President-elect has long and strong bonds with Greek Americans since he was first elected – Philip Christopher and Tasos Zambas speak about their personal experience with Joe Biden
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Joe Biden’s long-standing friendship with the Greek Diaspora, Greece and Cyprus, has placed him among our most beloved U.S. politicians who acknowledge our concerns and from time to time defend them.
We have written, not arbitrarily, but because Joe Biden himself said in a speech that the one who brought him closer to the Greek American community was not some high-and-mighty person with a grand scheme but a simple Greek Cypriot voter and supporter, Costas (Gus) Georgiou from the State of Delaware. Gus Georgiou spoke to him about Cyprus, the Turkish invasion and occupation, and human rights abuses, sending the 32-year-old rookie senator into the company of Sarbanes, Brademas and other members of Congress who led the Greek lobby and the fight for the embargo.
It’s sad to say, but when we repeated it in 2008, after Obama’s victory, some Greek Americans were dissatisfied.
Biden was a co-sponsor with Senator Pressler, of the 1984 amendment following the November 1983 “Unilateral Declaration of Independence” by the Turkish occupied regime, to exclude aid to Turkey. As former Ambassador Andrew Jacovides said, the amendment was not adopted but Biden’s co-sponsorship is indicative of his friendly position towards us.
Biden’s relationship with the Greek community was so sincere that, as he has publicly admitted, the Greek American community is his best supporter. He never forgot that in 1988, when he was claiming the candidacy against Mike Dukakis, the Greek American community told him that they would not vote for him yet they financially supported his election campaign. He has repeatedly said,” I have never forgotten that.”
AS VICE PRESIDENT
The only time Biden differed with the Greek community was in the case of the purchase of S-300 missiles, when he advised that Cyprus would lose friends if itpersisted.
His entry into the White House next to Obama in 2009 raised high expectations for Cyprus and other national issues. The first refutation came from Barack Obama, whose upgrade of Turkey in US foreign policy distanced Greek American friends such as Alexis Giannoulias.
Joe Biden seemed to distance himself,avoiding making promises. throughout Obama’s first term. In a personal conversation with the signatory who said to him, “I preferred you when you were Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee”, Biden responded, “I did, too.”
In Barack Obama’s second term, Joe Biden took on many difficult tasks, both in critical matters in relations with Congress and in international affairs. Obama-Erdogan relations had already deteriorated, and the handling of the Turkish president was delegated to Vice President Biden.
In a July 2013 meeting, Biden surprised Greek American community leaders (mostly Cyprus-born) with ideas he had developed around the role Cyprus could play for the United States in that region. The strategy of upgrading US-Cyprus bilateral relations, the recovery of the energy deposits in the Cypriot EEZ for a solution to the Cyprus problem, and new collaborations with Israel and Egypt, as well as with Turkey – if it will contribute to a solution of the Cyprus problem – are essentially due to Biden. Of course, this had been preceded by a conversation at the White House with Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis, who developed (as did John Kerry) the plan for the geostrategic role of Cyprus.
Although most of the participants at the meeting had stated, “Biden’s views are too positive to be real”, the Vice President seemed to be taking the initiative on Washington’s handling of the Cyprus issue and visited Cyprus in May 2014 with the known announcements for the upgrading of the Cyprus-US relations to a “strategic partnership”. This was followed by an even more impressive briefing,a very warm public speech given in a closed meeting of the Greek American communityin July (at the conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that took place in in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and statements in a speech at Harvard in September, which resulted in a confrontation with Erdogan. Neither the speech at the Archdiocese conference in Philadelphia nor his out-of-text statements at Harvard were published on the official White House website. And although Joe Biden maintained close relations with both the Greek American community and the leaders of Cyprus and Greece, he did not return to the frontline until the fall of 2016, when he met with President Anastasiadis in New York to persuade him to accept some kind of guarantee and the stay of a small number of Turkish troops there.
Who are the people who influence him the most in the Greek American community? Dennis Mill, George Tsounis and Fr. Alexander Karloutsos.
