THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: So thank you, everyone, for joining us again today for this Foreign Press Center roundtable. We are very pleased to have Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Erika Olson. She will start with some opening comments and then we will open for questions.
Over to you, Deputy Assistant Secretary.
MS OLSON: Great. Well, thank you all for joining me here today. It’s great to have this time with you to be able to discuss some of the dynamics in both the U.S.-Greece and the U.S.-Republic of Cyprus relationships. It’s also fantastic to be here at the national press center in person doing this the way we used to after a long hiatus, so I hope we’ll have an opportunity to talk like this more often going forward.
In his virtual meeting with foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece, and Israel plus the United States on May 9th, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed our shared commitment to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean. In a critical period for Europe, the United States, and the world, the ministers reaffirmed this commitment to the 3+1 format and decided to intensify their cooperation in the areas of energy, economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, and counterterrorism. This also includes a really important element on cyber security when it comes to infrastructure and energy. And all of this will contribute to resilience, energy security, and interconnectivity in the region.
So I really want this engagement to be a conversation, and it’s a great opportunity for me to get to know you all better, and I appreciate learning your perspectives on the range of issues that you’re following.
First off, Greece and the United States have a very close, very strong friendship and partnership, and we’re looking very much forward to welcoming Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis to Washington next week for his meeting at the White House and historic address to a joint session of Congress. This is the highest honor our legislator – legislature can bestow upon a visiting foreign leader and is a testament to the tremendous bipartisan support in the United States for the U.S.-Greece relationship.
The prime minister’s visit will underscore the positive, multifaceted nature of our bilateral cooperation, and I’m sure you have questions related to this visit, but I would defer particularly to the White House on specifics. I can talk more generally. Last year, as you know, the United States and Greece celebrated 200 years of friendship, and this visit is the manifestation of that relationship.
So much of what defines our relationship is centered around our enduring commitment to advance the shared democratic values and freedoms that unite us, and this is even more important given what’s happening with Putin’s invasion and war in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are dominating much of today’s headlines and we are grateful that Greece remains a steadfast and trusted NATO Ally and absolutely essential in securing the Alliance’s southern flank.
We strongly welcome the Greek Government’s support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the provision of very significant assistance, including security assistance. As Prime Minister Mitsotakis has aptly put it, Greece stands on the right side of history. The tremendous value of NATO remains in its commitments to Article 5 and the idea that an attack on one is an attack on all. While Ukraine is not a NATO Ally, Russia’s actions around Ukraine’s borders and its stance that many in the eastern flank should leave NATO should be a concern for all NATO members.
So we look forward to advancing our shared objectives across the key pillars of our relationship with Greece, from combating climate change to defense and security to law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation to energy, trade, investment, and to strengthening the robust people-to-people ties that are the heart of our remarkable alliance with Greece.
I’ll talk a little bit also about the Republic of Cyprus. We are working closely with them and our EU partners in regards to Russia and Ukraine. We are very proud of the significant growth and deepening of our bilateral relationship since the signing of the 2018 Statement of Intent for Security Cooperation. The United States, as you know, granted a second partial waiver for certain ITAR restrictions to include training and non-lethal goods. And in September, the Republic of Cyprus hosted the Department of Defense in Nicosia for the inaugural Security Cooperation Dialogue.
Our cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus has grown in many other ways as well, and as you know, the last time that I saw you, I was going to Cyprus. I was honored to be there to be part of the signing of our bilateral Science and Technology Agreement. And we have jointly developed an economic plan to broaden and deepen bilateral trade and investment relations in key sectors and enhance the prosperity of both nations.
I was pleased to join Secretary Blinken’s bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Kasoulides in February, and that meeting as well as the recent virtual ministerial of the 3+1 underscored the fact that the United States and the Republic of Cyprus have a strong and ever-increasing partnership.
I was also pleased to travel to Cyprus with Under Secretary Nuland to open what we call the CYCLOPS Center for maritime security and cooperation. It’s quite an impressive operation and it’s already being used to provide important regional training.
I also want to say, on Cyprus, the United States continues to support Cypriot-led UN-facilitated efforts to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality to benefit all Cypriots.
Maybe I will stop there and open it up to some questions if that works.
MODERATOR: And please state your name and your media outlet when you ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you, I’m Eleni Argyri with Greek public broadcasting. You said that we ask the White House about the agenda, but I’m – I would like to know from your perspective, what should we expect? What are the expectations, what you want to achieve?
MS OLSON: Sure. The U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship is at an absolute all-time high, and we are looking towards the future and how we continue to build and strengthen that relationship. I think some of the issues that will continue to engage us include, of course, as was noted earlier, energy cooperation, economic cooperation, and also working together on our shared values. I think right now, democracy and the message of democracy is more important than maybe it’s ever been, and no one I feel is better suited to talk about democracy than Greece as the home of modern democracy. And I hope that Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s visit here will be an opportunity to really highlight those shared values at a time when Russian President Putin is invading Ukraine for making a choice – for the people of Ukraine making a choice in terms of what their governance and their future – what future they want to embrace. So I think those are all areas that we will continue to explore and work on.
