In exclusive interview, To VIMA speaks with AHI President
WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a panel presentation featuring U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt as keynote speaker, Nov. 29, 2017, at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece. Ambassador Pyatt, and four panelists, which included Greece’s Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas, all spoke on the topic, “Greece as Strategic Partner in the Eastern Mediterranean.” More than 200 persons attended.
AHI President Nick Larigakis opened the panel discussion with welcome remarks that focused on AHI initiatives that serve to strengthen the United States-Greece relationship.
“AHI is committed to promoting Greece’s role as a reliable source of stability and peace in the region,” Larigakis said. “AHI programs have promoted the strategic relationship between the United States and Greece by virtue of hosting Greece’s military leaders for presentations to important representatives of the defense sector in Washington, for example.”
He added, “Greece is also important ally because of its shared strategic interests and values with the United States as evidenced by the access Greece provides to NSA Souda Bay and by Greece’s commitment to energy security, working with Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt in this regard.”
Ambassador Pyatt spoke in greater detail regarding the U.S.-Greece strategic partnership during his keynote address.
“I approach today’s topic, Greece as a Strategic Partner in the Eastern Mediterranean, from a very optimistic point of view,” Ambassador Pyatt said in his remarks. “We are certainly at a high point in terms of Greece-U.S. relations, as we heard from President Trump in October that the United States considers Greece to be a pillar of stability in this volatile region, a trusted partner and ally, and a potential energy hub for Europe.”
The ambassador spoke about the security relationship between the United States and Greece, which includes military cooperation; Greece’s contributions to energy security in the region, the people-to-people relationship that is important facet to the U.S.-Greece strategic partnership, and the United States’ support for Greece’s economic recovery.
About AHI, Ambassador Pyatt said: “AHI is one of the shining examples I often use of how Greece’s large American diaspora community can most constructively work with Greece and help us strengthen our bilateral relationship. I would count some of the programs that Nick and Tom talked about as important examples: AHI’s indispensable support for Prime Minister Tsipras’ recent visit to Washington, the tremendous programs that Nick and the team put together for Admiral Apostolakis, General Stefanis, Admiral Tsounis, all of our key partners…But these are examples of AHI’s truly unique role as a facilitator of the strategic relationship between the United States and Greece.”
“We thank Ambassador Pyatt for taking the time to address our audience,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “We appreciated his presentation which provided excellent insight and perspective on the current state of relations between the United States and Greece. We look forward to continuing our work with the ambassador to meet our mutual goals to enhance the relationship.”
The panel presentation that followed Ambassador Pyatt’s keynote address featured: Hellenic Deputy Minister of National Defense Dimitris Vitsas, General Fragoulis Fragos, former chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff and former Minister of Defense; George S. Koumoutsakos, shadow minister of Foreign Affairs, New Democracy party and member of Parliament; and George Economou, AHI-Athens president. Tom Ellis, senior international correspondent and columnist, Kathimerini, moderated the panel discussion.
Economou presented his remarks first, expounding on the thesis that Greece and Cyprus, together, are “par excellence strategic allies” of the West in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. He touched upon the alliance that Greece and Cyprus have developed with Israel and Egypt and its significance to energy security. Economou also referenced NSA Souda Bay’s importance, and he contended that in combination with other bases in the region, the West should “terminate its dependence on Turkey.”
In his presentation, Deputy Minister Vitsas explored how the United States-Greece relationship can yield further fruitful cooperation: “Our goal is to serve our common objectives through initiatives, such as the upgrading of the Souda base within a long-term cooperation project, the exploitation of our energy resources, and the enhancement of the Alexandroupoli’s port as the energy and commercial gate between two continents. Last, but not least, it is important to encourage new productive investments and cooperation between Greek and American businesses.”
General Fragos described the rise of Greece’s geostrategic value “rapid” despite its socio-economic crisis. He addressed Greece’s geostrategic importance through the prism of energy production, even demonstrating how energy resources found around Greece and Cyprus historically, dating back to the Trojan War, have been vital. To further demonstrate Greece’s importance, Fragos stated, “A collapse of the Greek nation would create a geopolitical vacuum, a black hole in the region which could easily lead the international system down an unpredictable path, and one that could potentially involve large-scale conflict.” The former defense minister also spoke about the significance of NSA Souda Bay to the United States’ security interests in the region. Finally, Fragos provided a presentation that detailed where instability in the Middle East resides and how Greece, in cooperation with Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus, can ensure stability.
