Volume 5, Issue 3—June/July/August 2013
AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.
The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.
Unrest in Turkey Examined at Brookings
The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended an event titled, “Unrest in Turkey,” held at the Brookings Institution, June 6, 2013. It featured Brookings TUSIAD Senior Fellow Kemal Kirişci, Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Ömer Taşpınar, Henri Barkey of Lehigh University, and Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center, moderated the discussion.
The discussion began with a question to Taşpınar about whether the protestors were modeling themselves after Arab compatriots. Taşpınar replied that despite imperfections in Turkey’s democracy that apples and oranges cannot be compared. Protestors were showing the weaknesses in Turkish democracy but not undermining the whole system. Barkey addressed the excesses of AKP power and the lack of an organized, competent opposition in the Turkish political system. He mentioned the emergence of a civil society for the first time in Turkey but cautioned that results would not be immediate or quickly forthcoming. Barkey also pointed out the electorate’s increased awareness is due to increased education and their predominately young age. He highlighted the fact that these citizens want the style of governance to change but not necessarily the regime itself. Senior Fellow Kirişci concluded the panel discussion by providing background behind the symbolism related to Taksim Square and why these protests sparked nationwide demonstrations.
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U.S.-Turkey Civil Nuclear Cooperation in the Post-Cold War World
The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended an event titled, “U.S.-Turkey Civil Nuclear Cooperation in the Post-Cold War World,” held at the Brookings Institution, June 20, 2013. The featured speaker was Jessica Varnum, Nuclear Threat Initiative project manager and research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Charles Ebinger, senior fellow and director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, moderated.
Varnum focused on the ways in which U.S. engagement with Turkey in terms of the latter’s nuclear energy program would be beneficial to both countries. She also utilized her recent report, “Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model’ Partnership: Opportunities for Civil Nuclear Cooperation,” to elaborate on the topic. She stressed it is important to recognize the vital role Turkey plays in the region due to its economic prowess and foreign policy influence. Therefore, it behooves the United States to work with Turkey despite differences in opinion over the prudence of its nuclear energy program.
Varnum detailed the history of Turkey’s civil nuclear energy program, in which she recounted how it has never fully gotten off the ground because of government instability and poor economic climates. She also described the current state of affairs in Turkey. In its attempt to build actual plants, Turkey finds itself in a situation where it cannot acquire vendors from whom to buy reactors whereas the U.S. nuclear industry is balking at the chance to do so. One factor impeding the positive evolution of relations between the United States and Turkey vis-à-vis nuclear energy is Turkey’s conviction that the U.S. government is partly to blame for bad luck in that area due to the American government’s projection of Turkey as a nuclear domino. Varnum asserted that both beliefs are wrong. She believes there is not only room for improved cooperation but also good reason for it. She insisted that Turkey, regardless of what some in the U.S. government might think, would not follow a dangerous nuclear path (proving the U.S. incorrect), and that the U.S. government possesses no control over the U.S. nuclear industry and is consequently not preventing the sale of reactors to Turkey, contrary to its opinion.
Because the United States is committed to the responsible production of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Varnum emphasized that cooperation with Turkey should increase in this sector. One venue through which both countries could work together is on the official level and by abandoning the political discourse that paints Turkey as a potentially dangerous nuclear country. Cooperation could also take place in the nuclear industry itself; rather than selling reactors to Turkey (which the U.S. industry has been reluctant to do), it can offer consulting services for issues such as license applications and technical support. Finally, the United States can engage with Turkey regarding nuclear power by strengthening a shared educational infrastructure that sees the exchange of faculty as well as undergraduate/graduate programs.
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House Hearing: Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?
On June 26, the AHI attended a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, on the Gezi Park protests. Witnesses were: Hillel Fradkin, Hudson Institute; Soner Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; former U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James F. Jeffrey; and Kadir Ustun, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA). U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee, presided over the hearing.
Chairman Rohrabacher began the hearing by asking rhetorically if Turkey is a reliable ally aside from the fact Turkey is a NATO ally. U.S. Rep. William Keating (D-MA) expressed his doubts, especially in domestic Turkish political proceedings and the current administration’s use of brute force against protestors.
Witnesses unanimously denied an Arab Spring analogy in the case of the Taksim Square protests. Cagaptay pointed out the protests highlight the majority middle class society existent in Turkey today; these protests are about democracy and the need for the leadership to adopt a more democratic constitution. Ambassador Jeffrey shared his observation that the social unrest makes the fissures in modern Turkish society further evident. He also shared the troubling reaction he had to the increased polarization within Turkey before the protests and as a result of the protests.
In testimony, Ustun said these are the “growing pains” of democracy and can be likened to the Occupy Movement within the U.S. Fradkin agreed the events are discouraging and expressed his disappointment that the protestors were treated more like traitors and terrorists. Gursel cited causes for this including the government’s disregard for judiciary independence, increase in basic education for the public, increase in police violence, Erdogan’s conservative views on family planning, and a ban on alcohol sales. These factors have helped increase polarization within Turkish society.
Congressman Connolly, co-chair of the Congressional Turkish Caucus, compared the current protests in Turkey to riots in the United States from 1955–1968, saying that there is always dissent in a country but “we” need to see how it is handled. Gursel responded that this “explosion” actually showed the government its limits.
