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AHI Participates in Historic Three-Country Leadership Mission
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
February 3, 2014—No. 6 (202) 785-8430

AHI Participates in Historic Three-Country Leadership Mission

American Hellenic, American Jewish Organizations Visit Israel, Cyprus, and Greece

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) participated in a historic three-country mission to Israel, Cyprus and Greece, together with a 15-member delegation of community leaders from two American Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations as well as representatives from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). The leadership mission explored the major political, economic, and security developments underway in the eastern Mediterranean and aimed to advance United States interests in the region. Meetings were held with 20-plus high-ranking government, military, and religious officials, in addition to local community leaders, from the three countries and the United States. AHI President Nick Larigakis, Vice President James Lagos, and Board Members Kostas Alexakis and Peter Bota participated on the mission that ran from Jan. 8 to 15, 2014.

“To reiterate, we believe the relationship has developed to the betterment of the region and is on sustained course,” AHI President Larigakis said. “In a region with so much instability, the trilateral relationship possesses the potential to allow the eastern Mediterranean to become a community of nations based on shared common values and aspirations. We will continue to work to foster closer cooperation in the United States and support the trilateral relationship. We are grateful to the many leaders who afforded us the opportunity to exchange views and ideas. The friendship and hospitality shown to us made the trip all the more meaningful and productive.”

Israel

The joint delegation began its mission in Israel, Jan. 8 to 11, holding meetings with: Minister of Defense retired Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon; Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman; Minister of Strategic Affairs, Intelligence and International Relations Yuval Steinitz; Minister of Economy, Religious Services, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett; Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein; Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau; Deputy National Security Advisor Eran Lerman; and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zeev Elkin.

In addition, the participants held a round-table discussion with Israeli ambassadors and ambassadors-delegates to Greece and Cyprus as well as several officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and received a briefing from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  The delegation also visited Yad Vashem - World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration.

Representatives from AHI and AHEPA had an audience with His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III and held a working dinner with Despoina Lourbacou, first counselor, Embassy of Greece in Israel, on Jan. 10. 

“Israel afforded us a vital opportunity to raise awareness of our issues as an American Hellenic community as well as to learn more about issues of concern to Israel and Israel’s perspective on developments in the region,” Larigakis said. “For example, a greater understanding of how significant an issue Iran has become for Israel was presented.  However, we also conveyed to our interlocutors how unstable Turkey has become for the region, including its close relationship with Iran and support for Hamas.”

Cyprus

The second leg of the mission was held in Cyprus, Jan. 11 to 13.  There, the joint delegation met with: Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides; Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States George Chacalli; and His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus.

In addition, the participants visited Turkish-occupied Cyprus for an all-day outing on Jan. 12 that took them to the ghost town of Varosha and Famagusta.  Along the way, they perused the religious and cultural destruction of Orthodox churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

“Our visit to Cyprus provided us with tremendous perspective on Cyprus’s geopolitical importance in the region as well as powerful images of the somber remnants of Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of an EU-member state, Cyprus,” Larigakis said.

AHEPA District 27, Cyprus, hosted a dinner for the delegation and local dignitaries on Jan. 12. 

Athens, Greece

The final leg of the three-country visit was to Greece, Jan. 13 to 15, where the delegation met with: President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias; Prime Minister Antonis Samaras; Minister of Defense DimitrisAvramopoulos; Speaker of Hellenic Parliament Evangelos Meimarakis; Minister of Tourism Olga Kefalogianni; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyriakos Gerontopoulos; Minister of Culture and Sports Panos Panagiotopoulos; American Ambassador to Greece David Pearce; and Israeli Ambassador to Greece Arye Mekel.

The participants also received a thorough briefing about Greece’s military and defense capabilities from General of the Hellenic Army Michail Kostarakos, who is the chief of staff for the Hellenic National Defense.  General and Mrs. Kostarakos hosted a welcome dinner for the delegation on the evening of its arrival to Athens, Jan. 13. 

On the evening of Jan. 14, the participants received a private tour of the New Acropolis Museum, including a greeting from the museum’s president of the board of directors, Professor Dimitrios Pandermanlis. Following the tour, Culture and Sports Minister Panagiotopoulos hosted a dinner for the delegation at the museum.

AHI-Athens Chapter President George Economou also joined the delegation for evening events and AHI Board Member James Lagos graciously hosted a farewell dinner for the delegation at the Grande Bretagne on Jan. 15. 

“As in Israel and Cyprus, the meetings afforded the delegation an important opportunity to raise important issues and to exchange views and ideas on how to strengthen the trilateral relations between the countries,” Larigakis said. “Also, Greece clearly demonstrated the country’s geostrategic importance to the region and offered insight on the country’s priorities as head of the EU presidency for the first six months of 2014.”

With Ambassador Pearce and his staff, Larigakis agreed with the ambassador’s premise that bilateral relations between the United States and Greece are at a very good level. However, Larigakis emphasized the outstanding issues that confront Greece, including Turkey’s violations of Greece’s territorial integrity and the outstanding name-recognition issue with FYROM; and Larigakis stressed to Ambassador Pearce that the United States must take a more active role to help resolve these issues.

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center 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 website at http://www.ahiworld.org.