ATHENS – The deepening U.S.-Greece relationship and Turkey’s recent provocations dominated an informative online panel discussion that was part of the Digital Dialogues series of the Regional Growth Conference featuring U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Greece’s Alternate Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy George Koumoutsakos, and former Foreign Affairs Minister of Cyprus Ioannis Kasoulidis. The Moderator was journalist Fanis Papathanasiou of ERT.
Papathanasiou – who also noted the active and positive role of current U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt – spotlighted the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that Greece and the U.S. are enjoying the best period in the history of its relations. Bilirakis, who is chairman of the Hellenic Caucus and co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance, emphasized that relations are “very strong and they can get even stronger.”
During the discussion titled The Turkish aggression against Greece and Cyprus and the U.S. role, the panelists put current events in context by noting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions have reinforced the growing perception in Washington that Turkey has become an unreliable ally of the United States and a destabilizing force in the Eastern Mediterranean.
BILIRAKIS ON TRUMP: ACTION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WORDS
Nevertheless, given Trump’s friendship with Erdogan, Papathanasiou noted that “many people in Greece and Cyprus believe that the Trump administration is pro-Turkish.” The Congressman responded by saying “I know what he says publicly … I’ll just tell you what I have heard second hand … he is not a fan of Erdogan … I know that he feels that Erdogan has let him down, tremendously. Let’s look that the actions he has taken … Lifting the embargo on non-lethal military equipment to Cyprus is a huge step in the right direction. I think this administration has been very strong in its support for Cyprus and Greece.”
Bilirakis is in a unique position to gauge the relationships. He informed that he and Pompeo are personal friends who speak “on a regular basis.” He added in the context of his contacts with high national security officials in Greece, Cyprus, and the United States that “everything the U.S. has promised me for Greece and Cyprus, they’ve come through.” He has worked to convey to President Trump the importance addressing Turkish threats and keeping the peace between Greece and Turkey.
Koumoutsakos added that “we have developed common understandings on developments in the broader region. The presence of the U.S. in Greece has been increased, both at Souda Bay in Crete and Alexandroupolis.” For its part, Koumoutsakos noted, Greece is pleased with the State Department’s recent statements “asking for all players to respect international law in the region.”
Regarding efforts to reduce tensions in the region, Koumoutsakos said he wanted “a meaningful dialogue, and when Papathanasiou asked if Turkey can be trusted in the proposed talks, the former expressed concern that Ankara would attempt to inappropriately broaden the talks, which he said would be a stumbling block to success.
Asked by Papathanasiou if he is satisfied with United States support for Cyprus, Kasoulidis echoed the views of the others and noted the importance of cooperation with the United States on issues like fighting terrorism in the region.
The group also touched upon the recent hospitalization of President Donald Trump. Bilirakis explained “the president has a lot of energy” and he and Koumoutsakos do not believe his re-election campaign will affected.
RGC was established in Greece in 2013 and “aspires to create a public dialogue between national and regional government, academic communities and private companies, who all need to work together and integrate best cases and regional development policies.” Its Digital Dialogues series often presents discussions about elements in the global environment that impact the country’s development.