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Congressional Briefing held on the Southern Gas Corridor
The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended a congressional briefing titled “Southern Gas Corridor and its Role in the European Energy Security” held on Capitol Hill, July 17, 2013. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is a natural gas pipeline project. The pipeline will start in Greece, cross Albania and the Adriatic Sea and come ashore in southern Italy, allowing gas to flow directly from the Caspian region to European markets.
The panel featured: Ambassador of Albania to the U.S. Gilbert Galanxhi, Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos, Lorenzo Galanti, counselor for economic affairs, Embassy of Italy; SOCAR (Azerbaijan's state energy company) Vice President Elshad Nasirov, and BP Director for International Affairs Greg Saunders. Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the U.S. Elin Suleymanov moderated.
Ambassador Galanxhi noted the decision to build a pipeline through the region was good for the countries involved as well as for the EU as a whole, adding it increases energy security and overall development. He stated that Albania was in full support of TAP, which he said would bring gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field to the EU. Ambassador Panagopoulos provided further support from Greece behind the pipeline, and commended its cost efficiency as well as its economic benefits, such as increased foreign investment for countries troubled by hard economic times. Counselor Galanti repeated praise of the profits to be reaped from TAP in terms of energy security and competitiveness. SOCAR Vice President Nasirov detailed the history of Azerbaijan’s involvement in the oil and gas industry, noting the hydrocarbon infrastructure originated in that country. He also said the experienced company’s role in this pipeline as it relates to other nations in the region will be one of mutual guidance and assistance. BP Director Saunders concluded the discussion by praising the countries participating in this project for their courage to make a difficult internationally and economically-minded decision in what can be a troubled region.
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Senate Committee Holds Nomination Hearing for Next U.S. Ambassador to Greece
The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Nomination Hearing for Ambassador David Pearce on July 25, 2013. Ambassador Pearce is the administration’s nominee to be the United States’ next ambassador to Greece. His testimony described relations between Greece and the U.S. as excellent. He also discussed the importance of Souda Bay, the need to expand American investment in Greece, and Greece’s relevance in the EU.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on European Affairs, presided over the hearing. He asked Ambassador Pearce what potential role he saw the U.S. playing in the resolution of issues such as Cyprus and a name for Macedonia. Ambassador Pearce replied that Greece has made progress on these issues and the U.S. will continue to monitor them and provide updates accordingly to the committee. The quality of relations between Greece and Turkey is at a high. He spoke of his support for a bi-communal federation in Cyprus and the actions of the UN special envoy with regards to Macedonia.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), ranking member of the subcommittee, also asked the ambassador what he believed were the biggest diplomatic issues between the U.S. and Greece. Ambassador Pearce believed it to be defense and economic cooperation.
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Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance Briefing on the State of Energy Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean
AHI attended a briefing held on Capitol Hill July 31 on the state of energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean. The Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance hosted the briefing that featured Binyamin A. Zomer, director of Corporate Affairs in Israel for Noble Energy Corporation. With its strategic location and resources, the eastern Mediterranean is an increasingly important priority for the United States.
Zomer, who is responsible for Noble's government relations, media relations and corporate social responsibility projects, presented information regarding Noble’s past and current activities in the region and the importance of continued energy collaboration between Cyprus, Greece and Israel and the United States. Natural gas discovered in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Israel and Cyprus by U.S.-based Noble Energy is a significant finding and has encouraged Israel, Greece and Cyprus to closely examine their shared economic and security interests. Developing the newly discovered energy resources in the region has the potential to reduce U.S. and regional dependence on less friendly and unreliable global energy suppliers.
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Senate Committee Examines Turkey's Democracy after Gezi Protests
AHI attended a Senate hearing on the state of Turkey’s democracy after the very public protests which continued through the summer. The conversation also focused on fresh concerns on the direction in which Turkey’s democracy is headed. Kurt Volker, executive director, McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University; Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Philip Solodz distinguished visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Professor Jenny B. White of Boston University, and Robert Wexler, president, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, were witnesses on the panel. The hearing was held July 31, 2013.
The panelists discussed the strategic importance of Turkey and its position as an important ally of the United States. Turkey’s reactions to its protestors and increased polarization were addressed and panelists did not hesitate to criticize the recent undemocratic actions of the Turkish administration in handling protestors. Further reforms remain necessary in order to create a more liberal democracy. Panelists did give the current leadership credit for moving forward with resolving the ongoing conflict with the country’s Kurdish minority.
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AHI Takes to Capitol Hill as 113th Congress Continues
AHI met with the staff of several key members of Congress, including those that serve on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as a means of reaching out throughout the duration of the 113th Congress.
AHI met with the offices of: U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Howard Coble (R-NC), John Carter (R-TX), Ted Deutch (D-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Xavier Baccerra (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Steve Stockman (R-TX), and the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
AHI also met with the offices of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on European Affairs, and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. AHI further attended a Capitol Hill commemoration of the illegal invasion of Cyprus and met with U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Staff members were provided copies of the one-hour PBS documentary, “Cyprus Still Divided: A U.S. Foreign Policy Failure” and overviews of the policy statements advocated by AHI. Members were also encouraged to support H.Res.187, condemning any attempt to use the current economic crisis as a means of imposing a settlement on the people of Cyprus.
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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at https://www.ahiworld.org.
The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.
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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 5 Issue 3