COMMENT

Letter from Washington D.C.

By Spyros Payiatakis

They sure don't have a terrific reputation. As a matter of fact, in Greece we might call them «diaplekomenoi,» which indicates that they are involved with something nebulous, something not so respectable. And yet? And yet every one has one of them working for him in Washington D.C. Be it religion, poultry, big trusts, foreign states, or the tobacco industry, there is hardly any aspect of life which is not touched by lobbyists in this capital. A successful lobbyist here is considered something of an artist - artists of persuasion, as they improvise and keep figuring out how to sway Capital Hill politicians to vote on legislation and to take decisions that favor the interest they happen to be serving. Power brokers behind-the-scene, those special dealmakers know the art of flattering, of cajoling and even of getting a little edge in their voices. So everyone uses them? Well, not exactly. «There is no Greek lobby in Washington D.C. at the present,» says Lambros Papandoniou,» long-time correspondent of Greek publications here. «At least, not in the effective way we knew it in the 1970s, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Today there is no efficient structure to confront important cases of crisis in the Aegean, in the Balkans, in Cyprus,» he adds. Another illustrious Greek American agrees with that. Patrick N. Theros, former ambassador to Qatar, a Republican who did not vote for Bush, and who seems outraged by the decision to recognize the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) only three days after the presidential election, explains to this month's Odyssey magazine: «Greek Americans are too fragmented and there's no coordination as to what should constitute policy. Until they get that part together, they're going to be reactive to crisis.» And he concludes: «We are too successful in periods of crisis, and then we drop off when the crisis is over.» He also emphasizes: «Greece didn't send troops to Iraq. FYROM sent a platoon.» Well, it is like that: politicians will never forget you if a) you're a friend or b) if you ignored them indirectly, supporting their enemies. But is the crisis really over? In an article in the Hellenic News of America, Gene Rossides, President of the American Hellenic Institute, lawyer, author and one of the main lobbyists for the Greek causes, predicts with sound reason: «The next four years will be difficult regarding foreign policy issues of special concern to Greek Americans for several reasons.» Foreign policy And he goes on and names them: Key figures in US foreign policy are still the ones that have demonstrated in the past a pro-Turkish and anti-Greek and -Cyprus bias to the detriment of the US relations with Greece and Cyprus. As for the new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who has so undiplomatically ignored Greece during her first European trip which included Turkey, Gene Rossides states: «As National Security Advisor, Ms Rice was involved in the betrayal of Greece in the administration's unilateral decision to recognize FYROM as the Republic of Macedonia. The US broke its pledge.» So, is Ms Rice more favorable to our neighbors on the other side of the Aegean? A tangible answer to this was given at the last State Department briefing on Friday. Lambros Papantoniou put some most significant questions to a briefer named Richard Boucher: Q: «Sir, do you know when Madame Secretary Condoleezza Rice is going to visit Athens?» Boucher: «No, I don't. But she has made clear her desire that either she or her deputy, will visit all the NATO allies.» And now the real important part of the dialogue: Q: «According to CNN, your commercial officer in your embassy in Ankara is going to visit the occupied area of Cyprus accompanied by a big US commercial company's representative.» Boucher: «Basically true, but flip it around. There is an American business delegation that's coming to the northern part of Cyprus from Turkey. It's a private delegation that's looking at potential business opportunities in the north. This delegation is consistent with our goal of using the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots by expanding business contacts on and off the island. And the group will be accompanied by a US commercial attache from our embassy in Ankara. He's going along to help facilitate their work. That's standard practice worldwide with business delegations.» Well. Not exactly. Diplomatic etiquette and practice teaches that this is most unusual in cases of disputed areas that have been occupied - remember - by sheer military force. Yet, sure enough, any US president is entitled to his vision. Now, what every good Washington lobbyist knows only too well is that using common sense, plain and simple, you can convince any politician, mainly those who want to be re-elected. Therefore, what practice should be followed? And how should a Greek government react to all this? Answering this question in Odyssey, aforementioned State Department insider Patrick N. Theros suggests, and I distill his advice down to a few basic points: «I don't think that they (the Greek government) needs a big lobby or PR firm because they have, for free, a very sympathetic community here. What they need to do is just work better with it.» Which they (meaning again those in the Greek government) are obviously not doing. As for today, there are many good reasons for St Valentine's Day, despite the naysayers who bemoan it. As if commercialization is a bad thing! Am I becoming a Republican too after two weeks in D.C., I wonder, as I wait for a plane to Thessaloniki. After a fortnight in the USA I can only confirm that commercialization ensures the shelves are stocked with gifts that our dearest ones have been helpfully reminded to buy - the definition of win-win: the stores make money, we get cool stuff and our families avoid the disgrace of handing us used paperbacks wrapped in Sunday comics. All the same, Valentine's Day is a big rip-off!

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