Thursday, December 7, 2023

Greek PM Tsipras does New York. This was a UN visit, right?

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Greek PM Tsipras arrived in New York late September 26th, intending to stay until October 2.  His main UN General Assembly (UNGA) address is scheduled for October 1, but in this extended week of global celebration of the UN’s 70th anniversary we are not sure who other than Greeks and maybe Cypriots will even notice.
In most cases the glitter-filled side events during UNGA week generate as much publicity and useful contacts as does a visiting head of state’s formal UNGA speech.  This is doubly true for Greek visitors who routinely try to cash in on the party to advance national objectives; small countries have to utilize every UNGA-week opportunity.   It would be unfair to criticize Mr. Tsipras’ schedulers and advisors for adding as many meetings as possible to the newly re-elected PM’s schedule, since every visiting head of state does the same thing and they rarely travel with small entourages.  We should however, comment on whether the visit has a UN/global focus or becomes a platform for an unofficial bilateral US visit.   So let’s look at what we know of Tsipras’ program now.
Global:  There are multiple speaking slots for the visiting heads of state at UNGA-70 events, and we haven’t seen indications that PM Tsipras has declined any of these; he will begin on Sunday September 27th.  We also know Mr. Tsipras will meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, which is fairly standard for a new head of state.  At this point,  PM Tsipras has announced meetings with leaders from Cyprus, Egypt, Brazil, Ecuador, Palestine and Turkey,  although Greek officials have indicated the primary focus of the trip will be on obtaining debt relief for Greece and none of these are key players  (note: the UN has no role in that matter). The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is holding its 2015 Annual Meeting September 26th-29th (CGI is always timed to coincide with the UNGA in New York to entice foreign leaders to speak).  PM Tsipras has been scheduled, apparently at the last minute, to address at least one session, also on September 27th. Latest available schedule here:
The interesting background on PM Tsipras’ involvement here is that the CGI’s Athens 2015 conference was cancelled this spring when US-Greece relations hit a rough spot over the Tsipras government’s approval of legislation that might allow certain convicted terrorists to leave prison, among other issues.  The CGI had earlier contracted out its future operations in Greece with Ambassador Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, who was clearly able to deliver the Greek PM on short notice (she is speaking at the event as well).  This relationship has raised eyebrows both in Athens and Washington, as questions have been asked about her exact role in the Greek business community and whether she represents the most desirable Greek private sector partner for CGI, which has had numerous questions raised about its foreign fundraising activities and choice of partners globally.
Bilateral/Local:   At this point we know PM Tsipras is included in the New York dinner President Obama routinely hosts for European leaders and is likely to have a short side meeting, most likely of the “pull aside” type.  He will also have a standard meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry (with FM Kotsias in attendance).  Nothing has been announced in regards to a Tsipras meeting with U.S. Treasury officials, but we suspect they are rather busy in Washington trying to avert a government shutdown over current the budget impasse with Congress.
No Greek PM can visit New York without seeing very pro-Greece Mayor Bill de Blasio, Archbishop Demetrios and representatives of the Greek-American community, some of whom are clamoring for a Washington DC side visit.  Previous Greek leaders, most notably George Papandreou, have done such “quickie” DC visits in the past, including to the IMF, even though key US officials with global responsibilities tend to spend UNGA week in New York.
Financial Community:  We are still waiting to hear if Mr. Tsipras will hold any focused “Invest in Greece” meetings with investors or address the U.S. financial press, but this is a fairly routine activity for visiting leaders during UNGA week.  Since key Syriza officials will be scrambling to work out the exact structural reform conditionalities with the Troika before the Eurogroup meets October 5, we do expect issues to be somewhat confused in this period.  But PM Tsipras should nevertheless press the “Invest now” opportunity before his promised reforms begin to lag in the face of public resistance in Greece.

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Co-founder and Executive Director for Global Economics and Southeast Europe at NE Global Media.  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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