Washington, DC.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The Cyprus problem and the need for the United States to put pressure on Turkey in order for a solution to be found in 36 year old unsolved issue topped the agenda of the 26th Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference, organized by PSEKA and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes in Washington, from May 25-May 27.
The over 100 representatives from major organizations of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Cyprus that participated held meetings with Vice President Joe Biden (see page 42), Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and U.S. Embassy in Nicosia DCM Jonathan Cohen, who analyzed to them U.S. policy for Cyprus and Greece.
In addition, they met with over 35 prominent congressmen and senators, who reiterated their support for a just and viable solution of the Cyprus problem. They also expressed their concern for the “election” of the hardliner Dervis Eroglu in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot Community.
Many of the members of Congress expressed solidarity to Greece and promised to continue supporting Greek government’s efforts for economic recovery.
On Wednesday morning, the delegates honored during a working breakfast Cuban American congressmen Iliana Lehtinen-Ros, Albio Sires, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Robert Menendez.
During a highly emotional ceremony the delegates honored posthumously late Senator Edward Kennedy. The award was received by Congressman Patrick Kennedy.
Among the speakers at the Capitol Hill events were 6 out of the 7 Greek American members of Congress, co-chairs of the Hellenic Caucus Carolyn Maloney and Gus Bilirakis etc.
During the lunch at the Senate, Greek American Senator from Maine Olympia Snowe received the “George Livanos Award”, presented to her by former Senator Paul Sarbanes.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), an active member of the Hellenic Caucus, offered introductory remarks and a brief Congressional perspective on matters pertaining to Greece and Cyprus:
“Today, however, there are very serious issues facing Greece and Cyprus. First and foremost, the issue of Turkish occupation of the northern third of Cypress is of great concern. As a member of the Hellenic Caucus and Foreign Affairs Committee, I have followed the issue with great interest. It’s also an issue I had the chance to discuss with President Christofias when I traveled to Cyprus last year.
“Today, as you all know, nearly 43,000 Turkish soldiers remain embedded in Cyprus, despite the relative harmony in which the Turkish and Greek Cypriots live.
“And we know this military presence, which amounts to almost one soldier for every two Turkish Cypriots, has been far from benign. One of my staff members traveled to Northern Cyprus recently and saw the destruction of Greek Cypriot Churches and icons. Churches had been completely gutted, some burned. Some estimate that 16,000 icons, wall paintings, and mosaics have been looted. Tens of thousands of archaeological items have been stolen. This is the destruction of Cypriot heritage, and it must stop.”
Royce also addressed Turkish misdeeds towards the Ecumenical Patriarch, finding a mutually acceptable name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey’s gradual move away from the West.
The delegates were also briefed n the latest Cyprus negotiations by the Government Spokesman, Stephanos Stephanou. Among the participants who addressed the conference were the member of Canadian Parliament Jim Karygiannis and the member of Greek Parliament Eva Kaili.
AT THE DINNER
On Wednesday, during an official dinner, representatives paid tribute to the veterans of the Cypriot cause in the US, who passed away before seeing Cyprus free of the Turkish occupation and reunited. They pledged to continue the struggle for this cause.
Speaking at the event, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou conveyed the greetings of President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and the government and thanked PSEKA and the associations that participated in the conference for their continuous support for an end to the violent division of the island.
“I assure you that at this critical juncture, your solidarity, your altruistic efforts and commitment to an end to the division of Cyprus and to permanent peace and justice have never been so vital and necessary for Cyprus”, the Spokesman noted.
Stephanou referred to the first meeting of President Christofias and Eroglu on Wednesday, in the context of the UN-led peace talks, noting that the main concern and high priority of the President and the government is the solution of the Cyprus issue. A solution that will be achieved by the Cypriots for the Cypriots, which will reunite its territory, the people, the institutions and the island’s economy.
He said that the solution framework is very well known and it is oultined in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the high level agreements between the island’s two communities. The solution, he pointed out, is a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with political equality, as defined by the relevant resolutions, with a single sovereignty, international personality and nationality.
The solution, he added, must put an end to the occupation and the presence of illegal Turkish settlers in occupied Cyprus and must restore and secure the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Cyprus.
Stephanou also said that the key to the solution remains in Ankara.
”Without Ankara being constructive and agreeing with the current process and framework for a solution, it is hard to see how we can proceed. We want not only words but also action from Turkey”, he said, pointing out that reasonable Turkish interests will be accommodated through a solution.
The Cypriot Spokesman called on the international community to address itself to Turkey to implement UNSC resolutions and to exert influence on Ankara to implement the will of the international community, as defined in the resolutions.
He described the repercussions of the continuing division as negative not only for the people of Cyprus but also for US interests, noting that a solution to the Cyprus problem will strengthen security in the unstable region of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, which is vital to US interests.
He pointed out that President Christofias and the government attach great significance to relations with the US, which are based on the values and principles of international law, justice and human rights and assured that Cyprus seeks to enhance these ties.
“We are at a critical juncture for the future of Cyprus. It is a time for hope but also realism because the road is long with many challenges. Irrespective of how hard it is, this will not stop us from trying to achieve the goal which all Cypriots want, the reunification of the island and its people”, he concluded.
During the opening session, on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was honored with the “Frezis Award”, offered to prominent U.S. officials of Jewish descent. Secretary Steinberg said it was necessary to reach an agreement on Cyprus that would be widely accepted by the people.
He assured that the United States would do everything possible to support the process of negotiations, and noted that it was a good time to move forward.
Charge d’ Affaires of the US Embassy in Nicosia Jonathan Cohen referred to the bilateral relations between Cyprus and the US, as well at the Cyprus problem, noting that the US support ongoing efforts for the reunification of the island and were following developments.
He added that the United States stand ready to assist the process in any way the two communities deem helpful, and congratulated President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias for his courageous efforts.
Mayor of Famagusta Alexis Galanos referred to the issue of the fenced off town and noted that the UN should give priority to promoting the return of the town to its citizens.
On Tuesday evening, the delegates attended a reception hosted by Cypriot Ambassador in Washington Andreas Kakouris. Opening the reception, President of the Coordinated Effort Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) Philip Christopher said that, despite efforts by overseas Hellenism for the past 36 years, the US administrations failed to help justice prevail in Cyprus.
Addressing the event, Greek American MP Dina Titus said she was proud of her Greek roots and noted that everyone should be optimistic about the talks in Cyprus for a settlement.
She also referred to letters sent to the US administration and parliament, requesting that the United States send a clear message for a united Cyprus.
In a speech during Tuesday’s session of the congress, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou referred to the latest developments in the Cyprus problem and efforts to reach a bizonal bicommunal federation solution.
He pointed out Turkey’s role and noted that it was necessary for the international community to exert pressure on Turkey and for the Greek Cypriot side to remain focused on its aims.
Kakouris praised the struggle of overseas Hellenism and noted that fundamental US values, such as human rights, were being violated by Turkey in Cyprus.
He added that the key to the solution was in Ankara, which is still keeping the Cypriots separated.