Thomas Miller says he “is thrilled to be going back to Greece” - 2001-09-11

Transcript of program aired on Wednesday September 12, 2001

Bistis: Our guest this evening is the new U-S Ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller. Mr. Ambassador welcome to our program.

Miller: Thank you.

Bistis: This is not the first time that you will be going to Greece. You have served there, at the political section of the U.S. Embassy, in the 1980s and later you also served as Deputy Chief of Mission. How do you feel about going back for the third time?

Miller: My wife and I are thrilled about going back. This is kind of the dream post, the one post that more than any other post in the world we wanted to return to and so, when the opportunity arose, when President Bush and Secretary Powell were kind enough to think about us, we were thrilled and we were very honored to be going back.

Bistis: Mr. Ambassador, having spent several years of your life in Greece you have probably developed a unique perspective of the country and its people. Would you like to share this perspective with us for the benefit of our listeners and viewers.

Miller: I am not sure how unique my respective is George but I do have a lot of impressions that I have gained over the time I spent in Greece, not only the five years we were posted there but when I was a Cyprus Coordinator as well and traveling through Greece and to Greece a lot. It is a very positive perspective. We have a lot of friends there both personally and professionally, it is a wonderful country to live in, there is a certain deep feeling about issues, sometimes a good deal of emotion. Frankly that’s my kind of style, I enjoy that. People in Greece are not afraid to say what they think and are very direct. That is a style and that is the kind of people that I have felt very comfortable with in the past and we are looking very much forward to.

Bistis: Mr. Miller, how would you characterize the current status of the relations between the United States and Greece and what initiatives are you thinking of undertaking for the purpose of promoting further this bilateral relationship?

Miller: I think it’s a very strong bilateral relationship already George. It’s strong for a variety of reasons, some of it is history, some of it is common perspective and values, a good deal of culture, the fact that there is three million Greek-Americans in this country and there is a lot of Americans living in Greece, so this is a relationship that is very, very soundly grounded. I am humble enough to say whenever a new ambassador goes out there, you know, they always ask what are all those things you are going to do to make things better. I think I come into a situation where the relationship is quite good, I give a lot of credit to my predecessor Nick Burns, (but) there are always areas you can work on. These are areas that fortunately or unfortunately I’ve worked on in the past, (such as) the Greek-Turkish relationship, Aegean tensions, the Cyprus problem, all kinds of bilateral military issues, obviously terrorism, promoting U-S exports. One thing I want to make very clear. I am the American Ambassador, I will be the American Ambassador once I am sworn-in in a couple of weeks, to Greece. I am send there to represent the United States interest. Most of the time the U-S and Greek interests coincide very well. Sometimes they would not, and in these cases, let us at lease be honest and admit it and have frank discussions about our differences.

Bistis: Mr. Ambassador, you are going to Greece at a time of very important developments around that country, particularly in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. I’ll start with the Balkans, an area that you are very familiar since you recently served as U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia. Greece has indicated that it wants to play a greater role, as the only Balkan country-member of both NATO and the European Union, in promoting stability, peace and regional cooperation in the area. How do you view this desire of Greece?

Miller: Well, I think Greece is playing a greater role. It has been playing a very positive role in a very troubled region. I remember when I was in Greece the then Foreign Minister described Greece as the engine that can drive developments in the Balkans. I think there is a lot of validity, a lot of truth to that. (There are) Several dimensions Greece can play this role. Obviously on the political side, but also on the economic side as well. When you really look at the problems of the Balkans there are many-many aspects to them, but if you can solve the economic problems, you can solve a lot. I think that this is an area where Greek companies, because it isn’t all about state to state relations always, Greek companies can play a very key role.

Bistis: Now Mr. Ambassador I’d like to turn the attention to a thorny Eastern Mediterranean issue, Cyprus. You have dealt with this problem extensively during the time that you were State Department Coordinator for Cyprus. As we said you have also served in Bosnia where we have seen tremendous progress towards resolving the problem in that country. However in Cyprus there has been no progress to (resolving) the problem for 27 years or so. How come? What makes this problem so difficult to solve? What is the difference between Bosnia and Cyprus?

