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Greek Ministers attend event linked to Trump inauguration hoping to project message of respectability

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At first glance one reads that tile and thinks, “So what’s new, that’s all the Greek political class ever does when invited abroad, there’s always a party to attend, and toasts to deliver.” Not far off the truth, but the circumstances surrounding the Trump inauguration are a bit different than the usual Washington DC photo-op love fest.
Greek-U.S. relations have basically been on hold since former President Obama visited November 15-16, 2016 in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory, with a few messages since that time emanating from soon-to-depart officials in the U.S. Government attesting to the enduring bilateral alliance or to progress in the Cyprus negotiations. Whatever warm glow remained from Obama’s November visit was not translated into a positive disposition on the part of the EC, the IMF or politicians in Berlin to settle the outstanding economic reform issues in the Second Greek Program Review before Donald Trump’s inauguration, despite attempts from Greek Prime Minister Tsipras to generate political-level support for this in Europe or to link it somehow to movement on Cyprus in order to generate some kind of momentum.
Thus a Greek ministerial delegation arrived in Washington for the Trump inauguration events January 19 with a long list of to-do items and people to meet, but with nobody really in position or predisposed to make things happen on the American side.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and Press/Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas attended the so-called Greek American Inaugural Reception January 19 in Washington (normally held the day before the inauguration). The reception was ostensibly in honor of Archbishop Demetrios, new Greek-American officials in the Trump Administration and Congressman (Republican) Bilirakis. The most important attendee was incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus who has a strong Greek connection through his mother and displayed a commitment to keep important Orthodox religious issues in front of policymakers, something Turkey should carefully take note of. A dinner for high-rolling donors followed. In the U.S., there is zero issue with any of this ethnic community-based political activity, the problem in this case was the wildly inaccurate characterizations by certain pro-Syriza media outlets in Greece that gave the impression the Greek visitors had scored significant gains for Greece in high-level substantive meetings on national issues with incoming American officials who had not even visited their new offices. A bit of a media firestorm has ensued in the following days focusing on the press coverage and on how the Greek ministers quietly arranged to get themselves invited this year to a normally American-citizen focused inaugural event. Most Greeks knew to massively devalue the glowing Greek media reports of important new contacts coming from Washington.
In fact it was logical and even quite smart for Greek Defense Minister Kammenos, leader of the small “Independent Greeks” political party that supports Syriza in a coalition, to attend the Washington love-fest as military-to- military cooperation between Washington and Athens is excellent and that should open important doors early for Athens. It seems the side meetings and contacts by Media Minster Pappas, a close Tsipras confidante, are potentially more interesting, but so far we have no indication he was able to talk to people at the U.S. Treasury about Greek debt issues or role of the IMF. We should not rule out contacts with senior Treasury or State officers for European affairs who should likely remain in their jobs for some time.
The icing on the cake was provided by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt (career diplomat) in Athens at events and media interactions surrounding the January 20 inauguration. He has been making reassuring pronouncements about the excellent state and tremendous potential of Greece-U.S. relations, clearly reflecting the Obama-Kerry State Department’s views and implying that helping Greece weather the economic and refugee crises are high on a list of priorities which the incoming Secretary of State, once confirmed, has probably not even completely formulated for Europe. Most likely this is pure guess work, but taken as a whole the message from all parties is clear…Greece remains the center of the policy universe. Go figure.

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CEO/Editor-in-Chief.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.

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