Greek PM visits US as Turkey-US relations ebb
A cartoon on the Sunday, Oct. 15, edition of the well-known Greek Kathimerini was quite sharp, as usual: A boyish looking Greek prime minister standing on his toes and shaking all over introduces himself to an almost twice his size American president who is greeting him with a crushing handshake.
“Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, civil engineer and pilot on F16s,” to which the huge red-tie, hair-sprayed, blond Donald Trump replies: “Let me see what I can do, but you need a visa.”
But jokes aside, the main narrative of the cartoon is correct: The Greek Prime Minister is actually in the U.S., as of last Saturday, and he is due to meet Trump at the White House on Oct. 17. It is a meeting of high importance for the Greek government; both in terms of economic cooperation but also a new geostrategic policy.
The economy is extremely important for a country which hopes to come out of a long bail-out program by next summer and try to stand alone in a free market environment. From now until then, Tsipras is desperately seeking strong boosters for the Greek economy in the form of foreign investment. His current trip to the U.S. is vital. Accompanied by his economy ministers, he is offering an adequately attractive plate to American and Greek-American investors in order for them to put their money in Greece now offering a more flexible legal environment, incentives, opportunities in energy, gas exploration in the Aegean, extensive privatizations, etc.
“President Trump has a long track record in business. He knows when an investment could be beneficial and when not. Looking at Greece today, I think he can easily realize there are large investment opportunities in the critical sectors of the economy,” Tsipras claimed in an interview with a Greek-American weekly published on the eve of his visit.
Not surprisingly, he started his U.S. visit from Chicago, a traditional hub of powerful Greek-American business leaders already active from the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama years. But he also held meetings with members of the Congress and Senate, obviously appreciating their importance in the way the U.S. administration is run. “Greece does not just leave behind the economic crisis but the model that led to it,” he told them.
The presence of the conservative nationalist junior partner and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on the trip might have worked also to put aside the reservations of the Americans toward the Leftist Syriza, which in its first period in power was looking toward Russia rather than Washington. We will see if Tsipras’ words will persuade the so far hesitant Greek diaspora or the American business world to move to Greece.
But the most interesting part of the Tsipras trip will be his meeting with Trump. The announcement from the White House for the Oct. 15 meeting states that “The president and prime minister will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues, including defense cooperation, economic investment, energy security, and the strong cultural ties that have bound Americans and Greeks together.”
The Greek side thinks this is the perfect time for a new era in Greece-U.S. relations. Now that “Turkey is isolated,” they say, after having virtually broken its relations both with the EU and the U.S., it is a unique opportunity for Greece to fill this geostrategic vacuum.
However, a number of analysts also claim that the Americans, even if they would be more willing to help Greece at a time when relations with Turkey are at their “lowest ebb,” they would not do it without increasing their military presence in Greece. There is a strong rumor that the American side is asking for a second naval base in Crete, besides Souda, and perhaps a third in northwestern Peloponnese.
In his meeting with Trump, Tsipras will repeat his main thesis: That “Greece is a pillar of stability and security for the wider region” and will try to convince the American president that “we are at a time when the foreign policy objectives of Greece find common points with U.S. strategy in the region.”
However, as much as this may look possible as logical for the Greek side, it contains several uncertainties: The possibility that the Turkish-U.S. row may be short-lived as Turkey remains a major presence in an unstable region and second, that the unpredictability of
Trump has been the only predictable element of his administration so far.