Cyprus Negotiation dominated hi-level talks in Nicosia, Athens, Ankara. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias part of the delegation
New York.- U.S. Senateʼs Deputy Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL) concluded a week long visit to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey during which he was informed about the ongoing Cyprus negotiations and the prospects for a just and viable settlement. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and his political director Endy Zemenides were accompanying the Illinois senior Senator, who was expected to be joined in Ankara by U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler. Senator Durbin also visited in Istanbul His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Senator Durbin, an early supporter of President Barack Obama had postponed the trip, initially scheduled for late November, due to the death of his daughter.
While in Greece and Cyprus, Senator Durbin and Alexi Giannoulias were received by Prime Minister Karamanlis, opposition leader George Papandreou, Foreign Minister Bakoyiannis and others, while in Cyprus they met with President Dimitris Christofias, House Chairman Marios Garoyan, Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Averof Neofytou and Turkish Cypriot Leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
Andy Manatos, President of the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes Honorary President of the World Council of Hellenes Andrew Athens and Cyprus Federation of America President Peter Papanicolaou were also in Cyprus and Greece during Durbinʼs visit.
Speaking at a press conference in Athens, after concluding their meetings, US Senate’s “No. 2” Democrat said the Cyprus issue dominated his talks with Greek leadership.
Asked about who holds the “key” to a solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem, the Durbin answered the “Cypriot themselves, on both sides.”
He added that, as regards the Cyprus problem, “we stand ready to help, but only if asked.”
Additionally, Durbin said energy issues — i.e. energy security and renewable sources of energy — as well as repercussions from the international economic crisis were discussed with Greek leadership.
Durbin, who again described himself as an “official friend” of Barack Obama in a bid to distinguish his role during the ongoing regional tour, twice referred to the new US administration’s emphasis on dealing with climate change, noting that the problem threatens humanity’s future. He added that he will share his experiences and observations from his contacts in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey with the US president and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In terms of other matters, the US Senate majority whip said Afghanistan was not discussed with the Greek government, whereas he said his lack of comments on the ongoing furor surrounding new appointed US Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) is due to the fact that he is “eight time zones” away from Chicago and wants to first review all the documents in detail.
He nevertheless said the latest allegations concerning Burris “raised questions that need to be answered very carefully”.
In closing out the press conference, US ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard answered a press question dealing with Athens’ standing request for inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program, reiterating his hope that the matter will be completed in 2009. He noted that both sides share a commitment to resolve the outstanding issue, adding that only one issue remains to be settled.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis welcomed on Wednesday at his Maximos Mansion government headquarters Senator Richard Durbin and Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, pointing out that this is the first official US delegation to visit Greece following the inauguration of new US President Barack Obama. Karamanlis stressed that the US president’s commitment to closely cooperate with friends and allies on all major issues of mutual interest and concern is warmly welcomed.
The Greek prime minister added that, as he has told the US president in the telephone conversation they had, he is looking forward to close cooperation with him, focusing on forging closer bilateral relations, which are already on excellent as well as on issues of mutual interest, both international and regional.
“This reception is not of a symbolic nature, but constitutes a very sincere and substantive commitment,” Karamanlis concluded.
On his part, US Sen. Durbin underlined that he is not in Greece as an official representative of the Obama administration adding, however, that he and Giannoulias come as “official friends of the President” and will convey to him the message that the friendship with Greece is strong and will become even stronger.
“Greece has inspired our democracy, and our alliance today is inspiring. We have many challenges that need to be faced globally and regionally. We have cooperated in the past to solve many problems and will do the same in the future as well,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the US lawmakers were later received by main opposition PASOK and Socialist International (SI) president George Papandreou, for talks on the international economic crisis and ways to combat its repercussions via the Obama administration’s massive stimulus plan.
The two US officials queried Papandreou regarding the economic crisis in Greece and Europe, taking under consideration Papandreou’s initiative to establish a Stieglitz Committee with the participation of representatives from all major countries.
Referring to the economy, discussion also touched on Papandreou’s “green” growth proposals. They also referred to Middle East situation SI arbitration efforts in the Israel-Palestinians conflict and Iran.
Cyprus was also amongst the issues discussed in the meeting, as Papandreou cited PASOK’s firm positions and his proposal for a new national strategy, adding that when PASOK returns to government, Athens’ policy vis-à-vis Turkey will again become a top foreign policy priority.
