New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Leaders from around the United States that will gather in Washington DC for the 32nd Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference (PSEKA Conference) will ask U.S. officials to stop baseless prediction for an imminent solution to the Cyprus problem before the departure of the Obama Administration and focus instead on pushing Turkey to make concrete steps.
The conference will take place from June 7 -9 and it will be attended by the Cyprus Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides.
“At this crucial time for Cyprus settlement efforts, our focusing the United States’ most influential policymakers – in the White House, State Department and US Congress – on the importance of a just and lasting settlement is more important than ever”, Mike Manatos from the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes told the “Greek News”.
The Conference will open on Tuesday at noon, with a briefing by Cyprus Government Spokesman, Nikos Christodoulides, Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States Leonidas Pantelides and Greek Embassy Chargé D’affaires Maria Theodorou.
Following that there will be a briefing on U.S. policy towards Greece and Cyprus by White House National Security Staff Senior Director for European Affairs, Dr. Charles Kupchan and State Department Director of Southern European Affairs Phil Kosnett. On Thursday, the delegates will be briefed by Vice President’s National Security Advisor, Dr. Colin Kahl.
“Our main goal in not to set any artificial timelines. We are arguing during the entire Obama administration against artificial timelines. The end of the Obama administration is not a legitimate timeline. If it has to go into the next presidency it goes”, Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) told the “Greek News”, in an exclusive interview.
Philip Christopher, the President of the International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus” (PSEKA) told the “Greek News” that this year’s conference is concentrated in building alliances”.
The ambassadors of Israel, Egypt, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus have been invited at the Conference, along with delegations from the American Jewish Committee and the Armenian National Committee.
“We feel that the Republic of Cyprus could only have a chance for a solution if the Cyprus problem becomes an instrumental part of the region”, said Philip Christopher.
The panel discussion on the bilateral relations between Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Armenia will take place Tuesday afternoon.
As this is a presidential election year, the PSEKA conference will conclude with briefings by a “Trump for President” Senior Policy Advisor and a “Hillary Clinton for President” Senior Foreign Policy Advisor.
- How HALC and its members are approaching this upcoming PSEKA conference?
- The most important accomplishment we may have from this conference is defeating what I believe are false expectations and hopes. We keep hearing from the administration that the solution is imminent and dates like November of 2016. We have to see what all these are based on. I see this as a baseless prediction and in fact, by continuing to say it and raising false hopes we are setting even the future solution in jeopardy.
Our main goal in not to set any artificial timelines. We are arguing during the entire Obama administration against artificial timelines. The end of the Obama administration is not a legitimate timeline. If it has to go into the next presidency it goes. We have to make clear that November 2016 means nothing to us; even January 2017. The only thing that makes a difference to us is tangible contributions by Turkey and tangible commitments by the international community to underwrite a solution.
- Have you seen any concrete move by the US administration towards Turkey? And at the same time any firm commitment by Turkey to the U.S on Cyprus?
- No! I have seen only happy talk and a lot of promises that the situation has been talked about. But the administration hasn’t been able to get from Turkey even a firm commitment on issues of war and peace of prime importance. You are talking about an Erdogan who continues to undermine – if not harm – the Kurds, our most effective ally against ISIS. You are talking about an Erdogan who only few years ago defined the U.S. on the sanctions of Iran; an Erdogan that continues his cold war with Israel, Egypt; an Erdogan that blew the Armenian protocols; an Erdogan who disallowed President Bush to use Insirlik for Iraq.
I am not sure that even if the Administration tried, it could do something, because they haven’t been able to realize their top priorities vis-à-vis Turkey. Having said that, even if the administration is trying, what they owe Greek Americans and what they owe Cyprus is a little bit of honesty. They should acknowledge that Turkey hasn’t offered anything tangible at all.
State Department and other US officials continue to express their desperation with Turkey in private and they claim there is nothing more they can do. There is something they can do! They should substantially upgrade ties with the Republic of Cyprus. One of the reasons Turkey and the T/C dig in is that for some time now the United States do not treat the Republic of Cyprus like a country, but as one community. But there is a Republic of Cyprus and our number one priority right now is to make sure that the U.S. government substantially upgrades its bilateral relations with the RoC. If that happens and Turkey understands that on that front, on the front of energy and regional diplomacy the train is leaving without them, they may start making substantial contributions to the process.
- Have you seen any moves from the administration towards Congress to secure a financial commitment for the Cyprus settlement?
- The administration keeps talking that is going to find a way to contribute to the cost of the reunification that we know it will be more than the cost of the bailout that put Cyprus in austerity. Despite all that rhetoric, there is no indication on how much the administration will contribute. This is what makes the talk about a November 2016 deadline completely unrealistic. Congress is out in October. When are we going to know the cost of the reunification? When are they going to tell the people of Cyprus that someone is going to help them? What we can do through our friends in Congress is that it has to be a demand on what the administration is planning to contribute. Also, where is the money going to come from. Even when I speak to members of the Hellenic Caucus and friends like Ileana Ross – Lehtinen and the rest, nobody really knows.
- What is the goal of this year’s PSEKA Conference?
- This year’s conference is concentrated in building alliances. We picked the dates to coincide with the AJC World Forum, because we want to work very close with them. We have also invited the Armenian National Committee to be there, along with the ambassadors of Israel, Egypt, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus. We feel that the Republic of Cyprus could only have a chance for a solution, if the Cyprus problem becomes an instrumental part of the region. We invited to speak the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Ken Hyatt, who was recently in Cyrus, along with Victoria Nuland from the State Department, NSC European Director Kupchan and we hope we will have a chance to speak with Vice President Biden.
Unlike the officials at the State Department who are very optimistic, we are not. All major issues like territory, property, guarantees, have not been discussed.
So our goal is encouraging alliances and bi-lateral relationships and having more American investments in Cyprus, because we believe economy influences foreign policy.
We hope many Greek American leaders will attend the Conference and we have set many appointments to meet with very important Congressmen and Senators.
- What is our message to the U.S. Administration this year?
- First that we have to change this false optimism that a solution could be achieved this year. We read the statements coming out of Turkey and the statements of President Erdogan, on how they regard Cyprus. We want to bring them to the ground to understand that in order to have a solution Turkey has to be pressed. At this point Turkey has not been pressed.
- Who are this year’s honorees?
- On Wednesday at the dinner, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Ed Royce (R-CA) will receive the “George Paraskevaides Award”, Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) the “Frizis Award” and Van Vlahakis (posthumously) and Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks the “Athens/Livanos Award”.
Special recognitions will also be offered to Honorees: House Foreign Affairs Committee Members, David Cicilline (D-RI) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), State Department Special Envoy & Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, Amos Hochstein and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).