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Politics

U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis Speaks to TNH

ATHENS – George J. Tsunis, the new U.S. Ambassador to Greece, invited The National Herald to his office in Athens for a moving interview. The Ambassador made special reference to his Hellenic origins and his ties with the homeland, the difficult geopolitical situation during which he assumed his duties, and relations between the United States and Greece and the special role in them played by the Greek-American community over time.

At the beginning of the conversation The National Herald asked the Ambassador about his relationship with President Biden, which led to his appointment as the American Ambassador to Greece. “I am very proud to have known President Biden for many years” he answered.

Regarding his appointment, he said, “I am especially honored and grateful for the confidence that President Biden, who is such a good friend of Greece, and Secretary Blinken, have placed in me to serve as the U.S. Ambassador. I take very seriously this obligation and responsibility I’ve been entrusted with. I can’t think of a better time to serve as the U.S. Ambassador. The U.S.- Greece relationship has never been stronger and more consequential,” as he touched upon the particularly important geostrategic position of Greece in the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and as a member of the EU and NATO while the war in Ukraine is raging.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis with Amos Hochstein and George Tsunis, in Athens, July 29. (Photo by Eurokinissi)

“Never,” was Tsunis’ immediate response to the question of whether he had ever imagined as a child in New York that someday he would come back to his parents’ homeland as ambassador.

“Growing up I would never have imagined that I would one day be here, serving my country in this capacity, which is a dream come true. It is the honor of a lifetime for me to return to my roots here in Greece and serve my country as the U.S. Ambassador. I am incredibly grateful to my parents, who taught me to never forget my roots and the Hellenic ideals of ‘kalosini’, ‘agape’ and ‘philotimo’.” At that point, the American ambassador mentioned that his late beloved father taught him Greek values ​​and the importance of the connection of man with his roots.

Asked for his first impressions after serving about three months, Tsunis said, “I believe Greece must be one of the single-most desirable countries to live in. It’s the people, the world-famous ‘philoxenia’. It’s the incredible food, the culture, the beautiful blue waters and amazing islands. Greece is truly a place you never want to leave. But more than anything, I think, it’s the Greek way of life, the decency one finds in the people here.”

U.S. Ambassador to Greece George James Tsunis at a reception given by the U.S. General Consulate in Thessaloniki at Anatolia College on Thursday night, to mark the 4th of July Independence Day holiday. (Photo: Twitter)

“Yesterday I was with my family in Porto Rafti” – the interview took place the previous Friday, July 29 – tomorrow I will be in Karpenisi, and then I have planned trips all over Greece, to Kefalonia, Komotini, Paxos… to every corner of this beautiful country, especially the small villages,” said Tsunis.

He emphasized that for him there is nothing better than the small Greek taverns, with traditional Greek food and good company.

As for the first thing he did when he arrived in Athens, he said, “the very first evening after I arrived, I went to Plaka with my mom Eleni. I just couldn’t wait to get out and be with the people.”

The American official then addressed the particularly difficult time in which he arrived in the country, making a direct reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war that is still ongoing. He noted that the main issue today is the question of what kind of world we want to live in, he noted. He noted the significance of the dichotomy of Democracy vs. Autocracy that is salient now and emphasized that democracy has always been important for both countries, Greece and the United States, adding that there has long been a link between the two countries. Tsunis declared that as custodians of democracy, the United States and Greece are at the forefront of the struggle between democratic values, born right here in Athens, and the voices of tyranny and authoritarianism, explained Mr. Tsunis.

U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis visited Diplatanos in the Municipality of Thermo, Aitoloakarnania on July 17, the feast day of St. Marina. Photo: Thermonews.gr

Recently, Tsunis also visited Platanos the village where his family comes from. “Why did you go there and what was the feeling you experienced,” asked TNH. “It was the most emotional day” he said. “After I went to Washington with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for his historic visit, one of the very first places I returned to in Greece was my home village of Platanos. I had to return to my roots. The reception I received from the people of Platanos – the philoxenia – was truly remarkable, and it is something I will always remember and cherish. I take Platanos with me wherever I go. The values ​​I learned there have inspired me throughout my life and continue to do so today. I feel more at home there than in any place in the world,” he said.

It is worth mentioning at this point the multitude of photos of Tsunis with his loved ones as his wider family and social environment that adorned one of the walls of his office. He himself was visibly moved during the interview as he noted the pictures, especially those with his grandparents, and his cousins, ​​but also with his much-loved – as he himself explained – aunt.

Returning to his work and aims as ambassador, TNH asked Tsunis, “what are the main challenges you face, but also the major opportunities you see?” He replied that it is a matter of mindset, that one can focus the opportunities that arise even in a period of intense challenges like the current situation. He acknowledged the strains caused by the rise in energy prices, in oil prices, the food crises that have arisen, all of them constituting economic and humanitarian challenges. The American official explained that they affect not only Greece and the United States but the entire world, with other countries possibly facing additional challenges in comparison.

His Excellency, George James Tsunis, U.S Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic of Greece. (Photo via ACS)

Given the said crisis, Tsunis said, “Greece is the most reliable partner,” and regarding the recent strengthening of U.S.-Greece relations, he underscored that, “although we have accomplished much, there is room for us to further deepen our cooperation. Our work together strengthens NATO. It makes the European Union more prosperous and secure.”

More specifically, in relation to Greek-Turkish affairs, when asked if he is worried that the situation with Ankara’s provocative actions might get out of control, the American Ambassador answered, “I don’t think so. This is not something new… It is my hope, and I’ll do whatever I can in order that our NATO Allies, Greece and Turkey, work together to maintain peace and security in the region and resolve their differences diplomatically. As we have repeatedly said, we encourage our Allies to avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions, and that is something we are all hoping to avoid.”

Tsunis added that, “people in Greece and Turkey think the same as me. Everyone understands what war means.”

From the meeting in Thessaloniki between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis. (Photo by Ecumenical Patriarchate/Nikos Paparchristou)

After noting, “Mr. Tsunis, you have the overwhelming support and best wishes of the Greek-American community,” he was asked, “how important is that to you?” He replied that, “as you know I am a proud Greek-American with deep ties to Greece. My wife and I have always enjoyed coming to Greece,” and continued by saying, “the Diaspora is a secret weapon. The Greek-American community has played, and continues to play, an absolutely vital role in advancing the U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship. I could not be more thankful for this community’s unwavering support, and commitment to our countries’ remarkable partnership.”

Approaching the end of the discussion, the Ambassador wanted to offers greetings to The National Herald. As he mentioned, he is a long time reader. “That’s 107 years of great journalism,” he said. “The National Herald kept me tied to Greece,” he said, noting that his mother reads the Greek edition while he – although his Greek is steadily improving – prefers the English.

The interview closed on an optimistic note: “The best days for Greece are coming,” he said, before offering, “many thanks!” to TNH.

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