- - Monday, December 17, 2018


Greek acting Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougalos was in Washington late last week for talks with senior Trump administration officials and for the inaugural U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He answered a series of questions from The Washington Times on bilateral relations, immigration, the European Union and Russia after his two days of talks.

Question: What message did you bring for the Trump administration? Why did you feel a need to launch a bilateral strategic dialogue between longtime allies and NATO partners? Why do you say U.S.-Greek bilateral relations are at their best point ever?

Answer: It is indeed the apex of our bilateral relations. It is true that Greece and the United States have always been on the same side, since the time when American philhellenes came to fight with us in our liberation war of 1821. The current reposition of our strategic relation on a new basis, on equal terms, stems from the alignment of interests and the new challenges we have to face in our region. We have tried to answer to these challenges by becoming a stabilizing factor in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, promoting regional security and cooperation. The United States recognized in this framework our leadership and vision and, in particular, our initiatives to resolve disputes and to facilitate common regional economic and security benefits.

Q: Energy appears to have been a major point of discussion in your talks here. Do you share U.S. concerns about the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipelines? Were any specific agreements made on your trip here to increase Greece’s role in European energy security?

A: A basic component of the new economic model we want to forge is exactly our comparative geopolitical advantage to be a natural bridge between Europe and Asia and Africa. Based on that, Greece should become a hub of commerce, logistics and transports but also an energy hub. Therefore, we favor a diversification of energy resources based on the multiplication of pipelines and [liquefied natural gas] centers, both for economic reasons and for reasons pertaining to energy security. Regarding the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipelines, we consider that they must be treated in the same way by the European Union, as it is not acceptable to have double standards in assessing essentially similar projects.

Q: For many years, the news out of Greece was dominated by the economic crisis, debt talks with the International Monetary Fund, and battles over bailouts and austerity measures. Do you feel the country has turned a corner on its economic and fiscal problems?

A: It is clear that not only have we turned a new page, but we are now in a completely new chapter of our history. Leaving behind us the adjustment programs does not signify only a return to economic normality, but also a return of our country to full democratic sovereignty. After many years, we have had our economy growing for six consecutive quarters, the latest recording a growth of 2.2 percent. The forecast for 2019 is even better, as we estimate our economy to grow by 2.5 percent.

Q: Greece has historically had good relations with Russia, and Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos recently talked of closer military and technical cooperation with Moscow. How does Athens balance that with closer ties to Washington and Russian pressure on NATO states and Ukraine?

A: We are trying to have a fully independent and multidimensional foreign policy. It is clear that our political home is the EU, but we envisage becoming a bridge between Europe and the Arab world, between Russia and China. We can play this mediating, constructive role as we have never been a colonial power and we have diasporas in many countries of the area. Especially regarding Russia, we consider one of the most important challenges of our time how to reintegrate it in the European regional system of security. We have done that with the Soviet Union through the Helsinki agreements. Why not now?

Q: Greece has been on the front lines of the EU’s immigration crisis. Do you feel you are getting sufficient support and understanding from the U.S. and EU? Do you see things getting better or worse in 2019?

A: We have in the last decade faced a perfect storm of crises — an economic and a migration one. And we have managed to tackle both with openness and respect to fundamental human rights. After all, we still remember the time when we were migrants and refugees ourselves. The support from our allies was a substantive condition to cope with it. But it should be made clear that migration is a global problem. It cannot be treated by one nation alone. Especially in the EU, we need a European response based on our common values, solidarity and burden-sharing. Unfortunately, not all member states have responded in this way to the challenge. Therefore, this is going to be one of the basic dilemmas of the next European parliamentary elections. Two camps are confronting each other: one faithful to the humane character of our societies, committed to the protection of human rights and openness, and one promising a fortress Europe, by a return to a golden national past which never existed.

Q: Bonus question: Any predictions for the 2019 Greek national elections?

A: This is an easy one. We are going to win them. Bets are welcome.

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