QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for doing this.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: Let me ask, first of all, we had the feeling, especially at the end of the Obama administration, that the U.S. was kind of withdrawing from this area. So are you back; why are you here; what are the strategic goals of – for the U.S. right now for this area?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. It’s a great question. We’re back, and when I say we’re back, we are – we’re committed, and we’re committed because it’s in America’s best interests to be committed. That’s always the most reliable barometer. Nations always act to take care of themselves, from their first interests. Greece does the same for its people.
We have lots of strategic objectives, and what we have seen today on my trip to Greece is we’ve got a new defense cooperation agreement, which will matter. It won’t just matter tomorrow or next week; it’ll matter in the years and decades ahead. And it’s more than just basing – I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s just some basing rights.” It’s much deeper, much broader than that, and gives political signals that are much deeper and broader than that as well.
Look, we want a successful, thriving Greece. It’s good for American entrepreneurs. It’s good for American business. We’ve had Deloitte and Tesla, and GE just closed a big deal here, which will be great for American jobs, and there’ll be fantastic outcomes for the people of Greece as well. And more broadly than that, we care deeply too to see that the Balkans are stable. This has been a region that you know well has been fraught with challenges, and we want to see Greece lead the way forward. We want it to have this awakening with its new prime minister and that new team which can drive growth throughout Europe and create stability in the region as well.
QUESTION: A lot of Greeks ask – this is a very important agreement in terms of the bases and all this. The question is: What can Greece expect in return, let’s say, in concrete terms?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I think Greece will be more secure, for starters. That’s probably the primary reason that the two countries made this decision. Each – it’s win-win from a security perspective. Each benefits from the close relationship that’s created by our militaries. The common set of understanding and operating rules between our militaries will serve each of us well, if there should ever be the need to either defend or deter from a determined adversary.
Second, I think there’ll be important commercial benefits that follow from this as well. Anytime there’s deep interactions like this around complicated technologies, the host country often benefits from collateral things that spin out of this relationship. And of course, wherever you host Americans – and you do this in many places, you’re most gracious to our soldiers and our sailors and our airmen and Marines – there’s good economic benefits in those host locations as well.
QUESTION: It might sound like a simple question or a silly question, but in the old days, we had bases here during the Cold War. We knew who the enemy was. Who is the enemy now? What are these bases used for?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so NATO has laid out its strategic mission. The United States has its National Security Strategy. I’m confident that Greece has a deep understanding of the things that potentially threaten it. But make no mistake, the Soviet Union is gone, but Russian malign influence continues. In the Middle East not too far away, there are difficult challenges. The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to sponsor terror around the world. Challenges to freedom of navigation abound in the waters that Greece so heavily depends on for shipping and transportation. Those are the kind of things that nations like Greece and nations like the United States depend on having access to those waterways.
And so having a capable military, having a deterrent force that reminds everyone that they need to engage in behaviors that are consistent with the rule of law, I think, is an absolute imperative. And you don’t know where that next threat will come from. We stare out there and we think we’re smart and we see them all. The truth is history is replete with days that you didn’t think someone was an adversary and it turns out you needed to be ready.
QUESTION: As you know, we have a big country across from us which has become unpredictable. It’s a difficult ally, Turkey. You have firsthand experience of that. How do you see Turkey developing as an ally? Do you see it as drifting away from the West, from NATO and so on, and what can the U.S. do in order to keep it more predictable, let’s say?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. We’re doing all we can to prevent that from happening. They’re an important commercial partner for us. They’re obviously a NATO ally, where we have important military infrastructure. We have important political objectives. You know well the risk of refugees coming from Turkey or from Syria and from the region. So a successful Turkey, a growing, prosperous, economically thriving Turkey is important for not only Greece but for all of us. And so we work diligently to try and deliver that set of outcomes.
QUESTION: Do you see Greece kind of substituting Turkey in terms of military facilities and some of the other strategic cooperation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope they’re not in competition in that way. I don’t think about it that way. I don’t think our military does either. We see each having its own unique set of characteristics, its own unique opportunity to deliver good outcomes for NATO and for the host countries, as well as for the United States.
QUESTION: Now, you made some very strong statements about what Turkey’s doing right now around Cyprus and Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. How are you going to express concern or dissatisfaction with Turkey’s behavior? Is there going to be any sort of sanctions proposed to Congress, or any other concrete action?
