Best Buddies Now: US-Greece Strategic Dialogue Seen Key

Αssociated press

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, greets then Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, at the State Department in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

With ties between the United States and Greece, under the rule of the Radical Left SYRIZA that had been anti-American ironically closer than ever, the first Strategic Dialogue conference between the countries will focus on Defence, security and energy in Washington, D.C.

But, despite the significance of the event, that comes as US officials keep praising Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras despite his support for terrorists who killed five Americans attached to the US Embassy over the years, Greece did not send a high-level official for the Dec. 13 talks.

Tsipras is now also the Foreign Minister after the departure of a once-close aide and former head of the ministry, Nikos Kotzias, who quit when the Premier backed Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, head of SYRIZA's junior coalition partner, the tiny, pro-austerity jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who opposed a deal to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that Kotzias engineered.

Tsipras, a former Communist Youth leader, had vowed to end any American military presence in Greece, take the country out of NATO and bar Greek troops from helping the defense alliance on foreign soil but has reneged on all those promises in a bid to move closer to the US while keeping ties with Russia.

A senior official of the US State Department described the discussions as “a really important moment in US-Greek relations,” said Kathimerini, adding that “we have not seen such an opportunity to upgrade relations in a long time.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will talk with Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos who will be accompanied by a delegation and with the discussion also expected to include Turkish provocations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean where it is trying to stop foreign energy companies, including American giant ExxonMobil, from drilling for oil and gas.

The talks are expected to include six major points:  defense and security, law enforcement and counter-terrorism, regional issues (Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean), civil society, trade and investment, and energy.

“If anyone had any doubts about Greece's readiness to return to its rightful role, these were put to rest when the country successfully completed its economic stabilization program,” the State Department official told Greek journalists.

“We expect that Greece will continue to be strengthened economically and we will contribute to this as much as we can,” he added.

The event comes after the anti-nationalist Tsipras backed a deal, said to be done at the behest of the US, to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and lift Greek vetoes keeping the country out of NATO and from opening European Union accession talks.

The agreement was reached with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimitz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution and reopened talks this year after a three-year break amid speculation the US wanted FYROM in NATO as a bulwark against Russia interests, and after Greece booted two Russian diplomats it said tried to scuttle the deal.

The US said it supports Tsipras for ejecting the Russian officials and Greece's efforts to work with Cyprus and Israel.

“If Greece makes the right decisions, it can play a key role in ensuring that Europe, NATO allies and the rest of the region will not be hostage to hostile forces,” said the official, who was not named.

As for tense US relations with Turkey – a fellow NATO member that has repeatedly violated Greek airspace and waters without any rebuke from the alliance – he said it was hoped closer US-Greece relations wouldn't be seen by Turkey as a reason to move further away from the US.

“This is not a zero-sum game. The fact that we strengthen our co-operation with an ally in NATO should never be seen as a departure from our co-operation with another ally,” he said, trying to explain the mutual contradiction of being both for and against two countries simultaneously.