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AHI President Works to Strengthen Ties with Greece, Cyprus
December 28, 2011—No. 89 (202) 785-8430

AHI President Works to Strengthen Ties with Greece, Cyprus

Annual Year-end Trip Abroad Features AHI’s First Official Visit to Israel

WASHINGTON, DC — Annually, American Hellenic Institute (AHI) President Nick Larigakis embarks on a year-end trip to Greece and Cyprus that aims to strengthen ties between the Greek American community and Greece and Cyprus in sectors such as government, commerce, and defense. This year’s trip, which spanned from November 27 to December 9, 2011, integrated the Institute’s first-ever official visit to Israel to meet with officials.

“Annually, I plan this year-end trip to Greece and Cyprus, on behalf of AHI, to discuss our organization’s goals and to focus on exploring new areas of mutual cooperation and development that will serve to strengthen the bonds between Greek America and Greece and Cyprus,” Larigakis said. “This year, because of significant developments in the region, including closer cooperation between Israel and Greece and Cyprus; and with increased dialogue between the Greek American and Jewish American communities, AHI believed it was important to make a historic visit to Israel, which was extremely beneficial.”

Extensive Meetings Held with Cypriot Ministry Officials

President Larigakis visited Cyprus November 27 to 29. Meetings with Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou and President of the House of Representatives Yiannakis Omirou, highlighted the visit. In addition, two luncheon meetings, one with Ambassador Andreas Kakouris, director, Division of Cyprus Question and Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and a second with Mr. Miltos Miltiadou, senior press and information officer, Office of Press and Information, were held. Other meetings of note included:

  • Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Schofer, U.S. embassy in Nicosia,
  • Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Press and Information Division Androula Lanitis, and
  • Professor Constantinos Christofides, rector, University of Cyprus.

Landmark Visit to Israel

A historic AHI official visit to Israel occurred November 30 to December 1, 2011. There, President Larigakis met with leaders and heads of government, think-tanks, and commerce on November 30, including:

  • Ambassador Yoram Ettinger (ret.), former minister for Congressional Affairs, Israeli Embassy in Washington, Israeli consul general in Houston, and director, Israeli Government Press Office; and current CEO of Second Thought: An American Israel Initiative, a think-tank organization,
  • Mrs. Anat Shlein, head, International Department, Research Section, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Mrs. Irit Lilian, department head, Western Europe Division, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Mr. Eli Lev, economic development, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and
  • Professor Efraim Inbar, head, BESA Center for Strategic Studies.

A two-hour dinner meeting with Mr. Bini Zomer, director, Corporate Affairs, Israel Office, Noble Energy focused on the energy firm’s current efforts to explore for oil and gas reserves in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. The firm’s exploration off the coast of Cyprus has been conducted despite threats issued by Turkey to the firm, and U.S. allies Cyprus and Israel. Alan Schneider, director, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, helped to arrange the entire itinerary, including the dinner with Mr. Zomer, for President Larigakis in Israel. Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president, B’nai B’rith International in Washington also assisted.

“On behalf of AHI, I am deeply grateful to Daniel Mariaschin and Alan Schneider for their invaluable assistance which helped to make AHI’s first visit to Israel a tremendous success,” said Larigakis. “In particular, my meeting with Bini Zomer was extremely informative and it provided great insight on the current situation in the region.”

Larigakis also visited Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where he met with several members of Parliament. Moreover, he received a private tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

“The tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority was a tremendously moving experience,” said Larigakis. “It is one I will share with colleagues and frientwo hoursds, and I will never forget it.”

On December 1, President Larigakis met with His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III and visited the Embassy of Greece in Tel Aviv. He also visited the Western Wall.

Visit to Israel Photos

Visit to Hellenic Military Base, Amb. Smith Presentation Highlight Greece Leg

AHI President Larigakis visited Greece December 2 to 9, 2011 where a visit to the Evros prefecture, a regional Hellenic military camp located in East Macedonia and Thrace that borders Turkey, on December 4, 2011; and an AHI- hosted presentation featuring American Ambassador Daniel Smith on December 8, 2011 at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, highlighted the Greek portion of the itinerary.

Furthermore, in an initiative crucial to achieving President Larigakis’ goal to explore ways to strengthen commercial ties between the United States and Greece was a luncheon hosted by Ambassador Smith for President Larigakis at the ambassador’s residence with 16 business leaders and heads of various chambers of commerce on December 7, 2011.

