Washington.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis, Maryland U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, EU Ambassador to the United Stated Stavros Lambrinidis and Congressman David Cicilline, were the honorees at the official diner of the 35th PSEKA Conference, on Wednesday, June 5th, in Washington.
During his speech, Defense Minister Apostolakis stressed Greece’s greater stabilization role in the geopolitically sensitive area of the Balkans and the Southeast Mediterranean.
“Greece’s firm policy and desire is the peaceful coexistence with its neighbors on the basis of international law, current treaties and legitimacy. Amid these unpredictable challenges, Greece remains at the forefront and has proved to be a pillar of stability and a security provider in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans and beyond,” Apostolakis said.
The Greek minister, who is paying an official visit to the US capital, has met with a series of deputies and senators in Congress. During his speech at the Committee, Apostolakis sent a message to Turkey regarding the respect for international legitimacy while emphasizing the importance that Greece attributes to defense cooperation with the US as well as its NATO commitments.
Sending a clear message to Turkey, the minister noted that he has called on Ankara to refrain from further unilateral actions violating International Law and undermining stability and prosperity in the region. In fact, he stressed the need to respect the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
However, he expressed concern about Turkey’s recent unlawful actions related to this issue, saying that our country has a “difficult neighbor.”
Apostolakis underlined that the more active US participation in the regional cooperation defense sends a firm and clear message.
“I would like to underline the importance of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s participation in the recent tripartite summit of Greece, Israel and Cyprus. Strategic cooperation with the United States, coupled with our commitment to NATO, is a defensive priority for us. In this respect, by investing in our long-term friendship, we are increasing the dynamics and new aspects of our outstanding military relations,” Apostolakis said.
Remarks were offered by the other honorees, as well as from the Presidential Commissioner for Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou, PSEKA President Philip Christopher and Andy Manatos President of the Coordinating Effort of Hellenes.
The 35th PSEKA Conference started on Tuesday, with greetings from the President of PSEKA Philip Christopher and the participating organizations, and a briefing from ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus. Presidential Commissioner Photis Photiou also briefed the delegates on the developments in Cyprus.
Taking into consideration “Turkey’s heightened provocations in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, I cannot foresee that things may be able to resume their normal course unless Turkey changes its aggressive tactics,” said Photiou.
Photiou said Turkey is proceeding with illegal drilling activities within Cyprus’ EEZ and is deploying naval assets in close vicinity, adding that Cyprus’ international efforts aim at making Turkey cease these actions.
In his speech, Photiou covered a broad spectrum of subjects, including trilateral cooperation, bilateral relations with the United States, Turkish provocations against Cyprus, and developments in the Cyprus problem, the issue of missing persons and the problems faced by Greek Cypriots enclaved in the areas under Turkish occupation.
Referring to the Cyprus issue, he pointed out the importance of maintaining a calm situation on the ground, noting that “further weakening or even withdrawal of UNFICYP will be interpreted by Turkey as an opportunity to promote the so called ‘TRNC’ and to solidify the illegal fait accomplis and the insistence on such a policy is in discord with the new era in the Cyprus-US relations.”
Referring to the arms embargo, Photiou said “these restrictions clearly go against US interests in reinforcing frontline states such as Cyprus against US strategic competitors,” adding that “the lifting of the embargo will also be a powerful symbolic gesture.”
PANEL ON EAST-MED
US State Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Palmer is in Nicosia to discuss the arms embargo on Cyprus, State Department Director, Office of Southern European Affairs, Yuri Kim has said, noting that the first thing to do is understand what is wanted and then decide how to get there.
Yuri Kim was on a panel discussion at the 35th Annual Conference of the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA), in Washington, along with former US Ambassadors to Greece and Cyprus, Daniel Smith and Kathleen Doherty, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority side chief advisor Damien Murphy.
Kim said strengthening ties with Cyprus is to the benefit of the United States, as is enhancing relations with Greece as well.
Referring to Cyprus-US bilateral relations, Kim said “there have been many practical steps taken and we are going to continue that,” adding that “this is precisely the reason Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Palmer is on the plane now to Nicosia.”
“Last month we had a Deputy Assistant Secretary from our counterterrorist bureau in Nicosia. Before an Assistant Secretary from the Treasury Department to work on improving the transparency of the banking sector,” Kim noted.
She added that “there are lots of things that we want to do and we need to do, but in these things must you keep in mind it’s a two-way street, it takes two to tango.”
“For all the things we would like to do, we are going to need our partners on the island to also. They are showing they are ready, we still want to do more so we will keep that up,” she said.
Kim noted that “over the next few weeks and months you will also see little bit more action, some are involving strong congressional interest – always very helpful- but in reality there will be things happening that we surely won’t advertise.”
Regarding the US stance on the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Kim said “we have policy regarding peacekeeping operations” in general, one of the being that “there has to be an exit strategy” and a second being that “these peacekeeping operations have to be in support of the political process, not in place of the political process.”