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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Biden or Trump:  Does it make a difference for U.S. Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean?

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Letter from the American Hellenic institute’s President, Nick Larigakis

October 12, 2020

Well, here we are again. Four more years have passed, and the entire nation is gearing up for another presidential election. The 2020 election is a highly contentious one, especially given the state of our nation; America is undeniably divided and arguably as deeply divided as any time since the Civil War. We have witnessed the demonstrations and violent civil unrest that have plagued the streets of numerous American cities during the past five months, following the death of George Floyd. Frankly, this unrest has also permeated through the halls of our government, albeit, thankfully not in the form of violence. COVID-19 has put the entire world in an unprecedented frenzy, affecting every facet of our lives and wreaking havoc on our economy, except for the stock market.  However, there are experts who claim the bull market is being driven mostly by giants such as Amazon and high-tech stocks, which are doing very well.  After all, for many of us, Zoom meetings and home deliveries by Amazon have been the rule of thumb during this pandemic.

However, does it ultimately make a difference to the Greek American community who wins the presidency? 

As American citizens who have the right to vote, we have a responsibility to review and analyze the candidates’ policies on domestic and foreign issues to understand how they may impact the national interests of the United States. To this degree, the Greek American community is no different than any other civically engaged community. Issues including the economy, social injustice, healthcare, taxes, national security, affordable education and housing, among others, affect us all. However, I also believe the Greek American community must have a vested interest in understanding the candidates’ positions and platforms when it comes to advocating for a strong U.S. relationship with Greece and Cyprus because this, too, serves the national interests of the United States. 

Where do the 2020 presidential candidates stand? 

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Track records have been established for both Republican presidential candidate and incumbent, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden. President Trump and his administration have shown their stances on policy issues over the course of the past four years, as has former Vice President Biden during his 48 year government career, including serving as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and as Vice President to President Barack Obama.

Currently, neither of the presidential campaigns have issued official statements specifically directed to the Greek American community.  However, former Vice President Biden issued a statement on October 6, 2020, supporting the efforts of “NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and our European allies, as well as the United States, to defuse tensions in the eastern Mediterranean…” He also said, “The Trump administration must press Turkey to refrain from further provocative actions in the regions against Greece…I also call on Turkish President Erdogan to reverse his recent decision to convert the Hagia Sophia to a mosque…”

More recently, the Trump administration, through the State Department, issued a strong statement on October 13 in response to Turkey’s renewed survey activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, “The United States deplores Turkey’s October 11 announcement of renewed Turkish survey activity in areas over which Greece asserts jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our NATO Allies Greece and Turkey.” The statement also urged Turkey to “end this calculated provocation.”

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) submitted a 2020 Policy Platform on foreign policy issues of importance to the Greek American community to each of the presidential campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. The platform provides policy positions on each of the following issue areas: U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus, the Eastern Mediterranean & Aegean Sea, Frontline States: Greece, Cyprus & Israel; Religious Freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and on Turkey.

Although AHI presented the platform to each presidential campaign, it is imperative for us to work as a community to ensure our issues are raised with them, and they are acknowledged with a response. U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus are strong and it is in the best interest of the United States that they remain that way, whether in a second Trump administration or a new Biden administration.

Additionally, AHI compiled previously expressed actions and statements made either by President Trump and former Vice President Biden or their administrations on issues of concern to the Greek American community. These statements have been presented to the candidates’ respective campaign foreign policy advisers. 

To that effect, AHI provided the following statements to the Biden campaign team:

  • The U.S. and Republic of Cyprus are engaged in a strategic partnership—declared by then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2014 when he was the second vice president in history to visit Cyprus—especially in security cooperation
  • In 2007, then-Senator Joe Biden called for the Turkish troops’ withdrawal from Cyprus.
  • “We have to continue to work together around the world to ensure the Greek Orthodox Church can not only control its destiny, but be free of the influence of governments.” (Vice-President Biden Speaking At the Archon Athenagoras Human Rights Award Banquet, October 27, 2018)

The following quotes were given to the Trump campaign team:

  • “I dare-say that our relationship has never been better, and I am proud of that.” 

(Secretary Pompeo at the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony, On September 12, 2020)

  •    “…we’ll keep supporting your prosperity, your security, and your democracy…” referring to Greece.

(Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At Reception in Honor of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Mrs. Mitsotakis, in Washington, DC, January 8, 2020)

 

  • “We, the Americans, look to Greece as a true pillar for stability and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean”

(Secretary Michael R. Pompeo And Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Joint Press Statements After Their Meeting, in Crete, Greece, September 29, 2020)

  • “Our conversations reflected a robust, growing diplomatic, security, and economic partnership between the United States of America and the Republic of Cyprus. We’re proud to cultivate ties with nations that share our values.” 

(Secretary Pompeo at the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony, On September 12, 2020)

To view the full 2020 Policy Platforms prepared by AHI, please visit the AHI website at ahiworld.org.

Over the years, my experience forces me to conclude that it makes no difference which political party occupies the White House when it comes to advancing policies to resolve the outstanding core issues of the Greek American community. Their campaign statements, if issued, are used primarily for fundraising purposes and for getting votes. Once in office, they are forgotten at the presidential level. Instead, these statements are relegated to bureaucrats at the State Department. Ultimately, the onus lies squarely on the shoulders of the Greek American community to become involved with our elected policymakers in the executive and legislative branches of government. It is crucial to engage with them on the issues. As such, it is essential that Greek Americans, through their grassroots efforts, outreach to policymakers and their staff to educate them on issues of importance to the Greek American community. 

If we work together toward the same goals, we can realize positive developments with the next president and the new Congress going forward. If we continue to be disinterested, we will keep having this discussion four years from now. Except then, circumstances in the Eastern Mediterranean might be much, much worse!

The projection of U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean depends on the stability of the region.  Therefore, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO members, Greece and Turkey, in achieving a just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem.

However, Turkey’s continuing occupation and increasing provocative actions regarding Cyprus, including the recent illegal decision to open parts of Varosha, its continuous violations of Greece’s territorial waters, continental shelf, and airspace; its violations of religious and human rights, especially with respect to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, coupled with its “Blue Homeland” hegemony policy, foster instability and damage U.S. interests.

U.S. interests are served when the United States sends a message to the world that it does not compromise its principles, such as the rule of law, support for international law and the codes and declarations of international institutions, such as the UN and NATO.  

Regardless of who becomes the next president, at least as it relates to U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, these should be the guiding U.S. principles.  

We all need to work hard to make it so.

 

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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