New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
In the HALC televised call, “Biden/Harris with Ambassador Burns,” on August 28, a discussion of
the Democratic ticket’s potential for positive action on current topics in urgent need of solutions
was joined by “Greek Americans from coast to coast, Americans from coast to coast, ambassadors canvassing for Joe Biden in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and some people who are trying to decide,” said Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC, who led the call.
Congressman Sarbanes said, “What we will continue to be doing is endorsing the Vice-President and putting out statements of support.We do have a lot of Greek American officials at all levels who I think are participating in the call today. We invite you to declare that support and share those statements so they can be broadly distributed. I know my father [Senator Paul Sarbanes] and Governor Mike Dukakis are putting together a statement that I think will show their excitement about the Biden/Harris ticket.”
Congressman John Sarbanes,Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Tsakopoukos-Kounalakis, Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada, Congressman Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, and epidemiologist and politician Dr. Natalia Linos, who at the time of the call was running in the Congressional Primary in the 4th District of Massachusetts with strong endorsements from Ambassador Burns andHALC.
Dr. Linos, whose question was COVID-related, is currently Executive Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard and serves on the Poor People’s Campaign COVID-19 Health Justice Advisory Committee. “I was deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s failure to take a lead here at home, and the failure to think about COVID as a global pandemic,” she said. Her parents—epidemiologist mother and surgeon father, who live in Greece, “were lucky that Greece had this time got it under control,” but worried about an administration “that would turn inwards and pull out of the World Health Organization at a time of a global pandemic.” In the case of an emergency, another pandemic, would the Biden administration pay attention to other countries, like Greece and Cyprus?
Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis turned to her own experience to reply. “California got the message early on we were on our own; we should not be looking for leadership on acquiring PPE.” She recalled “scrambling, trying to figure out the best way for the governor to connect with the government of China; to make sure that our own hospitals had masks and gloves and coveralls. It was just preposterous, yet we were clear-eyed in California early on, to understand that we’re not going to wait for Donald Trump to tell us twice that we were ‘on our own.’ “
Although they “got it the first time and got to work,” it has been very discouraging for her as someone who has served in federal government during the Ebola outbreak “when the US led and worked with WHO, worked with other countries, and that capacity existed with the CDC to do so,” in contrast to the Donald Trump administration fundamental dismantling of it…” Her answer was reassuring: Although there are other challenges of American leadership in the world, it won’t be that difficult for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and so many capable people within the US government to stand up and rebuild these organizations, and to lead on this crisis, regain leadership in the world. “I think that on day one Joe Biden will be able to put those teams together and reassert our role.”
Zemenides bundled several similar questions such as, “How do you make Turkey behave with regard to the Exclusive Economic Zones of Greece and Cyprus, how do you get them to honor human rights, how do you get them to acknowledge the Armenian genocide… the Armenian Genocide Resolution– which also acknowledges the Greek and Assyrian genocides, but it goes back to ‘reestablishing leverage.”
While Ambassador Burns doesn’t know whether Vice President Biden has taken any specific positions on sanctions resolutions, he feels that “leverage is what it’s going to be all about with the Turkish government….”“One can’t depend on ‘the better angels’ of Erdogan’s nature,” said Burns, “He’snot that kind of guy; he’s a guy who understands power.”
During the Obama/Biden administration the US was working with the EUand all those countries where Turkey has a lot at stake, he said.Because Turkey needs assistance from the EU, and when the EU and the US work together, on Cyprus or some of the other issues, that’s when leverage is involved, and that’s a big part of international politics.”
Burns doesn’t see that President Trump is practicing “that kind of diplomacy… at all… his diplomacy is so personal he disregards the advice of his own government on issues like Aghia Sophia, whereas Biden knows how to do this. “He was a very successful and, I think, a very consequential vice-president,” he said, inviting the question of which vice-presidents in American history had greater responsibility and success in foreign policy. That, I think, is the answer to [Dr. Linos’s] very good question.”
“Now is the time to give the proper signals to the Erdogan government, not mixed signals. Quiet diplomacy is really not in our interest anymore,” said Zemenides. “It’s one election where I think we can say, without stretching it at all or having to argue, that the Hellenic issues and Hellenic interest are very much prime US interest. A Greek issue is a regional issue, US policy in the Balkans, in energy, in the Levant, everything, really, depends on this bilateral relationship.”
Congresswoman Dina Titus talked about mobilizing the community and group unity. She remembered Joe Biden saying, ‘We’ll be back in the Paris Climate Accords and we’ll be back in the World Health Organization,’ so I know that’s coming soon after he takes office.” Praising Biden as a team player “who doesn’t look at this as just being about the presidency; he looks at it up and down the ticket, and he has been committed to helping members of Congress… he knows it’s all about team effort. ‘All of us together can get this done’ is a big theme of Biden’s.”
“We are resilient; we can come back stronger than ever. There’s nothing the United States has not been able to accomplish if we get in it together,” she continued,“Everywhere there’s a Greek community and a church and a picnic, we can put the word out that we’re in this together, and not just be ‘grass tops’ but ‘grassroots’ as well, and I think this will be very important.”
Congressman Sarbanes thanked Dina Titus for hervery importantcomments that“the ‘grassroots’ energy of our communitycan have an impact on the outcome.” “Dina was focused on that from the very first time we talked about stepping behind the Biden effort in a real way. She came out very early for Vice President Biden because she could see things more clearly, I guess, than everybody else, so thank you, Dina, for that.”
Endy Zemenides noted that 2021 is the Bicentennial of Greece. A very strong beginning to
the bilateral relationship with the United States was spoken support for the Greek War of Independence. “A lot of American philhellenes went and fought, and a few died in the Greek War of Independence. 2020 into 2021 gives us a great opportunity to renew those ties.”