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Behind the Scenes of the Greek Lobby: AHI President Nick Larigakis Speaks About Cyprus

The president of Hellenic American Institute in Washington, Nick Larigakis, expressed to New Greek TV his concerns about the recent developments in Cyprus and revealed how the Greek-American lobby maintains constant channels of communication with the administration and the Capitol Hill.

 

By PETROS KASFIKIS

Turkey escalates intensity over Cyprus. What is your opinion about the recent developments and what can Greece expect from the Greek lobby in Washington?

Right now there is a lot of serious issues facing the country of Cyprus as Turkey continues to be provocative and has rushed it up that provocativeness regarding the two ships, the military ships, and also of course the navtex that it issued on September 30th. Greece obviously is very concerned about this because this is an area of the world that it has interest in. And obviously there is a close relationship between Greece and Cyprus and of course Greece is a guarantor of the Republic of Cyprus' security. So it does not bode well for the region and specifically the United States interests to have such high tensions in a small geographic area that is very crucial and important to the projection of interests as it relates to the Middle East.

We here in the United States are doing of course whatever we can to make clear to policy makers what they need to be doing to defuse the tension and that means specifically to put the pressure where pressure needs to be put on, and that is on Turkey because Turkey is the one who is acting negatively on the region and who is creating tension in the region, and, thereby, creating instability for the region, which threatens not only the countries of the region, but also the United States' interests as well.

During the last weeks did you have any specific contacts with members of the Congress or members of the administration? If yes, what was the message that you tried to communicate to them regarding the Cyprus issue?

First of all I was involved in the two off the record meeting with the Vice President Biden in May and in June before and after he went to Cyprus. We had a very good discussion. I was only one of five or six people in the room of Greek-American leaders, and we expressed very openly to the vice president certain things that we felt he should be doing. One of the things that I expressed to him at that time was that we need to make our dissatisfaction with Turkey more open in the public statements and not just behind the scenes diplomacy, which everyone wants to advocate for in Washington at the State Department and in the White House. So these are the messages that we have sent.

And we had also meetings in the last month with other members of the White House, staff people of Mr. Biden and the president. And about two weeks ago I met with a senior person at the State Department as well. We expressed the same points of view: that we need to call out Turkey for being the aggressor and that is the only way we are going to be able to defuse the tension. Turkey is only going to respond to pressure from the United States and it is up to us to make that pressure known not just behind the scenes in the proper diplomatic channels that everyone in the White House and the State Department keeps telling us about, but we need to make it in public form as well.

We just cannot have the kind of comments we hear from the State Department, which they say well we support Cyprus' right to explore its Exclusive Economic Zone in sovereign territory, but they always fell short to condemn who the aggressor is and they always wanted to add that all the resources that they would be developed in the area are going to be for all the people of Cyprus. Well that is obvious. The government of Cyprus has stated that it is going to be for all the people of Cyprus. But a political solution needs to be first on the table and Turkey needs to behave within the context of a proper ally of the west, of the NATO, and international community. Until this time they are not doing that and we in the United States need to make sure that they would do it because I have said it there and I am going to say it again: if we cannot say it to our friends and allies, who are we going to say it to? Nations that we are combatant with and we have no dialogue or diplomatic relations with? We are going to tell them that they are behaving in a wrong fashion. We are going to try to promote the democratic principles to those countries, but we cannot say to our allies that today in 2014 you have Turkey, who is part of NATO, occupying a member of the European Union with a NATO army. Nothing more or nothing less, and that is a shame and stain on all of us in the west.

So you had the opportunity to speak face to face with the vice president. How did the vice president respond to your remarks? Do you believe that the vice president is more open to the Greek point of view, but he cannot deviate from the official line of the administration?

Well first of all this was one of the record comment, so I cannot express completely what the vice president said in the context of that meeting. However, I can express that what he said in that meeting he also said at the clergy congress in Philadelphia when he said that Cyprus is a strategic partner and a very important ally and he preluded that troops need to be removed from Cyprus. And obviously by the virtue of having these meetings and for the vice president going into Cyprus he has put it high on his personal agenda to solve this issue. It is something that we have never seen in Washington in the last 40 years.

So it is important that the vice president has put it at his doorstep. However, as you pointed it out does that completely translate into the Obama administration's policy? I would have to say trust but verify and right now unfortunately we have not heart any open statements from the Obama administration so I have to say that is probably not a policy by the Obama administration and is being carried out by the vice president.

Of course the vice president does not do things in a vacuum. He needs to have the support of the president and obviously he would not be able to do what he is doing without some support of the president. But is it a policy? I do not think completely because if it were we would have more open statements and more pressure on Turkey to remove it's two military naval vessels, which are right now encroaching within Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone and who has forced the president of the Republic of Cyprus to withdrawn on October 7th from the negotiations between the two communities.

Do you believe that American foreign policy has the potential to play a constructive role in the negotiations between the two communities?

So there are not confidence building measures. Everyone has been talking about confidence building measures and the significance of creating the proper environment for these negotiations to take place. It is up to the United States to create this environment. Right now the environment has been poisoned by the provocative actions by Turkey and we need to put pressure on Turkey to create the proper environment for the negotiations to start up again and to succeed.