The most significant interaction in Greek PM Alexis Tsipras 5-day US visit was the October 17 meeting/working lunch with US President Donald Trump. The White House had been relatively quiet about this meeting in advance, with 95% or more of the press interest confined to media outlets operating within the so-called “Greek news envelope.” We saw the same thing at the joint press conference where the American journalists pitched questions about domestic issues such as the Federal Reserve Chair and Obamacare while one actually asked PM Tsipras about developments in Turkey and the other gently chided him for having said unfavorable things about then-candidate Trump before the 2016 election. But nothing was mentioned on the bilateral relationship, or trade and investment concerns, by the Americans.
While the official American line up at the White House meeting included a Trump’s top advisers from State, the NSC, Commerce, and Treasury, we do not yet have a clear picture of the subjects discussed other than the desire to further upgrade already excellent bilateral relations. Even so, this was hardly more than the usual senior ministerial level team fielded for meetings with other NATO allies, most of whom are also EU members.
In a detailed Presidential statement read in the Rose Garden that looks curiously as if it was crafted by the US Embassy in Athens, President Trump hit the points every Greek official was waiting to hear. Trump acknowledged signs of economic growth in Greece. Sure to please all was President Trump’s call for “responsible debt relief” for Greece which does not involve any U.S. taxpayers’ money, with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin seated in the front row of the Rose Garden audience. Nothing new here, this was essentially a continuation of the Obama Administration position, although with less activism as compared to before. Even then the Europeans had politely made it clear that American opinions on debt relief meant little to their taxpayers. Trump also referred to the importance of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, (not American) across northern Greece and the interconnectors that could help market American Liquefied Natural Gas someday. And of course Souda Bay’s strategic value and America’s role in modernizing the Greek F-16 fleet were highlighted, but curiously Trump said little about regional political issues or about updating the terms of the agreements covering Souda Bay base. If things have indeed moved to a new level of cooperation between Washington and Athens, time will be needed to see the results.