The inauguration of Joseph Biden on the 20th of January this year as the 46th President of the United States is a significant and memorable occasion.
Having been in the United States in different capacities since the Kennedy inauguration in January 1961, I remember several such events well. We still quote the passages of Kennedys’ inauguration speech (Ted Sorensen, who is known to have written much of it, was a friend of mine over the years) and I, as the Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States for fourteen years attended several such events officially. The one I remember best was the inauguration of George H W Bush in 1989, when I was the Deputy Dean of the Washington Diplomatic Corps and as such had a special position on the steps of the Capitol. George Bush I happened to have met already in the early 70s when he was the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and through his eight years as Vice President under President Ronald Reagan.
Joseph Biden was a Senator from Delaware since 1972 and served for many years as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Being in Washington as Ambassador from 1979 to 1989 and then from 1993 to 1997, I had met him on different occasions throughout these years, together with the many other Senators active in foreign relations such as Paul Sarbanes, Chuck Percy, Claiborne Pell, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Paul Tsongas, whom we regularly briefed on developments regarding Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean region. What is more important, Biden, through some of his patriotic Greek American constituents, became a good friend of Cyprus and was very helpful both politically and in terms of ensuring that the American aid to Cyprus was enhanced and approved by Congress beyond what was proposed by the Administration. Such aid was important, especially in the years immediately following the 1974 invasion, in order to house the many refugees and to gradually restore the economy of the island.
In 1984, in the wake of the Illegal UDI of November 15 1983, condemned by the Joint Resolution of Congress as well as by the United Nations (Security Council resolution 541(83)), Biden together with another good friend of Cyprus Senator Larry Pressler, became a cosponsor of the Pressler-Biden Amendment, aimed at cutting American aid to Turkey. The amendment did not pass by a very small margin of votes but was indicative of the feeling in Congress. In 1995 Senator Biden, in a letter to me as the Cyprus Ambassador, expressed his strong support to the Clerides Demilitarization of Cyprus Proposal, which was adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the active support of Senator Olympia Snowe and by Congress.
As well known, in 1988 Joseph Biden was among the Democratic candidates for President, a position for which the Democratic Party endorsed Governor Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts and a Greek American. Even though the majority of the Greek American community supported Dukakis (who lost to George Bush),enough Greek Americans showed their sympathy for Biden through financial contributions, a fact which he appreciated.
As Vice President under President Obama, Joseph Biden was in charge of American policy in the Eastern Mediterranean region and as such travelled extensively in the area, came to Cyprus and met President Anastasiades. He is known to have reservations regarding the autocratic ways of President Erdogan but, because of wider considerations (he is known to have remarked “I have a boss” in explaining why he was not as helpful as he might be expected with regard to Cyprus), he also tried not to ignore the Turkish position, including in a meeting in New York in September 2016 with President Anastasiades.
With Biden’s election in November 2020 a new era is opened. His choice of key assistants in foreign relations, including Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Adviser, can only promise that the world can have better prospects generally and more particularly in terms of East-West relations, relations with America’s Allies, climate change but also in the Middle East and, what is more relevant, in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the area of the Law of the Sea one can also hope that the United States will be able to ratify UNCLOS III, which did not happen under President Obama despite the efforts of Secretary HillaryClinton.
With the White House and Congress in the hands of the same party, even with reduced majority in the House of Representatives and a bare majority in the Senate, the world can look forward to a positive and progressive attitude to foreign affairs.
For Cyprus it will be important if Senator R Menendez becomes chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While it is too early to predict the position of the new Administration on the Turkey/Greece/Cyprus situation, there are good reasons to hope that it will be for the better, depending also on who will be the new Assistant secretary at the State Department for Europe and the other senior officials dealing with our area.
As indicated in the most recent Report of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus, we can soon expect the negotiating process to resume through a 5-party conference in February 2021. My own view has been that the Cyprus Government should be represented in such a conference, as happened in the London January 1964 conference, but this is not likely to happen. I have myself over the years held the view that we should put emphasis on the Cyprus problem being one of invasion and occupation and in a proper solution there should be no foreign troops ,no anachronistic guarantees and no settlers (other than those allowed by international humanitarian rules). What we should aim for is for “a normal” state, as indicated by the UN secretary General in 1917.
I also feel strongly that the important EEZ Delimitation Agreements of Cyprus with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel should not be tampered with and the Regime of Islands (Article 121 of UNCLOS III), entitling islands (other than rocks) to full rights over all the zones of maritime jurisdiction (including the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone), strictly adhered to, unlike Turkey’s position. This makes it particularly relevant not to agree to any system of decision-making enabling Turkish Cypriot/Turkey to decide on these matters.
During the forthcoming negotiations it is in my view essential to remember and insist on key United Nations Resolutions:
Security Council Res 186(64) recognizing the status of the Cyprus Government; Security Council Res 541(83) declaring the UDI “legally invalid”; Security Council Res 550(84) calling on all states” not to facilitate or in any way assist the aforesaid secessionist entity”; the applicable General Assembly Resolutions, in particular 37/253(1983)among others. It is only through the insistence to these important documents that the position of Cyprus will be safeguarded in these negotiations and generally in projecting its international rights, including in the United States and the New Administration.
It is bearing the above in mind that we welcome warmly the Biden inauguration and wish the new President and to the United States every success.