The American Jewish Committee will be honored for its contribution to the new rapprochement between Israel and Cyprus. An interview with the President of PSEKA Philip Christopher.
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Over 100 of the top Greek-American leaders from across the country, and Hellenes from around the world (including Canada and Britain), will be coming to Washington, DC for the 28th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference, from June 6-8, at a moment of crucial geostrategic changes in the Eastern Mediterranean that may affect the course of the Cyprus problem.
“The most dynamic event in the area is the discovery of the hydrocarbons between Cyprus and Israel and the recent alliances and agreements that have been announced between the two countries”, Philip Christopher, the President of the International Coordinating Committee “Justice of Cyprus” (PSEKA) told the Greek News.
The delegates will attend meetings with over 40 key Senators and Members of Congress involved in the formulation of US policy toward Cyprus, Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Turkey, including:
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), Ranking Member on the House Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), House Democratic Leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) etc.
Cyprus Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou, along with Mayors of Famagusta, Kerynia and Lefkoniko will also be present.
During the Conference Banquet on June 7 the organization will honor the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Hercules Priebus (a Greek American) and the American Jewish Committee.
President of PSEKA Philip Christopher has spoken to the Greek News about the upcoming conference.
Q.- What are the highlights of the upcoming PSEKA Conference?
A.- The first objective is to continue to educate congressmen, senators and members of the administration in regards of the continued illegal occupation and colonization of the island. Of course there are new dynamics in the world today. The most dynamic event is the discovery of the hydrocarbons in the area between Cyprus and Israel and the recent alliances and agreements that have been announced between the two countries.
There is no question this new dynamic brings the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC closer to us. For the first time, members of the AJC will be joining the PSEKA Conference and lobbying with us. This is an event that can change the fixed policy of the United States which leaning towards Turkey for the past 38 years.
We are happy that organizations from throughout the United States joining the conference. Canadian and British parliamentarians are coming along with their respective delegations.
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou will represent the Cypriot government and in addition we will have with us the Mayors from out occupied municipalities of Famagsta, Kerynia and Lefkoniko and a delegation from Morphou.
I think their presence is important, because we will ask the congressmen and senators to understand that these mayors are representing refugees forcibly removed from their homes.
This is an election year for the United States and this gives us the opportunity to play the card. We have invited the Chairman of the National Republican Committee to attend and hear our issues. We have also invited the Republican presidential nominee to come, but we are not sure if he will make the trip. We are hoping, though, that some of his foreign policy advisers will be present.
It expected the November presidential election to be a close one and in states like Florida or Ohio the Greek communities could play an instrumental role.
Q. Barack Obama attended PSEKA Conference in 2007 making promises. Since his election some of our leadership had opportunities to meet with him, but vis-à-vis his policy, although he is not negative for our issues, he is not positive either. It’s an election year and I think his government should be represented at the conference.
A. We are still trying to have Vice President Biden, or his National Security Advisor Tony Blinken to attend. We are very disappointed with the administration. It has basically maintained the status quo; they have offered the same rhetoric, that they will not recognize the occupied area and they haven’t. The U.S. position for the protection of the gas platforms is positive, because an American company (Noble Energy) is involved. But the fact President Obama has embraced PM Erdogan and he regards Turkey as a “model democracy” for the Islamic world, is disappointing. It doesn’t take into account the Turkish violations of the international law by occupying part of Cyprus; the numerous religious freedom violations, the treatment of its minorities, the disrespect for the human rights, freedom of the press etc.
Elisabeth Randall is the one calling the shots. Personally I am disappointed with Vice President Biden. As a senator he was very outspoken, a champion of freedom for Cyprus. But as Vice President he is very silent. He simply says that he doesn’t have the power to shape foreign policy.
Basically these are the things you are going to here at the PSEKA Conference. It gives us an opportunity to stress these things to the administration. And I am delighted we will have many young members that will come from across the country.
During the conference we hope we will introduce some resolutions, for the colonization of the island. Colonists are estimated to be around 350.000 to 500.000 and that changes all the dynamics for a solution. The Turkish Cypriots are just a small minority, the Turkish generals are calling the shots in the occupied areas and the intercommunal talks are just a waste of time.
Q. Cyprus has presidential elections in February and from what it is reported from the island a debate has started on the bizonal – bicommunal federation.
A. I always have my views on that. I am proud to say I was one of the pioneers, who although as president of PSEKA I had to embrace the positions of the Cypriot administrations, I was saying that the bizonal – bicommunal federation is not the solution. Even though there have been some agreements, after the 2004 referendum all bets are off. In addition, Turkey has never negotiated in good faith, to establish such a federal solution. All their proposals they were leading towards a two states solution. They were talking about two countries, two peoples and two separate identities and showing no intention to coming together.
Although this is disappointing, I am glad the Cypriot people have a choice in this election; a choice of whether or not we will continue the wasted dialogues of the past 38 years. Some of the candidates are taking different positions. I hope they will see the change in the world around them. These world events should shape our policy vis-à-vis Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
Q. PSEKA conference has always been a strong forum for all the Hellenic issues, as well as for the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Following the recent visit of the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the Metropolis of Chicago, it seems some people in our Church are following a different agenda.
A. When we are talking about religious freedom it’s not only for the Ecumenical Patriarchate but also for the occupied area of Cyprus. Over 500 of our churches have been destroyed in the occupied area of Cyprus. In addition, I have never agreed with the honor awarded to Minister Bagis of Turkey by the Archons of the Patriarchate. The Turks know how to create public relations, but in the case of the School in Halki, if they have allowed it to open that would have created a public relations bonanza.
I think they are not prepared to make any concessions, not only in regards to the Ecumenical Patriarchate but in a wide spectrum of issues concerning human rights; and that should be seen by both the EU and the United States.
In regards of Davutoglu’s visit in Chicago, I understand the Turkish tactics to present themselves as protecting religious freedom. Davutoglu has tried to create a perception by making this visit, that care about this issue.
Let me be clear. The emphasis of the conference will be Cyprus, but as always has been, we are promoting all Hellenic issues we are fighting for, like Macedonia and the Patriarchate. Let us not allow this thing to divide us. We should be united.
It is easy for a congressman or senator to sign letters calling for the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Where the chips are on the table, is if they are willing to sign a resolution or a letter that calls for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and the colonists from the island. These are the resolutions we will be pushing at the PSEKA Conference.