Greece’s Syriza-ANEL (Independent Greeks) coalition government simply won’t back off from its efforts to expand contacts with the Trump Administration, with the third minister in a single month visiting Washington, the traveler this time being Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Minister Nikos Pappas. The most plausible explanation for this blitz is that the government’s continuing drop in public support back home urgently requires it to deliver a demonstrated success in reactivating the silent-since-Trump-took-over “American factor” in Greece’s harrowing negotiations with its creditors over the stalled Second Program Review and related debt issues. Once again, the disappointed visitor left Washington with some nice meetings to remember but no commitments on American engagement in the negotiations.
Minister Pappas visited Washington previously in May 2016, as the First Program Review was just moving painfully toward closure, and met with a range of supportive but almost lame-duck senior Obama Administration officials at the Treasury, State and Commerce Departments, as well as the National Security Council. But at that time he was portrayed as PM Tsipras’ right-hand man and “High-Level Emissary.” He was also one of the Greek ministers that attended Trump inauguration-related events hosted by the Greek American community in Washington back in January.
For this year’s visit the range of contacts was nowhere near as impressive, and the all-important Treasury Department did not feature in the program, even though the “Minister for Digital Policy” focused more of his remarks to the Greek media on the IMF, the Second Program Review and economic policy issues than what was actually in his current ministerial portfolio.
At the State Department, Minister Pappas met March 29th with John Heffern, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs and Julie Zoller, Acting Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. He later noted the discussions focused on Greece’s economic reforms and the country’s role as an emerging trade, networks and energy hub. Pappas also met March 29th with Deputy National Economic Council (NEC) Director Kenneth Juster but did not announce any kind of US policy change towards, or in support of Greece, after that meeting. At Commerce, Minister Pappas met with Kenneth Hyatt, Acting Under Secretary for International Trade.
Minister Pappas spoke as well at the Atlantic Council (a major Washington think tank), and focused his remarks on Greece’s path in Europe and the future of the European Union, not digital policy. He also participated in a panel on regional security at the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference. All in all, Pappas had a good set of meetings and events in view of the still-not-fully-staffed Trump Administration, but clearly no political lifeline of any use to Athens.