WASHINGTON, DC – More than 100 representatives of Greek- and Cypriot-American organizations gathered in Washington, DC this week for the 30th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference hosted by the World Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus” (PSEKA) and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes.
The conference included briefings by top U.S. and Cypriot officials on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and was an opportunity for the community and its allies in Congress to express their outrage over Turkey’s illegal occupation.
On July 16 approximately 50 members of Congress, including Senator Bob Menendez and Rep. Ed Royce, Chairmen, respectively, of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, joined the participants to unfurl a huge banner on the steps of the Capitol: “Cyprus 1974- 2014 – Still occupied, still divided. STOP this injustice now.”
Menendez then dramatically cut a length of barbed wire symbolizing Cyprus’ division.
The enthusiasm of the participants did not mask the fact that they were marking a “Black anniversary.” “For us,” it is a very sad day,” said PSEKA President Philip Christopher. “Forty years ago, illegally using arms made in America, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus and from that time occupies 37 percent of the island while 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees are still waiting to return to their homes.”
AHEPA was represented by Nicholas Karakostas and the Cyprus Federation of America’s delegation was led by its president, Costas Tsentas.
The conference’s Grand Banquet provided the opportunity to honor Greek-American John Podesta, Counselor to President Obama and former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, Congressman Ted Deutch, co-founder along with Rep. Gus Bilirakis of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance, and Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the Vice President.
Former Senator Paul Sarbanes, after citing the trip to Cyprus he and Rep. John Brademas took just a few days after the invasion, praised the community for its steadfast support for the Cyprus cause by noting it is difficult to maintain an issue high on the White House and Congressional agenda for so many years.
The conference opened on July 15 with substantial presentations by Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Amos J Hochstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy.
Nikos Christodoulides, the Greek Cypriot Government Spokesman, conveyed the appreciation of Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus to the participants and organizers and presented an overview of the Cyprus situation.
The guests asked whether recent declarations by Vice President Biden reflected the State Department’s positions and Rubin replied “the statements of the Vice President certainly reflect the position of the U.S. Government,” adding that officials are determined to see a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus conflict.
He said everyone at the White House and the State Department are committed to seeing 2014 become a year of progress on the Cyprus issue and that their bosses – the President, Vice President and the Secretary of State – believe that they must take advantage of emerging favorable circumstances to move forward.
The United States welcomed President Anastasiades’ goal of strengthening Cyprus’ ties to the West, he said, and he also believes Turkey also desires a change in the current situation.
Rubin added that Biden’s main message was that there can be change, but he also emphasized that the U.S. recognizes one government on the island, the Republic of Cyprus that was established in 1960, a longstanding policy which he said will not change.
He sounded optimistic notes on Cypriot economic recovery, noting that Cyprus can become an energy hub and that U.S. can help direct investments to the island.
Hochstein presented a lengthy analysis of the regions energy potential and the role Cyrus can play there, and though he noted that will depend on global economic trends, he said Cyprus will help diversify Europe’s energy sources.
Hochstein emphasized that the re-unification talks are one thing but the energy opportunities are another, that is to say, Cyprus cannot wait too long to take the necessary decisions and actions.
One of the most interesting responses came to a question about what can be done to make corporations involved in exploration and drilled feel safe given Turkish threats. Hochstein said that since it was necessary for the U.S. to intervene with Ankara a few years ago, Ankara’s actions have not been repeated.
As they have done for the previous 29 conferences, the firm of Manatos & Manatos organized the meetings and the interactions with top U.S. officials.
Additional key participated were Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. John Sarbanes, and Representatives Carolyn Maloney Joe Crowley of Astoria,
The diplomatic corps included George Chacalli, Amb. of Cyprus, and Christos Panagopoulos, Amb. of Greece.