June 14, 2012, WASHINGTON, DC — Last week dozens of the Senators and Members of Congress with jurisdiction over the formulation of policy toward Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, and key Administration officials, met with Greek-American leaders from across the country and around the world at the 28th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference.  Highlights from this conference follow.

Meetings in the United States Congress

A total of 33 Members of Congress — many of whom serve on Committees that control Congressional policy toward Cyprus, Turkey and Greece — met with leaders at this conference, including:

  • The Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA), respectively;
  • The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, respectively, Congressmen Dan Burton (R-IN) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), respectively;
  • 13 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee;
  • Over half of the members of the Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee;
  • House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and 4 Members of the Democratic Leadership;
  • House Europe Subcommittee Members and authors of the Cyprus colonization resolution introduced during the conference, Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).

In addition, almost 10% of the entire US Senate met with leaders at this conference, including:

  • Assistant Senate Majority Leader of the US Senate Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) — who is also close to  President Obama, a member of the Senate European Affairs Subcommittee and a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee;
  • Half of the members of the European Affairs Subcommittee, including its Chairman, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and all but one of its majority members;
  • Over 1/3rd of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including senior member and champion for all Hellenic and Orthodox issues in the US Senate, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).



Representatives of the Obama and Romney Presidential Campaigns

The heads of President Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaigns in Washington, DC, both met with conference participants.  They were:

  • Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, who was honored at the conference banquet with the Livanos Award; and
  • Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL).


Legislation Introduced and Passed During Conference

CEH leaders worked with key Senators and Members of Congress to launch a number of major legislative and other policy-related initiatives during this conference.

On June 5, two senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), introduced H. Res. 676 which is titled:

To expose and halt the Republic of Turkey’s illegal colonization of the Republic of Cyprus with non-Cypriot populations, to support Cyprus in its efforts to control all of its territory, to end Turkey’s illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, and to exploit its energy resources without illegal interference by Turkey.”

All 33 Members of Congress who met with conference participants were asked to cosponsor this resolution.

On June 6, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) — a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), introduced this resolution in the US Senate as S. Con. Res. 47, and all 9 US Seantors who met with conference participants were asked to cosponsor this resolution.

On June 7, the House Foreign Affairs Committee considered Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ resolution, H. Res. 506, which “calls upon the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.”  Before the Committee met that day, the Committee’s Chairman and Ranking Member, as well as the Europe Subcommittee’s Ranking Member met with conference participants.  That morning a total of 13 Committee members met with conference participants.  In the end, the Foreign Affairs Committee passed this resolution.


Letters Sent To The President and Secretary of State

Also on June 5, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing great concern regarding Turkey’s recent treatment of Cyprus.  Among other things, Senator Menendez called for a thorough re-evaluation of US policy toward the region…[following Turkey’s] confrontational stance with respect to Cyprus and Israel that threatens US interests and stability in this crucial region.”

This letter to President Obama follows a letter sent by the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 22 which, among other things said:

“Turkey’s threats against the Republic of Cyprus and its ongoing efforts to alter Cyprus’ demography call into serious question Turkey’s commitment to reunification.  As the United States of America, we should be uncompromising in opposing Turkey’s efforts to trample on the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus — whether through military threats or through colonizing Cyprus with Turkish citizens.   In light of these dangerous developments, we urge a thorough re-assessment of our Cyprus policy, taking fully into account Turkey’s threats and its colonialist transfer of population from the Turkish mainland.”


Actions by the Obama Administration During the Conference

After leaving post of US Ambassador to Cyprus empty for over one year, the White House announced on the first day of the conference (June 6) that President Obama was nominating John Koenig to be the next US Ambassador to Cyprus.


Highlighting the Growing Relationship Between Israel, Cyprus and Greece

At the conference banquet, the American Jewish Committee was honored with the prestigious Frizis Award.  It is named after Mordechai Frizis, the Jewish Greek hero who was the first high ranking Greek military officer to give his life in defense of freedom against the Axis Powers in 1940.  It is awarded each year to a prominent member of the Jewish community in the U.S. who has made significant contributions to Hellenic issues.  The award was received by American Jewish Committee Director of Government and International Affairs, Jason Isaacson, who said:

“There is a natural logic — there are natural synergies and sympathies — in the deepening interconnections of Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The mutual discovery and elaboration of these synergies is a dramatically positive development for these countries and their peoples, and for peace and stability in a volatile region…We are committed to taking whatever constructive steps we can to inform our constituency of this new Eastern Mediterranean alliance, this new Eastern Mediterranean reality — and to assure the three countries the maximum opportunity to reap its potential benefits.”

