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AHI’s Congressional Briefing on Cyprus Yields Bipartisan Support for Congressional Hearing, Action on Cyprus
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
August 2, 2013—No. 50 (202) 785-8430

AHI’s Congressional Briefing on Cyprus Yields Bipartisan Support for Congressional Hearing, Action on Cyprus

Senate, House Foreign Affairs Chairmen Address Audience

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) observed the 39th anniversary of Turkey’s illegal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by hosting a congressional briefing and forum to discuss the current state of affairs on the island at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 25, 2013. The briefing’s forum allowed members of Congress on both sides of aisle to engage in a candid discussion about how issues affecting Cyprus can be advanced on Capitol Hill and within federal agencies, including its 39-year division and its energy findings.

“For 39 years, the people of Cyprus have endured an illegal occupation and massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Turkey, an ally of the United States,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis.  “The briefing provided us with the viewpoints of Congress’s leading authorities on foreign affairs, our leaders of the Hellenic Caucus, and legislators who are deeply concerned about the Cyprus issue, including some fresh faces, which led to some very exciting ideas to advance the Cyprus agenda in Washington.  We thank them for their insights on the issue and their support for Cyprus.”

Congressional Action on Cyprus

Open discussion between Foreign Affairs Chairman Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus, led to the chairman agreeing to join with legislators in calling for a meeting with U.S.-based petroleum companies to be held at the U.S. Department of State to discuss the significance of energy finds in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

“Carolyn, we can do that [referring to a visit to New York City]…right after we have the meeting with State and the energy company executives to make absolutely sure they understand in a bipartisan fashion how we feel about the rights of Cyprus…,” Chairman Royce said.

In addition, Congresswoman Maloney requested Chairman Royce to hold a hearing on Cyprus centered on H.Res.187, a resolution expressing a commitment to the reunification of Cyprus introduced by Hellenic Caucus Co-chairs Congressman Gus Bilirakis and Congresswoman Maloney and backed by AHI.

“I’m going to publically ask, on behalf of all us, it’s time for a hearing, and it’s time to pass this resolution,” she said.  “Let’s make news!  Let’s set a date!  Let’s have a hearing!”

Chairman Royce replied, “Deal!”

“We appreciated Congresswoman Maloney’s ‘lobbying’ of Chairman Royce for committee action on Cyprus,” Larigakis said.  “And we are equally grateful to the chairman for recognizing the time is now to act on Cyprus by committing to hold a hearing as well as organizing a bipartisan group of legislators to meet with key players on energy developments in Cyprus’ EEZ.”

The briefing, held in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, featured U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), member, Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), and U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), as speakers. 

Also making presentations were: Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the U.S. George Chacalli and Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos.  AHI President Larigakis moderated the briefing.

Highlights of Members’ Statements:

One Legislator Willing to Put Political Career on the Line

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Robert Menendez expressed appreciation for Cyprus’s willingness to work with the United States on national security and applauded the country’s effort to pursue bilateral cooperation initiatives such as NATO’s “Partnership for Peace.”  He sees opportunities for progress on the Cyprus issue, but added, “Thirty-nine years of occupation is a blemish on the history of the world.”

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committtee.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce lamented the destruction of Cyprus’s cultural and religious heritage by the Turks.  “It is as if the Turks are trying to erase history,” he said.  The chairman also expressed concern about Turkey’s desire to secure gas rights in the eastern Mediterranean and assured the audience he would take a strong stand in support for Cyprus’ rights to gas in its exclusive economic zone.

Congressman Bilirakis, co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus, believes the Cypriot government is poised to solve the Cyprus issue. He urged the audience to constantly keep the cause of Cyprus on the minds of people and the agenda of Washington policymakers. The congressman discussed the importance of having members of Congress join both the Hellenic Caucus and the newly-created Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance. “I will not rest till Cyprus is unified,” he concluded.

Congresswoman Maloney, co-chair and co-founder of the Hellenic Caucus, believes now is the right time to engage on Cyprus because the right players are in place for action. She emphasized the importance of energy finds noting it as a “game-changer” that can be used as leverage.  A concrete plan is needed to develop the energy resource, she added.  The congresswoman exclaimed, “It is time to pass House Resolution 187,” which is the AHI-backed resolution on Cyprus.  She called for bipartisan cooperation on the issue and for meetings with U.S.-based energy companies.

Congresswoman Ros Lehtinen, former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, described Cyprus as “a great ally for the United States and Israel.”  She added the occupation of Cyprus needs to end in order for the country to be the stabilizing force it can be in the region.  The congresswoman raised awareness about a resolution she recently introduced, H.Res.308, which expresses support to end the 39-year-old division of the Republic of Cyprus and lauds the working relationship between Cyprus and Israel.

Congressman Sarbanes acknowledged Cyprus’s economic struggles; however, there are new opportunities with which Cyprus is presented to seize upon largely due to energy exploration. He is optimistic on Cyprus because the current administration and Congress understand the importance of Greece and Cyprus as allies in that region.  The congressman tipped his cap to the audience because their attendance indicates that there can be a solution due to their advocacy.

Congresswoman Tsongas bemoaned how long the division of Cyprus has been by recalling that her late husband, Senator Paul Tsongas, would actively discuss the issue as a senator and presidential candidate more than 20 years ago.  She expressed commitment to bringing the island together and resolving the issue.  The congresswoman also touched upon the unstable situation in Syria and how although Cyprus has not been directly affected by a refugee influx, it is exposed to a potentially dangerous situation should chemical warfare be utilized.

Congresswoman Titus remarked how she has condemned the occupation of Cyprus as being illegal and immoral on the House Floor. “We should be reminded of it every day,” she said.  The congresswoman stated she is always available to AHI for assistance on this issue, and any issues of importance, to the Greek American community.

Congressman Sires, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stressed his strong commitment to the Cyprus issue and stated that Cyprus can count on him for support.  He also expressed horror at the cultural and religious destruction that has taken place in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and expressed regret that Famagusta remains a ghost town.

Like his colleagues, Congressman Crowley acknowledged these are difficult economic times for Cyprus but that this should not be used against the country.  He added that Cyprus must be able to exploit its own energy resources.  He offered his commitment to Cyprus, and being of Irish descent, understands the impact that can imposed on people due to division.  “Much divides people on this issue, but there is much that unites people as well,” he said.

Congresswoman Meng, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted increased levels of Turkish belligerence in the eastern Mediterranean during her remarks.  She also views with concern the Turkish government’s increase totalitarian presence.

Congressman Cardenas expressed his desire, as a freshman in the House of Representatives, to work on legislation pertaining to Cyprus and with the executive branch on the issue.  He believes similarities exist between the oppression experienced by Native Americans in America and Hellenes by Turkey.  He added in a strong tone, “I am willing to put my political career on the line for the Cypriot American community.”

From left: Ambassador George Chacalli, Cypriot Ambassador to the United States; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Co-Chair of the Hellenic Caucus; Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA-39), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Nick Larigakis, American Hellenic Institute President; Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12), Co-Chair of the Hellenic Caucus.

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center and think tank that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community. 

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.