WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday, Aug. 6, senior officials of the Obama Administration invited Diaspora leaders to meet at the White House to discuss the crisis in Greece.
Vice President Joe Biden, along with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, led a team of administration officials who invited community leaders to discuss the Greek crisis and what the United States, working with Greek-Americans, could do to help a valued and vital ally.
When high-level officials in the U.S. government and Greek-Americans gather to address major matters of mutual concern, expectations are raised high; both groups are used to overcoming challenges and achieving success. While there was not any major substantive accomplishment, both sides agreed that this precedent established an important first step and a commitment to continued discussions.
Approximately 20 Greek-Americans including prominent individuals and representatives of major organizations, were joined by ten key Obama Administration officials.
TNH learned the agenda included a briefing for the community about the Administration’s actions in support of Greece, in its negotiations with the Troika and that they, in turn, received input from the community leaders.
Governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, told TNH “everybody agrees that we have to put something like that together…we’re going to be following up.”
Attorney Nicholas Karambelas, representing the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) was asked if there were suggestions about forming working groups and perhaps a coordinating committee. “I hope that’s what they do, but there was no discussion about that in the meeting…someone’s going to take the ball,” he replied.
Karambelas, who is an international trade expert, brought up items such as the need for a bilateral investment treaty between Greece and the United States. “We don’t have one,” he said, and added that the tax treaty is obsolete. He noted, however, that is just a small part of what can be done if there is a comprehensive effort.”
Participants like industrialist Dennis Mehiel said the meeting was constructive. Andy Manatos, Founder and President of the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, summarized how impressed the participants were with the vice president. “Without exception, never has a there been a vice president with one tenth the knowledge of the details and subtleties of issues like this for Greece [as Joe Biden].”
Participants said it felt as if Biden was “one of us,” as he tried to help them plot a course for how Greek-Americans can help Greece.
Biden expressed optimism that the implementation of reforms will yield great new benefits for Greece.
Congressman John Sarbanes and National Security Council Senior Director for European Affairs, Charles Kupchan, prompted by Biden, suggested the establishment of an inter-agency government working group with the involvement of members of the community, whose substantial intellectual and financial resources could be tapped.
The Administration officials noted they have been speaking with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) about promising investments in Greece.
All agreed the endeavors will take time, but that the meeting was a very good start.
A senior Administration official, in communication with TNH, said “Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with leaders of the Greek-American community at the White House on how we can work together to help the government and people of Greece emerge from the current crisis. National Security Council officials also participated. In the meeting, the Vice President and Mr. McDonough reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the people of Greece, emphasized the important economic and geopolitical interests at stake, and thanked attendees for their support and leadership. They also underscored U.S. support for a path forward for Greece that allows a return to growth within the Eurozone, which is in the best interests of Greece, Europe, the United States and the global economy.”
TNH was informed that the White House initiative has already stimulated discussions for greater focus and coordination among community leaders.
Mike Manatos summed up the spirit of the gathering: “As was made clear from the opening remarks of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the U.S. government is eager to work with us to create concrete economic results in Greece. This was not just an exchange of ideas, but the beginning of a new effort to go from the theoretical to the very concrete.”
Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) Executive Director Endy Zemenides, said it was beyond constructive. He was very impressed with the “high level of U.S. attention.”
The participants also included: George Marcus, Art Agnos, Phil Angelides, Exec, Director of The Hellenic Initiative Mark Arey, Alexi Giannoulias, Fr. Alex Karloutsos representing Archbishop Demetrios, George Tsunis, Dr. Anthony Limberakis, Mo Owens, representing George and Nick Logothetis, Angelo Tsakopoulos, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, and Andrew Kaffes, representing AHEPA.
Among the U.S. officials were: Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Caroline Atkins, Special Assistant to the President for International Economics Rory MacFarquhar, State Department Director for Southern European Affairs Phil Kosnett, White House Business Council Director Diana Doukas, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Senate Europe Subcommittee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI).