Outgoing US ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard on Thursday referred to a distinct growth of bilateral relations over the past three years beyond a handful of issues that usually top Athens’ agenda — such as Cyprus, the “name issue” and ties with neighbouring Turkey — while he appeared particularly optimistic that Greece will overcome its current fiscal and economic crisis.
Speckhard briefed local reporters for the last time in his official diplomatic capacity, as a new envoy — identified as ambassador-designate Daniel Bennett Smith — is expected to arrive in the east Mediterranean country next month.
The veteran US diplomat listed a handful of issues he said now form a “broader and more global agenda” in Greek-US relations, including the effects of the fiscal crisis throughout the world, a coordinated response to migration pressures — a problem he said is faced by both the United States and Greece — as well as climate change, people trafficking and shipping security, as Greek-owned vessels comprise the biggest merchant fleet in the world.
He listed the visit of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to the White House last March as a “high point” of his three-year tenure in Athens, coming on the heels of Greece’s long-sought inclusion in the US visa waiver program, while pointing to the killing of innocent people by urban terrorists and extremists as the “low point”.
Speckhard emphasised that he worked well with both the previous government and the current Papandreou government, noting that the latter is currently pressing forward with “strategic issues” while at the same time facing massive domestic problems, i.e. the fiscal and economic woes.
Asked directly about the prospect of returned economic growth in the country vis-?-vis a bevy of austerity measures taken as part of a memorandum agreed to with the EU-ECB-IMF ‘troika’, Speckhard stressed:
“The previous path led to bankruptcy, so whatever (economic) growth would have been greatly delayed. Now, growth will come sooner,” he said.
Queried on the issue of transnational illegal immigration, especially on Greece’s sea and land borders with EU hopeful Turkey, the US ambassador said the problem is not just a Greek-Turkish matter, but a European and often a global problem, and one that requires a multi-level approach. Along these lines, he repeated that peace-keeping efforts by the international community in Afghanistan and support for ravaged Pakistan are fundamental to keeping the tide of illegal immigration from Central and South Asia towards Europe in check.
As in previous press briefings, the envoy cited US concerns over the possibility of international terrorist networks and cells using illegal migration and undocumented migrants’ communities as covers.