The Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos visited today, Thursday June 23rd 2020, the port of Alexandroupolis, together with the US Ambassador in Athens, Mr. Goeffrey R. Pyatt, in order to attend the activities of the 101st Airborne Division of the USA in the course of the reception, organization and advancement of elements in support of the “Atlantic Resolve” operation. Moreover, the 150th year of the port’s operation was celebrated.
The briefing was attended by the Secretary General of the Ministry of National Defence Mr. Antonis Oikonomou, the Deputy Governor of Evros Mr. Dimitris Petrovits, the City’s Mayor Mr. Giannis Zampoukis, the President of Alexandroupolis Port Organization S.A. Mr. Konstantinos Chatzimichail, His Eminence the Metropolitan of Alexandroupolis Anthimos, the military leadership of the XII Mechanized Infantry Division, local government officials and members of local entities.
In his speech, the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, underlined the following:
“I will permit myself to make a comment in English. I remember last year in late September just about at this first spot, I was holding a rusty piece of metal from the “Olga” in an animated attempt to make a point: point being that that piece of junk I was holding was in fact a very solid proof of a booming and evolving and growing strategic relationship between the United States of America and Greece.
And as I remember that, I am sure that the Ambassador remembers that very well, today at just about the same place, the same spot, as I watched this huge logistics operation, because a country’s military might and effectiveness is not measured only in a number of carrier, of its carrier fleet of 5th generation aircrafts, but by both its capacity to carry out huge logistics operations, like the one here in Alexandroupolis; as I watched the 101st elements of the 101st Screaming Eagles land on the port of Alexandroupolis, in the city named after Alexander the Great, I realize that this huge endeavour with a background is coming to fruition not in theory but in practice.
And in that I feel very pleased, very satisfied; I cherish it, I appreciate it as much as I appreciate Ambassador Pyatt’s huge contribution, significant contribution in making this project a reality, in bringing the strategic relationship between the United States of America and Greece to another level, through the MDCA, the Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement, part of which is the operational, let’s say, upgrading of the port of Alexandroupolis and its strategic location.
So, in closing, let me make another couple of points: first one is that in turbulent times, such the ones we are living right now, and amidst a great variety of security challenges and regional tensions, through this project, Greece emerges as the reliable partner and ally in the region for the United States, for Europe and for NATO.
Greece emerges as a true and honest pillar of stability that is always ready to cooperate with its allies in Europe and NATO, but also – and that is my final point – is always ready to uphold, protect and defend its sovereign rights against any type of threat anytime, through the excellence of its own Forces.
This is a point that the Government, on behalf of which I am addressing you now, has made very clear and I could be making very clear as well all day long and in many different languages for everybody to understand.
Thank you once again Gentlemen; it’s great to have you here, it’s great to see our cooperation growing and evolving. It’s great that you appreciate being here, in the city of Alexandroupolis in the Thrace region. And our great hope is to work more intensively on this strategic relationship and also rip all the benefits for the region, the city of Alexandroupolis, the region of Thrace, Macedonia, Northern Greece and all the benefits for the local economy and further on. Thank you once again.
Now, in Greek, I would like to say that it is with great pleasure that we are here today at the port of Alexandroupolis, in order to attend the reception and advancement of the forces of the 101st Airborne Division of the USA, which constitutes an important phase of “Atlantic Resolve” Operation.
I consider that our such pleasure is absolutely justified, because within a period of less than 10 months from last year’s celebration at this same place, we are all actually seeing the positive effects for the Port of Alexandroupolis, after the removal of the sunken dredger “Olga” with the financial assistance and not only that of the USA and of course, on the very intensive initiative of Ambassador and our friend, Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt.
Therefore, it is obvious that the port’s operability and its capacity have been significantly improved; the presence today of the ARC “Endurance” that transferred forces and material is a conclusive proof of that. It is perhaps the largest vessel that has ever entered this port and it is now up to us to make the best use of the new possibilities opening up for outreach and economic development not only for Alexandroupolis, but also for the wider region, Thrace and Northern Greece.
It is also obvious that Alexandroupolis, due to the unique geostrategic location of its Port, may attract great investments that include new infrastructure projects at the piers, the installation of a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU), the linking up with the rail network that will start to operate during this operation, partly already as of tomorrow and with Egnatia Odos and the planned extension in the area, NATO’s fuel pipeline.
These investments will contribute to the boosting of the economic activity; new job positions will emerge, the benefits for our country will be multiplied, but also – and this is of particular importance for me – our country’s attractions and the strategic significance of this region in particular will come to the fore.
As I had the opportunity to underline here last year in September, the transporting infrastructure and the road network of the wider region create the conditions enabling the port of Alexandroupolis to become a strategic hub in a vertical axis Northwards for the rapid transportation of persons and goods, with particular importance as well for Europe’s energy safety.
Today’s activity in the framework of “Atlantic Resolve” Operation is part of a wide range of activities in the field of defence cooperation between Greece and the USA; a cooperation of strategic nature, a cooperation in depth, based on a – let me use that expression – concurrence of values, basic democratic values and not on a coincidental situation. A cooperation that is mutually beneficial for both parts, governed by both countries’ desire to substantially contribute to the security, stability and prosperity of the wider region.
That was my point exactly in the conversation I had the other day with my American counterpart, the US Secretary of Defence, Mr. Mark Esper, during which we affirmed on the phone the strong strategic relationship between Greece and the USA, based on the strong ties over time between our countries and our nations and on common values.
The updating of the Defence Cooperation Agreement that was concluded last October creates new possibilities and new opportunities, in light of our Armed Forces’ further strengthening.
We also discussed about the recent developments following Turkey’s announcement that it intends to survey for natural resources in a region that also includes the Greek continental shelf.
