WASHINGTON, D.C. –
The energy and political alliance between Israel, Greece and Cyprus has been one of the most significant developments in the region over the past few years. This development has been mirrored in the United States, with Greek and Jewish diaspora groups working more closely than ever. And last year, these partnerships found expression in Washington, D.C. through the formation of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance (CHIA) caucus.
This past Wednesday, Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Congressman Ted Deutch, co-Chairs of the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance (CHIA), yesterday celebrated the caucus’ one year anniversary at a reception co-hosted by the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), the Cyprus Federation of America, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
The anniversary celebration took place in the House Transportation Committee’s hearing room, with a crowd of nearly 300 including several members of Congress, Ambassador Panagopoulos of Greece, Ambassador Chacalli of Cyprus, Deputy Chief of Mission Azar of Israel, and members of the Hellenic Parliament Kostas Karagounis and Vassilis Kikilias (both of the Hellenic-Israel Friendship caucus in their Parliament).
“One year ago, we launched this caucus so we could better address the challenges in a region of great importance – the Eastern Mediterranean,” commented Congressman Bilirakis. “The relationship between the US, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus can serve as an arc of stability in what has become a sea of instability. The tri-national friendship is not only important regionally, but promotes stability in the Middle East. This partnership is valuable to the world community.”
Other members of Congress that addressed the reception included CHIA co-chair Ted Deutch, chairwoman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Democrat on House Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, Hellenic caucus co-chair Carolyn Maloney, Greek-American members of Congress John Sarbanes and Dina Titus, Foreign Affairs Committee members David Cicilline, Brad Schneider, and Joseph Kennedy, Foreign Operations subcommittee members Nita Lowey and Mario Diaz-Balart, International Religious Freedom caucus chairman Trent Franks, star freshman Congressman Tony Cardenas and Congressman Tim Murphy.
In addition to co-sponsoring the reception, HALC’s delegation of two dozen members from Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Virginia spent three days spread across Washington, D.C. visiting members of Congress and other opinion leaders to discuss developments in Greece and Cyprus. In conjunction with AJC members, they helped expand the membership of CHIA with visits to the House and briefed key Senators on Cyprus.
“With all the developments in the region, this year is going to be as critical as any within recent memory,” said HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides. “We will one day be judged by how we stepped up in 2014. The activities around the CHIA anniversary were a great start, and our community must keep it up.”
TWO PRODUCTIVE YEARS
In just over 24 months, HALC has built an astounding network of grassroots activists from coast to coast that has been put to work for Hellenic issues with events like the one last week in Washington, to educate Congress on issues relating to Greece, Cyprus and the region.
According to a message on HALC’s web page, this type of citizen lobbying and education is of paramount important in our community. Via one-on-one meetings with members of Congress or their staff, we are able to fill in the information gaps in media coverage, provide context, and underscore the importance of Greece and Cyprus, not just in terms of regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean but in terms of American interests as well.
At the forefront was the reinvigorated Cyprus peace process. Last year, before a meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the need to “move Cyprus forward on one of the world’s frozen conflicts.” Since then, the United States has played a high-profile role in the start-up of the peace process. As Stephen Szabo, Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, has said:
“[T]he United States seems willing to play the role that neither the UN nor the EU has, and could provide the necessary combination of pressure and incentives to push through an agreement. If a settlement is reached, the benefits for the region and for the West will be substantial. “
Beyond briefing Congress on the latest developments toward a bi-zonal, bi-communal reunification of Cyprus, energy is also at the top of HALC’s agenda. The energy landscape in the region is changing rapidly, and discoveries of massive reserves of natural gas off the shores of Israel and Cyprus promise to transform the Eastern Mediterranean into a true energy hub for Europe. Greece’s energy dynamics are also changing, with the Hellenic Parliament approving in December the course of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline through Greek soil, not to mention as-yet-untapped deposits of natural gas and oil. American firms, like Texas-based Noble Energy, are already involved in the region, underscoring the need for security and stability in the Mediterranean.
That need for security and stability is also on HALC’s advocacy agenda. Foreign policy experts the world over agree that the Turkish government’s authoritarian approach to its domestic policy and its belligerence with its neighbors add more uncertainty to an already volatile region. Members of Congress were briefed on current developments in Turkey, as well as how those developments may affect U.S. interests.
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