In a clear attempt to minimize the regional political fallout from the failed Cyprus talks, U.S. Vice President Michael Pence called Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras July 10. In the call, Pence extended Tsipras an invitation to visit Washington, an outstanding reciprocal commitment since former President Obama came to Greece in 2016, but also sure to get Ankara’s complete attention.
The primary reason for the call was, of course, the collapse of the Cyprus talks last week. The official White House readout from the call uses this language: “The leaders expressed regret that the Conference on Cyprus closed last week without a settlement agreement, and the Vice President underscored continued U.S. support for a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.” This leaves the question unanswered as to what the U.S. might do to restart the process and whether September’s UN General Assembly meetings and side discussions will see further action.
Bilateral issues also came up. Although it is a given that PM Tsipras will manipulate any contact with the U.S. leadership to support his SYRIZA party, steadily fading in the polls, the Pence call might have given him a little new ammunition, but not much. The White House used a standard formulation describing the bilateral aspects of the conversation: “The leaders reaffirmed the enduring ties between Greece and the United States. The Vice President congratulated the Prime Minister on Greece’s progress toward recovering from the economic crisis and thanked him for Greece’s role as a pillar of stability in the region, its NATO contributions, and its military cooperation with the United States.” Since there is no mention of U.S. support on Tsipras’ key issue of debt relief, the PM’s aides and supporters will have to work extra hard to spin this formulation positively.
The invitation for PM Tsipras to visit Washington leaves many questions unanswered. The White House used this formulation: “The Vice President extended to Tsipras an invitation to visit Washington, and the leaders agreed to meet in the near future.” One immediately asks if this visit includes a meeting with President Trump, and that is left intentionally unclear. Timing is also important but we will get the details in time. Might we see PM Tsipras swing down to Washington while he is in New York for the UN General Assembly in September, as Greek leaders have done in the past? Might a Tsipras-Trump meeting actually take place in New York where the two leaders will already be interacting? And what special meetings will the U.S. and UN be organizing on regional issues that would involve PM Tsipras and high-level American officials? We can’t rule out high-level New York discussions both on the Cyprus talks and the Macedonia name issue, where the stars seem to be aligning for progress thanks to the new government in Skopje. And knowing the intentions of the U.S. side to promote resolution of all outstanding regional issues, it would be a fair bet to expect both topics to be high on the agenda.