Senator Menendez and the Greek Americans
The recent and extremely significant development in the US Senate concerning Greece and Cyprus’ future role in Washington’s plans for the Eastern Mediterranean stems from the initiatives of the Hellenic diaspora, and also from the strengthening of Greek-Israeli relations over the past decade. The legislation introduced by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and his Republican colleague Marco Rubio did not come out of thin air. It was the result of numerous meetings, briefings and analyses from specific Greek Americans who have built the necessary credibility in the power centers of Washington and as a result their opinions are heard.
Menendez is one of Greece and Cyprus’ most loyal, sincere and effective allies in the US Congress. From an institutional point of view, he is also the most powerful. He has served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, where he is now the Democratic ranking member. If his party takes back the majority in the Senate, he will most likely become chairman again.
His bond with Greece and Cyprus is personal and was shaped over many years through his friendship with Greek Cypriot Tasos Zambas from New Jersey, who helped the American politician understand the sensitivities of Cyprus, as well as those of Greece.
Rubio, for his part, has close ties with the Israel lobby and has shown a growing interest in getting more involved in East Mediterranean developments. He joined forces with Menendez – even though they sit on opposite sides of the aisle, the two senators share a common interest in certain issues, among them their opposition to the regime in Cuba. Rubio, who has two Greek-American aides on his staff, also enjoys a close friendship with Greek-American Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis – they both represent Florida – with whom he has served for many years, even in the state legislature. While the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 was the work of Menendez, Rubio’s support gave it additional momentum.
The puzzle is not simple. Rubio, for example, while supporting Greece and Cyprus in this legislation, is focused on dealing with the Chinese “threat,” and believes that the Eastern Med will be the next arena of conflict between Beijing and Washington. This at a time when Greece, like many European countries, is promoting closer commercial ties with China.
In any case, one thing is certain. The regional landscape is changing. And in that context, the lengthy meetings and discussions with the people that matter – at many of which Kathimerini was present – at a well-known Washington restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, have proven productive and useful for all the countries involved, including the US.