George J. Tsunis, a New York attorney who is personal friend of President Joe Biden, faced confirmation hearings on Wednesday as part of his nomination as the United States Ambassador to Greece.
As part of the hearings, philhellene Senator Bob Menendez introduced Tsunis, stating that “Greece is a critical ally” of the United States at the present time, adding that the country, “as the birthplace of democracy, continues to be a beacon” of democracy in the region.
Addressing the hearings, Tsunis noted that as a first-generation American he was “blessed to live the American Dream,” stating that his parents had “heard Emma Lazarus’ calling” when they emigrated to the US from Greece.
“A way to give back to the country that has given me so much”
He went on to laud US foreign policy in the past, saying that “If it wasn’t for the Truman Doctrine, Greece would have been pulled into the Soviet orbit” in past decades. He stated that he saw his possible Ambassadorship as “a way to give back to the country that has given me so much.”
Declaring that “what happens in Greece matters” in areas including defense. His top goals if confirmed, Tsunis stated, would include the furthering of trade relations between the two countries as Greece continues to emerge from its economic problems of past decades.
Senator James Risch, (R-ID) also took part in the hearings as a member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Greece faces challenges on a number of fronts,” Risch noted, naming the growing specter of China as it tries to establish stronger ownership of transportation hubs in the region.
Tsunis lauds Greek administration for being “clear-eyed about Chinese influence”
“If confirmed, I pledge to work with the administration, the committee, the government of Greece, to counteract this — and as a business person, I know what it is to compete aggressively in business transactions.
Agreeing that the activities of China will be a focus of his efforts as Ambassador, Tsunis said “China has engaged in encroachment and malign influence.”
Answering a query by Corey Booker (D-NJ) on the growing influence of China in Greece, Tsunis agreed that the PRC’s influence was indeed casting a shadow in the country and that he backed the findings in the Risch Report about that subject.
Stating that he believed China is seeking to create critical infrastructure in the area that will lead to geopolitical power, Tsunis said that he was gratified when Greece chose a European partner, rather than China, as a provider for its 5G services last year.
He commended the current Greek administration of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying it was “clear-eyed about what China is doing” as part of its activities in Europe.
However, he said the US must step up in countering Chinese influence in the area, pointing out that a Chinese state firm was the only bidder for the ownership of the port of Piraeus when it went up for sale several years ago.
The Chinese firm COSCO now owns a majority stake in the port of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.
US, Greece have deepened economic, military ties in recent years
The hearings will decide whether Tsunis meets the criteria for the post, as the US and Greece have been strengthening their diplomatic, economic, and military relations over the last few years.
The post of Ambassador to Greece has been occupied since the beginning of the Trump administration by Geoffrey Pyatt, a career foreign service diplomat who has been a tireless cheerleader for Greece in many spheres, including the economy.
Once proposed by former President Obama to be an ambassador to Norway, the businessman, whose family is from Nafpaktos, is said to have been a personal choice of Menendez.
Tsunis, born in Queens, New York, spoke only Greek until he went to kindergarten. He is the son of immigrants from Greece, James and Eleni Tsunis. He earned a BA at New York University in 1989 and a JD at St. John’s University School of Law in 1992.
The hearings were live-streamed by the federal government’s portal via this link.
As a practicing attorney, Tsunis was a partner at the law firm of Rivkin Radler LLP. He married Olga J. Antzoulis — another first-generation Greek-American — in November of 2004. They live in Lloyd Harbor, Long Island, with their three children. He has two sisters.
Tsunis withdrew as nominee for Ambassador to Norway
His first nomination to an ambassadorship hit the rocks after his nod for the post in Norway fell apart. After being nominated as Ambassador to Norway on September 10, 2013, the nomination process lagged for many months.
His nomination was part of a backlog of nominees for ambassadorial positions across the world as Obama battled the Congress regarding many of his nominations to posts. Norway, an important fellow member of the NATO alliance, had never been without a US ambassador for that long.
Tsunis’ nomination hearing generated some controversy, both in Norway and in the US, after he confessed to never having been to Norway and showed his apparent ignorance of current Norwegian political issues. He did not impress at those confirmation hearings, and Senator John McCain took a stand against his appointment.