READ: General Fragos’ remarks
In his presentation, Koumoutsakos described Greece as being “… at the crossroads of three continents…” and Greece “…is a pivotal state with great strategic potential.” He also took the opportunity to present the New Democracy party’s views about the future path of Greece’s foreign policy. “The main focus will be to strengthen Greece’s partnerships and to establish the country as the effective gateway to Europe for energy resources from the Caucasus and the Eastern Mediterranean - and for solar energy from Egypt and North Africa - thus making a significant contribution to ensuring Europe’s energy security,” he said. In particular, Koumoutsakos stated another priority will be given to developing Greece’s four-way strategic partnership with Cyprus, Egypt and Israel that will allow for stability in the eastern Mediterranean.
“I appreciate the participation of Ambassador Pyatt, and our four panelists, at our presentation,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “They provided tremendous insight and perspective to the discussion topic. Our event was a success because of their contributions.”
AHI hosted the presentation in Athens in cooperation with its AHI-Athens Chapter. AHI thanks the following sponsors for their support of the presentation and reception: Major Benefactors: The Libra Group and Alpha. Benefactors: G.C. Economou & Associates, Katerina Panagopoulos, and EFA Ventures. Sponsors: Lockheed Martin, Greek Dream, Inc., The American College of Greece, ATH ENA Mental Health, Hotel Grande Bretagne, K. Arvanitis S.A., Kapotas S.A., James H. Lagos, Springfield, Ohio; and State Senator Leonidas P. Raptakis, Coventry, R.I.
“We thank all our benefactors and sponsors that helped to make this event a success,” Larigakis said. “We especially are grateful to our Major Benefactors, The Libra Group and Alpha, for their generosity and support. I would also like to thank especially AHI-Athens President George Economou, and new AHI-Athens Chapter Board Member, retired Vice Admiral Vasilis Kyriazis, for their invaluable assistance in organizing a successful presentation.”
AHI President Meets with Government Officials
In Athens, President Nick Larigakis met with several government and military officials, including: Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura, Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff; Lieutenant General Christos Christodoulou, chief of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff; Director of the Prime Minister's Diplomatic Cabinet Evangelos Kalpadakis; and Ambassador Kathrine Boura, director, A7 Directorate for North America at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, President Larigakis met with several private sectors leaders to discuss Greece’s economy and business environment.
“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with senior Greek government and military officials,” Larigakis said. “We discussed AHI’s programs and initiatives that work to keep Greece at the forefront of policymakers’ agenda in Washington, most recently by hosting presentations for Greece’s top military officials with high-profile defense and military representatives. We also discussed Greece’s critical role to national security interests in the eastern Mediterranean, and the broader region, by virtue of Greece as a pillar of stability and peace.”
To VIMA Interviews Larigakis
During his visit, one of Greece’s most widely-read newspapers, To VIMA, interviewed President Larigakis. The exclusive interview appeared in the newspaper’s Sunday edition, which is widely circulated. Larigakis reviews AHI’s mission, goals and initiatives. He also discusses AHI’s policy priorities and how the Institute is addressing those priorities in the current political environment. Larigakis also provides his thoughts on Greece’s role in an instable region.
One AHI initiative Larigakis highlighted to address sparking interest and involvement by the Greek American community in policy matters was the AHI Foundation’s College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus program.
“We are perhaps losing touch with the [foreign policy] issues that we are discussing here because the younger generations do not have firsthand experience about them, and therefore, do not realize their importance. With our AHI Foundation program, we believe we are making a difference by bringing students into contact with government officials from the United States, as well as Cyprus and Greece.”
When asked about AHI’s message to key audiences in Washington, and elsewhere, Larigakis said, “We educate government officials, think tank representatives, and journalists, about how Greece and Cyprus contribute to stability and peace in the region, which contrasts with Turkey. Greece is forming alliances with Israel and Cyprus, and remains a stable ally of the United States, with common values, while Turkey is creating alliances with Russia and Iran.”
Larigakis added, “For example, we discuss how important NSA Souda Bay, Crete, is to American interests in the region. We have to continue to raise awareness about the Cyprus problem and the ongoing occupation by 43,000 Turkish soldiers on the island. We send policy letters to the President and his cabinet when high-level Greek, Cypriot, or Turkish government officials visit Washington, and we do the same whenever high-level U.S. administration officials visit those three countries.”
The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.
For additional information, please contact Constantine Politis at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.organd follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.