Greek American democratic congressmen and Lt Governor Tsakopoulos spoke to 400 members of the Community, at a teleconference organized by HALC
New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
“What I appreciate so deeply about Joe Biden is he’s been with our community from the very beginning. I know this not just personally and directly myself, but as many of you know, my father served for years with Joe Biden in the United States Senate, and they grew very close. I think they have a shared perspective on what our values and principles as a country should be, how we conduct ourselves around the world on the international stage, and that’s the kind of perspective that Joe Biden is going to bring as President of the United States,” said Congressman John Sarbanes, in the HALC-sponsored (Hellenic American Leadership Council) televised call, “Biden/Harris with Ambassador Nicholas Burns”. on September 8. Also participating were Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada, and Congressmen Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Charlie Crist of Florida.
Opening the call, Congressman Sarbanes thanked HALC and HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides for bringing together a cohort of supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was praised and upheld for his foreign policy capabilities, his affinity for and understanding of critical Greek and Cypriot issues, and his characteristics of empathy and openness.
“When I think of Vice President Biden, I think of somebody who has a really unique combination of empathy on the one hand, and experience on the other, and I think that is exactly what we need in this moment.” Sarbanes said that now, when so many people in America worldwide are in pain and under a great amount of stress, Vice-President Biden “feels that pain and understands what we need to do as a matter of policy to try and address it.” Noting that Aryanna Pressley, the new member from Massachusetts, has often said “people who are in pain should be the closest to the power,” Sarbanes stated his belief that Vice President Biden and Kamala Harris can accomplish this, that they would “pull people who are in pain to the power, to the policy, and make a difference for them. “ think this is why Biden struck a chord with so many Americans across the country, so I feel really good about where we are right now.”
But Sarbanes cautions against taking anything for granted. “We all know in politics that you can’t take anything for granted, and that’s why I think organizing, bringing together people in our community to make sure we share who Biden is, and what he has done for our community, is going to be so critical on the issues of concern to us… we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to put someone in the White House who will be a true friend when it comes to the Greek and Cypriot American community.”
“At his core, Biden is someone who understands why we feel the way we do about important issues like what’s happening in Cyprus, what’s happening with the Ecumenical Patriarch, this provocative aggressive behavior in the eastern Mediterranean. Biden will be an ally as we move forward and try and address these issues, so I’m very excited about this,” he said, again cautioning that we can’t take anything for granted
Sarbanes was impressed with Biden’s appearance and actions at a meeting of leading figures in the Greek American community with members of the Obama administration at the old Executive Office Building in Washington in 2015, a time when incredible pressure was being brought to bear on Greece in terms of the economy that was under pressure around whether Greece should leave the Eurozone, “Greece was being bullied in many respects and the US was in a position to stand with Greece and help guide it through, to reinforce and support it.Joe Biden came in, he said and although his handlers told him he could spend 5 minutes with the group, he stayed for an hour “because he cares so deeply about our community and has these important relationships.”
Sarbanes introduced Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, who was US Ambassador to Hungary “at a very critical time under the Obama/Biden administration.” Now Lieutenant Governor of California,
“A leader in our community as her father and her entire family have been for so many years,” Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis knows what it means to stand up to strongmen and autocrats and so forth around the world… She understands the importance of diplomacy and what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can bring.”
Thanking Sarbanes, and EndyZemenides for bringing “so many Greek Americans from around the country together,” Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis had high praise for the Greek American members of the Democratic Caucus, being “so proud of the members of Congress who are of Greek heritage “ and expressing the “incredible honor” of being together with them. “You do us so proud. You punch above your weight every single day in Congress, standing up to Turkish aggression and fighting for liberation of the Cypriot people and bringing the voice of Greek Americans who in person-to-person connections with Greece understand the region very well.” She thanked them for their service to the country and for “making sure that our voice is heard… I’d also like to give a shout out to the others on this call who are working on the sub-national level working in State government; local government, members of city councils.”
In Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis’s estimation, the 2015 meeting in the old Executive Office Building was the source of the Greek American community’s relationship with Joe Biden.“Prominent Greek American citizens, clergy and politicians “really got to know” his foreign policy capabilities during his many-year Chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee” she said, “It is not an understatement or an overstatement to say that Joe Biden is very, very close to our community, feels a personal connection to us and knows our issues inside and out….He has spent time in the region and he is engaged again and again…” She iterated that she believes strongly that “Greece would very likely have been out of the Eurozone” without Joe Biden’s personal engagement in 2015
A friend to Kamala Harris since Harris first ran for District Attorney in San Francisco, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis views her as a philhellene. Harris has “a very, very strong sense of honor, and of justice,”is a student of history, believes in the fundamental structure of American democracy, and in the fundamental principles of a strong NATO alliance and a secure world. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis looks forward to a Biden/Harris administration “where we will have many opportunities to engage the Vice President in the issues that are important to us.”