SECRETARY POMPEO: At this point, we’re using diplomatic efforts. We’re talking to them. We do this in many places in the world where all we’re simply asking is that there are widely recognized international waters, there’s a set of rules. We ask every nation to comply with them. We do – we ask every country, we ask friends to do that, we ask those that are less so friends. Everyone has the expectation that each country that wants to protect its own sovereignty will offer other countries that same opportunity.
QUESTION: Now, as you know, there’s some U.S. companies which are doing some exploration around Cyprus as well. If Turkey disputes those fields and so on, would the U.S. intervene in a more concrete way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I mean, I don’t do hypotheticals. I hope it’s the case that not only will the international law be respected, but I think every country needs to recognize that America always does what it needs to do to protect the commercial interests of – and to protect its own people. So we’ll always do our best to do that, and there’s no reason to think it would be any different here.
QUESTION: Now, are you worried about tension between Greece and Turkey and what’s happening in the Aegean and so on? And traditionally, we expected the U.S. to intervene if something like this happened. That’s what happened in the past.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, look, we worry when any two countries have tension that could escalate, could end up in a bad place and create a military confrontation. No one wants that to happen, so I don’t want it to happen between Greece and Turkey, I don’t want it to happen between North and South Korea, I don’t – there’s no place, right? We’re working – our diplomats are out every day trying to create conditions where countries can talk and engage in dialogue and resolve their disputes in a peaceful way. We’re optimistic that that can happen here as well.
QUESTION: U.S.-Greek relations have been at their best, everybody says, so there’s sort of an expectation that maybe the U.S. would provide some sort of security guarantee towards Greece if something happened. Is that in the cards, or is it sort of too much to ask?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t know. We haven’t been asked for that yet. But things like we did today, by signing a defense cooperation agreement, certainly provide better security not only for Greece, but for the Balkans, for the region, and frankly, we think create stable situations that reduce the risk to America and American businesses. There are – Americans travel in Greece all the time. They come to – love to come to this lovely place to vacation. So America has a deep interest in making sure that Greece is safe and secure.
QUESTION: I was struck by something you said in your speech, that Greece is kind of unique in the sense that the rest of Europe is moving towards a recession and so on, and Greece is moving in another direction. So you really see a potential of Greece becoming a success story?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do. What I said in the speech is just facts, just a data set. Greece has turned the corner. It’s got a real opportunity for economic growth ahead of it. You’re seeing real foreign direct investment coming not just from the United States, but from other places in the world as well.
And too many places in Europe have put up signals that perhaps they’re not interested in that. I hope they’ll change. I hope they’ll all welcome and I hope they’ll all do what this new prime minister has done, right: slash red tape, welcome businesses in, make sure projects can speed along, doing it all in a way that protects all of the concerns that people have, but making sure that government runs at the speed of the world. And I hope every European country does that. Frankly, I hope every state in the United States of America does that too. When you do that, you get global growth, you get wealth creation, and you lift humankind up. That’s the mission set, I think, for every leader.
QUESTION: You also talked about China quite a bit during this tour in the Balkans and Greece. The counter argument is that when Greece was in a real crisis and time of need, the Chinese were the only ones who came here and invested, actually, quite a huge amount of money. How should Greece handle this? I mean, why should Greece say no to an investment like that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so I remember when Greece was in this time of crisis, I remember that America came alongside too and helped maintain a system that you all could move your way forward on. And America has always been at its best when countries who are in a time of crisis, to come alongside and help them.
As for the decisions that Greece will make, it makes its own sovereign decisions. Every country has its own right to do that. We would never stand in the way with that. But we ask every country to have their eyes wide open. When China shows up with a real business deal and it’s a good deal, we think Greece ought to take it or Greek business ought to take it. When China shows up and the deal looks too good to be true, it just might be. And sadly, we’ve seen that in too many places in the world.
QUESTION: Now, what is the next step in terms of the strategic dialogue? What will you expect out of it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There’s lots of technical elements – technical elements about the defense cooperation agreement we signed, but also they’ll be talking about people-to-people exchanges, opportunities for tourism and for educational growth, training efforts. You – someone asked me earlier today about the opportunity to upgrade equipment. Each of those things, there’s a – goodness, there’s a couple of dozen different work streams that we’ll be engaged in at various levels, all of which will put meat on the bones of the agreements that we’ve put together over the past days.