In serious trouble at home from a series of interconnected scandals and policy blunders, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras turned to the annual UN General Assembly New York meetings to try and generate support for faster and deeper Greek debt relief and to gather support on the migration issue.
This year the Greek delegation’s annual United Nations General Assembly trip is more properly focused on UN and regional/global issues and is not a stealth bilateral U.S. visit of the kind we saw last year. Bilateral contacts with U.S. Government officials outside of the UN context have been minimal, depending on how one classifies the hastily-arranged September 20th New York bilateral session (the no-Obama consolation prize) with Vice President Joe Biden. If you look at the PM’s official New York program as released by the Greek UN Mission’s Press Office on September 16th, there were no Greece-U.S. bilateral contacts agreed at that time, and all the routine New York media and business community sessions that PM Tsipras attended appear to have been finalized sometime after the very light official schedule was released. To this observer it looks as if the PM’s schedulers were hanging on confirmation of key bilateral meetings before releasing the watered-down New York program, some of which did not materialize. Fortunately, PM Tsipras was able to arrange to speak at the high-profile Concordia Summit in New York, also focusing on the refugee crisis.
The readout of the Greece-U.S. bilateral meeting contained no surprises. Vice President Biden’s official readout stressed strong U.S. approval for Tsipras’ participation in President Obama’s UN Refugee Summit and Greek efforts on that front. On the economy, Biden encouraged Tsipras to press on with implementation of key structural reforms in coordination with Greece’s international partners. Biden “again underscored the importance of Europe following through on its commitment to put Greece’s debt on a sustainable path through meaningful debt relief.” This is more or less the same phraseology the U.S. has been using for most of 2016, although amazingly not all officials mention debt relief after pressing Greece for more complete structural reform, so no new ground was broken in the Biden meeting despite hints from the Greek side that the U.S. was prepared to take up Greece’s needs again in Berlin. Biden also expressed support for the progress made in Cyprus and highlighted the September 14th Cyprus leaders’ statement committing to more intensive work towards a comprehensive settlement this year.
The bottom line is that for many reasons PM Tsipras is left with a resoundingly flat/average New York visit scorecard, possibly even a trip that did not merit the PM’s extended attendance when faced with so much instability back home. For most countries the annual UN General Assembly pilgrimage is quite humdrum, with mundane visits to local ethnic counterparts, private conferences timed for the UNGA, and brief UN Bilateral meetings between just about everybody to add a little spice and photo ops. Greece should be so lucky.