While Greek-Americans, Cypriot-Americans, and the Diaspora can often feel their voices are lost in Congress, especially with Turkey lobbying lawmakers, they’ve always been able to rely on Democratic New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez to carry the fight for them.
The praised heaped on him for walking tall for Hellenic causes was echoed by The International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) who call him “America’s Number One Philhellene,” a proud mantle to wear.
The group noted that when U,S, Sen. Paul Sarbanes from Maryland, a fellow Democrat, was carrying the causes and about to retire in 2006 he was asked who would best be the torch carrier after him and replied: “Make sure Bob Menendez is elected to the Senate.”
The Cypriot group agreed. “Sarbanes was correct. In Bob’s 13 years in the House, followed by his 13 years in the Senate, his devotion of time and political capital to all Hellenic and Orthodox issues is Sarbanes-like.”
It added that Menendez asks hard questions of proposed Ambassadors to Greece, Cyprus, or Turkey who appear before him for their essential confirmation hearings as he was past Chairman and now Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee and always has his eye on Greece and Cyprus, watching their backs.
“His message to these possible Ambassadors is clear – their treatment of Cyprus, Greece, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate could well determine their current and future Senate confirmations,” and he has the clout to make sure.
He was able to get into law the Eastern Mediterranean Energy and Security Partnership Act in the Senate where Republicans have the majority, by partnering with fellow Cuban-American, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, as cosponsor.
“By enacting the Eastern Mediterranean Energy and Security Partnership Act, Menendez took a major step toward embedding in the minds of America’s policymakers a term we have spent nearly two years working to establish,” the group added.
The EastMed Act geopolitically links Cyprus and Greece close to Israel through plans to move gas through a pipeline into the European Union, further strengthening an alliance against Turkey’s drilling off Cyprus and claiming waters in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
I also had the opportunity to present @kmitsotakis with a framed copy of my Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act which would strengthen our joint efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and security. pic.twitter.com/yKREj1tIz6
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) January 8, 2020
“It also helps policymakers realize that Cyprus, Greece, and Israel are the only stable Western Democracies in the Middle East and alone can be counted on as supportive allies,” the group added about the act and his role in doing that.
It was such a landmark for the community, they added, that it “overcame the powerful and seemingly insurmountable half-century-old American tilt toward Turkey,” especially with U.S. President Donald Trump considering Turkish President Recep Tayyip a friend and backing him over the Congress, which barred Turkey from getting F-35 fighter jets.
Turkey, they said, spends 25-50 times more lobbying in Washington than does Greece or Cyprus, with community groups often called to play an important role in insuring that key causes are not overshadowed or set aside.
“Menendez saw an opportunity resulting from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles jeopardizing the stealth capabilities of American and NATO F-35 fighter jets. Menendez broke through that crack in the tilt and scored,” the Cypriot-American committee added.
Menendez is also a driving force in a law calling for lifting the arms embargo on Cyprus, where Turkey has a 35,000-strong army on the northern side it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, the Turks being able to buy whatever weapons they want to bolster their forces.
He also speaks out about Turkey’s aggression in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where Turkish ships are drilling for oil and gas offshore, and supports funds for Greek and Cypriot military training and loans for Greece’s purchase of U.S. arms, and the creation of a strategy to improve cooperation between the Eastern Mediterranean countries and America over energy and security.
“We are relying on our Secretary of State to stop Turkish aggression against Greece and Cyprus. And we are lucky, beyond words, to have Bob Menendez in the leadership of the U.S. Senate’s Committee with responsibility for the oversight of that implementation,” the group also added.