The U.S.-Greece Strategic PartnershipR. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Sen. Paul Sarbanes; Congressman Mike Bilirakis
Remarks at the AHEPA Banquet Honoring
March 10, 2006
Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m pleased to be here with so many friends to recognize and celebrate the careers of two great Greek-Americans: Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Congressman Mike Bilirakis of Florida. It is an honor to join so many members and friends of the Greek-American community tonight. I would like to join His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Ambassador Evriviades of Cyprus, Ambassador Mallias of Greece, and MC George Stephanopoulos in thanking our hosts, Supreme President Gus James and Andrew Kaffes, for organizing this wonderful evening. Most of all, I want to thank all my fellow AHEPA members for the opportunity to speak to you tonight. Our organization has a long and proud history. And while I promise to keep my remarks short, I hope you’ll understand my pride in speaking about our great organization, our two fine honorees, and relations between the United States and Greece.
I was slightly embarrassed the other day to notice a quote from me on the AHEPA web site, that AHEPA’s history "serves as an inspiring record of all that is best about America and Americans in the 20th century." Let me update that quote: AHEPA is already providing that same record for the 21st century.
Tonight, we are here to honor two men who have contributed so much to all AHEPA’s accomplishments, both of whom are icons of the Greek-American community: Senator Paul Sarbanes and Representative Michael Bilirakis.
While I couldn’t begin to recount the influence of Congressman Mike Bilirakis tonight, I want to recognize one of his most important accomplishments: the co-founding, and his continued co-chairmanship, of the Hellenic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Hellenic Caucus, I’m pleased to report, now includes more than 135 members in the House. Over the years, Congressman Bilirakis has sponsored dozens of resolutions in support of Greek and Cypriot relations with the United States, and ensured that we remember Greece’s sacrifices and triumphs in opposing the Axis Powers and other enemies of freedom. He was instrumental in the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1997, and he has long worked to achieve a peaceful solution in Cyprus. Congressman Bilirakis’ legacy of leadership will be dearly missed; however I am told that another generation of the Bilirakis dynasty, namely Gus Bilirakis, is looking to fill some very large shoes by running for his father’s current seat in Florida. I wish Gus well in his future political career – he has an excellent mentor.
It would be hard to overstate the positive impact Senator Sarbanes has had on issues regarding U.S. policy and our Hellenic friends in Greece and Cyprus. As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Sarbanes has tirelessly advocated on behalf of his Maryland constituents and the wider Hellenic-American community on virtually every issue of importance to them, from Cyprus to NATO to regional security.
And I can tell you from first-hand experience that Paul is a stand-up guy. I remember how in 1998, when I had a particularly tough time in Greece over my criticism of the 17 November terrorist group, the Senator came to Athens for the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program and spoke in my defense. I was enormously grateful and have never forgotten it. On that same trip, I told him that Greece wanted to create a national baseball team for the Olympics. He introduced me to Peter Angelos, and together we formed the "friends of Greek baseball." The rest is history, played out at the 2004 Games in Athens. Paul, you have earned our deepest respect and our sincerest gratitude. And since we have already broached the issue of dynasties, let me also wish good luck to John Sarbanes, who is running for his father’s previous seat in the House from Maryland.
It is a privilege and honor for me to share the podium with these two great Americans. During my tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Greece and in the years since, I have benefited personally from their wise counsel and appreciated their support. I look forward to continuing that relationship in the months and years to come.
I also look forward to continuing to help expand and strengthen the U.S.-Greece relationship. Make no mistake: relations between the U.S. and Greece are excellent, and getting stronger. I want especially to thank former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis for his superb work in creating a warm atmosphere for this relationship to flourish. Moreover, I’m tremendously pleased to be working with my long-time friend Dora Bakoyannis in her new role as Foreign Minister. As one of the most dynamic figures in Greece today, Dora brings an extraordinary record of achievement including hosting the superb 2004 Olympic Games in Athens as Mayor. I know U.S.-Greece relations will thrive during her tenure as Foreign Minister, and I am glad that we can count on her and so many other friends to help continue strengthening our relations.
Greece and the United States are working together to advance our shared goals:
The U.S.-Greece strategic partnership – based on 100 years of friendship -- is important not only to our two countries, but to peace and stability in Europe and around the world. And the support of the Greek-American community, including AHEPA, is important to that strategic partnership. I’d like to once again thank Senator Sarbanes and Congressman Bilirakis for all they have done to make this relationship so strong, and thank AHEPA again for hosting us here tonight.
Released on March 13, 2006