Miller: I have also thought about this question a lot in the two years that I was in Bosnia Herzegovina. I think one of the reasons is that the threshold of pain is such that, you know, Bosnia had a devastating war, two hundred and fifty thousand people killed and half the people lost their homes. Cyprus had tremendous damage and suffering as a result of the invasion but the consequences of not having progress in Bosnia were such that you really had no choice. In Cyprus there are serious consequences of not having progress and that is that the longer this thing goes on the harder it is to solve. In any dispute there is a need for a certain degree of flexibility, there is a need for a certain amount of give and take, you know, that comes and goes in stages of negotiations, and I know when I was doing the Cyprus issue there were some promising moments and some less promising moments. In Bosnia we’ve had small steps. The problem with the Cyprus problem is that is not divisible. You can’t solve part of it and leave the rest of it for later. It’s much more of a package, at least that is how it’s been in the past. So this is what makes it a bit more difficult. (However) I am optimistic and I will remain optimistic that there can be a solution to the Cyprus problem.

Bistis: Mr. Ambassador do you believe that the Greek-Turkish rapprochement initiative that has been undertaken by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries, George Papandreou and Ismail Cem respectively, could have a positive effect on the (U.N.) Secretary General to promote a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem?

Miller: Absolutely. I absolutely believe that, and this is an atmosphere that I only had the good fortune to witness in my last days as a Cyprus Coordinator, but the rapprochement between Greece and Turkey is fundamentally important if there is ever going to be a solution to the Cyprus problem. It does not relieve the responsibility or the authority from Mr. Denktash and President Clerides and their colleagues, but you clearly need the right kind of environment and the right kind of state relations between Greece and Turkey.

Bistis: Sometimes high-level visits contribute between greater understanding between nations. Are we going to see any such high-level visits in the very near future between Greece and the United States?

Miller: I agree with you premise that visits properly prepared can be very-very useful. I just came back from Bosnia a couple of days ago, so I am not in a position to say yes there will be a visit in two months or three months or whatever. President Clinton was in Greece not too long ago, his wife was in Greece when I was there, President Bush Senior was in Greece in 1991 if I recall, and we have had Greek Prime Ministers over here including Prime Minister Simitis. High-level visits are very useful, but there are useful in the sense of pushing issues, or resolving issues.

Bistis: Ambassador Miller I know you are going to be extremely busy handling diplomatic problems in Greece after your arrival in Athens, but if I may ask you a personal question, what would you be doing in your spare time? How would you spent the hours that you will not be investing in diplomacy?

Miller: Well George, I love to work, as I think many of my friends in Greece know very well. I don’t look at my work as work. I look at it as kind of a pleasure. As I tell people, if I win the lottery tomorrow I’ll be back at my desk the next day doing the same thing. When I do have sometime I like sports, I like to play tennis, squash, racket-ball, stuff like that. I also like to jog and one of my fondest memories of Greece, and I am not promising I would try this again but I did complete the Marathon, the original Marathon, from Marathona, the old Olympic stadium, on the 100th anniversary of the 1896 Olympics, in 1996. That’s a memory that I’ll take with me for ever. So, I will do some running but it will be more like jogging than serious running.

Bistis: And of course Mr. Ambassador you will be in Athens at the time of the 2004 Olympics in Greece, and that will probably bring additional memories to you.

Miller: Sure. I think it is great that Greece got the 2004 Olympics. I remember very clearly, in 1996 I believe it was, I was having lunch with the Greek DCM the day, the hour, the minute that the announcement was made that Greece got the Olympics and there was tremendous euphoria at a restaurant here in Washington. So, I am very much looking forward to being there during the Olympics and I think it’s a great day, and a great year and a great event for Greece and the Greek people and I look forward to doing whatever we can in our cooperative efforts to make sure that it’s a very successful Olympics.

Bistis: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being with us tonight and all the very best with your job in Athens.

Miller: Efharisto, kalinykta.

Bistis: Our guest this evening has been the new U-S Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller. This is George Bistis. From all of us at the Voice of America good night from Washington.

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