WASHINGTON - Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to sit down at the White House with US President Donald Trump Jan. 7, seeking stronger support over Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and against a deal Turkey made with Libya dividing the seas between them, claiming waters off Greek islands.
Their first scheduled meeting late last year was postponed when calls were made for Trump's impeachment, which happened before the Turkey-Libya deal, giving Mitsotakis a chance now to use that, with Trump considering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a friend.
All three countries belong to NATO but the defense alliance has said nothing about Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters and steered far clear of the feud, the US finding itself in the middle.
Speaking from Florida, where he attended the Jan. 6 Epiphany celebration and diving for the cross in Tarpon Springs, home to renowned sponge divers from Greece, Mitsotakis said he will use the opportunity to brief Trump on “the serious dangers that Turkey's aggressive and illegal behavior raises for peace and security” in the Eastern Mediterranean and confirm Greece’s role as a “long-term, reliable but also predictable ally” in the region.
A senior US government official who wasn't identified told the newspaper Kathimerini that the meeting is a landmark in Greek-American relations, with Greece having emerged as a “pillar of stability” in the volatile region, the term frequently used by US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.
“From a source of problems Greece has now become a source of solutions. It is also a pillar of stability that constitutes a crucial piece of America’s broader strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the unnamed official told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA.)
"So, we are focusing on encouraging the steps Greece is taking and our common interest in helping to manage differences with Turkey in a way that does not harm our significant alliance within NATO,” the unnamed official added.
But the White House official, noting Trump's balancing act, said Trump has a good relationship with the leaders of Greece and Turkey.
"Therefore, we prefer to focus on the things that unite us and pursue our common security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean region, rather than examine whether there are challenges," he added.
Mitsotakis and Trump are also expected to discuss deepening cooperation following the recent renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), with the US official telling ANA-MPA that Greece and the US are “working together not just as NATO allies, but also as countries with common values and common strategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
BOTH SIDES NOW
The renewed military pact came as the US is seeking a bigger military presence in Greece where the US Navy has a base at Souda Bay on Crete, near where Turkey said it would begin drilling for oil and gas under the Libya deal Greece and its European Union allies denounced as unlawful.
While Mitsotakis said he hopes “goodwill” and diplomacy with work with the often-intransigent Erdogan – it hasn't - he is also expected to stress that Greece will not accept any violation of its sovereign rights, as defined by international laws that Turkey doesn't always recognize.
The official who spoke to ANA added: "Let me underline from the American side the quality of cooperation between our forces, where they cooperate not only as NATO allies but also as countries with common value and common strategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Mitsotakis is hoping to build an international alliance against Turkey's aggression but Erdogan has shown only disdain to calls from the US, as well as Greece, Cyprus and the EU to stop drilling off Cyprus and is pushing the deal with Libya, where he plans to send Turkish troops.
Mitsotakis is also anxiously seeking foreign investors to accelerate a slow recovery from a near decade-long economic crisis that required three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($364.32 billion) to right after years of wild spending and runaway patronage by governments.
While in Washington, the Greek prime minister is also scheduled to meet with the new Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva – one of Greece's creditor agencies – and give an address at the Atlantic Council think-tank.
He will also emphasize that Greece has left the crisis behind it and makes an appealing investment choice after prospective interests were scared off by the former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA that stymied major developments and shunned foreign companies.
Describing in detail the steps taken by the government to improve the business environment, the White House official said Mitsotakis' visit would send the message to U.S. investors that Greece is open to business and that the economic climate has changed significantly.
"The (Greek) government understands the importance of the economic opportunities that the U.S. offers, such as making use of the power of our business culture and the power of our capital markets in Greece's bid to emerge from a decade of crisis. We know that the government has big plans and that U.S. companies are responding positively," the official said.
Greece joined with Cyprus and Israel in signing the EastMed pipeline deal that's aimed at bringing more energy into the EU but doesn't have investors yet, the pact seen so far as a political partnership trying to thwart Turkey.