The visit of Greek Prime Minister to the US last week was a resounding success which opens the door for new opportunities in Greek-American relations, Congressman Gus Bilirakis said in an interview with Greek Reporter.
“Kyriakos Mitsotakis was very well received in Washington. I spoke to President Trump’s staff after their private meeting at the White House last Tuesday and I was told that the President was really impressed by him,” the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 12th congressional district said.
“Congress was equally impressed by what Mitsotakis had to say. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, really liked him. That’s what her advisers told me afterwards,” the longtime Congressman added.
Bilirakis, a Republican, has been at the forefront of efforts in Congress to promote Greece and the strategic Greek-American relationship. He also led efforts to secure the passage last year of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, which deepens relations with Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
Since first elected to Congress in 2007, the Florida Republican has observed several official visits by Greek prime ministers at the White House firsthand.
But the Mitsotakis visit stands out as perhaps the most successful of all. “The PM’s visit opened the door to take Greek-American relations to another level. Opportunities for Greece are unlimited,” the Congressman noted with particular satisfaction.
“The fact that his English is so good, that made a big difference too. He hit a home run, He could’t do any better,” Bilirakis emphasized to Greek Reporter.
Although not present at the private meeting between Trump and Mitsotakis at the White House, the Congressman says that the Greek Premier raised a whole host of issues, including Turkish aggression in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean and the “fake” Turkey-Libya maritime deal.
He also expressed Greece’s desire to participate in the F-35 program and the upgrade of its F-16 fleet, and highlighted the remarkable turn in the economy which provides many investment opportunities for US business.
The Congressman says he urged the Prime Minister to push ahead with deepening bilateral ties when he met Mitsotakis at a banquet at Tarpon Springs, Florida, last Monday in celebration of the Epiphany.
“I told him that we have a great opportunity to strengthen Greek-US relations. Congress has changed its attitude and has become more pro-Greek… I think that the PM is the right person to further this opportunity and make Greece a strong leader in the region.”
Bilirakis, proud of his family roots on the Greek island of Kalymnos, highlighted the opportunities for bilateral cooperation in higher education, as the Greek government seeks to upgrade its universities and make them more outward-looking through joint initiatives with American universities.
“I will be in touch with the University of Florida, which is the seventh best university in the US, to explore opportunities of cooperation with Greek universities,” the Congressman said.
The road ahead
Congressman Bilirakis is keen to point out that the successful visit of Mitsotakis to the US now just needs to be followed through in order to bear fruit.
“We now need to follow through on the Mitsotakis visit. As the Chairman of the Hellenic caucus and co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance (CHIA) caucus, I will make sure that this positive climate is strengthened.
“My job is to press President Trump in the best interests of Greece and the US,” Bilirakis says.
The Florida representative acknowledges that President Trump’s rhetoric regarding Turkey and President Erdogan is occasionally off-putting.
“Of course I do not appreciate his rhetoric about Erdogan but I believe there is a reason for this. We want to maintain a good rapport, a good working relationship with the Turkish President,” he explains.
On the other hand, Bilirakis notes that the President has some excellent foreign policy advisers, such as his hard-working Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo, who is pro-Greek.