THESSALONIKI, GREECE - As ties between the U.S. and Turkey have turned sour, relations between the U.S. and Greece are warming rapidly.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived Friday in Thessaloniki along with a bevy of American officials and U.S. companies for an international trade fair.
In all, 50 U.S. companies — including top brands Coca-Cola, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Lockheed Martin — are exhibiting at this year's international trade fair in the northern Greek city. The U.S. is featured as the honored country at the fair — a title reflecting rapidly warming ties between Washington and Athens.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford just wrapped up a two-day visit to Greece, saying Washington is looking to expand its military presence in the country and to boost defense cooperation.
Separately, as Greece comes out of the worst of its debt crisis, U.S. commercial interest is growing, too, encouraged by a White House that sees Athens as an increasingly important strategic partner.
Pragmatism is driving the new relationship, according to U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt.
"We have converging strategic objectives. We are both struggling with aspects of our relationship with Turkey. That we have converging interests on some of the big regional security challenges, whether it is ISIS or illegal migration. That we have shared interests around the western Balkans," said Pyatt.
‘Americans are back’
Earlier this year, Russia was accused of fomenting a coup attempt in neighboring Montenegro. Pyatt sees a bigger role for Greece in the Balkans, a region that's attracting more interest from other powers, including Russia and China.
"Geopolitical competition has returned to southeastern Europe in a big way. We are very sensitive to the role that Russia continues to play across this region. … Part of what we are trying to do with the very large American presence at the Thessaloniki international fair is to make clear the Americans are back," Pyatt said.
Eight years ago, it looked like Greece would crash out of the euro zone. But now there are signs of revival. Overall growth in 2018 is due to match the healthy clip of the United States — and American companies, according to Sissy Eliopoulou of Coca-Cola, see opportunities.
"We would like to demonstrate how we believe in the future of our country. We are present in this country for 50 years, and we are continuing to grow along with the country."
Microsoft believes encouraging innovation will be key for Greece to grow, says the company’s Eugenia Bozou.
"We see Greece coming out of a challenging, almost 8-years situation, and we want to be part of a new era for Greece, an era that will drive investment and foster innovation and will keep the youth of Greece here," said Bozou.
As the country's economy improves, both U.S. companies and the White House are pinning a lot of hope on Greece.