Behind the scenes of the US-Greece Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement talks

On 5 October, 2019, the signing in Athens of the US-Greece Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) by foreign minister Nikos Dendias and his American counterpart Mike Pompeo took place in Athens.

The agreement provided for the withdrawal of older facilities that were not used by the Americans and the addition of three new ones, which would restructure the presence of the US in the region: Alexandroupolis, the Larisa Air Base, and the Stefanovikio army base.

Immediately after the 2019 talks on which To Vima had published a series of revealing reports, and the signing of the agreement, the American side focused on the revision of the duration of the agreement.

In 2019 the Americans had proposed an eight-year or 10-year duration, followed by an infinite renewal, so that they could better manage the planning of prospective investments. Although the renewal remained annual, in a new round of talks the two sides saw eye-to-eye on a five-year extension.

New, updated MDCA

On 14 October in Washington, Dendias is scheduled to sign with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the updated MDCA Annex. Over the last day there were feverish talks between the two sides in order to agree on the two texts that were being negotiated: The Annex and Blinken’s non-binding political statement (verbal note) that will accompany it.

On 29 September, just one day after the signing of the Greece-France defence accord in Paris by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron, there was confusion as to whether there would be a five-year or infinite extension of the MDCA.

To Vima the same day revealed that in fact the agreement will be extended for five years and thereafter will remain in effect infinitely, unless either side withdraws from it. The US requested that if Greece withdraws Washington will have an additional two years before departing.

The location of four military facilities

Meanwhile, it was decided that just four adjacent locations will be added to the current four.

They are the Yannouli Military Camp in Alexandroupolis, the Souda Bay Naval Base in Crete, the firing range at Litohoro in Pieria, and the Georgoula Military Camp (near the Larisa airbase and the army airforce base in Stefanovikio).

Even the final talks were not a cake walk as a report on 4 April, 2019 in To Vima indicated.

Initially, the Americans came to the table with a long list of locations. They included Araxos, Andravida, Astakos, and the island of Skyros (which was not included in the final agreement).
The Greek side also presented a list of locations on islands in the Eastern Aegean (Limnos) and in the Dodecanese (Rhodes and Karpathos).

That move led the Americans to adjust to more minimalist tactics in or to avoid friction with neighbouring Turkey. Athens’ effort to include Greece in a series of defence aid programmes did not come to fruition

The basic points

In the last stages of talks the Greek side focused on securing the best possible political declaration (verbal note).

In the past, Henry Kissinger’s 10 April, 1976 letter to Greek foreign minister Dimitris Bitsios took on mythical dimensions. For that reason, Athens had requested a new letter in the 2019 revision, which was sent by Pompeo to Mitsotakis in January, 2020.

In the Annex that will be signed next week the Greek side managed, as To Vima has been informed, to secure a repetition of the basic points in the preface to the body of the 1990 MDCA, especially as regards sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

However, Athens sought a firmer guarantee regarding the protection of Greek sovereignty, if possible in the Annex.

The American side on this point went on the defensive and wanted no such reference in the Annex. Yet it was willing to include it in the political statement. Sources told To Vima that the US in the text stresses that it respects Greece’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, sovereign rights and jurisdiction based on the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.