27 September, 2005
U.S. Ambassador to Athens Charles Ries, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Centre here, referred to benefits emanating from the strategic relationship between Greece and the United States and to the strengthening of trade cooperation between the two countries, since reforms being carried out in the Greek economy make it more attractive for investments.
Ries praised Greece's position regarding Turkey's course towards the European Union and termed 2006 a "historic year" for the Balkans. The ambassador added that in the case of Greece and the strategic partnership is more demanding now.
Ries went on to underline the success in hosting the Olympic Games, stressing that Greece received an excellent "grade 10", apart from promoting a positive image of Greece abroad, strengthened the self-confidence of the Greeks and their ability to achieve great targets.
He reiterated Washington's satisfaction over the arrest and conviction of "a substancial part" of the "N17" organization and said Greece's role in the Security Council is very constructive and underlined the contribution of the Greek EU presidency in the spring of 2003 when relations between the U.S. and the European Union were going through a crisis.
Referring to Iraq, he said that despite the universal opposition of the Greek people to the war, Greece was the first country to contribute financially, while supporting the training of Iraqi forces by NATO. He also stressed the presence and operation of a Greek medical unit in Afghanistan.
The U.S. ambassador further spoke of the positive and effective stance adopted by Greek diplomacy in the handling of the issue of the beginning of accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey since, as he said, Athens has reached, the correct in Washington's view, conclusion that the European course of Ankara strengthens prospects of a solution to the issue of Cyprus.
Despite the fact that 70 percent of the Greek people are extremely skeptical over the prospect of Turkey's accession to the EU, both the government of the PASOK party and that of the New Democracy party see the strategic benefits for Greece and support it strongly.
The ambassador said that Washington was pleased to hear the announcement by Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis on the creation of a Balkan Training Centre for security issues, through which Greece will convey the great experience it obtained during preparations to host the Olympic Games. He also stressed the importance of Greece's participation in naval operations in the Mediterranean in the framework of which a special marine operations centre will be created in Crete.
Ries placed emphasis on the progress of the Greek economy, underlining the positive impact created by structure reforms being implemented and assessed that they will attract investing interest. In the framework of commercial, as well as defense cooperation, he expressed satisfaction over the decision recently taken by Athens to strengthen the Greek air force with F-16 fighter planes purchased from the US.
After admitting that for many years Greece was considered a difficult environment for investments, he noted that this picture is changing now. He termed Greece "our natural partner" in southeastern Europe and added that Greece is developing into an investments corridor for the wider region.
He described 2006 as a "historic year" for the Balkans, since the final status for Kosovo is expected to be decided, while regarding the difference between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter's name, he reiterated Washington's support for mediation by Matthew Nimetz, stressing that the U.S. will implement whatever solution is jointly decided by the two sides.
Following an eight-month period of service in Athens, the American diplomat assessed that the problematic image created of the U.S. among Greek public opinion, and vice versa of Greece in the U.S., has started to change recently for the benefit of both. Lastly, Ries thanked Greece for aid it offered for the relief of victims of the hurricane Katrina which struck the United States recently.
Source: Athens News Agency