WASHINGTON, DC, July 23, 2013 — Last week top Cypriot-American and Greek-American leaders met with senior US policymakers at the White House and State Department who handle the Cyprus issue and with the US Congress’ top foreign policy makers regarding Cyprus settlement efforts. These meetings took place as part of the Coordinated Effort of Hellene/Cyprus Organizations’ annual commemoration of the July 20, 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. Below is a list of the participants in these meetings as well as some of the key policymakers with whom they met.
What follows is a report on the outcome of these meetings:
The Good News
In summary, Cyprus, the Greek-American community and some US government officials are to be congratulated for the improved status of Cyprus in Washington, D.C.
Deep engagement for many years by Greek-Americans with key Senators, Members of Congress and Administration officials who have now risen to leadership positions has resulted in top Washington policymakers having in-depth knowledge of the complex Cyprus issue. Those efforts have produced unprecedented advocacy by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Bob Menendez); extraordinary support by the Chairman and Ranking Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Ed Royce and Eliot Engel); and a dramatically upgraded American Ambassador in Cyprus (John Koenig). As well, Greek-American leaders’ unprecedented relationship with the US Vice President (Joe Biden) and involvement with President Barack Obama has contributed greatly.
The Obama Administration and the US Congress hold President Nicos Anastasiades and his government in very high regard. Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides is a known and valued personality in America as is the Chief Negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis. And, they also relate well with the new Ambassador of Cyprus to the US George Chacallis, who is an experienced Washington hand. As well, Cyprus’ upcoming natural gas income and its newly developed very close relationship with Israel all contribute to a positive image of Cyprus in Washington. Jewish Senators and Members who have always been Cyprus’ top support group feel even more committed to support.
The challenge facing Cyprus is the Obama Administration’s unprecedented close relationship with Turkey. President Obama reportedly speaks more to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan than to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia recently described that closeness when she said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Our alliance with Turkey, our relationship with Turkey, is absolutely critical.” She called it “an intense and tight relationship, because we have constant contact — I think Secretary Kerry has now made seven plus trips to Turkey, the President talks regularly with President Erdogan.” She added that “Turkey’s democracy and the strength of it is important not only…as a NATO ally, but also because with a majority Islamic population Turkey’s democracy is looked at by other countries around the world and the region who aspire to be able to be Islamic and democratic at the same time.”
Another aspect of the challenge can be seen in White House and State Department assurances, from the highest levels, to Greek-American leaders that Turkey is ready to settle Cyprus. However, when asked what steps, other than stating these words, Turkey has taken, the answer is none. If Turkey’s statements were sincere, surely Turkey would have responded positively to Cyprus’ generous offer of the confidence building measure of easing the economic embargo on the occupied area through the port of Famagusta and helping Turkey’s EU accession talks.
Turkish officials’ statements about opening the Greek Orthodox Halki Theological Seminary in Turkey convinced very sincere friends serving as Secretary of State and top White House officials that it was happening. Five different times over a ten-year-period these officials have made special calls to community leaders notifying them that the seminary was about to be opened.
Will Washington’s officials convince Turkey to change its Cyprus position? We have never had a better chance, but time will tell.
Participants in these meetings
with US policymakers
George Chacalli, Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States
Philip Christopher, President, Pancyprian Association of America
Andy Manatos, President, Coordinated Effort of Hellenes
Mike Manatos, Executive Director, Coordinated Effort of Hellenes
Endy Zemenides, Executive Director, Hellenic American Leadership Council
Tassos Zambas, Alternate President, Internat. Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA)
Zenon Christodoulou, Founding Chair, NJ Hellenic-Am. Heritage Commission
Nick Larigakis, President, American Hellenic Institute
Basil Mossaides, Executive Director, AHEPA
Some of the US Policymakers With Whom They Met
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Eric Rubin
White House National Security Staff Director for the Southern European Affairs and the European Union, Michael Sessums
Vice President Biden’s Special Advisor for Europe and Eurasia, Janine Ellison
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA)
Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Co-Chairmen of the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance (CHIA), Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
Assistant Senate Majority Leader, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)