Greek American Leaders tell “Greek News” what expect from the new administration
Washington, D.C. .- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The Greek-American community welcomed the inauguration of the 44th president of the US, Barack Obama with the hope that the policies, aspirations and the change committed to by the US President will have positive results on Cyprus issue and all other issues of Greek interest.
A special event was organized in Washington on the eve of Obamaʼs inauguration, by the Cyprus Federation of America, PSEKA and the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH).
Archbishop Demetrios of America honored the two national co-chairpersons of “Greek-Americans for Obama”, State Treasurer from Illinois Alexi Giannoulias and Eleni Tsakopoulos.
Giannoulias thanked the Greek-Americans for their support that allowed for his election to one of the highest offices in the State of Illinois and contributed to Obama’s rise to the US Presidency pledging to continue to support Greece.
Eleni Tsakopoulos, who initially was the chairperson of the “Greek-Americans for Hillary” Committee, praised the role of Archbishop Demetrios and referred to the close cooperation she had with Giannoulias in the effort to have Obama elected president of the United States.
Archbishop Demetrios was invited to sit on the Presidential platform during the Inauguration of President Obama. As well, the next day he was with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden when he was one of few religious leaders to participate in the National Prayer Service.
CEH members who co-hosted and attended this event included: World Council of Hellenes (SAE) Honorary Chairman, Andrew A. Athens; PSEKA President and Pancyprian Association of America President, Philip Christopher; Cyprus Federation of America President, Panicos Papanicolaou; PSEKA Executive Vice President Nikos Mouyiaris; PSEKA Alternate President Tasos Zambas; Hellenic American Leadership Council Founding President and Alexi Giannouliasʼ Political Director, Endy Zemenides; and Greek-American Chamber of Commerce President, Zenon Christodoulou.
Also present were, Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Alexandros Mallias; Ambassador of Cyprus to the US Andreas Kakouris; Sanator Bob Menendez; Congressmen Zack Space and Gus Bilirakis; Mayor of Piraeus, Panayotis Fassoulas; Former Athens City Councilor Yvette Jarvis; and M.P. Kyriakos Mitsotakis; Archon National Commander Anthony Limberakis; Leadership 100 Vice Chairman Constantine G. Caras; Philoptochos President Aphrodite Skeadas; and AHEPA Supreme President Ike Gulas.
Leading Greek-Americans and Philhellene who spoke to the “Greek News” expressed hope that President Obama and his administration will keep their promises to the Community.
ENDY ZEMENIDES SENIOR ADVISER OF ALEXI GIANNOULIAS
Q: After Wednesday, what do you expect for our issues?
A: After Wednesday or on Wednesday this is when the big work starts. We have to first of all establish what positions may communicate immediately with the new secretary, and the new assistant secretary about what we found acceptable and more likely unacceptable from the previous administration. Those communications have already begun. Furthermore we have to see some immediate movements now, on which issue first I canʼt predict. As we know in foreign affairs thereʼs a lot of it thatʼs going to be due to external events. There may be some progress on the Cyprus issue that makes them concentrate on Cyprus first, the Macedonian issue may come to a head that may make them concentrate on that first, there may be something on religious freedom that makes them concentrate on the Patriarchate first, the visa waiver first.
So weʼre going to have to see how external events affect each issue and the priority, but we are going to be all over not only the new administration, but new members of Congress. We are going to have to look at legislative and administrative actions that can be taken. Itʼs really a priority to get some quick movement, including a consistency of the rhetoric of the campaign. I want to see the president-elect already as candidate declared (?) Turkish occupation in Cyprus, I want to see the State Department put that on their website too, it would be a first. So certain actions like that, weʼd like to see quick action.
Q: The channels are there and open?
A: Yes at several levels. We have a unique situation in our communityʼs history where both the president and the vice-president and the secretary of state have had strong philhellenic leanings in the past. On top of that, what has been our traditional strength, which has been Congress, is stronger than ever because we have a speaker, for the first time, of the House of Representatives who has been in the Hellenic Caucus, you have the Deputy Majority leader the Majority whip in the Senate who has exploded as a champion of our issues and the Majority Leader Harry Reid who has staffers who know our issues very well and is also very close with 2 members of Congress Shelly Berkley and Dean Titus are our own. So we have several points of leverage. Our greatest champion Senator Menendez is going to move up in seniority, he is also Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, thatʼs another point of leverage. The channels are open at several different levels I think, and there are more channels that are open and open wider than ever before.
