ATHENS – “It shocked us all. We never imagined scenes like this being broadcast from the United States.” It was impossible to ignore what happened on Capitol Hill on January 6 when beginning a conversation with Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris about life after the presidency of Donald Trump and prospects for U.S.-Greece relations under President Joe Biden.
Tziampiris first noted that the Athens-Washington relationship “has improved substantially over the past few years. Specific, concrete examples include: In 2018 the countries signed a Strategic Dialogue agreement. In 2019 the U.S. Congress passed the East Med Security and Partnership Act with the active help of HALC and other Community groups and the AJC, and in 2020 a mutual defense cooperation agreement was signed and ratified. And we have had two successful visits to the White House by two consecutive Greek governments.”
Regarding the broader relationship between the two countries he also noted that “a lot is happening on the cultural and educational front which is about the go to a whole different level, and we now have substantial energy cooperation, with a renewed emphasis on the port of Alexandroupolis.”
On the national security front, Tziampiris noted “85 F-16 aircraft are now being upgraded, and Greece is thinking of buying U.S. frigates … Without any doubt, we are now witnessing some, if not the very best Greek-American relations ever – and this is based on concrete acts and developments, not rhetoric.”
He emphasized also that “we have a new U.S. president who has visited Greece in an official capacity more than once and is knowledgeable about Hellenic issues. He has a foreign policy team comprised of seasoned, experienced experts, however, as HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides raised in a recent article in the Greek press, the world is very different than the last time this group was in office. It remains to be seen how the world views … have changed to reflect new developments, especially in the East Mediterranean… Turkey is now a far more problematic – and some would say even nominal –ally of the U.S.”
After noting that “Biden’s primarily focus will be to attend to domestic challenges,” Tziampiris said that Athens must also keep its eyes on the ball. “The U.S. will not, and cannot, have a strictly bilateral relationship with Greece, isolated from other issues, trends and developments,” he said. “Greek-American relations will be seen and decided through the prism of developments in the East Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions, great power competition, regional malfeasance by certain actors, obviously, relations with Turkey, and substantial common economic and energy interests, so Athens had better be prepared to offer sophisticated and multidimensional arguments."
There are also positive developments in the United States. “Given my involvement with HALC” – Tziampiris is its academic advisor – “I’ve seen some creative plans on the digital communications front on engaging with American thought leaders” and supplementing the engagement of groups like AHI, AHEPA, and Manatos and Manatos with Congress “in their home districts and not just in Washington.”
Turning to “the big question of Turkey, the U.S. Congress actually applied the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” to Turkey and removed Turkey from the F-35 manufacturing process, “a very important development.”
The Trump administration often displayed tolerance, however, but he expects that “to either stop or be substantially reduced,” adding, “I also expect the Biden administration to be more vigilant and interested across the board when it comes to human rights violations and democracy … and that includes Turkey.”
While he acknowledges that there is “a perennial fear among U.S. officials that one day they might be accused of having ‘lost’ Turkey, it must be borne in mind that Turkey is becoming less western and more nationalistic, less democratic and more erratic, less a reliable ally and more a revisionist state with no qualms about threatening or employing military force.”
Tziampiris predicts “Erdogan will try to have a good relationship with the U.S. and the Biden administration, however, he is somewhat hampered by Russia’s overall influence in those areas … In the Caucasus, Putin has awarded Turkey a more prominent role in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute,” for example.
Emphasizing that deeds, not words, will determine the Erdogan-Biden relationship, Tziampiris asks “will Turkey give back or render inoperative the Russian S-400 missile system … will diplomatic practice be pursued with Greece and threats eschewed? Will the quality of democracy and human rights palpably improve?”
WHAT IS GREECE DOING AMID ‘TECTONIC SHIFTS’ IN THE WORLD?
“I think Greece is ahead of curve,” Tziampiris said, adding, “a series of states are coming closer together and joining forces … Greece, Cyprus, Israel; the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt; the USA and possibly soon, India – a great partnership including Christian, Jewish and Moslem states. These are the pro-stability states … with substantial common energy interests.”
He spotlighted that “Greece just concluded a $1.68 billion deal with Israel centered on an international flying training center in Kalamata.” Greece has also gotten closer to France.
This is the context in which the Greece-Turkey dispute now operates as talks between the two are about to resume.
“Nobody knows what the result will be. The point is to see if there can be a joint agreement on the issues that both sides would agree to have adjudicated” by the World Court. It’s too early to tell if this effort will succeed. It suffices to say Greece wants two issues on the table – continental shelf and EEZ, whereas Turkey has an ever expanding list of issues.”
With the new administration he believes there might be incentives for both sides, especially Ankara, to have some confidence building measures take place.
“My crystal ball does not show more than that.”
Back in the USA, Tziampiris said that the storming of the Capital “shows that the divisions in America are as deep and intense” as what we are used to seeing in Greece. “Can Biden create more consensus … Can he isolate and separate the few violent extremists from the body politic? It is all very troubling, but the inauguration provides a chance for a new beginning.”
Tziampiris, wanting to end on an optimistic note, said “Greece, despite its economic crisis, remains firmly entrenched at the core of Euro-Atlantic institutions … it is correctly and widely recognized as a pro-stability regional force. It has pursued new and exciting partnerships, such as with Israel … Greece is following and expanding a clearly defined national strategy.”
He concluded by saying “the pandemic will end … the tourist industry will recover with a vengeance” and experts agree Greece’s external debt will be serviceable. Substantial EU funds will pour in, and pro-business reforms and tax reduction are in the agenda.”
Tziampiris declared, “at the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, Greece is clearly slated for a comeback. The country’s message to visitors and strategic partners should be ‘come to Greece’ – for a reliable partner for regional stability, for educational programs which are about to take off, for investment in an increasingly friendly but not yet perfect business environment, to rediscover family and historical roots – and for a world class tourism experience.” And everyone should bring their non-Greek friends.
Author Aristotle Tziampiris is president of The Council of Foreign Relations, Greece (www.cfir.gr). His views above are strictly personal.