A former US diplomat who served in various positions in Greece is criticizing President Biden’s decision to nominate George Tsunis as the Ambassador to Athens.
Writing in New Europe magazine, Alec Mally, who served for more than seven years in various positions in the US mission in Athens and Thessaloniki, including as Consul General, says that a non-career ambassadorial nominee for Greece, like Tsunis, “is seen as a nightmare by America-watchers in Greece and elsewhere.”
US diplomat in Greece extremely negative on Tsunis’ appointment
Last week it emerged that the Greek-American businessman, whose family is from Nafpaktos, was proposed by Biden as the new choice to succeed Geoffrey R. Pyatt as the head of mission in Athens. It is said to be a personal choice of powerful Democratic philhellene senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
His appointment is expected to be approved in November, according to reports.
Mally argues that the dispatch of a non-career Foreign Service Officer “to a potential hotspot in a strategic location for NATO and the EU may become a major Biden Administration blunder.”
He notes the embarrassment caused by Tsounis’ nomination for the ambassadorial post in Norway during the Obama administration. Tsunis had confessed to never having even been to Norway and his apparent ignorance of current Norwegian political issues. In his 2014 confirmation hearing he also incorrectly referred to Norway’s leader as its “president” instead of “Prime Minister.”
He did not impress and he eventually withdrew his name from the nomination process.
“Tsunis’ deficient performance in 2014 leaves the impression that he did not deserve a second chance to dabble in diplomacy,” Mally, currently Director for Global Economic Affairs at IPEDIS – Institute for Regional Dialogue & Strategy, says in an unusual declaration from anyone in the diplomatic service.
He argues that the US foreign policy establishment is very skeptical of Tsounis’ nomination. “A successful confirmation vote for Tsunis could be disrupted by a minimal number of vote-switchers who might be swayed by the rising chorus of foreign policy experts arguing the case for a career diplomat in Athens,” he adds.
Appointment may be seen as downgrading US-Greece ties
The ultimate question Mally poses is how will American’s competitors in the region as well as Greece’s natural antagonist, Turkey, see the Tsunis nomination. He believes that it would be seen as Washington somehow downgrading its relationship with Greece.
Mally says that in his discussions with officials in Athens, whom he does not name, there is concern that with Tsunis’ arrival “the US Embassy will simply become a preferred meeting point for Greek American visitors as well as key Democratic congresspeople, but not the focal point the Greek government can reach out to in a crisis period, as it is when managed by a senior career diplomat.”
He adds that there is also concern that “a career diplomat’s experience in working with the US military and its intricate chain of command, a skill which almost all senior diplomats have honed throughout their careers, is essential for an effective posting in Athens with the Greek-Turkish Aegean dispute almost always on “low boil.”
“And although Tsunis comes from a business background, he will literally be left out in the cold when it comes to the complex nexus of energy diplomacy swirling around Greece,” Mally charges.
He then claims “Greece is still too sensitive a posting for another political appointee, based on the track record of the previous assignment of that type, which was seen by many as a disaster.”
He is referring to Ambassador Michael Sotirhos, who was the first Greek American ambassadorial nominee to Greece in US history, serving under President George H.W. Bush in Athens from 1989-93.