CNA – Apostolis Zoupaniotis – USΑ/Washington 27/2/2016 10:57
Leaders of the Greek American and Jewish American Communities, along with 25 members of Congress and the Ambassadors of Greece, Israel and Cyprus, gathered on Thursday, on Capitol Hill, in celebration of the third anniversary of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance (CHIA) and expressed their support for an equitable solution in Cyprus which will ensure that the country remains a reliable strategic partner.
A congressional caucus aims to raise awareness of the importance of the trilateral relationship among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, which has yielded important political and national security benefits for the U.S. and the region and encourage for the U.S support for its goals.
The anniversary reception, jointly sponsored by AJC and HALC, was the conclusion of a 24-hour long joint advocate activity from members of both the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to promote to the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate a letter on Cyprus, to Vice President Joe Biden, as well as other issues of mutual concern.
Senators Ron Kirk of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey were the first to co-sign the letter, while the co-chairmen of CHIA, Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch circulated the letter to the House. They had meetings with more than 50 Congressional offices.
The idea for the Congressional caucus, now more than 50 Members strong, was born three years ago at a meeting between leaders from AJC and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), with Representatives Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch.
“In its first three years, this group has grown to include a group of members’ intent on strengthening the relationship between these indispensable allies who share our core democratic values and security interest”, Gus Bilirakis said.
He added that with the natural gas discoveries, the Eastern Mediterranean region can be the lynchpin to provide energy security and stability, as well as tremendous economic growth to the region. However, one of the few remaining obstacles is the lack of a solution to the Cyprus problem, he said.
“We are as close to a solution now as we have been in over a decade, but we must do all we can to make sure this is a robust, equitable solution that will gain the support of Cypriots on the island and ensures that Cyprus remains a reliable strategic partner,” he pointed out.
Referring to the letter CHIA circulating in Congress, he stressed that “Cyprus cannot be subject to rights of intervention by foreign powers, or unnecessary systems of guarantees”.
Congressman Bilirakis briefed the audience on what has been accomplished during the past three years among Israel, Cyprus and Greece, including the latest summit of their leaders and he pointed out various steps they have taken jointly.
Addressing some of the hardships and challenges Greece is facing, Bilirakis stressed that U.S. Department of Homeland Security “should easily be able to assist via technical assistance or providing defense articles that aren’t currently in use by our military”.
Congressman Ted Deutch paid special tribute to HALC and AJC for being instrumental, not only in helping CHIA, but also contributing to growing relationships between these countries and their people.
“Eastern Mediterranean faces unique security challenges that these countries can work to face together. All three are dealing with significant threats. As we know terrorism knows no boundaries, and the proliferation of radical groups around the world pose a threat to all countries that insure fundamental liberties and freedoms for their citizens,” he added.
Deutch explained the positive effect CHIA had these three years, in forming rapidly stronger bonds among the three countries.
“Over the last year Greek Prime Minister Tsipras visited Israel, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades met with Israeli PM Netanyahu three times and all three leaders met in Nicosia one month ago”, Deutch said, adding also the various visits by other high rank officials, including Defense Ministers.
Congresswoman Iliana Ros-Lehtinen, greeting the event, said that a reunified Cyprus and stronger Hellenic Israel Alliance is going to benefit the United States and everyone in the Eastern Mediterranean and pledged support to the effort.
“Cyprus has become a critical economic and security partner for the democratic Jewish State of Israel and it’s in all of our interests to ensure that the island is reunified and fully independent, so that Cyprus can continue being Israel’s security partner and helping to normalize the entire region”, Ilian Ros-Lehtinen added.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Greek Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos and Cypriot Deputy Chief of Mission Andreas Nikolaidis offered remarks, praising the Congressional Alliance and the joint efforts by Greek American and Jewish American organizations.
Speaking at the event, AJC Chief Executive Officer David Harris said that “in recent years, the trilateral links among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have increased dramatically, as the three nations have developed close cooperation in many fields—from culture to tourism, from energy to research and development, from joint military exercises to counter-terrorism.”
In the turbulent Eastern Mediterranean, Harris said, “these three democracies have much to gain from deepening their connections. The United States, with considerable interests in this part of the globe, is a direct beneficiary of the growing partnership and the security and stability it represents.”
David Harris reminded the audience that “in the early 1980s, together with our Hellenic-American friends, AJC began to focus on the ties among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel at a time when they were far less-developed than they are today.”
“To be able to celebrate not only the growing links among these nations, but also Congressional recognition and support of the relationship, is truly remarkable and gratifying”.
Harris also paid tribute to two pioneers who brought together the two communities, Andrew Athens and Maynard Wishner, as well as Andy Manatos.
He concluded his remarks with a wish this to be the year of the reunification of Cyprus. “We as AJC we continue to stand with our friends in the Hellenic American community and our friends in Greece and Cyprus, because this relationship is build on a solid foundation, the very nature of Athens and Jerusalem as the platforms of our common civilization.”
HALC Executive Director Endie Zemenides thanked CHIA’s co-chairmen Ted Deutch and Gus Bilirakis and praised the cooperation with AJC.
“Everyone here has fought for far too long, but we are going to get there”, Zemenides said, expressing satisfaction for the join advocacy on the Cyprus letter to Biden, signed by Bilirakis and Deutch.
“We learned as Hellenic American community, to argue for a better deal – as our friends at AJC with Iran – and to wait until the last minute for a better deal on Cyprus, the stakes are too high. It’s about peace, democracy, western civilization, stability and reliable western allies,” Zemenides added.
Short remarks were also offered by Congressmen, John Sarbanes, Joe Wilson, Danny Davis, Trent Franks, Cheri Bustos, Mike Quigley, Marc Veasey, Ted Poe, Nita Lowey, Jerry Nadler, David Cicilline, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dina Titus, Mike Caufman, Chuck Fleishman, Steve Chabot, Ed Royce, Elliot Engel, Lee Zeldin.
Congressmen Dan Donovan, Bob Dold, Charlie Rangel and Virginia Foxx also attended the event.