Relations between Athens and Washington have rarely been better, but neither that nor the leftist government’s unexpected love-in with America, has stopped members of the Greek diaspora from calling for the departure of the US envoy widely credited with boosting ties.
America’s oldest Greek-language newspaper, the National Herald, accused the US ambassador to Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, of acting “like a cheerleader” for prime minister Alexis Tsipras, a former communist whose policies have frequently dismayed the diaspora.
Much of the paper’s criticism was reserved for the name-change agreement Greece has recently struck with North Macedonia. Pyatt’s support for the deal and “ambiguous behaviour” amounted to interference in the country’s internal affairs, the newspaper argued.
“Who is not happy that Greek-American relations are going through one of the best periods in their history?” wrote Antonios Diamataris, publisher of the paper long regarded as a mouthpiece of the US’s three-million strong Greek community. “Unfortunately, however, the American ambassador in Athens, an intelligent and likeable man, acts like a cheerleader for Mr Tsipras, thus creating the conditions for a new, difficult future in Greek American relations.”
The dispute has highlighted the growing schism between the leftist government in Athens and the more nationalist-minded 7 million strong community of ethnic Greeks abroad.
Anger is such that government officials have been declared personas non grata at events celebrating Greek Independence, including this Saturday’s march in New York, viewed as the diaspora’s premier parade.
With Greece bracing for general elections later this year and the country increasingly polarised between left and right, many in the diaspora are fearful of any support that might swing the vote.
“Hasn’t the time come for the good ambassador to be moved before he causes even more damage to relations between the two peoples?” the editorial asked.
The US embassy, responded with a stinging rebuke that reminded the Herald that US officials, from the president down, had commended Tsipras for his work including settlement of the long-running name row over the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
“It is therefore absurd for the National Herald, even in an opinion piece, to portray US support for the Greek government’s work in resolving this conflict as a matter of personality,” wrote the embassy’s press attaché Eshel William Murad in a letter seen by the Guardian.
“It is not. It is a matter of US government policy. Your editorial … contains very serious and baseless insinuations regarding a US government official’s motives for praising a foreign leader,” he added, acknowledging the 104-year-old daily had been a key link to the Greek American community. “At best, this is irresponsible, and it is also a clear misuse of the powerful platform your newspaper gives you.”
Few US envoys have been as active as Pyatt.
Since September 2016 when the veteran diplomat arrived in Athens, defence and economic ties between the two countries have flourished. Military cooperation, in his own words, is at an “all-time high”. As Turkey’s leader Tayyip Recep Erdogan has grown increasingly authoritarian and unpredictable, Washington’s reliance on Nato rival Greece, widely seen as a pillar of stability in an otherwise volatile region, has intensified.
Tsipras’s administration has been applauded for facilitating the use of military facilities – not least the US naval support base in Souda Bay on Crete. When Tsiprasvisited the White House in October 2017, Donald Trump described his counterpart as “a special man who’s done a very special job”.
Tsipras, in turn, enthused that bilateral relations “may be better” than at any other time since the second world war. The exchange would have been unimaginable before the 44-year-old’s ascent to office when the left was associated with often violent anti-US sentiment. Five Americans were among the 23 victims assassinated by the far-left November 17 terror group before its disbandment in 2002.