U.S. Ambassador to Greece Nominee George J. Tsunis Testifies Before Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – President Joe Biden’s appointee for US Ambassador to Greece, Greek-American businessman, political fundraiser, and philanthropist from New York George J Tsunis, testified in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 12. The National Herald was informed it is not yet known when the committee or the full Senate will vote, given general delays in that body’s confirmation process.

In his opening remarks U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said of Tsunis: “Mr. Tsunis, I welcome your nomination, which comes at such a high point in the U.S.-Greece relationship. Greece is a critical U.S. ally, a strategic partner, and a linchpin for security and democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean. As the birthplace of democracy, Greece continues to be a beacon of freedom in southeastern Europe… Mr. Tsunis, if confirmed, you will inherit the strongest U.S.-Greece relationship in history, one that is well poised for even further growth. You know Greece and the dynamics of the region well, and I am confident in your ability to bring the U.S.-Greece relationship into the next era.”

Tsunis, began by saying, “I am honored to appear before you today as President Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Greece…I thank the President and Secretary Blinken for their trust and confidence in me and I am grateful to this committee for considering my nomination.”

After nominees read present their prepared statements, Committee members asked them questions. Tsunis was asked only one, by Senator Cory Booker, which revealed one of America’s national security priorities. “Mr. Tsunis I have a lot of concerns about China’s continued investments in strategically important ports around the world…even in Europe in ports such as Greece. How do you assess China’s investment in critical infrastructure such as the port of Piraeus and what can the U.S. do to counter Chinese potential to lock up these ports, these areas and other critical infrastructure in Greece?”

Tsunis replied that, “China has engaged in economic encroachment and malign influence. It is part of a very concerted effort and plan and it is going to continue. The Risch – China report,” written by ranking Committee Member Jim Risch, “not only highlights examples of this but it also speaks to transatlantic cooperation on how to counteract this. I’m proud to say that Greece chose a European partner for 5G and they’re very clear eyed about what China is doing. I will also say that at the time of the purchase – the tender – of the Port of Piraeus, China was the only offer. We need to ‘show up.’ We need to be aggressive. It’s very clear that they’re looking to make very critical infrastructure investments …then use that economic influence into more geopolitical influence to promote the interest of the PRC… If confirmed, I pledge to work with the Administration, this Committee, and the government of Greece to counteract this, and as a businessperson I understand what it is to compete aggressively in business transactions.”

Booker was pleased with the response, as was Senator William Hagerty, who had served as U.S. Ambassador of Japan. The latter also noted the value of the U.S. practice of appointing private sector leaders and other non-Foreign Service officers to diplomatic posts, saying, “I want to comment on your very thoughtful answer and approach as a business person. We need more people with your sort of background in these important diplomatic posts so congratulations to you on your nomination. Thank you for brining that valuable perspective to diplomacy.”

Tsunis himself highlighted the benefits of bringing business perspectives to U.S. Diplomacy, especially its economic dimension. “During my tenure as CEO Chartwell has weathered recessions, pandemics, and experienced unprecedented growth. Having witnessed the strength and resiliency of U.S. business in the international marketplace, I understand the importance of expanding our global business and trade and its effect on U.S. jobs as well.”

He added that “as an executive in the U.S. hospitality industry, I also understand how important it is to take care of people. If confirmed, my top priority will be to ensure the safety and security of Americans who live, work, and travel to Greece.”

In a touching moment before addressing foreign policy issues, the nominee spoke about his family. “If you’ll permit me, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my parents. They heard Emma Lazarus’ calling and they emigrated to this country to build a better life for themselves and our family,” Tsunis said, later adding, “I am humbled by the President’s nomination, and I view it as a chance to give back to the country that has given me and my family so much. I’d also like to thank my wife Olga, whose mom and dad also immigrated from Greece, and our three children – James, Eleni, and Yanna. They are my bedrock of support.”

In addition to his business background, Tsunis noted his foreign policy involvement, saying, “throughout my career I’ve maintained a strong interest in foreign and economic affairs, and had the pleasure of contributing to public policy as a member of the Brookings Institution Foreign Policy Leadership Committee and as a trustee with Business Executives for National Security.”

After saying, “I arrive in Athens at a crucial moment in U.S.-Greece relations. Our relationship is at an all-time high” he added, “the United States benefits from a strong, growing bilateral defense relationship with our NATO ally, Greece. If confirmed, I will continue to deepen this key relationship.”

Broadening his agenda into an area that benefits from his Hellenic heritage, Tsunis said, “people to people ties are the bedrock of the U.S-Greek relationship. If confirmed I look forward to working with the Greek cultural institutions, NGOs, municipalities, individual citizens, the Diaspora, and this Committee to nourish these ties.”

As a prominent Greek-American businessman with longstanding relationships with Greek and non-Greek American potential investors, he also emphasized that, “if confirmed, my top economic and commercial goals will be built on the efforts to accelerate trade and investment opportunities.”

His business background providing him with a deep appreciation for teamwork in all great endeavors, Tsunis concluded his testimony by saying, “finally, if confirmed, I will work with an outstanding Mission Greece team in an inclusive manner, to bolster this already strong relationship.”

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