Remarks By US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Reception Honoring Greek American Relations at the White House

President Joe Biden: Welcome to the White House. It’s wonderful to be able to host a reception again in person and to welcome the Prime Minister to Washington. We’ve had good conversations. I’m delighted to welcome your wife and daughters today as well, because when it comes to Greek-American relations, it’s all about family, in my experience. As my grandfather Finny would say: “that’s the Irish of it”. And I want to welcome Speaker Pelosi, and Paul Pelosi, welcome. And the members of Congress that are here today, including a great many proud Greek-Americans that are here with us today. And if you will excuse a point of personal privilege, I’d like to introduce John Sarbanes. And I want you to know how much we all are thinking about missing your dad today, every day.

His dad was an enormous influence on me and educated me a lot when I got here as a 30 year old kid in the United States. And missing your mom as well. But your dad really took me to school. And I appreciate it. And Your Eminence, it’s great to get to honor and see you again. What an honor it is. And I want to thank you for your moral leadership and all the work the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is doing to shine a light in the world.

Last year we had to commemorate the bicentennial of independence virtually, because of the pandemic. And by the way, I want to thank the proud Greek-Americans who are in the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 and our efforts to vaccinate the world. Last year we celebrated 200 years. This year we celebrate 201 years, the end of the year of the bicentennial celebration. And it’s an opportunity to honor the history of our two nations and peoples and how we share so much together.

A chance to look to the future that we are going to build again. I’m incredibly proud that the first year of my presidency was able to be the first year of the next 100 years of relations between Greece and the United States of America. It’s no exaggeration to say that today our friendship and partnership and our alliance is closer and stronger than it’s ever been. We had a great conversation, and the dangerous part for you all is that we like one another a lot.

Our two nations are working together across the board on climate and energy, trade, investment and defense, disaster response and so much more. And our new Ambassador to Greece, George Tsunis, a proud Greek American, is with us again today. I’m not sure that I was prouder to be elected President or George to be named Ambassador, which he was. George, thank you pal. He has just taken up his post in Athens to continue carrying forward this important work. Prime Minister, I think there is no area as vital for Greece and the United States to stand together than in the defense of our shared and diplomatic principles and our democratic systems.

The United States and the world owe a debt to the ancient Greek ideas that first taught us that we, the people and the demos, our democracy, can control our own destiny. And you made us believe it, in the idea that has endured for millennia. But it’s also an idea that every generation has had to fight to uphold, every generation has to defeat democracy’s mortal foes. Because in our imperfect world, appetites and ambitions of a few, forever seem to dominate the lives and liberties of the many.

And sadly, we have both discussed, including during the Summit for Democracy last year, that democracy is more under assault today, including in the United States, than any time in the recent past. But the Greek people know, just as the American people do, that freedom and democracy are worth sacrificing for, just as the ideals of the ancient Athenians inspired America’s founders. The American Revolution, I’m presumptuous to say, helped inspire Greek patriots to fight for their own independence over 201 years ago. And Greece remembers that when dictators and strongmen seek to dominate their neighbors, there’s only one answer.

«Oxi, oxi». «Νo, no». During World War Two, on the axis forces of fascism sweeping across Europe, Greece said no, inspiring the world through its resistance. Today, the war and disinformation have returned to Europe with Russia’s brutal and unprovoked attack on its neighbor, Ukraine. We’re seeing horrific atrocities and war crimes, children being buried in mass graves, millions of refugees fleeing Putin’s war, and Greece and the United States, standing as one to support the people of Ukraine and impose severe economic cost on Russia, to hold Putin accountable. And I want to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for the moral courage and clarity you have shown from the very beginning of this crisis. Speaking out immediately to condemn Russia’s aggression, welcoming Ukrainian refugees, being a bulwark of security for NATO’s eastern and southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Together, we’re showing the power and capacity of democracies to be able to act in unison. And we’re helping Ukrainians say no to Russian aggression, and we’re saying no to tyranny and to the idea that autocracies will outpace democracies in the 21st century, because that’s what is at stake here, in my view.

On a personal note, it’s wonderful to see so many friends here today. Friends like Andy and Mike Manatos. Where are you guys? There, in the back.

I grew up with these events over the years and since I was a senator and Vice President, Father Alex, who can’t be here today, I wanted him to know that he’s the reason I blessed myself the wrong way. And my friend from the University of Delaware, President Dennis Assanis, where are you Dennis? President of the University and his sons, Nicholas and Demetrios. Welcome, gentlemen. It’s great to have you both here.

