Greece’s sovereign affairs, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt’s office dismissed the idea and lashed out in defense.
The tiff set off protest from Pyatt’s office, rejecting any notion he meddled by supporting Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ deal to give away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia to a newly-renamed North Macedonia.
It was also noticed internationally, across the Diaspora, and in a report by the highly-regarded British newspaper The Guardian which wrote of the crossing of swords between the men and the hot-button issue.
The editorial came after a Pyatt Tweet that Tsipras’ visit to North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje was “a big success.”
The biting assessment particularly stung as it was not the first time that he meddled and it came during an election period with surveys showing Tsipras and SYRIZA set for defeat by the major opposition New Democracy, the party it had unseated in January, 2015.
“The American Ambassador in Athens, an intelligent and likable man, acts like a cheerleader for Mr. Tsipras, thus creating the conditions for a new difficult future in Greek-American relations, this time fueling the anger of Greece’s political right,” the editorial said of the dangers of an Ambassador overstepping his authority.
“It is difficult to interpret this ambiguous behavior of the Ambassador as anything but reward for conveniences provided by Mr. Tsipras,” the editorial said, with the United States keen to say the previously anti-American, anti-NATO, former Communist Youth leader had ironically made relations with the United States the best they had ever been.
“Hasn’t the time come for the good ambassador to be moved before he causes even more damage to relations between the two peoples?” the editorial asked.
GLOVES ARE OFF
Pyatt had noted his praise for the deal was consistent with American policy and that European Union leaders had done the same, almost coinciding with the US-Greece Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC and reports that the United States was eager to expand its military presence in Greece, once anathema to Tsipras and SYRIZA’s hard-core nucleus.
“It is therefore absurd for The National Herald, even in an opinion piece, to portray United States support for the Greek government’s work in resolving this conflict as a matter of personality,” wrote the embassy’s press attaché Eshel William Murad.
“It is a matter of U.S. government policy. Your editorial…contains very serious and baseless insinuations regarding a U.S. government official’s motives for praising a foreign leader,” he added, noting the 104-year-old daily was a key link to the Greek-American community.
“At best, this is irresponsible, and it is also a clear misuse of the powerful platform your newspaper gives you,” the Embassy fired back.
The editorial noted a pattern of Pyatt speaking up when the government was facing troubles as it plummeted in polls. “He does so during almost every difficult period when Mr. Tsipras faces criticism with regard to national issues,” it wrote.
“But this interferes with the domestic politics of the country and violates a principle of international relations recognized for centuries – since 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia enshrined the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries,” it added, especially with two-thirds of Greeks opposed to the name deal and Tsipras’ April 3 visit to North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje with an entourage of business executives.
The Guardian wrote that improved relations between the countries were curious because of SYRIZA’s “unexpected love-in with America,” but that it had many in the Diaspora upset with Pyatt, credited with improving the ties.
“America’s oldest Greek-language newspaper, The National Herald, accused the U.S. ambassador to Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, of acting “like a cheerleader” for prime minister Alexis Tsipras, a former communist whose policies have frequently dismayed the diaspora,” the paper wrote.
“Much of the paper’s criticism was reserved for the name-change agreement Greece has recently struck with North Macedonia. Pyatt’s support for the deal and ‘ambiguous behavior’ amounted to interference in the country’s internal affairs,” the report said.
The dispute, said the paper, illustrated the widening breach between SYRIZA and the Diaspora with estimates it ranges from three to seven million around the world, including key cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Sydney and Melbourne.
There was such anger about political developments in Greece, the report said, that government officials were barred from events celebrating Greek Independence Day in New York.
“With Greece bracing for general elections later this year and the country increasingly polarized between left and right, many in the Diaspora are fearful of any support that might swing the vote,” The Guardian report noted, adding that TNH was “a mouthpiece” for the vast Diaspora.
WALKING THE LINE
It’s not the first time Pyatt has been involved in an embarrassing dilemma for the United States in a field – diplomacy – which is supposed to be below the radar and as unobtrusive as possible to walk a tightrope between representing American interests and steering clear of controversy and provocation.
In February, 2014, while the U.S. Ambassador to a troubled Ukraine in 2014, a conversation he had with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was posted on Youtube, showing she made a profane reference to the European Union during a talk they had about the U.S. strategy for a political transition in that country.
Nuland and Pyatt were heard discussing strategies to work with the three main opposition figures and she referred to getting the United Nations involved in a political solution in Kiev.
“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the U.N. help glue it and you know…f–k the EU,” she said in the recording, which was accompanied by still pictures of people mentioned in the call.
Pyatt responded: “Exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.”
SECOND TIME AROUND
After the shot from Pyatt’s office, Diamataris said he reluctantly had to return fire as he didn’t want to continue the disagreement but felt compelled because of the reaction to the editorial in the Greek and international media.
He noted that the editorial had been even-handed, but said that the Ambassador overstepped when he tweeted that Tsipras’ visit to Skopje was “very successful,” – despite a boycott by business leaders from Thessaloniki and Macedonia, in Greece.
Pyatt had also written that, “The Prime Minister’s visit to Skopje gives hope to all Europe for the strengthening of relations among its people,” without noting the vehement opposition of the vast majority of Greeks to the deal they felt was a sell-out.
Speaking of Pyatt, the second editorial said that the Ambassador was “clearly warned” that this issue was contentious for the Diaspora and in an interview with the paper on Dec. 4, 2018, when he was questioned about feelings he was too close to Tsipras and what an Ambassador’s role should be about governments and opposition parties.
Pyatt said then that, “In diplomacy, we generally talk about shared interests and shared foreign policy objectives, and we have to remember that, as individual diplomats, we are all replaceable. My job is to represent the U.S. to Greece’s elected government, and my service across two different U.S. administrations in Greece is the best example that I can offer of that continuity of interests.”
Despite the criticism he’s partial to keeping SYRIZA in power, with Tsipras falling in line with U.S. policies and interests, Pyatt’s term reportedly will be extended until 2020, when either the Leftists will return or New Democracy will be in power for the Ambassador to deal with.