PHILIP CHRISTOPHER PRESIDENT OF PSEKA
Q: Mr. Christopher, after Wednesday what is going to be for our issues?
A: Well obviously we have a new administration, a lot of new people in the administration, a lot of old friends that have joined the administrations. Our effort is immediately to impact this administration in one basic founding type of principle and that is the American foreign policy, which Obama has been talking about during his campaign should be a foreign policy that protects the interests of the United States but does not compromise the American values. And if that is the basis of the foreign policy, I think we have a chance to see some major changes in regards to Cyprus, major changes in regard to the Patriarchate and the other Greek issues.
I am hopeful that indeed we will see fundamental changes in foreign policy because for years now we have been talking about it, the bottom line came the foreign policy vis-à-vis Turkey, Greece and Cyprus remained the same.
Q: We have some indications who the people who are going to be involved in our issues and the news I would say are not so good.
A: Well you know the news are not so good, if you are thinking that Hillary Clinton being the Secretary of State I think she knows the issue, understands the issue, and that the fundamental policy starts from the top. If the Obama-Biden administration do not revert back to a foreign policy that protects interests that at the same time are American values, we have a problem.
IKE GULAS PRESIDENT OF AHEPA
Both as Americans and Greek-Americans we are expecting change. Barack Obama promised change in his campaign and I think thatʼs why you see a lot of the excitement not only in the United States but in the Greek-American community. We are cautious but optimistic that the new administration is going to offer the Greek-Americans the chance to change the policy thatʼs been in place for several years now and you know we are cautiously optimistic and based on the appointments that weʼve seen so far, we are very hopeful that weʼll see some different outcome in the next administration.
NICK LARIGAKIS EXEC. DIRECTOR OF AHI
The truth is we do not know what we are going to expect yet. Thatʼs something that we are going to be looking at very carefully, especially looking to see the further confirmations go with Hillary Clinton and who some of the new players are, we know some of them already. Iʼm more concerned with what some of the things that were said in the past and we are going to be vigilant regarding making sure that whatever their opinions are from the past, are now objective and that hopefully they are going to pursue the presidentʼs agenda and not their own agenda and hopefully wonʼt be persuaded from within whatever their previous bias might be regarding our issues, specifically to the woman at the national security council which we know had put together with Steven Cook with the Council of Foreign Relations a paper that was very anti-Cypriot position very pro-Anan plan and things that we were very concerned with at the time. Now of course is a position of much more importance and we want to make sure that we are going to be vigilant regarding making sure that she pursues an objective opinion and view on how she pursues these issues as they relate to ours.
A: Itʼs very exciting for the United States; itʼs very exciting for the world. Here at home itʼs going to mean economic recovery, itʼs going to be more opportunities for people and across the world itʼs going to be an America which really does fight for the ideals of democracy.
Q: What about with our national issues?
A: I am very hopeful that this new administration will have a very warm stand across the world, bringing peace, resolving disputes and I hope we can do that in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Cyprus.
CONGRESSMAN ZACK SPACE
Q: Congressman Space Will you please comment on the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States of America, what does it mean for our national issues?
A: There are millions of people that are from around the country that are assembling here in Washington this week to celebrate this great event in American history. It represents change in a very critical (?) in our history. Almost everyone agrees we need a new direction in this country and he represents that. He represents hope for millions in terms of our foreign policy, there are so many issues involved, economic issues, issues regarding healthcare, issues regarding the environment, but certainly foreign policy is important, I look forward to much better days in terms of our relationship with Greece, our respect for human rights, our respect for international law, all these things play into the issues, they are important to us. The issues with Cyprus, the issues with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and freedom of religion, those are the things that Obama represents and stands for and Iʼm very optimistic about what he represents for our future.
DEP. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN NEGROPONTE
Q: Could you please make a comment on the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States of America
A: Of course I will make a statement, as you can feel it there is just a tremendous amount of excitement here in Washington and in the whole country and I would dare say the entire world about our first African American president and all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike and as you know Iʼm a Republican, wish him well and wish him success. Itʼs important that our president succeed, we only have one president at a time and this will be a historic change, transition with the first African-American president.
Q: With the Greek issues do you expect any change?
A: Iʼm not aware that he said anything that would mark any difference between his policy and that of the previous administrations, but I believe weʼll have to wait and see on that.
Q: Very simple question, what do you expect after Wednesday in our country and on the national issues of Greece and how the new administration will move forward?
