NEW YORK – Forty Members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to support NATO membership for a number of candidate entities, including the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), despite its continued intransigence in its dispute with Greece.
The letter was written by Congressman Michael Turner, and the lead Democrat signing it is Congressman Elliot Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel has traditionally been a strong supporter on issues important to the Greek-American community, especially regarding Cyprus.
In the following statement by Engel, he emphasized his commitment to the principle of widely sharing the benefits of NATO membership, the requirement that candidates meet all of the alliance’s requirements being implicit:
“As we approach the 2014 NATO Summit, it is important that the United States supports the aspirations of those states which seek to integrate with the Alliance. In particular, and as the letter authored by Rep. Turner and that I and 40 of my colleagues signed specifies, the United States should support the application for NATO membership for Montenegro and Macedonia at this year’s summit, encourage continued progress in implementing the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and advocate for granting a MAP to Georgia. I also echo the call in the letter for the United States to work with NATO to ensure that Kosovo…be provided a pathway for eventual membership in the Alliance.
“Support for these initiatives will encourage these nations to further pursue important democratic reforms and strengthen their commitment to partnering with Euro-Atlantic institutions, both of which are important to achieve our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
TNH has not received a response to its enquiries from Engel’s office at press time.
Excerpts from the letter follows:
Dear Secretary Kerry,
“As we approach the 2014 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit hosted by the United Kingdom, we encourage your continued efforts to make enlargement a key priority for the United States and the Alliance.
… It is our firm belief that the genuine prospect of NATO membership for the current group of aspirant states will further strengthen democratic institutions and values and increase stability and security in the region.
In contrast, failure to recognize and reward their significant efforts could discourage aspirant countries from pursuing further democratic reforms and weaken their commitment to partnering with Euro-Atlantic institutions. In addition, the Ukrainian government’s recent decision not to sign a long awaited association agreement with the EU—in defiance of the popular preference for European integration—raises concerns about back-sliding on democracy and the possibility that states in the region will be pressured by outside forces seeking to divide the continent and undermine the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
Signatories: Michael R. Turner, Eliot L. Engel, Bill Keating,Doug Lamborn, Mike Michaud, John Shimkus,Tom Cotton, Gary Peters, Mo Brooks, Paul Cook, Robert B. Aderholt, Alcee L. Hastings, Adam Kinzinger, Bill Shuster, Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Jim Bridenstine, William Enyart, Trent Franks, Tom Marino, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Albio Sires, William Lacy Clay, Mark Meadows, Brett Guthrie, Candice S. Miller, Bill Pascrell, Tom Latham, Jeff Miller, John Larson, Steve Stivers, Alan Lowenthal, Billy Long, Ami Bera, Gregory W. Meeks, Brian Higgins, Grace Meng, Bennie G. Thompson, Kerry Bentivolio, Gerry Connolly, Frank Wolf.
The reaction of the leading community organizations active on Capitol Hill was a mixture of disappointment and perspective given that NATO’s explicit position is that FYROM must resolve its dispute with Greece.
“The American Hellenic Institute is profoundly disappointed with a congressional letter to Secretary of State John Kerry signed by 40 U.S. representatives that backs FYROM’s membership in NATO. In particular, we are disappointed that the letter has the support of U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and U.S. Representative William Keating, ranking member, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats; and U.S. Representatives Albio Sires and Grace Meng, members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. All four legislators are members of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues and have been big supporters on issues of concern to the Greek American community in the past.”
Andy Manatos, the president and founder of the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, pointed out that the 40 signatures on the letter is a substantial fall off from the 53 that appeared in the 2012 version, and said, “I think that shows it is losing momentum.”
He also emphasized that “Elliot Engel is one of the best people on Capitol Hill regarding Cyprus, Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate…and I guarantee you that if the question were put to Elliot ‘do you think FYROM should come to a commonly agreed upon name with Greece before joining NATO, would that be preferable,’ I think he would say ‘absolutely.’”
The Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), Endy Zemenides, put the letter into perspective for community concern by noting, “Clearly the motivating factor in the letter is not FYROM. He said Elliot Engel, who has many Albanians in his district, has been a strong supporter of the Kosovars and Georgia. “They are the main drivers,” he said.
“What the congressmen who signed this letter need to understand is that is the position of the NATO alliance is that if FYROM does not want to come to a mutually agreeable solution with Greece, they don’t get in.”
He said that the signatories need to acknowledge the fact that a deal was put on the table. “Greece made a fantastic overture in 2008 and there has been no answer,” he said, adding “The congressmen need to be educated,” by the community.
Zemenides also pointed out that NATO operates on the basis of unanimity. “Why would you put in a country that exhibits hostility towards a NATO member?” The bottom line, he said is that “they can write all the letters they want, but Greece wields a veto, and NATO has said they are not putting it on the agenda…this letter will go nowhere. It will fall on deaf ears throughout the world.”
AHEPA’s Supreme President Anthony Kouzounis explained to TNH that this is not a new development. “Every time they have a NATO summit there is always Congressional action taken by FYROM supporters promoting FYROM’s membership in NATO, so the letter itself is not unusual, but what is disappointing is that ranking member Engel and a significant number of the members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Hellenic Caucus members also signed the letters,
Bill Keating, the ranking member of the subcommittee on Europe, is on the Hellenic Caucus, as are signatories Mike Michaud, Gary Peters, Alcee L. Hastings, Fred Franks, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Albio Sires, Bill Pascrell, William Clay, John Larsen, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, and Jerry Connolly, co-chair of the Turkish caucus.
“Maybe this is a wakeup call for our community that our messages may not be getting through to some members of Congress on this issue,” Kouzunis said.