She related that Nancy Pelosi told her that “anywhere in the country she does fundraisers for members of Congress, every member has at least one Greek friend who is organizing and helping and fundraising for them… and I’ve just never forgotten that story. I just love it. And I think that’s really manifested in this group that has come together.”
Thanking Zemenides and HALC, Nicholas Burns, Ambassador to Greece 1997-2000 (now professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School), acknowledged the participation of Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada and Congressman Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and expressed pride in Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis’s work in California, also paying “tribute” to her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos, “a great man,”
When Congressman Sarbanes asked him to participate in the televised call Burns said he accepted “in a minute, first, because I love Greece and value the United States-Greece relationship, and second, have such profound respect for Sarbanes, for his family, and for their service.”
“This is a gut-check election,” said Burns, who is highly regarded by Biden and his leading advisors,
“I think our government is heading in the wrong direction. We don’t have adequate leadership on the pandemic. We don’t have adequate leadership on getting us out of this recession. We have a national reckoning on race that all of us and all of us know what the right thing to do is. What the wrong thing to do is, and the president doesn’t have us in the right place, and I do believe we have a leadership crisis here at home.
“Most of my professional life has been spent on foreign policy, said Burns, who sees that in America “it’s not as strong as it was under other administrations, not as trusted. When the president of the United States embraces dictators like Kim Jong-Un, and Vladimir Putin, and Xi jinping, and yet he excoriates friends of the United States like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Justin Trudeau, we know we have a problem. And we know we have to fix it, and November 3 is the time to fix it.”
He has been with the Biden campaign since March, April, of 2019, when Biden announced,” said Burns, who has known Biden for about 30 years, and fully agrees with the others on Biden’s high character: “He’s a man of faith. He’s a good person, a good human being.” Biden, he said, knows how to run the US government effectively–the job of the President of the United States… There’s nobody with greater experience, both on foreign and domestic policy in the Democratic party right now in the country to be that president that we need to make sure the government is working on foreign policy.”
Burns noted that he has seen Vice President Biden in action as have all of the members “and nobody knows the issues better, and certainly if you compare them to President Trump, there’s no question about that.”In his time in the Senate and when he was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and over the course of his Vice Presidency, Biden established excellent relationships with leaders across the board, said Burns, and “he knows that the United States needs to lead to support democracies and to support human rights when they’re challenged around the world. Biden in the presidency would bring this back, and that’s one of the reasons I’m supporting him.”
Having gone to Senator Paul Sarbanes and Senator Biden for confirmation as Ambassador to Greece, Burns knows “a fair amount” of what Biden feels about Greece. “I couldn’t have had two better sources of support in the United States Senate.”
Biden understands the Cyprus issue, as he has been in Congress from the early 1970’s, Burns noted, “He has been with the Greek people and the Greek State and American interests in opposing the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus since the very first day,” was the first vice president to actually visit Cyprus, was involved in trying to pull together plans to try to resolve the Cyprus problem, and has been an unstinting supporter on Cyprus, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its plight in Istanbul, and of Halki Seminary; “a very important voice speaking the truth from the United States with a forceful statement disagreeing vehemently with President Erdogan on converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque.”
Burns compared all of this to Trump’s great failings, such as his not even raising the issue of Hagia Sophia in a phone call from Erdogan that week and not taking the opportunity to object when both governments made lists of issues to discuss, of not mentioning the objectionable Turkish maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean attempting “to interfere with the rights of Greece and Cyprus rights to prospect for natural gas in their own sovereign waters.”
“Turkey has acted on an extra-territorial basis. That means they’re infringing on Greece and Cyprus’s territorial waters to prevent mining activities. We’ve seen statements out of the State Department
And that’s ‘good objecting’, but we’ve seen nothing from President Trump. Trump has not been a stand-up guy for Greece, but I know Vice President Biden would be, and what a remarkable relationship it would be if Vice President Biden is elected with the great young Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis. My view is clear; Joe Biden will be good for us as Americans. He will also be great for the Greek American relationship which is so important between our two countries.”
Our coverage of the discussion, which continues with Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada and Congressman Chris Pappas of New Hampshire , as well as questions asked following the discussion
Appear in the next issue of the Greek News.