By AAMER MADHANI and ZEKE MILLER – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday thanked Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for his country’s “moral leadership” in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the two men spoke Monday at the House Blanche on the current conflict.
Mitsotakis’ visit comes as he was in Washington to mark a COVID-delayed commemoration of the bicentenary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, a more than eight-year struggle that led to the ousting of the Ottoman Empire. The President and First Lady Jill Biden were due to greet Mitsotakis and his wife, Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis, later Monday at a reception at the White House to mark the bicentennial.
But the celebratory moment was overshadowed by the biggest fighting on the continent since World War II, and as Biden seeks to keep the West united as he pressures Russia to end the war.
“We now face the challenge of Russian aggression together,” Mitsotakis said at the start of his Oval Office meeting with Biden. The prime minister added that US-Greek relations were at an “all-time high”.
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As Europe seeks to move away from Russian energy, Mitsotakis has pushed the idea of Greece becoming an energy hub capable of bringing gas from Southwest Asia and the Middle East to the ‘Eastern Europe.
A new Greece-Bulgaria pipeline – built during the COVID-19 pandemic, tested and scheduled for commercial operation in June – expected to bring large volumes of gas between the two countries in both directions to generate electricity, supply industry and heat the houses.
The new pipeline connection, called the Greece-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector, will allow Bulgaria to access ports in neighboring Greece that import liquefied natural gas, or LNG, and will also transport gas from Azerbaijan via a new pipeline system which ends in Italy. Russia announced last month that it was cut natural gas exports to Bulgaria and Poland on the refusal of countries to pay in rubles.
The Oval Office meeting with Biden also comes after NATO member Greece last week officially extended its bilateral military agreement with the United States for five years, replacing an annual review of the agreement that grants the US military access to three bases in mainland Greece as well as the US naval presence on the island of Crete.
Mitsotakis expressed his support for Finland and Sweden wishing to become a member of the NATO defense alliance, a development welcomed by much of the 30-nation group, with the notable exception of Tukey, who remains locked in a decades-old dispute with Greece over maritime borders and mining rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again voiced objections to accepting Finland and Sweden on Monday, accusing the two countries of backing Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.
“Neither country has an open and clear position against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said during a joint press conference with the visiting Algerian president. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, membership in NATO, which is a security organization.”
Mitsotakis, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, expressed optimism that Turkey will ultimately not hold up Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the EU. NATO and raised speculation that Erdogan could use the moment to extract concessions from the Biden administration on arms sales or other issues.
“Now is not really the right time to use a NATO membership (candidacy) of these two countries to negotiate ‘other issues,'” he said.
In addition to his address to Congress, Mitsotakis is to be honored Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and will meet with members of the Congressional Hellenic Issues Caucus and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. .
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