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Remarks at the Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Washington, DC
July 17, 2008

Thank you, Mike, and thanks to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for honoring me with the opportunity to address this distinguished group tonight. It’s a great privilege to share the podium with so many leaders of the Greek-American community. I want to add my voice to the chorus of admiration for His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios—a man of faith, an inspiring leader, and a great humanitarian. It was not all that long ago, your Eminence, that I had the honor to participate in the Athenagoras Human Rights Award Ceremony. The Award recognized the contributions you have made not only as a visionary leader and defender of the faith, but as an extraordinary humanitarian and advocate of human rights. The Clergy Laity Congress is further testimony to your dedication. Congratulations to you and your archdiocese on a successful Clergy Laity Congress.

I am deeply proud to be one of the more than three million Americans who claim Hellenic ancestry. Like so many other peoples and religious groups, Greek Americans and members of the Greek Orthodox church have found a home in the United States. Our community has flourished thanks to our country’s steadfast commitment to religious freedom. Greek Americans are famously proud of their heritage, and if you’ll permit me for saying so, that pride is well-founded. Greek Americans represent the best of the American experience through their entrepreneurial spirit, civic and religious engagement, and patriotism. I am privileged to share this heritage and to serve our country at this critical moment.

The love and loyalty Greek Americans feel towards the United States is reinforced by the Hellenic ideals embodied in our national character: democracy, equality, and rational inquiry. Ancient Greece gave birth to those values, the United States and our democratic friends and allies helped to bring them into the modern age, and through our example and influence over the past two centuries, we have established these values as the new norm of justice and progress for governments everywhere..

Today, Greece is a stalwart partner in the spread of democratic values. Our countries share longstanding historical, political, and cultural ties. We have stood together in every major international conflict of the 20th century, including both World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the Cold War. It was in support of Greek independence and self-determination that President Harry Truman proclaimed the Truman Doctrine, which became a pillar of our containment strategy against the Soviet Union. Thanks to that doctrine, and to the courageous resistance of Greek forces to communist domination, Greece joined NATO in 1952. Greece remains a staunch NATO ally and is a critical partner in the Balkans and in the War on Terrorism.

I want to add that Greek friendship towards the United States extends even within our homeland. A group of Greek firefighters is now helping the US Forest Service fight the California wildfires that are endangering the communities, homes, and lives of thousands of Americans. Ambassador Mallias: please accept my thanks for their service.

Turning to another important friend, Cyprus, a new generation of leaders has arisen there that is committed to resolving the division of the island. That division has gone on for too long and must be resolved in the only way that’s realistic: a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, with a single nation, a single citizenship, and a single country with two constituent states, as agreed by the two leaders on May 23. We support the leaders’ efforts to begin full-fledged negotiations under UN auspices, and we look forward to an announcement in the next couple of weeks that talks are set to begin. The U.S will support negotiations in any way the parties believe will be helpful; the solution must come from the Cypriots themselves.

Another U.S. priority in Cyprus—and no doubt a priority for all of you gathered here tonight—is helping save and preserve the many sites with cultural, religious, and historical significance. U.S. assistance programs have contributed significantly to preservation activities. Because those activities all include bi-communal elements, they also help foster respect and tolerance between the island’s Greek and Turkish inhabitants. Examples of sacred sites that have benefitted from U.S. assistance include the St. Mamas Cathedral in Morfou, the St. Neofytos Church in Troulli, in the buffer zone, and the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca. Americans are proud to help preserve such holy places.

The imperative to respect religious freedom and preserve holy sites informs our approach to the continued existence in Istanbul of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the highest see in the holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church in the world. Respect for the Patriarchate and the Patriarch are incumbent on a democracy like Turkey. We continue to urge the restoration of confiscated church properties and the re-opening of the Halki seminary at the highest levels with the Turkish government.

As I said at the start of my remarks, America’s commitment to religious freedom has allowed the Greek Orthodox community here to flourish. Religious freedom is a value we share with Greece and with Cyprus. Indeed, it is a universal value. And few men have done as much to spread its blessings as the leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Demetrios. Your eminence: your example is an inspiration to us all.

Thank you.

Released on July 22, 2008

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