“AHI is deeply grateful to Ambassador Smith for his hospitality in arranging for this important event,” said Larigakis. “We all understand the crisis Greece is facing with its economy. Any initiative that can provide a main thrust for dialogue, or the potential to develop and facilitate business relations with the United States and Greece is to be applauded.”

During his visit to the Evros prefecture, Larigakis attended the Saint Barbara celebration at the camp of the 31st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Feres, a town 30 kilometers northeast of Alexandroupolis City. (St. Barbara is the patron saint of the artillery.) He also visited the Platoon Post near the bridge that connects Greece and Turkey and borderline on the bridge where he met with the guards. In addition, Larigakis visited the towns of Soufli and Didimotixo, toured the famous delta of the Evros River, which is recognized as an important wetland by Greece, Europe, and the international community; and met Vice Mayor of Feres Nikos Gkotsis who provided a guided tour at the Church of Panagia Kosmosotira (protector of the world), which was built by Isaakios Komninos in 1152.

“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Brigadier General Ilias Leontaris, who heads one of the Military Formations which are located in the Evros prefecture, for arranging a first-ever visit to the camp to witness first-hand life on the border between Greece and Turkey,” said Larigakis. “It was truly an eye-opening experience.” Brigadier General Leontaris served previously as defense attaché at Embassy of Greece in Washington. To commemorate Larigakis’ visit to the brigade, Brigadier General Leontaris presented Larigakis with a coin that depicts the emblem of the brigade.

In another highlight, American Ambassador Daniel Smith spoke about recent developments in U.S.-Greece relations during a presentation and reception hosted by AHI in cooperation with the AHI-Athens Chapter. The ambassador touched on the high-level visits to Greece by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden in 2011. A record number 180 persons attended. A Q&A session followed.

“We thank Ambassador Smith for his time and for providing an insightful presentation,” said Larigakis. “We look forward to continuing to work with the ambassador and embassy staff to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece.”

AHI thanks the following sponsors for their support of the presentation and reception: Major Benefactors: Ted G. Spyropoulos, President T.G.S. Epsilon; and Integrated Utility Services, Inc. Sponsors: G.C. Economou & Associates, Athens; Athanasios Sipsas, Athens; IONIOS A.E., Athens; KAPOTAS S.A., Patra; James H. and Nike D. Lagos, Springfield, Ohio; Hotel Grande Bretagne, New York College, and Poulos Brothers, Peter Poulos.

Larigakis Meets Top Leaders across Greek Sectors

In Athens, President Larigakis’ itinerary included a series of meetings with various sectors in Greece, including: government/public, commerce, non-profit, and media. The meetings were with:

  • Mr. Panos Protopsaltis, privatization programme coordinator, Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund,
  • Mr. Epaminondas Farmakis, COO, Stavros Niarchos Foundation,
  • Mr. Dimitris Giannakakis, director, A2 Cyprus Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Ambassador Chrysoula Aliferi, director, A7 Division on North American Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Ambassador Maria Louisa Marinaki and Franciscos Kostellenos, directors, A3 Division on Southeastern Europe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Aristotelia Peloni, journalist, Ta Nea, and
  • Hon. Olga Kefaloyianni, Member of Parliament, New Democracy.

A meeting with General of the Hellenic Army Michail Kostarakos, chief of staff, Hellenic National Defense, proved to be an eye-opening experience for President Larigakis. During his hour meeting with General Kostarakos at the Greek Pentagon, Larigakis witnessed several violations of Greece’s sovereignty by Turkish jets and ships.

“It is one thing to read about Turkish violations of Greece’s airspace and territorial waters,” said Larigakis. “However, it is another thing to witness these provocative actions by Turkey as they occur in real time. It was not just one isolated incident over the course of a day, but several over the span of two hours. I would like to thank Colonel Taxiarchis Sardellis, the defense attaché at the Embassy of Greece in Washington, for helping to arrange the meeting with General Kostarakos.”

Moreover, Larigakis met with Ambassador of the State of Israel to Greece Arye Mekel. He also visited Hellenic Parliament for a joint meeting with Hon. Dinos Vrettos, chairman, Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense; and Hon. Ilias Karanikas, chairman, Parliament Committee for Greeks of the Diaspora. In addition, a working luncheon was held with Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, director, Service of Diplomatic and Historical Archive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Finally, Larigakis attended St. Nicholas Day celebrations at the Greek Naval Academy.

Visit to Evros Photos

Luncheon at Ambassador Daniel Smith's Residence Photo

Athens Presentation and Reception Photos

The American Hellenic Institute is an independent non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.


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