The US will offer any assistance Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat may need, in their efforts to find a negotiated settlement in Cyprus, US Senator Richard Durbin has said.
Speaking here Tuesday, after a meeting with President Christofias at the Presidential Palace, Durbin noted that the US have not a specific offer to give, but it is up to the two sides to decide what that help might be. “We are going from here to Athens and then to Ankara to encourage both leaders and both governments to join us in this offer for assistance”, he added.
The US official pointed out that President Christofias “is showing exceptional courage in moving forward with the peace negotiations to try and bring Cyprus back together”, and expressed hope the people of Cyprus supports the two leaders.
“This is a historic opportunity and I wish them (the two leaders) all the success”, he said, noting that it takes great courage for them to keep working.
Pointing out that this is not an official visit to Cyprus and that he is not here as a representative of President Obama, Durbin said that he will stress to the US President as well as the Secretary of State “that the US will consider this (the process for the solution of the Cyprus problem), as an opportunity of history that we should not miss. We should do everything we can if we are asked to call on to make this work”, he added.
“There has been too much suffering on this beautiful island and we have to put history behind us and look to the future together”, Durbin concluded.
Meanwhile, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou told journalists Tuesday that the visit of the US delegation constitutes a great opportunity to inform US officials about the Cyprus problem.
”Their visit here is a very good opportunity to brief important people of the US political life on the Cyprus issue, the ongoing negotiations and the goals we pursue regarding the solution of the Cyprus problem”, he said.
The spokesman added ”we can also inform them about what we think must be done in order to reach a solution, and what the international community can do to help our efforts”.
Garoyian, who received Tuesday a US delegation comprising US Senator Richard Durbin, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, counselors and members of their political staff , briefed the delegation about the current developments regarding the Cyprus issue and noted the importance of the US contribution to efforts for a political settlement.
According to an official press release, the House President noted the need to exert pressure on Turkey to change its stance and contribute constructively to a solution.
He stressed that the Greek Cypriot side adheres to a solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single sovereignty, one citizenship and one international personality.
“The pursued solution”, he said, “must be viable, functional and must respect fully human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people of Cyprus and be in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the EU values and principles”.
The US officials held later on a meeting with Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou.
In statements after the meeting, Kyprianou said they discussed issues concerning Turkey’s EU accession course, EU-NATO relations, as well as bilateral ties and how they could be further enhanced.
Kyprianou noted that the US Senator is not on an official US government mission to Cyprus, but said that the Senator would inform US President Barack Obama about his visit.
He added that Senator Durbin is interested in the Cyprus issue and has been active as regards Cyprus in the Senate.
“We know his relations with President Obama. We believe it is reasonable to assume that he will inform him”, he concluded.
On Monday the U.S. Delegation was briefed by Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou on the ongoing direct negotiations between Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Talat.
Durbin said “we are hopeful that they will continue on a positive note and that we can look toward a peaceful resolution of the situation here in Cyprus.”
“Weʼve come here because we understand this is an important part of the world for not only the people living here but for many in the region and the United States has many friends that we want to try to encourage to move forward with these negotiations,” the Senator noted
Asked about his moves on his return to the US, he said “we donʼt come as an official delegation from the Administration. We leave it to President Obama and to Secretary of State Clinton to speak directly to the United States position, but we want to share with our friends in the Senate, in the American community the progress that is being made.”
“It is very hopeful that President Christofias and Mr. Talat are meeting as they are and we are hoping that this leads to a positive solution here to a long-term challenge,” Durbin concluded.
Finally, speaking on Monday at a working lunch in Nicosia, offered by Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Averof Neofytou, Durbin said that when he returns to the US he will inform the new US government on the results of his visit to Cyprus and the positions the Cypriot officials have expressed.
Neofytou expressed his appreciation for Durbin and Giannoulias interest in efforts to solve the Cyprus problem and briefed the US delegation on the recent developments.
During the working lunch, they exchanged views on various issues of mutual concern and of international interest.
According to an official press release, the working lunch was attended by Deputy Chairman of the Committee Sotiris Sampson, and MPs Skevi Koukouma, Nicos Kleanthous and Demetris Syllouris.