I think on the economic and energy side, we’ve talked about this before, but there’s so much to celebrate it’s really remarkable. Just recently the announcement that the preferred investor for the Kavala port includes a significant American investor; we saw the events surrounding the FSRU in Alexandroupoli, and we’re really proud to have American companies at Alexandroupoli working on energy issues. And then of course – we can talk more about it, but I think we’re particularly excited about the fact that an American film company is actually making a film in Thessaloniki about Thessaloniki, set there, and about Greece. But of course there’s so many other areas on the economic side.
And you mentioned the economic crisis. It’s quite remarkable what Greece has done in terms of becoming an engine of economic growth in the region in such a quick and short period of time, and we’re really honored in the United States to have been a part of that and to have our companies playing an important role.
QUESTION: If I may follow up, and again, I’m Aikaterini Sokou with Greek Daily Kathimerini and Sky TV. If I may follow up on the agenda a little bit and put the perspective on – from the Greek side. We see that this is happening at the time that even though we need to have unity in NATO, Greece still has overflights – experiences overflights of Turkey’s fighter jets above inhabited Greek islands. And I am sure this is something that will be put during – from the Greek prime minister during his visit, or I assume it will be put by the Greek prime minister during his visit in Washington, D.C. And I’m wondering if you have – if this is going to be part of the discussions you will be having and what is your take towards this particular issue at this specific point in time. Wouldn’t you say that we all need to be united to address Russian aggression in Ukraine? Thank you.
MS OLSON: Well, I mean, the United States is absolutely committed to ensuring stability in the eastern Mediterranean, especially now. And we believe the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected. We also hold that disagreements in the region should be resolved peacefully through diplomacy and international law rather than provocative military actions. I think right now that it is absolutely essential for countries to work together to find solutions to longstanding problems to help with stability in the region, and we will call on all parties to do that.
And, I mean, I just should add as a matter of principle, we encourage all states to resolve maritime delimitation issues peacefully and in accordance with international law.
QUESTION: If I may —
MODERATOR: We’ll come to you next. We’ll come to the New York journalist next. Go ahead, Petros.
QUESTION: So because we hear again, again that you are calling all countries to respect international law, I was wondering whether you can help navigate us through the process that you issuing in your statement. For example, do you have access to hard data and evidence about what is going on the ground before you are issuing your statements, or you just making an educated guess, or you are issuing general policy positions?
MS OLSON: Well, I mean, I think to – just to reiterate, for us I think the absolute essential thing right now is stability in the region and bringing all countries together to talk and find long-term solutions to existing problems. So I think, again, I would just point to – that we believe that these disagreements need to be solved in accordance with international law, and that can only happen with diplomacy and sitting down and having conversations.
We very much welcomed Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit to Istanbul and meeting with President Erdoğan earlier this year, as well as the meetings of the exploratory talks and the Joint Economic Committee. And we will continue to encourage everyone involved in that process to work together to find lasting solutions.
QUESTION: But just clarify, please: Are you in a position to know what is going on the ground? That’s what I’m trying to understand. Do you have a clear picture what is going on the ground?
MS OLSON: I’m not sure that that’s a question that I can answer because I’m not necessarily the person who would have access to all of that information. I mean, that’s a question we can take and get back to you, but I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask that question to.
MODERATOR: Great. Let’s go to New York.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to follow up on the energy issue. So any idea on what is going to be discussed as far as the cooperation between the United States and Greece when it comes to the energy issue? I believe that Washington believes or wants Greece to play a key role, especially now that all the countries in the region are trying to detach from Russian energy. Thank you.
MS OLSON: Well, I don’t want to try to presuppose exactly what might be talked about in the meetings, but what I can tell you is we see Greek as – Greece as playing very much a leadership role in the region. We talked about the FSRU, which I think was very prescient in terms of development on the part of Greece, as well as many of the interconnectors that have been worked on and are now operational. So we continue to see Greece playing a very important role.
In the 3+1 discussions and in our ongoing bilateral engagement, energy and energy security in the region figure prominently. And I think that includes really looking forward to what are going – what will be the needs, not just now but in 20 years or 50 years, and particularly working together on the question of interconnectors in the region. This is something we’re working closely with all of the countries in the region to see how we can best support those efforts, both as they are defined but also as they move towards the project stage.
QUESTION: May I ask?
QUESTION: Yes, this is Athanasios Tsitsas with Antenna TV and Real News. Regarding the agenda of the meetings next week, are they going to discuss the sale of advanced weapons to Greece, like F-35 or something else? And the second question: What is the status of the EastMed pipeline? Because the Greek side was a bit disappointed that the project had been stopped by Americans. What is your comment?
