Alexandra Papadopoulou has the distinction of being the first woman to hold the post of Greece's Ambassador to the United States but she'd rather talk about what the job entails and not that she's in it.
A seasoned diplomat who is one of the closest advisors to Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – she was head of his diplomatic cabinet – Papadopoulou took over just as the pandemic hit the world.
In a feature, the well-known site The Hill, that covers politics and doings in Washington, noted the support she got almost as soon as she took the post, where she will soon have President Joe Biden, a Hellenophile, to discuss US-Greece relations that had grown tighter even under the volatile reign of President Trump, who's close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey is where the trouble lies for Greece. Erdogan has alternately sent an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo only to withdraw them and send them back again, raising fears of a conflict.
That puts the US between the countries as all are in NATO, the defense alliance that had steered clear of Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and looked the other way as Turkey kept sending fighter jets into Greek airspace.
“I always wanted to do interesting and challenging things,” Papadopoulou told the site during an interview at the Greek Embassy, and she's going to have the chance for both as tension has heated up between Greece and Turkey.
But she knows the drill of being a diplomat, holding one of the three top spots in her field for Greece, along with the ambassadors to the European Union in Brussels and at the United Nations.
“It’s the culmination of the art of compromise, the art of understanding, and the art to give up something in order to get something bigger. And this involves the entire world,” Papadopoulou said of her time in New York.
“She is, really, the ideal person to be here representing Greece at this stage of not only the bilateral relationship, but in terms of the U.S. once again trying to reclaim its role in the transatlantic alliance,” Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council told the site.
“She’s on the same page with the prime minister and the foreign minister — and the prime minister has a relationship with President-elect Biden, I think it’s very, very important. We cannot underestimate the importance of that,” he added.
While Greece has a bevy of allies in Washington, Turkey has long had the advantage before Erdogan okayed purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system that could undermine NATO and be used against Greece.
That led the US, reluctantly and over Trump's unhappiness, to bar Turkey from buying American-made F-35 fighter jets that could now to to Turkey, as Greece's geopolitical importance has grown in alliances with Cyprus and Israel in hunting for energy in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, with American backing.
Greece has grown in significance because of its position around the Balkans, where the US wants to counter Russian interests, something Papadopoulou can use in discussions with American officials as well as Greece taking on a bigger US military presence.
Papadopoulou says she’s looking forward to working with Biden and that Athens wants to expand and deepen the relationship of the 3+1 — the official name of the grouping of Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the US as a stable partner in the region.
“The Greek-U.S. relationship is the highest it has ever been. So we expect that it can go even higher, of course,” Papadopoulou said, emphasizing that the alliance is not meant as a threat to Turkey.
“It’s not about going against anybody, and everybody is welcome to join to the extent that they respect the basic principles on which this partnership is based,” she said.
While she hasn't worked with Biden before, she noted his tightness with Greece and Cyprus and his support during Greece's near decade-long austerity and economic crisis where American influence helped prevent the country from leaving the Eurozone.
“The American role was instrumental in keeping Greece afloat, and we’re very much appreciative of the American administration efforts and, of course, then-Vice President Biden being at the forefront of this effort,” Papadopoulou said.
While she said her appointment was a “big achievement,” she also noted how many other women are taking on the job of ambassadors to the US, creating a kind of cozy club.
“We’re quite a big number, we have an association of women ambassadors,” she said, adding that they are in a group chat on WhatsApp and have tried to organize a Zoom during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re a nice group, we’re a diverse group, and I think we’re OK with numbers. Now nobody pays attention, whether you’re a woman ambassador or a man ambassador in Washington, D.C. This is a big achievement, but it’s not news anymore,” she said.