The importance of the Greek President’s visit to Saudi Arabia

Originally published in on 01/03/2017

It seems that the Greek government eventually began to realize that the resolution of the country’s crisis can come from different paths than it has been up to now. This, at least, prove the recent steps it has made. As a first step, the in principle agreement on the return of the institutions to the country, and the visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and a large delegation comprising of the Minister of Maritime and Island Policy Panagiotis Kourouplis, the Minister of Tourism Elena Koundoura, the deputy Minister for European Affairs, George Katrougalos, as well as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia n Greece Mr. Ibrahim Baitalmal. The visit of the Greek President to Saudi Arabia can be seen as a downfall of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, as his upsurge in power has complicated the country’s relations with the European Union, so the pressure exercised on him has begun to bear fruit.

The visit of the Greek President to Saudi Arabia came after an official invitation by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. However, the timing is double-read. The first is that it took place a few days after the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Saudi Arabia, during which he signed many economic and tourist agreements. Some saw the visit of the Greek President as an attempt by the Greek government to create new economic and diplomatic bridges and to mitigate the old tensions with Turkey, making use of the Kingdom as a mediator between the two countries. Another reading is that the Greek government, pressured by the EU. is forced to reassess its needs and international relations. Both interpretations are correct.

The President of the Hellenic Republic, in his statements to the Arab media, referred to his opposition to third country interventions in the affairs of another state. This was a clear signal of Iran’s intervention in the Middle East. It is also a message to the Iranian lobby that is active within the Greek government and over the last few months has worked hard to develop Greece’s relations with Iran, especially in the energy sector. Finally, it is a signal to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that Greece will be on their side and not with Iran’s opposing side, the terrorist Hezbollah and the criminal Assad regime.

In a communication with a senior official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I asked him about the results of the visit of the Greek President and about how the Kingdom sees the Greek government and the Greek people. He stressed that the visit was very constructive. A first step towards developing economic co-operation between the two countries was the signing of a series of agreements. He also stressed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia treats the Greek people with great respect and appreciation for their history and believes that they are closer to the Arabs than the peoples of Europe. The Kingdom will support Greece by boosting tourism and increasing investment. It will also increase the level of cooperation between the two countries in terms of technology and development. In the discussions, finally, emphasis was placed on bilateral co-operation in relation to the defense industry.

It is well known that Greece’s economic relations with the countries of the European Union were and remain dominant. Yet, the location of Greece near the Gulf region and countries with an open economy is a trump that can decisively contribute to its exit from the crisis.

Unlike the visit of the Greek Prime Minister to Ukraine a few days before, the visit of President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could open new horizons for the recovery of the Greek economy. The Ukrainian crisis has complicated Europe’s and US relations with Russia. Tsipras’s visit to Ukraine could be misinterpreted by all interested parties. Greece’s relations with almost every country in the world are good. It is, therefore, a great mistake to burden the foreign policy of the Greek state with choices that will put pressure on either European or Russian level.

Our region is in the process of redrawing the cards, especially after the change of the US government. Greece is affected by both positive and negative developments. Turkey’s recent actions on the Greek border are putting the country at a standstill against Turkish aggression. Unfortunately, the current Greek government has proven in the past that it is unable to perceive international movements and face upcoming developments at regional and global level and continues to prove it.