Ambassador Says US Working for Release of Two Greek Soldiers in Turkey

The National Herald

US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS - US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said Greece won’t be left alone in trying to get Turkey to return two Greek soldiers who said they accidentally strayed across the border while on patrol during a storm and face trial.

Pyatt told News 24/7 TV that the US has been “strongly engaged” from the “first hours” of the soldiers being taken into custody on March 1 but didn’t detail what kind of diplomatic or other efforts were made.

He said he was surprised at reports in some Greek media suggesting that during his recent visit to Athens, US Assistant Secretary of State Wes Mitchell told Defense Minister Panos Kammenos that Greece and Turkey would have to work it out.

“I was surprised by those reports because they didn’t reflect the nature of US engagement. Washington has been strongly engaged on this issue from the first hours,” Pyatt said. “Nothing could be further from the truth than to suggest that somehow the United States was washing its hands of this issue. To the contrary, these are two NATO allies and we are keenly interested in seeing this issue resolved.”

NATO though has said nothing, nor has the European Union that Turkey wants to join intervened although Tsipras was due to push officials during a two-day meeting in Brussels March 22-23 to help deal with an increasingly aggressive Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has stepped up provocations, especially in the contested Aegean.

Pyatt, noting the growing tensions, said that, “Greece and the United States have a very similar interest vis-a-vis Turkey and that … is in seeing Turkey remain anchored in the West, anchored in NATO and focused on Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

“We have a lot to gain from maintaining very close communications between each other,” Pyatt said, expressing support for the Greek government’s efforts in trying to keep open channels of communication with Turkey.

“One of the things that has really impressed me in my year-and-a-half in Greece is the significant soft power influence that Greece has on Turkey,” Pyatt added, referring to growing Turkish tourism and investment in Greece.

“Those are the aspects of the relationship which I hope will over the long term shape the contours of the relationship between Ankara and Athens. These are issues that Greek government has to manage. The United States is not the referee, we don’t have a yellow card that we can pull out at a moment’s notice,” he said.