I underlined that Greece has been over time a pillar of stability in the Northeastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. We have always sought for cooperation and relationships based on International Law and the good neighbourly principles.
However, we have made it clear to everybody that Greece is always ready to defend its sovereign rights and will do so with determination if required.
And the fact that at this time, almost the entire Greek fleet has been deployed in the South Aegean Sea just proves what I have said.
Today, by means of our presence here, in a significant military activity, we stress from the outermost city of Alexandroupolis that was once in situation of extreme poverty, but now is slowly changing into a center of activity, that the Defence Cooperation between Greece and the USA is a top priority that contributes to the security of both Nations.
Our countries have committed to deal effectively by all means available with all challenges and security threats and to eventually safeguard the security in the wider region. By the way, for those who have not realized it, as regards the wording of the US Department of Foreign Affairs that was leaving some room for interpretation about the ongoing situation in the Northern Aegean, I believe that following the verbal improvement it is now clear that it sends a message about this whole thing that Turkey is the problem. Turkey is calling into question. Turkey is the problem. And that is now clear even in the text.
Thank you Ambassador for contributing as a diplomat experienced in correction, so that the spirit of the US Department of Foreign Affair’s announcement would become clear.
Concluding, I would like to confirm our shared willingness to strengthen even further our Strategic Defence relationship, in order to ensure the maintenance of powerful, effective and interoperable Armed Forces and to promote at the same time our Country’s economic development and prosperity. I am confident that our joint efforts to attract Investment will come to fruition and that soon there will be even more positive effects and overall benefit for Alexandroupolis and the wider region.
Thank you for your attention”.
In his speech, the US Ambassador in Athens, Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt stated the following:
I will start this morning by thanking my friend and travel partner, Defence Minister Panagiotopoulos, for coming up to Alexandroupolis today, but also for everything that you do, Minister, to strengthen our alliance. I also want to acknowledge our allies from the Hellenic Armed Forces, in particular our collaborator Admiral Leloudas, who flew up with us also this morning, as well as the other officials here today: Deputy Governor Petrovits, Mayor Zamboukis, Bishop Anthimos and Port President Chatzimichail for joining us.
I also want to say a special thank you to the key stakeholders in Operation Atlantic Resolve, Major General Mohan and Brigadier General Sylvia. It’s great to have you and your soldiers here with us in Greece, along with the support of our UK Ally represented by General Chestnut. The 101st Airborne is one of the truly storied units of the US Army. I’m very proud to have them with us here in Greece today. But I’m especially excited that we will be welcoming back elements of the 101st this fall as we begin the next seasonal rotation at the Stefanovikio base.
I’m also particularly happy to be back here in Alexandroupolis to celebrate the 150th year of the port’s operation, and to mark what is truly, I think, a historic milestone for this strategic maritime asset and for the US-Greece defence and security relationship, which, as the Minister said, is at an all-time high.
As the Minister recalled, last September, we were here at Alexandroupolis to mark the completion of the $2,3 million US Army-funded project to remove the sunken dredger Olga, which had blocked full access to the pier since 2010.
The Olga’s removal improved access and flexibility, enhanced the port’s capacity for multiple users, and increased its attractiveness to American investors. As a direct result of the Defense Department’s investment in the Port of Alexandroupoli, we are able today to welcome the ARC Endurance, and I have to say, that ship is awesome.
The arrival of elements of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade onboard Endurance marks the beginning of its Operation Atlantic Resolve rotation and is the first use of the Port of Alexandroupoli for transshipment of equipment by the US Army since the Olga was removed. But I can promise you, it will not be the last.
Our presence here today sends a clear signal to all who are watching that the United States is committed to working with Greece to advance our shares security and economic interests.
Alexandroupolis plays a strategic role in our countries’ common goal of building European energy and regional security. The city is poised to become a regional energy hub with the completed market test for the FSRU terminal and plants for a gas-fired GE power plant; a transportation, defense and security hub with the geostrategic location of its port, rail, and road networks feeding into southeastern Europe; and a commercial hub with the port’s upcoming privatization.
So I welcome the news that the Ministries of Finance, Infrastructure and Shipping have worked together to resolve the land issues of the port, and I was delighted to see that Minister Plakiotakis was here just on Tuesday, further evidence that Alexandroupolis is a strategic priority also for the government of Prime Minister Mitsotakis.
The US Embassy has been working intensively to encourage American investment in Alexandroupoli, and our US Development Finance Corporation has identified this complex of projects in northern Greece, including the port privatizations in Alexandroupoli and Kavala, as strategic priorities.
We are proud that the American investment fund Black Summit Financial is leading the way with a strong consortium that includes US investors, Greek participants, and a European port operator with regional experience to bid on the Alexandroupoli and Kavala ports.
As we mark the 150th anniversary of the port of Alexandroupoli, today’s deployment of US forces is proof of the United States’ commitment to advancing the joint defence and security goals that our countries have enshrined through our bilateral Strategic Dialogue and our updated Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement.
Now there’s plenty of media here today who will want to ask me about what’s happening in the Aegean. So I’m just going to say something right here. I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This is a complex strategic space: we want our friends and allies in the region to approach resource development in the spirit of cooperation that provides a foundation for durable energy security and shares economic prosperity. Unilateral, provocative actions work against this aim.
So let me be clear: a stronger and more secure Greece is in America’s interest, and as Secretary Esper discussed with Minister Panagiotopoulos just this week, our work together deepens a very important bilateral relationship and strengthens the NATO Alliance, promoting prosperity and security in this strategic region for all of our citizens.
Thank you very much”.
The visit of the Minister of National Defence was completed with his briefing in “Kandilaptis Camp” about the infrastructure upgrade projects for the welcoming of allied troops and the training in tank simulators.