A: Well I have to tell you right now is the time for celebration and I think most of the conversations going on Washington are really in celebration of this moment in time, today as Martin Luther King Day and this amazing moment where we have elected this extraordinary man, extraordinary young man and the first African American to be the President of the United States and the most powerful leader in the world. And itʼs very, very exciting. And you know my husband and I were talking earlier today, Markos Kounalakis and he said you know if you think about it really, Michael Dukakis was the first person you canʼt really say of color, but who is not a Northern European. The first person ever not of Northern European descent to be a nominee of the major party president and he had been at the forefront of it. Our moment, as much as anyone elseʼs and itʼs very exciting.
Q: A few things about Hillaryʼs appointment?
A: Well obviously that is something that has been very wonderful and somewhat surprising and that makes it all the more wonderful, really. And so I think itʼs something that also speaks so well of the president which is that he is willing to recognize the best people for the job regardless of any other personal history. That he can compartmentalize and that there was an election and the election is over and he needs to find the most qualified person and sheʼs the most qualified person for the job and thatʼs wonderful in the sense that he thinks that way and he operates that way.
Itʼs wonderful naturally because we get Hillary as Secretary of State. Most of us, certainly myself, when they ask why Hillary, why are you so passionate about Hillary; for me it was always her expertise on foreign affairs and foreign relations. So for her to be doing that fulltime, it is very rewarding and wonderful for those of us who supported her.
ANDY MANATOS CHAIRMAN OF CEH
Q: The question is are we better off after Wednesday?
A: Oh, are we better off after Wednesday? Absolutely we are better off after Wednesday. I wonʼt tell you who I was discussing it with but just this afternoon we were saying weʼd had access but not an ability to affect policy. And we realized after discussing that that has been the case, not because of what we were doing but because the last eight years that weʼve had to deal with this administration. Prior to that we had the same access with the Clinton administration they switched France and Germany and Cyprus became part of the EU, major steps had been taken in FYROM, to remove the currency, flag, many of those kinds of problems. I predict that the next four years, it wonʼt happen immediately because this is a big government the size of the EU it is going to take time to move, within the next four years we will see significant steps forward on issues of interest to Hellenes and to Orthodox. And if it runs eight years, we will see even more steps forward.
Q: Turkey also got a ticket for EU with the Clinton administration, it was a package deal right?
A: Yes they did and as a matter of fact as I maintain, all of the policies we support are in Turkeyʼs best interest. It does Turkey no good to be on Cyprus, it does them no good to overfly Greece, it does them no good to cause these problems with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As a matter of fact I know many Turks who have been exposed to the world and seen how the world operates that agree with us entirely on this. This is not an anti-Turkish policy.
Q: Bottom line these people that are here will take position concerning our issues the European issues both on our White House and on the State Department, you are not concerned? You think we have a better leverage?
A: Itʼs going to be an uphill battle. I was assistant secretary of commerce and I can tell you this, this is way back in the Carter administration, I can tell you this, your boss, the Secretary of that department, is your boss. Your future is in that personʼs hands. The good news is weʼve never had a better support other than Joe Biden and Obama has been extraordinarily good on our issues, so Iʼm confident. Itʼs not going to be easy, it is going to take time but you will see there will be progress.
SENATOR BOB MENENDEZ
You can sense the electricity in the air of expectation, of hope, of the change that has come to the country and I think that it will be a good opportunity for the United States to re-embrace the world and for the world to embrace the United States and Iʼm looking forward to some great things.
Q: Will it be easier now, you are our strongest…
A: Well I hope our job because of the president-electʼs views is easier. But with so many pressing issues in the world, the challenges putting the issue of Cyprus and its reunification on the forefront because you have Iraq, you have Afghanistan, you have Pakistan, and you have the Middle East, so pushing on the table to make sure Cyprus is an issue that gets attention from the administration from the list of many challenges is our biggest challenge.
PETER PAPANICOALOU PRESIDENT CFA
We have a new administration coming in, therefore as Greek-Americans we care so much about the issues that they have to do with Cyprus, Greece and our Patriarchate. We have a lot of work to do with our administration. I hope that we can succeed in our endeavors and with the help of people like the ones we have here tonight, we can see some progress in the Cyprus issue and all the other issues that we care.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS ILLINOIS STATE TREASURER
I am thrilled and ecstatic for President Obama. He is going to go down the history as someone of the most outstanding presidents this country has ever seen.
On the issues of Hellenic concern, I think we have a lot of work to do. We must let them know that on every issue we are going to work together. We have to raise serious challenge. This is an administration that understands our issues and this is step number one.