Michael Dukakis, John Podesta, Eleni Tsakopoulos say we need at the White House someone to know and care about Greek issues. Foreign Policy advisor Julie Smith explains position on Cyprus, Aegean.
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Although the primary races for both parties are close to the finish line, the only remaining candidate to have formally engaged with the Greek American Community has been Hillary Clinton.
This engagement has come through three events. The first was a fundraising event in Northern California spearheaded by former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis. The second was a very successful January fundraiser organized in mid-January by prominent businessman Dennis Mehiel, attended by Hillary Clinton and many leading Greek Americans (“Greek News”, 1/17/2016). Finally, in March the campaign and Greek Americans for Hillary, headed by former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, invited the community onto a conference call. The conference call lasted for about 30 minutes and many Greek American leaders joined in the call with John Podesta (former White House Chief of staff and Hillary for America Chair), former nominee for President of the United States, Governor Mike Dukakis, and Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis.
Eleni Tsakopoulos spoke warmly of the former First Lady and President Bill Clinton, who was the first sitting U.S. President to visit the Fanar the Primate of the World’s Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. “Those of us who watched that happened really credit Secretary Clinton”, Tsakopoulos said. In 2008 Ambassador Tsakopoulos was the chair for the Greek Americans for Clinton, an organization that raised one million dollars for Hillary’s campaign. “Most of all we advocated for the person we thought to best serve our country and the world. As Secretary of State she did just that. Now we have a chance again together to support her 2016 campaign”, Tsakopoulos said.
John Podesta, Chair of Hillary for America and a Greek American, told participants that “as a First Lady and as a Senator and a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton really demonstrated the unique bond that the United States has with Greece. She has always thought it was extremely important and she worked hard for it.” Podesta stressed that she is the only person that has the knowledge, the depth, the values and the experience, to be able to handle foreign policy, keep America safe and deal with crises around the world. He commended Hillary Clinton’s care about American families, saying that the centerpiece of her campaign it to raise wages for people in order to live dissent lives. “She has emphasized that in order for every kid to succeed you have to have families succeed. To give people a change by tearing down the barriers that holding them back, by building a fairer economy, by building a fairer society”.
Recalling President Clinton’s own words, he said that Hillary has been an agent of change over her entire career. Podesta was confident that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and asked the participants to mobilize their friends and their communities. “We need your efforts, we need you to get out and be leaders in your communities, to talk to your friends and neighbors”, he said.
Governor Michael Dukakis described the campaign as a long and strong effort, expressing confidence that “with the help of all of you Hillary is going to be the nominee.” “I am particularly concerned about who the next President is going to be in relation to Greece itself, as it struggles to get out of this very serious economic situation exacerbated by the insistence of part of the EU that adapts austerity policies that each one of us know they don’t get you out the depression”.
Michael Dukakis said a number of Greek Americans including himself are working with the White House and they have gotten very positive response. “We need a president who understands Greece, loves Greece, supports Greece and while recognizing that Greece itself has to do some things to turn itself around, these kinds of policies make no sense. And that the United States can and must play a major role in helping Greece and the Greek people to get back on track and to build a strong future for themselves and their kids and grandkids”. He added that Hillary Clinton is this kind of person. “I don’t have the slightest idea what the Republican candidates would do under the circumstances. That’s why it is so important for Greece’s future and our future as Greek Americans, that we have someone at the White House to continue the work the President and the Vice President – who is deeply involved – are doing. Making sure that Greece has a very strong friend in the United States and we are all going to do all we can so Greece come back”, Dukakis said, thanking at the same time the Greek Americans for everything they have done for him in his 1988 presidential campaign, and asking them to do the same for Hillary.
During Questions and Answers Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC, thanked “Hillary for America” for being the only campaign reaching to the Greek American Community. Quoting Podesta’s line that “Hillary is an agent for change”, he pointed out that we need is a change in some policies on the Hellenic Issues and especially Cyprus. He mentioned the effort by Turkey to keep the world hostage regarding the refugee issue and the pressure that was put at that time on Cyprus to open chapters of the Turkey-EU accession talks.
John Podesta responded by saying that Hillary Clinton has believed for a long time that a Cyprus stalemate helps no one and that first of all a Cyprus settlement should be made a priority. “You need to be tough and talk straight to people you know you need to do business with. I followed what’ is going on in Turkey and I think that the only way to be successful with Erdogan is to be tough with him. That’s the kind of a guy he is. Ultimately we need Turkey to in the fight against extremism in Syria, but that doesn’t mean that we should give them concessions that they are not in the interest of the region and of the United States. The same is true for the question surrounding the refugee crisis. So, making it a priority, pushing for a resolution and being tough with Erdogan are the keys.”
Eleni Tsakopoulos added that Europeans must work with Turkey on the refugee crisis. “Turkey is NATO ally and they have a stake as well. They have 3 million refugees from Syria and they are taking care of them for five years.” Tsakopoulos said that the preliminary agreement in the EU-Turkey summit has a lot of problems and it was not clear if they would be able to finalize it. But, “one way or another, this is a shared problem that they do have to try to find a solution by working with them.” Tsakopoulos agreed that when you are negotiating with Erdogan you have to come from a position of strength and praised the role of NATO in the Aegean. On Cyprus, Ambassador Tsakopoulos reminded that President Clinton was the one who laid the ground work for the accession of Cyprus to the EU. “Secretary Clinton was all along a policy advocate for Cyprus. She knows the issue for more than two decades, she was very supportive of a Cyprus solution and she recognizes that Greece is part of Europe and an important strategic ally of the Unites States. She also has a personal relationship with its leaders and the Greek American Community. Things that will be very beneficial to all of us who believe in a strong and secure Greece and a liberated Cyprus”.
After the conference call, the Clinton campaign followed up with The Greek News to provide even more complete responses to the issues addressed on the call. Clinton foreign policy advisor Julianne Smith answered questions on Cyprus and the Aegean.
With regards to Cyprus, Greek News asked what Podesta’s response about being “tough” with Erdogan would mean in terms of actual policy of a President Clinton on Cyprus. The campaign responded that Clinton was committed to solving the Cyprus problem “because it would have significant ramifications not only for your immediate neighborhood but for a wide range of related issues more broadly. (One could think of a potential breakthrough on EU-NATO cooperation for example.)” Although the present Administration has never pushed Turkey for tangible concessions – or even contributions – on Cyprus negotiations, the campaign stated that Clinton “fully recognizes that Turkey has a very important role to play in helping to bring about a lasting solution, and she intends to press Ankara to engage constructively throughout the process. With Erdogan, she will be clear that solving Cyprus is a top priority and should be for Turkey as well.”
During the conference call, Ted Diamantis of HALC raised the issue of Turkey’s provocative overflights in the Aegean, and its attempts to set up “gray zones” in the Aegean. Greek News asked Ms. Smith how a President Clinton would deal with this. She noted that “Clinton knows how difficult this issue has been for Greece and Turkey and that the refugee issue is bringing new pressure to resolve it” and that “Greece and Turkey have made substantial progress over the years to ease tension in the Aegean through increased bilateral cooperation.” She noted that a President Clinton would “privately and publicly” discourage “provocations, including overflights of Greek territory, that will undermine any chance for progress.”