Samaras goes to Washington with optimism

Samaras goes to Washington with optimism

Against a backdrop of a chaotic political and economic landscape at home and rumors of possible early elections, and just before the general elections in Germany – which are crucial for Greece as well as for Europe – the Greek PM is going to visit the United States.

The three-day visit of Antonis Samaras to the U.S. which starts this on Aug. 8, is taking place almost on the first anniversary of his coming to power and has been interpreted by Greek analysts as a “powerful message of U.S. support for him.”

However, the White House’s approval for the visit came at the last moment after intense and long diplomatic efforts. Many questioned why it took U.S. President Barack Obama months to invite the Greek leader considering the powerful role Greek-Americans have in the Democratic camp. Could this visit perhaps signal a change of stance toward Turkey by the Obama administration?

“The unrestrained style of [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan in foreign policy created new fronts for the U.S. at a period when they wish to partially detach themselves from the region, while the management [by Erdoğan] of the crisis in Turkey damaged his image, raising questions over his real intentions.... Then the fall of [President Mohamed] Morsi in Egypt, which revealed the limits of regimes of a supposedly moderate Islamic concept, created second thoughts among the Americans about the necessity to support them,” writes Konstantinos Filis, an expert in international affairs.

Everybody agrees that Samaras, at a moment when he may need to impose a new set of unpopular austerity measures in September, thus sending more Greek indignados onto the streets, will use his meeting with the American president to emphasize the geo-strategic importance of Greece. In that sense, the American military base in Souda, Crete, and its readiness to respond to potential crises in the region, could be a useful reminder of the usefulness of Greece for any American plans for the region. At any rate, Washington is pleased with the choice of the TAP pipeline, which limits the European energy dependence on the Russians at a moment when U.S.-Russia relations are going through a difficult phase following the Edward Snowden affair.

The big challenge for Samaras will be to convince the American administration that Greece may play a stabilizing role in Southeast Europe and the Middle East while traditional allies like Turkey and Egypt are dealing with serious domestic problems and as bloody wars still continue in the other countries of the region like Syria, Iraq and Libya.

But most interestingly not only for Greece but for the rest of the eurozone, especially for the countries of the European South who are struggling through a continuing recession, Samaras’ presence in Washington may signal a start to a more active American involvement in the management of the crisis. The Americans have expressed their preference for a more job creating program as a solution for the crisis as opposed to an austerity straightjacket. Jack Lew, the U.S. secretary of the Treasury who visited Athens prior to Samaras’ trip to Washington, openly stated that the White House was following with skepticism the austerity dogma imposed by Germany on the eurozone countries hit by the crisis.

Some commentators, like the Washington correspondent of the Greek daily Ethos, indicate that Washington’s decision to interfere with Germany and the EU in general to resolve the debt crisis will help Samaras in the U.S. capital. Others are more cautious, suggesting that it would be a diplomatically delicate issue for the Americans to openly suggest solutions for the crisis in Europe when the responsibility falls under the authority of Brussels. But as the European crisis has also cost Americans billions of dollars, the meeting with Samaras in Washington may be an occasion for the American administration to put forward some ideas for reducing the enormous Greek debt. Another “haircut” was rejected forthrightly both by the German economy minister and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Of course, Cyprus and energy resources are to figure highly in Samaras’ U.S. visit as well as terrorism and American investments and trade in Greece.

It is a visit with great importance for the Greek PM to support his position in Europe and to increase his political leverage inside Greece, where political ramifications are entering a difficult stage. It could also be a visit which may send interesting messages to Turkey.