Diplomacy or Interference? Tsipras talks to Obama

“President Barack Obama received an update from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on his ideas for a path forward between Greece and its creditors.  President Obama reiterated that it is in everyone’s interest that Greece and its creditors reach a mutually-acceptable agreement,” read a short communiqué issued by the White House on July 7, 2015. Why has Tsipras announced his plans to Obama? Why is it relevant for Obama to stay in touch with Greece and its endless financial crisis?

What could be perceived as a surprise on behalf of Tsipras is not. Beyond his status as the “nightmare” or “hero” of the euro area, Tsipras is the head of the government of a sovereign, US ally and NATO member country. Considering that he has likely heard of US concerns over a possible rapprochement between Greece and the Russian-Chinese axis, Tsipras probably wanted to reassure Obama about Greece’s foreign policy. Although this would not prevent such a rapprochement, it is customary to inform one’s partners about ongoing developments chiefly when the partner is the world’s most powerful country. Perhaps Tsipras’ hope is that Obama can help Greece vis-à-vis the euro area and also vis-à-vis the IMF where the US government (USG) has always been the most important decision-maker.

As for Obama, do his interactions result from foreign policy considerations or are they interference? Before all, this is about foreign policy. When a head of government is calling you, you are free to answer and this is even diplomatically customary to answer when the phone call comes from an allied country. Tsipras’ phone call to Obama thus participates in the usual exchange made within the framework of a bilateral diplomatic relationship. This phone call could however justify a stronger impending involvement on behalf of the US in the crisis the euro area has been plunged into. Not only Tsipras likely expects that Obama can help him, but chiefly the Greek issue has become a “high priority” in Washington DC for several reasons.

First, this is the risk that a disintegration of the euro area with all the political hazards it implies would be a (highly) negative development at the very moment when relations with Russia are very tense and the controversial Transatlantic Treaty (TAFTA, TTIP) is being negotiated as a publicly declared top priority of the Obama administration. Second, this is the fact that a possible rapprochement of Greece with Russia and China could lend credibility to the AIIB, the public investment bank launched by China that ambitions to question US-dominated world finance.

Third, that such a rapprochement could constitute a perfect “insertion point” for the Russian, Chinese political – rather than economic – interests straight into the European Union (EU), and encourage countries likely to experience “significant political change” such as France to review their foreign policy in a direction that is less favorable to US interests. Usual diplomacy or inacceptable interference, whatever one thinks about it, it seems unlikely that the US chooses to remain on the sidelines of the ongoing developments between Greece and the euro area. When the US interests in Europe are at stake, one can expect some deep and powerful action.