Saturday, March 2, 2024
 
 

Ukraine trumps Greece at Senate Hearing for U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Greece Pyatt

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Greece-watchers were likely disappointed that Ukraine trumped Greece in the June 21 Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) confirmation hearings for several of the Obama Administration’s newly nominated career ambassadors. While it doesn’t make for an interesting report that will set the media afire, this is essentially good news, especially compared to Greece’s profile this time a year ago. The SFRC confirmation panel included Ambassadors-designate to Greece (Geoffrey Pyatt), Lithuania (Anne Hall), and Pyatt’s replacement going to Ukraine (Marie Yovanovich), all career U.S. Foreign Service Officers. Given this line-up, it was not unexpected the center of the discussion focused heavily on the Russia-Ukraine dispute. A link to the hearing itself and ambassadorial statements is available here.
While many SFRC hearings for ambassadorial nominees turn out to be love-fests, this is not always the case when the party that controls Congress is not in the White House. This session was dominated by praise from all of the Senators on the panel for the professionalism, dedication and personal sacrifice shown by the career Foreign Service.
As for Ambassador Pyatt, the discussion primarily focused on his time in Kyiv, and his previous work with the Senators on the panel, most of whom had visited Ukraine while he was Ambassador. There was nothing but the highest praise for Pyatt’s work, precise briefings, and outreach. One Senator called him a “model ambassador.” Ambassador Pyatt stressed how important Congressional support and active engagement had been to him while in Kyiv.
Turning to Greece, Pyatt’s oral statement was truncated due to time pressure as the entire three-ambassador panel lasted one hour. He focused on Greece’s strategic position in Europe, the cost of the refugee crisis, pipelines, economic recovery and private sector development as well as the enduring bilateral alliance. Readers should know these statements are initially drafted by the State Department country desks to cover all the bases, and then totally reworked by the nominees until they are satisfied. On occasion they are provided in advance to key congressional staffers to smooth the hearing process and eliminate the need for long oral presentations. Ambassador Pyatt also made it clear he intended to work closely with his German Embassy colleague in Athens after having a successful partnership in Kyiv with his German counterpart. Having a reminder that German-American global strategic cooperation is critical to Washington cannot be music to anyone’s ears in Athens.
For Greece, perhaps the most interesting part of the hearing was what Ambassador Pyatt said and didn’t say on Greece’s debt. His statement makes no reference at all to the debt issue, in contrast to the regular lecturing on the subject we hear primarily from Jack Lew’s Treasury Department. On economic issues Pyatt primarily talked about supporting private entrepreneurship in Greece and making sure the recently-inaugurated TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) natural gas pipeline project proceeds as smoothly as possible. Only when asked by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a long-time member of the Hellenic Caucus, was the issue of Greece’s debt even raised. In response, Pyatt said he had consulted with Treasury Department experts who advise that long term debt relief for Greece will be needed and accordingly would keep this concern high on his list of priorities, noting however that it was primarily a European concern and that many more reforms were needed. He stressed his intent to work closely with the Germans. Again, not the words Athens was hoping to hear.
The ambassadorial approval process will continue a bit longer before the panel makes its decision. Additional questions to nominees from SFRC panel members can be submitted through June 23 before things proceed.

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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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