New York.- By Apostolis Zoupaniotis
The Congressional delegation planning to visit the occupied area of Cyprus suffered substantial losses, after several key members, withdrew from the participants list. According to Peter Papanicolaou, President of the Cyprus Federation of America, it highly unlikely that any Democratic member of the House of Representatives to travel in Cyprus, via the illegal Tymbou Airport of the occupied areas.
This follows the engagement of grass roots pressures on members of Congress that has showed intention to participate. A Cyprus Federation delegation, headed by Mr Papanicolaou traveled to Washington D.C. on Friday, where it held meeting with various members of Congress, while a day earlier, PSEKA President Philip Christopher met with Congressman Wexler. Andrew Manatos of the Coordinating Committee of the Hellenes also participated in some of the meetings.
Today, the Pancyprian Association of Florida President, Thelma Pieri, with other Greek Americans of Florida, will meet in Washington with Congressman Wexler, to give him approximately 1,000 signatures of Greek Americans, residing in his district.
In a interview with the GreekNews, Peter Papanicolaou spoke about the meetings he recently had in Washington and he thanked Members of Congress who played a crucial role in these efforts, amongst them, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Bob Menendez and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
According to reliable sources, Turkish lobby leadership continued efforts to recruit Congressmen to participate in the trip to Turkey and Cyprus, June 1-7.
INTERVIEW WITH PETER PAPANICOLAOU
Q: Let’s start with the meeting you had on Monday.
A: On Monday we had a meeting at the White House with Matthew Bryza, who deals with the Cyprus issue at the National Security Council. Philip Christopher and Andy Maratos also took part in the very good discussion we had with him, about the recent developments in Cyprus and also the upcoming announced visit of U.S. Congressman in the occupied areas of Cyprus through the illegal airport of Tymbou.
It was a very positive discussion. I think that the whole approach and attitude of the office, of the National Security Office, it’s much more positive, than a year ago, right after the referendum. Everybody sees the need of restarting a new process, they were very pleased with the latest developments, specifically the presidential envoy from Cyprus coming to the U.N. to discuss the concerns of the Greek-Cypriot concerning the Anan Plan.
We are at the point where talking about the necessary changes that we have to make of the Annan Plan in order to be acceptable by both sides. They reiterated the respect that everybody should give to the result of this referendum. And in terms of the visit of the Congressman to the occupied areas, even though we had a lot of discussion about the legality of the visit, I think we both agree that this is something that should not be encouraged, especially at this specific time, when positive things are coming up.
Q: What meetings did you have in Congress?
A: On Wednesday we met with 7 key members of Congress from both sides of the isle and of course we saw some of our good friends and supporters, including Congressman Menendez, from the Democratic side and Congressmen Lincoln Diaz Blart and Mario Diaz Balart from the part of the Republican side. Both of them, us assurance that they will stick to the members that plan to visit the occupied area.
We also had two very important meetings, one with Congressman Whitfield and one with Wexler. Whitfield who is leading this effort, was very open and very polite to us. He listened, but of course he didn’t give us any indications that he will change his position. He tried to convince us that this is something encouraged by the State Department. He also spoke about the need to terminate the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, trying to help them financially.
We were trying to explain that if their goal is really the reunification of the island and the ending of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, what they are trying to do is really going to produce exactly the opposite results. We also spoke about the desecration of the churches in the occupied areas. He seemed to be very much interested and he showed the desire to learn a lot about it. We ended up the meeting in a good note, but without him giving us any assurances that he will not go there through the illegal point of entry.
So we just tried to explain to him that we are not opposing any visit of US officials in the occupied areas; actually we encourage them to go and see the suffering of Turkish Cypriots, but what we explained to him is that this situation can easily be a win-win situation: They can arrive in Cyprus through the Larnaca Airport, they can hold meetings with the president of Cyprus, the speaker of the House, and then they can cross the green line and go to the occupied areas, have meetings there with the political leaders and see first hand what is going on over there.
The other important meeting, a very informative one was with an old friend Congressman Alcee Hastings from Florida who is a member of the Turkish caucus and a guy who is trying to be reasonable with both sides, through the Turkish caucus and through the Greek caucus. Mr. Hastings told us that he was approached right from the beginning to participate in this trip, but right away he told them that this is not the right thing to do it and he wouldn’t participate.
He feels very strongly about this being going in the wrong direction. He told us that he will speak to the members that they didn’t drop out to tell them again they should reconsider, but very interesting enough he told us that probably with Congressman Whitfield we may have a hard time to convince him, because he’s of Turkish origin. And also the other important thing, which is very positive for us , is that actually the State Department does not encourage this trip, but he sees the idea that Congressman Whitfield is spreading around to make it more easy for members of Congress to agree and participate.
Q: There was also a grass root mobilization in Florida?
A: There was a grass root mobilization from Florida, and also in other states, in California too. A lot of letters and e-mails went out and actually on Monday the president of the Pan-Cyprians of Florida with other members are visiting the office of Congressman Wexler to present to him signed petitions from Floridians and from members of his district opposing this trip; also fortunately we have a very large Cretan community there with a very large association, which is making a lot of phone calls and sends letters.
Some other members of Congress who spoke to have already received phone calls. We are very grateful to the other associations and the Greek-American community for doing this because that is what really counts; just to see how important it is to them to get phone calls from their constituents.
When we finished the meeting with Whitfield he said to us, “Where are you from? Anybody from Kentucky?” which shows the interest that we showed. Unfortunately we don’t have a very big community in Kentucky, but we hoping that some of our friends in Congress will convince him that this is a step in the wrong direction and he will reconsider it.
Q. Do you think they will cancel the trip?
A: I just hope that all the members of Congress will decide not to go and I’m pretty confident from the side of the democrats none of the members is going to participate because we have a strong support from the leadership of the party. I think it will be embarrassing to Whitfield just to travel by himself.
Also, yesterday (on Tuesday) we found out that they are trying to recruit some other members. So we keep our eyes and ears open and we trying to identify which people are the new ones invited, but I’m pretty sure by the end of this week, if no other new member makes commitment, its going to be very difficult within a week to find members to travel away.
Q: Who was participating in the CFA delegation?
A: I was there as the President of the Cyprus Federation. Costas Tsentas the Executive Vice President, and Tasos Zambas the Chairman of the Cyprus Committee and Theo Hadgitheodosiou the Assistant Chairman of the Cyprus Committee.