And I like to joke about being known as Joe Bidenopoulos in my Greek-American community in Delaware. I only won by 3,100 votes when I ran as a United States senator. And I think we got 92% of the Greek vote in Delaware and the nickname stuck. Small population. But the truth is, I’ve been blessed with lifelong friendships and political mentors in the Greek-American community. I found inspiration in the courage and principal leadership of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which fought for social justice and through the days, all the way back to the days of Martin Luther King and right through to George Floyd. And I thank you, I thank the church.

As a proud Irish-American, I felt a great kinship with the Greek-American community. The same values defined the way we grew up: courage, decency, honor, treating people with dignity, as well as an immense pride in the heart and heritage of our ancestors that they brought with them to America. It’s an incredible resilience among Greek Americans and determination to keep going, keep fighting, no matter the odds, no matter what. And there is no greater symbol of the faithfulness and perseverance of the community than seeing Greek Americans proudly celebrate reconstitution and reconsecration of the National Shrine last November. Really, the structure was destroyed more than 20 years ago during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country. And in rebuilding that sacred home with a Greek Orthodox Church and a Greek American community, reaffirm that even in the deepest, darkest days, we always have hope for the future, always. And today, let us tap into that same spirit and rededicate ourselves to all the hard work that lies ahead to defend democracy in Greece and the United States and all places where it’s under threat today to stand up for the dignity and rights of all people.

My dad used to have an expression: “Everyone, no matter what, everyone” -that’s not a joke, he would say it all the time- “is entitled to be treated with dignity”. And we must renew our commitment to leave our children a world that is more peaceful and more secure and more just than we found it.

So I want to thank you again, Mr. Prime Minister, for making the trip and for the excellent discussions we had today, and I look forward to seeing you again at the NATO’s summit very soon in Spain and continuing our close cooperation on behalf of our two nations, based on all our shared values. Really, Jill and I are looking forward to seeing you in Greece as well. Thank you. Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you Mr President. Dr Biden. Ladies and gentlemen. It is really a great privilege to be here with you at this bicentennial celebration. My wife, my daughters, my team, myself are tremendously grateful for the warm reception you have offered us. Honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here tonight. I know this is a very special moment for you, Mr. President. I’m sure you see lots of very good friends amongst this gathering. But this visit, as you pointed out, has very strong historical connotations. Modern Greece, like America before it, was forged in the hands of dreamers, of revolutionaries fighting for freedom, fighting for justice. And it was a story of your independence struggle and its eventual success – coming as it did decades before ours – that inspired the oppressed Greeks to fight against all odds for their own freedom. The leaders of the Greek Revolution drew inspiration from what was achieved on this soil. Our ancestors did not just dream of freedom and self-determination. They fought for democracy, Mr. President, that elusive government of the people, by the people, for the people, which was invented in ancient Greece 25 centuries ago. And in his annual message on the 3rd December 1822, President James Monroe remarked “The mention of Greece fills the mind with the most exalted sentiments and arouses in our bosoms the best feelings of which nature is susceptible”.

“A strong hope,” he said, “is entertained that these people will recover their independence and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth”. And it is this shared history of struggle, this shared history of sacrifice that binds our two nations together. It places upon us, as you said, a solemn responsibility to protect and defend the values that our forefathers risked so much to pass on to the next generations. And today, this duty is more relevant than ever. The war in Ukraine, the invasion of Russia is a chilling reminder that what we took for granted in Europe, that maps cannot be redrawn by force, is unfortunately no longer the case. As you know, Mr. President, we supported Ukraine from the very beginning with humanitarian aid, but also with military assistance. We did so for reasons of principle, which should be painfully obvious, but we did so also to protect a world order that is based on the premise of respect for international law, what you like to call a rules-based international order.

Neo imperial fantasies belong to other centuries. They must not succeed, and they must not succeed not only for the sake of Ukraine, but to send a very clear signal to other authoritarian leaders that any violation of sovereignty will be met by a unified and forceful response. This is why it is so important that Europe and the United States stand shoulder to shoulder in this fight. After all, what we are protecting are the values which lay out the foundations of our liberal democracies. And as the Prime Minister of Greece, but also as a member of the European Council, I would like to thank you again, Mr. President, for your leadership. The sanctions we have imposed on Russia are crushing, and rightly so. But as we discussed, we must not lose sight of the fact that our societies are paying a heavy price in terms of energy prices. And in this respect, there is so much more we can do together – the European Union and the United States – to bring down the prices of energy and in particular, the price of gas.

