By Dimitri Soultogiannis
Special to the Hellenic News of America
Washington, DC—In an interview with HNA, Philip Christopher, President of the International Coordinating Committee “Justice of Cyprus” (PSEKA) said “We are very disappointed with the administration. It has basically maintained the status quo; they have offered the same rhetoric”..
Christopher was speaking, during the 6-8 June 28th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference that was held in Washington DC, with the participation of over 100 of the top Greek-American leaders from across the country, and Hellenes from around the world (including Canada and Britain).
He said that the conference was held, at a moment of crucial geostrategic changes in the Eastern Mediterranean that may affect the course of the Cyprus problem.
“The most dynamic event in the area is the discovery of the hydrocarbons between Cyprus and Israel and the recent alliances and agreements that have been announced between the two countries”, Christopher told HNA.
The delegates attended meetings with over 40 key Senators and Members of Congress involved in the formulation of US policy toward Cyprus, Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Turkey, including:
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), Ranking Member on the House Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee, Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), House Democratic Leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) etc.
Cyprus Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou, along with Mayors of the occupied by Turkey towns of Famagusta, Kerynia and Lefkoniko were also present.
During the Conference Banquet on June 7 the organization honored the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Hercules Priebus (a Greek American) and the American Jewish Committee. The American Jewish Committee was honored for its contribution to the new rapprochement between Israel and Cyprus.
Asked what the highlights of the PSEKA conference were, PSEKA President Christopher said “the first objective was to continue to educate congressmen, senators and members of the administration in regards of the continued illegal occupation and colonization of the island. Of course, there are new dynamics in the world today. The most dynamic event is the discovery of the hydrocarbons in the area between Cyprus and Israel and the recent alliances and agreements that have been announced between the two countries”.
“There is no question this new dynamic brings the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC closer to us”, he stressed, noting that for the first time, members of the AJC joined the PSEKA Conference and lobbied with them. “This is an event that can change the fixed policy of the United States which leaning towards Turkey for the past 38 years”, he remarked.
Christopher said the presence of organizations from throughout the United States, as well as that of Canadian and British parliamentarians and Cypriot Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou as well as the Mayors from the occupied municipalities of Famagusta, Kerynia and Lefkoniko and a delegation from Morphou “is important, because we asked the congressmen and senators to understand that these mayors are representing refugees forcibly removed from their homes”.
The PSEKA chairman said “this is an election year for the United States and this gives us the opportunity to play the card. We invited the Chairman of the National Republican Committee to attend and hear our issues. We also invited the Republican presidential nominee to come, but he could not make the trip. Some of his foreign policy advisers, however, were present”.
He estimated that the November presidential election will be a “close one and in states like Florida or Ohio the Greek communities could play an instrumental role”.
To a remark that President Barack Obama attended PSEKA Conference in 2007 making promises but since his election, vis-a-vis his policy, although he is not negative for our issues, he is not positive either, Christopher said “we tried to have Vice President Biden, or his National Security Advisor Tony Blinken to attend. We are very disappointed with the administration. It has basically maintained the status quo; they have offered the same rhetoric that they will not recognize the occupied area and they haven’t”.
The PSEKA leader said “the U.S. position for the protection of the gas platforms is positive, because an American company (Noble Energy) is involved. But the fact President Obama has embraced PM Erdogan and he regards Turkey as a “model democracy” for the Islamic world, is disappointing. It doesn’t take into account the Turkish violations of the international law by occupying part of Cyprus; the numerous religious freedom violations, the treatment of its minorities, the disrespect for the human rights, freedom of the press etc”.
Christopher said “Elisabeth Randall is the one calling the shots” and “personally I am disappointed with Vice President Biden. As a senator he was very outspoken, a champion of freedom for Cyprus. But as Vice President he is very silent. He simply says that he doesn’t have the power to shape foreign policy”.
During the conference, said Christopher, “we introduced some resolutions, for the illegal settling of the island. Settlers are estimated to be around 350.000 to 500.000 and that changes all the dynamics for a solution. The Turkish Cypriots are just a small minority, the Turkish generals are calling the shots in the occupied areas and the intercommunal talks are just a waste of time”.
Christopher remarked that during the PSEKA conference “when we are talking about religious freedom it’s not only for the Ecumenical Patriarchate but also for the occupied area of Cyprus. Over 500 of our churches have been destroyed in the occupied area of Cyprus. The Turks, he added, “are not prepared to make any concessions, not only in regards to the Ecumenical Patriarchate but in a wide spectrum of issues concerning human rights; and that should be seen by both the EU and the United States”.
He said that the emphasis of the conference “is Cyprus, but as always, we are promoting all Hellenic issues we are fighting for, like Macedonia and the Patriarchate. Let us not allow this thing to divide us. We should be united.
Christopher concluded noting that “it is easy for a congressman or senator to sign letters calling for the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Where the chips are on the table, is if they are willing to sign a resolution or a letter that calls for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and the settlers from the island. These are the resolutions we pushed for at the PSEKA Conference”.