The president of PSEKA, Philip Christopher, and Cyprus Federation official, Tassos Zampas, spoke to the “Greek News”about Joe Biden and his relationship with the Greek Diaspora.
The acquaintance of the Greek Diaspora with Joe Biden, and my personal acquaintance with him go back to 1976. All the years we knew him as a US Senator, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the rights of Cyprus and Greece. I remember very well when he was the Foreign Relations Committee member who told Turkish President Turgut Ozal that he would insist on severing all US relations with Turkey.
When he became Vice President, Biden was the first in 50 years to visit Cyprus. As the leadership of the Greek Diaspora, we had constant contacts and meetings with him. He showed great understanding and gave us many promises. When his term as Vice President ended and we expressed disappointment when we saw him, his response was, “Philip, I had a boss.” Which means that as Vice President he could not change the policy of President BarackObama.
At this time, after the teleconference we had with the close associate of the new President, Antony Blinken – who will be either Secretary of State or National Security Adviser – we received important promises once again about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. It was noted that President Trump did not put pressure and did not impose CAATSA sanctions on Turkey for the purchase and installation of Russian S-400 missiles. The same was said in another teleconference with Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware, a close friend and associate of Joe Biden.
We have hopes – which we hope will not turn out to be broken promises. I hope that as President, Biden will pursue a different foreign policy which will put pressure on Turkey.
On the other hand, I noted to Mr. Blinken our frustration with the appointment of the head of the Biden Committee for Minorities, a Bosnian American who held a leadership position at the Turkish American Heritage Foundation in Washington.
We hope the policy will change, because in these 46 years we have learned that whether the President of the United States is a Republican or a Democrat, we have not been able to change US policy towards Turkey, but what has changed in recent years is that Turkey has created a gap with US policy by buying the S-400, and its policy towards Syria, Iran, Libya and Azerbaijan. I hope that after the overthrow of Tayyip Erdogan, President Biden will be determined to change the attitude and policy towards Turkey.
During the meetings we had with then-Vice President Biden in 2014, before he visited to Cyprus, he gave us the opportunity to hear unbelievable things. Words directly from the Vice President himself, and from his National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. It was then, on the occasion of the explorations and drillings of the Republic of Cyprus in its EEZ, that Turkey threatened to intervene. At that time Vice President Biden let us know that if he were President, he would have no problem doing in the Mediterranean what the United States is doing in the South China Sea. Jake Sullivan told us the same.
Joe Biden was officially the Vice President of the United States when he was speaking to us about the importance of the eastern Mediterranean to Turkey in terms of both energy and security. We need to make this very clear, because some people rush to credit the East Med Act to individuals, actors and governments who had nothing to do with it.
The story of the Eastern Mediterranean began with Joe Biden, who especiallybegan to emphasize the importance of Cyprus to the United States after the energy discoveries in the Cypriot EEZ. The case continued with the Trump administration and would have died if the law had not been passed at the initiative and insistence of Bob Menendez and other friends in Congress. Remember, too, that for 9 months since the bill was passed, the Trump administration has not implemented it. Fortunately, thanks to Senator Menendez’s persistent stancein letters to Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, who, as relations with Turkey deteriorated, realized the importance of Greece and Cyprus and their cooperation with Israel, proceeded to enforce the law.
The United States is more divided now than it has been in the 45 years I have lived here. You cannot even discuss politics in your own family without risking tension. Biden’s priority will be to address the unity of the country. If the country does not unite, the slump will continue.
Of course, the Senate has not yet been decided. If the Democrats eventually lose it, Biden will continue to demonstrate his ability to push for bipartisan initiatives.
As things stand today in relation to foreign policy and issues concerning Greece, Cyprus, and the Eastern Mediterranean, the relationship would continue, whoever was elected President. Most importantly, however, we are close to CAATSA sanctions, and although it passed the committee almost unanimously.President Trump has for months prevented Mitch McConnell from putting the issue to a vote in the Senate.
For me, and for those in the community who supported Joe Biden, it would be a great disappointment if Biden lost the ballot. The only way for Turkey to realize that it needs to change course is if there are economic implications. I’m optimistic, but with politics we are never 100% sure.