To see the American Jewish Committee’s press release about this honor, click here.

Others from the Jewish community attending included:

  • Previous Frizis Award Winners:
    • State Department Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman
    • Former United States Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller
    • American Jewish International Relations Institute Board Chairman, Richard Schifter
    • AIPAC Deputy Director of Policy and Government Affairs, David Gillette
    • Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) Vice Chairman, Morrie Amitay
    • American Jewish Committee National Board of Governors and Obama Administration Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Member, Dottie Bennett
    • Several members from the American Jewish Committee Washington Board of Directors



Other Honorees

Others honored at the conference included the following Greek-American community leaders:

  • Honorary National Chairman of UHAC and Honorary World President of SAE, Andrew A. Athens — who was presented with the Paraskevaides Award and introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader, Richard Durbin (D-IL);
  • Executive Vice President of the Pancyprian Association of America, Nikos Mouyiaris
  • Cypriot-American leader, Dinos Iordanou


Greek and Cyprus Government Officials:

Greek and Cypriot government officials who participated in this conference included:

  • Ambassador of Greece to the United States, Vassilis Kaskarelis — who was honored, along with his counterpart in Greece, US Ambassador to Greece Dan Smith (in absentia)– with the Soil Award.
  • Cyprus Government Spokesperson, Stefanos Stefanou
  • Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the United Nations, Ambassador, Nicholas Emiliou
  • Mayor of Famagusta, Cyprus / Pres. of refugee municipalities / Former Cyprus Parliament Pres. Alexis Galanos
  • Mayor of Kyrenia, Cyprus, Glafkos Kariolou
  • Mayor of Lefkonikon, Cyprus, Mihalis Pilikos
  • Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, Pavlos Anastasiades

The mayors brought with them a very moving film produced by the Occupied Municipalities of Cyprus titled “The Destruction of the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus by Turkey” which was shown during the conference banquet before Administration officials, Congressional leaders, Jewish community leaders, members of the media and others.  To view this film, click here.

In addition, two members of the Canadian Parliament, Niki Ashton and Costas Menegakis, attended the conference.


Other Community Organization Heads Attending

Other heads of Greek-American community organizations — not mentioned thus far — who participated in this 3 day conference included:

  • President, International Coordinating Committee — Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA), Philip Christopher
  • President, National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH), Andrew E. Manatos
  • Supreme President, Cyprus Federation of America, Peter Papanicolaou
  • National Chairman, United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC), George Dovellos
  • President, Hellenic American Leadership Council; Vice President, PSEKA, Endy Zemenides
  • Alternate President, PSEKA; Cyprus Federation of America, Tasos Zambas
  • Chairman, Michigan Democratic Party Greek Caucus, Basil Simon
  • Founding Chair, New Jersey Hellenic American Heritage Commission, Zenon Christodoulou
  • USA Region Coordinator, World Council of Hellenes (SAE), Ted Spyropoulos
  • Chairman of the Board, AHEPA, Nicholas Karacostas
  • President, American Hellenic Institute (AHI), Nick Larigakis
  • President, Pan-Macedonian Association of America, Kosta Hatzistefanidis


Key Statements

While a number of the over 50 key US policymakers who addressed conference participants made significant statements regarding Hellenic and Orthodox issues, some of the more remarkable were as follows:

I want efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem to resume as soon as possible, but there’s one thing I want to assure you: The United States will never recognize an independent Turkish entity in Cyprus. Never.

We will continue to insist on re-unification, not just for humanitarian reasons but because re-unification of Cyprus — and the stability that re-unification will contribute to the Eastern Mediterranean — is in the direct national interest of the United States of America.

— Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA)

“I believe that if there is to be peace and reconciliation [on Cyprus], at a minimum Turkey must end its provocative actions, support the reunification efforts of the Cypriot people, and permanently withdraw all its occupation forces from the island.

As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have worked to get our government, regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, to tell Turkey that it must end its hostile policies and its illegal occupation not at some vague date in the future, but now.  And I will continue to do so until Cyprus is once more the united homeland of all Cypriot people who can once again live together in peace.”

— Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)

“These are difficult times in Greece, but the Greek people as all of you know have persevered in the face of much greater challenges in the past.  I am impressed again today with the courage and determination of the Greeks, and I have conveyed to them our hope that Greece will emerge from this crisis with a stronger and more vibrant economy.

The same talent, drive and entrepreneurial spirit that are hallmarks of the Greek-American community are also in evidence here in Greece, and we believe that if Greece continues on the path of reform, it will help the country take advantage of its most precious asset — the vitality and resourcefulness of the Greek people.”

— US Ambassador to Greece Daniel Smith