And as we reduce our dependance on Russian hydrocarbons, we also need to use our market power, as larger purchasers of gas, to deliver short-term relief to our households and our businesses. Mr. President, I really mean it when I say that the relationship between Greece and the United States is today at an all time high. Last Thursday, our Parliament ratified the new Defense and Cooperation Agreement between our two countries. And this new cooperation manifests itself not just in the naval base at Suda Bay, on Crete, which I hope you will have an opportunity to visit. It has been described by many as the “jewel” in the crown of our fantastic military relationship. But it also manifests itself in the Port city of Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece, just 500 miles from the Ukrainian border. And apart from its military importance for NΑΤΟ, Alexandroupolis, as we discussed, is rapidly becoming a regional energy hub and entry point for Liquefied Natural Gas into the Balkans and Eastern Europe. And Greece plans to play an important role as a gateway for electricity produced from cheap, renewable sources, primarily sun in the Middle East and Africa.

And we’re very happy Mr. President that the US has provided its unequivocal support for these projects. A quick word about the region, Mr. President, you are extremely knowledgeable about the Cyprus issue and please use all your influence to put the negotiation process back on track, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. No one, no one can or will accept a two state solution in Cyprus.

The Balkans are also still quite fragile. We must keep their European perspective alive and tangible. Greece is a pillar for regional prosperity and security, and we will always seek peaceful ways to resolve our differences with our neighbors. I am convinced that we can achieve that. We place great emphasis on the “3+1” scheme, a framework that connects the US with Greece, with Cyprus and with Israel. And at the same time, Mr. President, we will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and make it very clear that we will not accept any violations of our sovereignty and our sovereign rights. And after all, we’re doing so, in order not just to strengthen Greece, but also in order to strengthen NATO’s southeastern flank.

We will continue our long-standing cooperation between our defense industries. We will launch the process for the acquisition of a squadron of F-35 aircraft. And we do hope to be able to add this fantastic plane to the Greek air force before the end of this decade. And I’m happy that on Friday, Lockheed Martin officially expressed its interest in investing in Hellenic Aerospace. Of course, the bonds that connect us, the bonds between America and Greece reach far beyond our shared history, security and defense. Across the board, from trade to tourism and technology and cultural exchanges. There is so much, ladies and gentlemen, to be mutually gained. As you know, Greece has come through severe adversity. The recent economic crisis was extremely painful for our people. But Greeks have proven their resilience.Democracy in Greece has proven its resilience. And today, Greece bears no comparison to the Greece that became the ‘poster boy” of the European financial crisis a decade ago. Our economy is strong. Earlier this year, we paid off Greece’s outstanding debt to the IMF two years ahead of schedule.
We are creating jobs and investing in new industries such as digital and clean tech. Many European companies, wary of their dependence on China, are bringing back manufacturing jobs to the European continent, and Greece is an obvious candidate to welcome them. Many American companies are investing in Greece for the first time. Companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer. They are doing so because they see a country that has an advantageous geographic position that is both a member of NATO and the European Union. A country with a stable government that is welcoming foreign investors. Because Greece, Mr. President, is back and a promising future lies ahead us.

Let me conclude, Mr. President, by saying that you recognize many Greek American friends amongst this gathering tonight. You have mentioned several of them by name. They call you “Bidenopoulos” for a reason. Although I suggested that maybe you should be called “Bidenakis”. It would rhyme well. I’m sure everyone in this audience is particularly proud today. I am equally proud about what Greek – Americans have achieved in the United States.

Let me especially acknowledge the presence of your new ambassador to Greece, George Tsunis. I met him at my office a few days ago. The first thing he told me was the story of his parents living in a small village in Western Greece, called “Platanos”. We’re honored to welcome George back to his second homeland. And Mr. President, marking this bicentennial, albeit with a year’s delay due to COVID, matters deeply to the Greek people and to me personally.

Recent events make this celebration that much more pertinent. The fight of democracies against autocracies is the defining battle of our generation. Αnd the proud moments from the history of our two nations give us confidence in what we can achieve in the future. We should never lose sight of what our ancestors fought for and that which we must now defend. All of us should draw great strength from their example. I’m hugely grateful to you, Mr. President and Dr. Biden, for hosting this magnificent gathering. And I took your words very seriously that you do intend to visit Greece to reciprocate this visit.

Thank you again all very much.