Top US Policymakers Call For End To 40 Year Division of Cyprus
On the eve of the 40th commemoration of the July 20 invasion, occupation and division of Cyprus, the foreign policy leadership of the US Congress and a large block of its most influential members called on Turkey to end its occupation and on the US Government to strongly support US ally, the Republic of Cyprus, and Cyprus settlement efforts.
Greek-American leaders from across the country came to Washington, DC July 15-17 for the 30th Annual Cyprus Conference, hosted by PSEKA and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH). Over 50 US policymakers – from the US Congress, White House and State Department – participated.
The two individuals selected by the US Senate and House to lead the US Congress’ foreign policy formulation — the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) – took several major actions in support of Cyprus. They unprecedentedly signed a joint letter to President Barack Obama urging him to increase, even higher, Administration attention toward ending Turkey’s 40-year-old military occupation of our ally, the Republic of Cyprus. This is rare among their frequently feuding parties and chambers of Congress and will significantly elevate the Cyprus issue on the American agenda. Also for the first time, the two Chairmen used wire cutters to sever a piece of barbed wire in front of the US Capitol Building, symbolizing their desire to end to the occupation and division of Cyprus, following a joint press conference.
Over 30 of the most influential Senators and Members of Congress with regard to US foreign policy toward the Eastern Mediterranean joined Greek-American leaders on the steps of the US Capitol Building to call for an end to Turkey’s 40 year division and occupation of Cyprus (pictures below). Some of these key policymakers included Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Democratic Leader, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee / Chairman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) Chairman, House Middle East Subcommittee, Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ranking Member, House Middle East Subcommittee/ Co-Founder, Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Congressman William Keating (D-MA) Ranking Member, House Europe Subcommittee, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee & Ranking Member, House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), House Democratic Leadership / Ranking Member, House Budget Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), House Democratic Leadership / Foreign Operations Approps. Subc., and Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY), House Democratic Leadership.
The Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel, sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on him to encourage Turkey to cooperate in the search for the missing persons in Cyprus.
At the conference, they were also honored Counselor to President Barack Obama and former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, John Podesta and the National Security Advisor to the Vice President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan.
The Youth Component
A 30-member delegation from the Cypriot Young Professionals (CYP) of the CYPRUS-U.S. Chamber of Commerce took part for the first time at the conference. Speaking to NEO magazine, the group’s President Laura Neroulias described the experience as follows:
“During the three days of the PSEKA Conference, it was amazing seeing several members of the Cypriot Young Professionals (CYP) engaging with some of our best leaders from around the country in the fight to end the occupation of Cyprus, as well as discuss energy issues, and Cyprus business and economic relations. We came together from several cities and states from around the country from various occupations. Being a first time participant at the conference, it was very inspirational to see all of our Cypriot and Greek community leaders at work and to watch them in action as well as seeing so many new Cypriot and Greek-Americans faces meet with U.S. Government officials at the highest level. The message was loud and clear: Cyprus is now a strategic partner of the United States, and the U.S. government will neither accept the status quo or continued division of Cyprus. In moving forward, CYP will continue to have a great presence in Washington D.C. as well as around the United States with various like-minded organizations, such as HALC who have done a fantastic job training and providing insight to their members throughout the year regarding the issues at hand. We are eager to hear what’s to come from the PSEKA conference as we continue to engage with the younger generation and aligned next steps.”
Philip Christopher: “We cannot loose this momentum”
With the conclusion of the 30th Annual Cyprus Conference, PSEKA (the International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus”) President Philip Christopher spoke with NEO magazine on the prospects of finding a solution to the Cyprus issue.
by Demetrios Rhompotis
Your take on this conference.
This conference was unusually successful. First of all because we were determined to send the message that 40 years of invasion and occupation has to end now. Second, because I brought together all the strong Greek-American organizations: AHI was here, AHEPA was here, the National Council was here and we all sat together with the leadership of the United States Congress, 33 members, both Democrats and Republicans. I was also very, very encouraged with Eric Rubin (Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs). He clearly said that the statements of (Vice President) Biden are not personal statements, but the policy of the United States, the new policy of the United States. And Amos Hochstein (Acting Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs) said not to underestimate energy as to the role it will play for the solution of the Cyprus problem. And I see what is happening globally. For example, the statements of (President of Turkey) Erdogan vis a vis Israel and Palestine, I think they are bringing Israel and Cyprus closer together and here for us, in working closer with the American-Jewish Committee. We had the meeting with the American-Jewish Alliance and we had 40 members of Congress listening to us as to why Israel and Cyprus and the United States is the new alliance. And I think that’s extremely important and I’m very thankful, very grateful to anyone that has made it to this conference.
Do you expect this change of mood to develop gradually or you expect an avalanche of developments that might catch Cyprus off hand?
It has to be step by step, but one of the things is the presidential election in Turkey (August 2014), because they (the US) are waiting to put the pressure on Erdogan after the election. But we cannot lose this momentum. I think there is an opening and we need to use this opening now for us to have any kind of success.
From your understanding, are Cypriots ready for a solution?
I think they are and one of the things that I would say to all Cypriots and especially the Greek-Cypriots, who worry about the solution, is that they have to remember that whether they call it bi-zonal, bi-communal, it doesn’t make any difference, providing all Cypriots have the same rights as rest of the Europeans. The European Union won’t accept anything other than that. You will have Germans, French and Italians going and buying homes in Kyreneia and I, that I was born there, I won’t be able?
There is always talk about “the two sides”, the “two communities” in Cyprus, but the facts on the ground have rendered that framework obsolete. Today most of the Turkish-Cypriots live in …London! The majority in the occupied territories is made up of settlers and Turkish soldiers.
This is the point we are making, that it’s not a bi-communal problem; it’s a problem with Turkey. The Turkish-Cypriots are down to 85,000 and the settlers with Turkish troops close to 400,000. There is a big issue here. What’s interesting, moreover, is that when you visit the occupied cities you see that the Turkish-Cypriots maintain their distance from the settlers. In the village of Lefkonikos that I visited, there are two cafés, one for the locals and the other for the colonists.
What would say to very powerful Greek-Americans that are not here today and don’t seem to be sensitive enough to our national issues?
I tell them all the time, that if you are a real Hellene and you believe in Hellenism, if you want to protect our identity you have to be concerned with our national issues! Cyprus is a test. All leading Greek-Americans must get involved one way or another.