Published: January 11, 2020
Greek PM in chaotic Oval Office
The official visit of the Greek prime minister to the United States and his meeting with President Donald Trump at the Oval Office this week did not make everybody happy in Greece.
When Kyriakos Mitsotakis complained about Turkey to Trump in the presence of the press, he did not come out with the expected clear condemnation of Greece’s neighboring country. And there was no joint press conference, afterwards.
Admittedly, the atmosphere in the Oval Office was chaotic. Trump was bombarded by questions about the killing of Qasem Soleimani, which he tried hard to justify. He was also asked about Iran, Iraq and his possible impeachment. There was not very much appetite for Greece or Turkey among the journalists, except for one who asked Trump whether “he agreed with Turkey’s provocations in Libya against Greece.”
“Are you willing to talk to your friend Erdogan to stop?” asked the journalist. Trump assured the journalist that his administration is “talking to him, when we are talking about Libya. We are discussing with President Erdogan,” but he also added, “We’re discussing (with) many countries.”
Obviously, the president’s answer was neither strong enough nor accusatory enough against Turkey for the Greek prime minister who had to consider what his worried electorate wasexpecting from him when he meets President Trump. So, he almost interrupted the conversation and cut in to make the statement he wanted to in the first place.
“It is important to point out that the agreement signed between Turkey and Libya infringe upon Greece’s sovereign rights and essentially cause great concern and instability in a region which is already highly problematic,” he said. “We’ll be very much looking to your support to make sure that these types of provocative agreements are not being put into practice.”
However, this carefully prepared statement by the Greek leader did not receive the response he would have wished for. President Trump preferred to listen to a question about the date of departure of the American forces in Iraq, much to the disappointment of the Greek delegation.
It’s fair to say that the American administration made every effort to compensate for the lack of verbal support by the American president to the Greek prime minister against the “hostile” attitude of Turkey. In the largest of the diplomatic reception rooms at the State Department, the Benjamin Franklin Room, hosts Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence offered a grand reception in honor of the Greek prime minister and his delegation.
They praised the progress of the Greek economy after the last dark decade of crisis. They referred to the strategic relations with Greece, their common philosophy in government, the “positive energy” which was apparent during the meeting in the Oval Office and concluded that the American-Greek relations “were never better.”
However, that was not what the opposition back in Greece thought. The main opposition Syriza - in the government until June last year - talked of a “fiasco,” and many thought that the timing of the visit was unfortunate. With so much troublesome events taking place in the region, the problems of Greece with Turkey would be deemed of secondary importance.
The pro-government circles rushed into praising the Greek prime minister who “avoided to personalize the problems with Turkey with President Erdogan as he might have elicited an “unpredictable” response from President Trump. So, in other words, he did not provoke his host, so Trump was “unusually controlled in his reactions.”
There is a new way of thinking is gathering pace among certain intellectual and political circles in Greece towards the “Turkey problem.” They believe that it is time for political leaders to see the “big picture” in the Middle East with its new geostrategic balances and not just through the myopic lens of Greek-Turkish relations. Only then, they say, we may understand what is best for our country.
And what may be best, they say, would be to participate in the shaping of the new balances in the region, which might include negotiations with Turkey on bilateral issues, rather than being dragged to the negotiating table by force.
Of course, this is a serious dilemma for any Greek prime minister who would have to face public opinion conditioned for generations to believe that anything bad comes “from the East.