BY Tom Ellis
The chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Robert Menendez, is due to hold meetings in Athens on Thursday and Friday with the Greek president, the prime minister, the speaker of Parliament and the ministers of foreign affairs and defense, among others, while also addressing the “Greece 2040” forum at the Acropolis Museum, an event organized by the Greece 2021 Committee.
Menendez is Greece and Cyprus’ most powerful, consistent and effective friend in Washington. A politician with a long career in Congress and considerable influence on American foreign policy, he has always been there for Athens and Nicosia, regardless of the approach of whoever was in the White House or the majorities in the House and the Senate.
His actions have consistently demonstrated his sensibility and support for the concerns of Hellenism, sentiments that are not the result of political or financial interests but rather of personal ties that have given rise to a deeply felt interest in the existential worries as well as the strategic value of Greece and Cyprus.
Those of us who have followed him closely know his perspicacity. He is not one to expend himself on broad and vapid statements. He’s a doer. He works on creating coalitions to pass legislation and pushes through sanctions when necessary. During the hearings of diplomats nominated to serve in countries neighboring Greece and Cyprus, he focuses on the substance and secures commitments. The State Department bureaucracy respects him and values his opinions.
The New Jersey senator for the past 15 years – with many years before that serving in the House – is an active voice in the shaping of American foreign policy, as, in contrast to the parliamentary systems in Europe that give the governing party complete power, in the US, the legislative bodies have their own distinctive role and influence.
He has worked closely with every leader in Greece and Cyprus regardless of ideology and even when they saddened him – like the late Demetris Christofias, who as president of Cyprus went to Havana, where he opened an embassy and spoke highly of Fidel Castro.
Menendez expressed his regret at the move – an understandable reaction, given his personal sensibilities about Cuba and his strong opposition to the then Cuban leader – but his obvious chagrin did not change his stance toward Cyprus.
An enduring champion of the rights of Athens and Nicosia, as well as their geopolitical value, he has taken the lead in important initiatives to forward Greek-American strategic cooperation, foremost among which was the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act.
Most recently, he urged the Pentagon to help Greece in its hour of need during the recent big fires, writing to the secretary of defense to encourage him to provide American CH-47 helicopters.
The warm welcome he is receiving in Greece is well deserved; no need for some exaggerations which he himself shies from.
What is essential is that we safeguard this relationship, which makes certain leaders in our area uneasy, as it bolsters Greece and is making it an increasingly essential part of US strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bob Menendez has become a major factor in shifting the regional balance of power.