American Hellenic Institute

AHI Calendar



Facebook Image
The United States and Greece: Ambassador Burns Welcomes Improved Relations
October 30, 1998 No. 47/98 (202) 785-8430


On October 29, 1998 Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, gave a presentation at the American Hellenic Institute on the subject of the current state of U.S.-Greek relations. Ambassador Burns spoke optimistically about improvements in the relationship and the degree of mutually beneficial cooperation. After a period in which the U.S. and Greece had not always seen eye-to-eye, U.S. and Greek foreign policy interests are "converging not diverging."
MMAmbassador Burns singled out the following areas for special mention:

Strong personal relationships
After a long gap when no U.S. senior level visits took place, in 1998 two U.S. cabinet officials(Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Secretary of Commerce William Daley (and FBI Director Louis Freeh visited Greece. Secretary Daley was expected to return in 1999 with a trade mission. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright may visit Greece in 1999. These high level visits are a testament to the U.S.' recognition of Greece's importance to U.S. interests in Southeastern Europe and elsewhere in Europe.

Economic and commercial issues
The U.S. is encouraged by the dramatic improvements in Greece's economic performance that have taken place under the government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Greece is now seen in the U.S. as ready to participate in European Monetary Union in 2001 and to join the mainstream of the European Union. This progress has prompted U.S. investors to look more favorably on Greece, a trend which Ambassador Burns, who devotes 1/3 of his time to commercial diplomacy, is actively encouraging. One problem to be addressed is intellectual property rights where U.S. firms suffered losses of $117 million in 1997. Ambassador Burns welcomed recent steps taken by the Greek government to correct this.

After a long period of unsatisfactory cooperation on terrorism, the U.S. notes a new determination in Greece to address this issue constructively. FBI Director Freeh's visit had led to joint efforts on this question. This is important to the U.S. given that in 1998 alone eight American businesses had suffered terrorist attack. The positive trend is welcome.

Military Affairs
In this sphere, relations, including personal relationships, are excellent and do not need repair or renovation. The U.S. is deeply committed to the military importance of Greece. The U.S. hopes to remain Greece's principal supplier of military equipment. It welcomes Greece's order for the Patriot missile system and hopes that Greece will choose U.S. built equipment, for example fighters and air defense and surveillance platforms, in its current procurement program.

The U.S. rejects the call by Turkish Cypriot leader for a 'confederation' on Cyprus as "not constructive and not realistic." The U.S. remains firmly supportive of a bizonal, bicommunal approach. In the short term prospects for progress on Cyprus are not bright in the light of continuing Turkish resistance. The US remains, however, determined to play a positive role. The Irish peace agreement and the Wye Plantation Middle East agreements are encouraging precedents.

Greece/Turkey relations
The U.S. is concerned about the significant political and other differences between Greece and Turkey. The U.S. does not take sides between the two but seeks to act "effectively" between the two countries, exercising influence on both sides. Ambassador Burns said that he had criticized claims by Turkish president Suleyman Demirel to 132 Greek island and islets as "unhelpful" and had prompted the State Department to issue a similar statement.

In conclusion Ambassador Burns praised the contribution of the American Hellenic Institute to U.S.-Greek relations. Stating that the valued the Greek American community as the "natural bridge" between the two countries, he said that his door was always open to visitors from the U.S.

Q and A
Ambassador Burns accepted questions on subjects such as the U.S. reluctance to take a clear position on the subject of Turkish claims against Greek sovereign territory in the Aegean, U.S. apparent favoritism of Turkey on the European Union and Caspian oil, and U.S. refusal to apply pressure on Turkey over Cyprus, Ambassador Burns answered as follows:

Cyprus: on the S-300 issue the U.S. accepts Cyprus' right to defend itself but does not regard the S-300 as providing meaningful improvement in Cyprus's capabilities and also believes that the proposed acquisition complicates the search for a settlement. Ambassador Burns stated that "the U.S. believes that no one has the right to threaten to attack" the S-300 system if it is deployed. The U.S. is pursuing private initiatives on this issue and hopes that a peaceful resolution would result. Journalists in the region should not overdramatize the issue.

On settlement negotiations, the U.S. is looking for the most effective way to stimulate new progress. Stressing that he was not the U.S. lead negotiator, Ambassador Burns said that he was uncertain whether a new UN resolution reiterating UN support for a bizonal, bicommunal federation was being considered.

Turkey: on the issue of Turkey's territorial claims in the Aegean, the U.S. does not regard itself as able to arbitrate on a legal issue. This does not mean that the U.S. does not take a position or is neutral. It does this in private. But the U.S. has good experience of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and feels that disputes of the kind between Greece and Turkey should be referred there. The U.S. does not see any advantage to be gained from seeking to apply public pressure to Turkey. Its objective was to use its influence to persuade Turkey to "take the right steps."

Greek-Turkish relations: Given that Greece and Turkey are both NATO members, the U.S. is concerned that their relations remain tense, as evidenced in the mock dog fights during the recent 'Nikiforos' military exercises. The U.S. supports the NATO confidence building measures as offering a possible way forward. Ambassador Burns detected good will on both sides and a firm commitment to avoid war. In 1998 both countries had participated in NATO naval 'Dynamic Mix' exercises and the overall number of dog-fights had declined significantly.

On the issue of whether the U.S. showed preference to Turkey over Greece, for example, on the former's application to the EU, Ambassador Burns said that the U.S. took decisions based on a wide range of considerations. Some issues, for example, Iran, Caspian oil, and Iraq, do not involve Greece directly. The U.S. does not see its relationships with Greece and Turkey as 'zero-sum game.' A close relationship with one does not automatically imply disregard for the other.

Ambassador Burns' responses stimulated a lively debate, including strong expressions of concern that the U.S. failed to apply the rule of law to Turkey.