Washington, DC.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and its partner the American Jewish Committee (AJC) celebrated the 6th Anniversary of the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance (CHIA) with a two-day joint advocacy in Washington (October 16 – 17) to promote issues of mutual concern such as security and energy with U.S. lawmakers. The Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance was created in 2013 with a goal to promote closer ties of Greece, Cyprus and Israel among themselves and the United States. Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (Republican of Florida) and Ted Deutch (Democrat of Illinois) are the co-chairmen of CHIA.
The meetings began on Wednesday, at the Embassy of Greece, with an event attended by more than 100 members of HALC and AJC. Greetings were offered by the Ambassador of Greece Haris Lalacos and the Ambassador of Cyprus Marios Lyssiotis, followed by three panels on Eastern Mediterranean/
The first panel, entitled “General Strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean”, was moderated by General Taxiarchis Sardellis, Former Director of International Relations for the Greek Ministry of Defense. Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation of Defense of Democracies, former member of the Turkish Parliament (now in exile) Aykan Erdemir and Alan Makovsky of the Center of American Progress were the panelists.
Most of the issues raised involved the prospects of the tripartite schemes – especially between Greece, Cyprus and Israel), the role of the United States and the Turkish aggressiveness.
The second panel, “Energy Security & Economics in the Eastern Mediterranean” was moderated by journalist Katerina Sokou, of the Atlantic Council. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Andrea Waldman, and Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute addressed issues regarding the possible energy routes to Europe, the role of various regional actors and the finances of the possible projects.
Finally, diplomats of the Embassies of Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt gave an off the record briefing on “Energy, Diplomacy and the Future”, moderated by Jason Isaacson and Benjy Rogers of AJC.
HALC’s executive director Endy Zemenieds who opened the conference described the vast progress in both US- Greece relations and the cooperation between the Hellenic American and the Jewish American communities in the United States, stressing the importance of the EastMed Bill that is promoted in the Congress.
Ambassador of Greece Haris Lalacos said the cooperation of Greece, Cyprus and Israel is a change factor in the region. He spoke about the US – Greece relations and the Second meeting of the Strategic Dialogue of the two countries that has been taken place two weeks ago in Athens. He welcomed the increased U.S interest in the trilateral cooperation and the participation of the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the 3+1 high level meeting held in Jerusalem in spring.
Ambassador of Cyprus Marios Lyssiotis thanked HALC and AJC for organizing the annual CHIA advocacy conference.
“We are at a moment full of potential when it comes to the 3+1. To realize that potential, we obviously have to continue the relationships between the governments of the United States, Greece, Cyprus and Israel. But to fully capitalize on the moment, civil society is the key.”
He praised the two organizations for promoting the cooperation of the four countries.
“We see your cooperation here in DC, we see you visit members of Congress and host think tank analysts back at home, we see you together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. We see you travel to the region together. During my tenure, I cannot remember a single month in which I did not witness the tangible result of the HALC/AJC partnership. So, I wish you great success over the next two days but remind you to keep it up when you get back home.”
Speaking on the recent political developments in the region, Ambassador Lyssiotis said, Turkey’s invasion in Syriahould raise red flags about Ankara’s other provocations in the region.
“Indeed, Turkey has been carrying out a maritime invasion of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.It was President Erdogan himself who earlier this week compared Turkey’s Syria operations to its invasion of Cyprus, and the Turkish Defense Minister who keeps raising the prospect of a 1974 type Turkish military action in Cyprus.”
Lyssiotis warned that all the progress that has been made in the Eastern Mediterranean is being put at risk by Turkey’s provocations and war mongering.
“Eastern Mediterranean cooperation is not anti-Turkish. It is not directed against any country, and its Agenda is positive. After all, we in Cyprus still seek a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. It is Turkey by its actions that excludes itself from these promising developments. Turkey doesn’t want to play by the rules and in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It refuses to negotiate an EEZ delimitation agreement with Cyprus. That is unacceptable. It is not good for Cyprus, or for Greece, or Israel or the United States. It is not good for regional cooperation.”
Ambassador Lyssiotis commended HALC and AJC on their work on the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, stressing the importance of lifting the Cyprus Arms Embargo is vital.
“Not only has the original purpose of this embargo – making sure Cyprus was not occupied with the help of American weapons – failed, it is a major obstacle to a Cyprus-US defense relationship and thus prevents the 3+1 from developing optimal security cooperation. Lifting this embargo and entering Cyprus into the IMET program will significantly accelerate the security aspects of this 3+1. Good for the region, good for the United States – which needs reliable allies in the region.”
He concluded with energy cooperation and the participation of U.S. energy companies in the gas search and exploitation.
“Having the United States more active in the ongoing energy diplomacy will strengthen regional cooperation, provide key technical and security assistance, and help these resources come to market faster – making Europe and the Levant more energy independent.”
On Wednesday evening, Ambassador Marios Lyssiotis hosted a reception for the attendees at his residence. CHIA Co-chairmen Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch offered greetings, along with the House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey.
Gus Bilirakis announced his intention to table a bill at the House of Representatives that will keep the sanctions against Turkey signed by President Trump, until the State Department verifies that Ankara has stopped the threats and provocations against Greece and Cyprus.
AJC’s executive director David Harris gave a historical overview of the relations between Greece, Cyprus and Israel and the role played by the leaders of the Greek America and the American Jewish communities, Andrew Athens and Maynard Wishner.
He praised late Prime Minister of Greece Konstantinos Mitsotakis for upgrading the relations between Greece and Israel and spoke about the high level this relationship has reached today.
“We were certain that this effort has really succeeded when we saw three successive Greek governments from different parties to be equally committed to built the tripartite scheme of Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Now this relationship is flourishing and growing.”
HALC’s Executive Director pointed out the timing of this year’s conference, that coincided with both the efforts to push the East Med Act in Congress, the Turkish invasion in Syria and Turkey’s provocations in Cyprus’ EEZ and the Aegean.
“As we say, if someone shows you who he is, then believe him. They have understand what Turkey is and this is the reason the EastMed Act has moved in Congress much faster than we were expecting”.
He also stressed the importance of the participation of the Evangelical Christians, a group that has for the first time expressed support for the Hellenic issues.
Zemenides expressed satisfaction, not only by the much larger participation of HALC members (mostly young professionals) and the attention they paid in the panel discussions that lasted over four hours.
“This generation is the future of our Community and I am proud for working for them”.
On Thursday, the delegations were briefed by the political counselor of the Israeli Embassy Amit Zarouk and they started their joint advocacy efforts visiting offices of members of the House and Senate.
As Endy Zemenides said, they promoted the EastMed Act and the new resolution of Congressman Bilirakis for the sanctions.