Tasos Zambas is a Greek Cypriot American who has been defending the national interests of Greece and Cyprus in the US since he immigrated as a refugee from his ancestral home following the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Zambas, a close friend of Senator Bob Menendez, is the Alternate President of PSEKA, International Committee Justice for Cyprus, whose mission remains the pursuit of a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem.
Speaking to Greek Reporter, Zambas outlines his thoughts on the Biden Administration and its policies towards Greece and Cyprus, notes the major challenges facing the Greek American and Greek Cypriot community in the US, and explains the crucial role played by Sen. Menendez.
The Biden administration on Greece and Cyprus
Zambas says that the Greek American community has been disappointed with the Biden administration.
“The community had high hopes for the Biden administration. They did not become anti-Greek, but as a community we expected more,” he says, and adds that the Department of State is now trying to do a balancing act between Greece and Turkey.
“When Mike Popmeo was in charge we felt he was able to understand our issues and play more of a vital role in the interests of Greece and Cyprus.”
He notes that the Department of State has “put to sleep” one of the most important initiatives of the previous administration: namely the 3+1 talks that would have involved the regular meetings of the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the US on security in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Blinken has committed to none of these meetings,” Zambas says. “We are very disappointed about that. It looks to me that some people in the State Department look, not to sabotage the scheme, but to put it to sleep because Turkey gets upset.”
Overall, Zambas says that the Greek American and Greek Cypriot communities expected more from Biden, not least because many prominent members of the community worked hard to make sure Biden got elected.
“Let’s be clear: The Administration did not damage the relationship with Cyprus and Greece. As everybody knows the relationship between the US and Greece is at the highest point it ever was and Cyprus has been part of the equation.”
Important achievements for Greece and Cyprus in the US
The Greek community was able to achieve a lot because at this moment we have bi-partisan support in Congress, Zambas notes.
“Ten years ago we just had a few Democrats and maybe one or two Republicans. Now we have broader support because people have realized the American interest in the region and the role Greece, Cyprus and Israel can play.”
He acknowledges that in some respects the Biden administration has helped. “Let’s give credit where it’s due. Biden was the first President to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The US has lifted the arms embargo on Cyprus. That’s very important because it sent a very strong message.”
Zambas also points out that the Cyprus National Guard has made an agreement to cooperate with the Guard of New Jersey. New Jersey National Guard belongs to the Pentagon, so this would not have happened without the Pentagon’s blessing.
He also notes that the US has been doing joint exercises from the Souda naval base in Greece to Cyprus “connecting the airspace of Cyprus, the airspace that Turkey disputes. US jets went over the airspace without asking for permission. This is important.”
The F-16 to Turkey saga and challenges ahead
Zambas says that the geopolitical situation allows the Greek American community to be more effective vis-a-vis Turkey in the US.
“Turkey is so anti-western and moving towards Islamic fundamentalism and this has helped the community prove that Greece, Cyprus and Israel are the only reliable partners in Eastern Mediterranean.”
He adds that Congress and Sen. Menendez are standing on principle in the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Menendez stresses that the US should not give arms to Turkey as long as it continues to jail lawyers and political opponents.
“They are not saying they oppose the sale because of Cyprus and Greece. The conditions that they attach are about a NATO ally that is not behaving as such. Turkey is not a democratic country and is becoming an authoritarian regime.”
He points out the friendly relations that the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been forging with Russia and Iran.
“When the President of Turkey is pictured with the Presidents of Iran and Russia – the leaders of the two evil empires as far as the US is concerned – that alarms Congress and helps our issue,” Zambas says.
“If Turkey was today a candidate to join NATO it would not qualify because it violates most of the principles of being an ally,” he adds.
Zambas notes that Sen. Menendez has approved the sale of F-35s to Greece and stresses that he does not associate this with the F-16 issue. “Although some people are trying to condition the sale of F-16s to Turkey in parallel with F-35s to Greece, this is a no-go for Sen. Menendez. They are two separate issues.”
Tasos Zambas on his mentor and friend Bob Menendez
“Menendez is a man of principle,” he says. “He has seen the geopolitical change in the eastern Mediterranean since a very long time ago and that’s why along with Marco Rubio they promoted the East Mediterranean Act in 2019.”
Zambas says that he got involved in politics after he met Menendez. He recalls how in 1995 the Senator made a dream of his come true.
“For 20 years I could not visit my home in the occupied part of Cyprus. One afternoon in the summer of 1995 he promised me that he would take me to Prastio Morfu. I never believed it would happen. But he did take me in August 1995.
“A trip that was supposed to take a couple of hours, lasted more than 10 hours. It was a very difficult trip and when Menendez came back to the US and gave a press conference he said ‘it was easier to put a camel through the middle head than taking Tasos to his ancestral home’.”
Zambas tells Greek Reporter that this gesture by Menendez 28 years ago was “the beginning of a great relationship…I never dreamed that he would become the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“But here we are, he is now one of the most powerful people in the US Senate. The Democrat the Biden administration fears the most.”
Zambas says that Greek American organizations, such as the Justice for Cyprus Committee, work towards what they believe is in the national interest of both the US and Greece, as well as Cyprus.
“We do not have a political agenda as long as there are democratic governments in Greece and Cyprus. We support them but we do not do what they tell us to do. We do things we believe are right for the US and Greece and Cyprus.”
See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Greekreporter.com. Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!