MS OLSON: Well, on the first one, again, I don’t want to presuppose what questions Prime Minister Mitsotakis might come with. But we would be happy to discuss what more we can do to cooperate on defense and security with the United States and Greece.
As to your question about the EastMed gas pipeline, the United States, as I said, is very focused on energy security in the region. That’s an important pillar of the 3+1, and the ministerial earlier this week talked quite a bit about that. And as we look forward, I think we look forward to working groups hosted by Greece on energy infrastructure, by the United States on renewable energy, and by Israel particularly on cybersecurity when it comes to energy and energy infrastructure.
I think we remain committed to whatever makes the most economic and – sense when it comes to developing energy security. I think there’s a real future as we talk about renewable energy across the region, energy interconnectors, and that’s where our focus is. I mean, we don’t presuppose what the countries of the region will decide to do, but that is kind of the United States’ perspective.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Eleni.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on the interconnectors, if I may. I was wondering how can the U.S. be supportive or helpful when it comes to energy projects in Greece, projects that would contribute to Europe’s energy independence? Can, let’s say, DFC play a role along the way?
MS OLSON: I mean, we hope so. I think right now our experts are talking. We had several officials from our energy bureau recently traveled to Greece and Cyprus. They are in very close contact. I think the 3+1 working groups are particularly useful for this because it gets really technical really fast. And so right now, I think for all of us, what we need to really look at is what’s in the world of the possible and get to – before we start talking about how do you finance, really getting clarity on which projects do the region thinks make most sense, which ones are the most feasible, what kind of work has been done to define them already. And those are the kind of technical questions that we’re working with the countries of the region right now. But I think there definitely is a possibility for the United States to play a role when we get to that point of implementation.
QUESTION: If I may, then, regarding the 3+1 future meeting, what can you tell us more? I mean, beyond the joint statement, what is the next step? What has been achieved so far? Why do you think that this is so important? Just to have something on the record. Thank you.
MS OLSON: Sure. (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: On the 3+1 as well, I know that Greece always wanted the U.S. to play a more active role in the – even more official role in the engagement. Is that something that you’re looking into? I saw some language in the statement that pointed a little bit in that direction in my mind, but if you have something more to say on that.
MS OLSON: Well, I mean, the United States very much is very engaged in this process. And I will say that we have been encouraging the others in the region to play a more active role, particularly when it comes to the technical-level discussions, which is, I think, right now as we look – as we work together, the 3+1, to develop a roadmap for the next 12 months, that is going to be – it’s going to be really important, I think, for all sides to really take leadership on the issues that they’ve agreed to cover going forward. And with what we’re seeing from Russia and weaponizing energy, it’s even more important now that we’re all working together, not just on today but what – how we solve the problems of two years from now or five years from now or 20 years from now.
So I think the next step is really implementing that work plan, and the working groups are an essential part of that. And I think we hope to have working groups both in Greece and the United States, and hopefully in Israel, all by the end of the summer. I’m looking at Alice to make sure that we’re right on that. But yeah, although I think we’ll have several upcoming engagements that will start to dig into these technical issues, particularly on energy.
MODERATOR: So we have time for two more questions. So Petros?
QUESTION: I don’t know if —
MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York next.
QUESTION: One last question regarding Turkey, please. Can you please clarify whether Turkey is still under CAATSA sanctions?
MS OLSON: Yes, CAATSA sanctions still apply in the case of the S-400 purchase. And we continue to encourage the Turks to divest of that system.
MODERATOR: Great. And we’ll go to New York.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry, I was just a little – I wasn’t sure if you touched upon the EastMed when it comes to energy, and what’s the latest there? And it’s – I think it’s something that we’ll be discussing.
MS OLSON: Yeah, I mean, maybe I’ll just – it’s possible you didn’t hear the last segment, so maybe they can make sure that you get the transcript on that. But I think, yes, in the 3+1 ministerial on Monday, that was a big topic of conversation. We have multiple working groups on infrastructure, renewables, and cybersecurity with regards to energy coming up. And so those conversations are really robust and will continue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS OLSON: And I should say – I mean, I didn’t note this at the top, but I was very lucky to spend time in both Cyprus and Greece on multiple trips, recently one with Deputy Secretary Sherman, and again with Under Secretary Nuland. And during those visits, energy-focused – there were a lot of energy-focused conversations.
MODERATOR: Great. And Deputy Assistant Secretary, did you have any closing remarks?
MS OLSON: No, I just would like to thank you all. I’m – I know sometimes it’s really difficult to cover Washington and be away from home. But you all play such an important role in the bilateral relationship, and so I appreciate all the work that you do. And I look forward to being able to have the opportunity to touch base regularly. I think we should have a lot of really good and positive press over the next week about just how strong our relationship is. And I’m so glad to see that, and look forward to talking to you after the visits and about more that we can do. So thank you all so much.