Chairman Menendez Delivers Keynote Remarks on U.S.-Greek Relationship

August 26, 2021

Kalispera sas. Timi mou pou eimai edo.

What an honor it is to be here tonight to kick off your 2040 series of events.

Let me first thank the Greece 2021 Committee for the opportunity to speak with you this evening, and let me congratulate Ambassador Angelopoulou – as she is known, Mrs. A – you really made it when you’re known by one letter – for her incredible leadership promoting the bicentennial, especially in these difficult times of the pandemic. 

I am honored to be here along with my wife Nadine. We are very pleased to be here together. We are truly humbled to see so many dignitaries – too numerous to mention – gathered in this beautiful, historic place. 

I also want to recognize our exceptional ambassador to Greece. Ambassador Geoff Pyatt is now serving his 5th year in Athens. If he stays here much longer, you may have to grant him citizenship! 

In all seriousness, both our nations are all the better off thanks to his commitment to this incredible partnership. He is among the crème de la crème of our career ambassadors. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador for all the work that you have done.

I also want to recognize Ambassadors Haris Lalacos and Alexandra Papadopoulou, who we, in our relationship, have benefitted from. Greece has benefited from exceptional representation in Washington the last few years, and the Ambassadors have played a key role in strengthening the bilateral relationship. They should be recognized.

You will excuse me for a moment, this is not something I had planned to be part of the presentation tonight, but we are at an exceptional moment. 

I feel compelled to address the attack this afternoon at the Kabul airport. I understand that American soldiers were among the casualties and my prayers are with the victims of this cowardly attack – an attack against Americans, an attack against poor souls desperate to escape the dismal prospects of Taliban rule. As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We cannot trust the Taliban with Americans’ security.

It is on days like this that allies matter. It is on days like this that foreign relations with countries that share our values matter. And this is one of the many reasons that I am glad to be here with you tonight. 

This evening, we meet here in the birthplace of democracy, during the bicentennial year of the Hellenic Republic’s independence. 

This is a time to reflect on how our two young republics have intersected over centuries, and what lies ahead for the U.S.-Greece relationship. 

Tonight, I want to share my vision, both for the region and for the future of our partnership. 

It is a vision guided by the challenges we face, the values we share, and the future we can build if – and only if – we do it together. 

Tonight, I stand before you not just as a member of the United States Senate or as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Tonight, from this sacred birthplace of democracy, I also stand before you as the son of refugees who came to America from the island of Cuba. 

An island that to this day remains a dictatorship, a place where the freedoms we often take for granted are nowhere to be found. 

An island stifled by ruthless repression and yet, whose people still yearn to be free. An island whose people at this very moment may draw inspiration from the ideas of Cleisthenes.

Every day, I pray the spark that lit the flame of democracy 2,500 years ago in this sacred place will guide the island of my forefathers to freedom. 

It was that same spark, lit by ancient Greek thinkers who philosophized about democracy and rule of law, that inspired America’s Founding Fathers to declare our independence and establish our own Republic.   

Even the architecture of the U.S. Capitol building is a testament to the foundational role Greece played in the dawn of our democracy. 

Walk under our magnificent Capitol dome. Stroll the hallowed halls of Congress. 

What you will see is the genius of the Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi. What you will feel is reverence for democracy and the gift of freedom.

It is hard when you do that to believe that earlier this year, the world bore witness to a violent insurrection that shook the foundation of our Republic. 

And though democracy and the rule of law prevailed, the January 6th siege on the U.S. Capitol reminds us that we can never – ever – take these values for granted. 

It is up to us, and free people around the world, to keep alive the flame of democracy lit by ancient Greece millennia ago. 

Today, aspiring democrats around the world continue to draw inspiration from the founding of the modern Hellenic Republic.

The people of Greece fought hard for freedom from the Ottoman Empire. Thousands gave their lives so that they might build a modern Republic atop this sacred ground. Heroes like Feraios, Kolokotronis, and Ypsilantis earned their place in the annals of the historic struggle for freedom.

And their contemporaries in the United States took notice. U.S. Congressman Daniel Webster applauded ‘the struggle of an interesting and gallant people…contending against fearful odds…for the common privilege of human nature.’

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence, also expressed his solidarity with the Greek people in a letter to Adamantios Koraes, the great intellectual voice of your revolution. 

He said: ‘No people sympathise more feelingly than ours with the sufferings of your countrymen, none offer more sincere and ardent prayers to heaven for their success.’

And we cannot forget the many American Philhellenes who drew inspiration from your cause. 

These men and women left their homes and made the long trek to Greece, some with only the clothes on their backs, determined to see freedom prevail. 

Long before Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe became a prominent voice in America’s fight to end slavery, he served with the Greek army as a surgeon and a soldier.  

Jonathan Peckham Miller, another future noted abolitionist, also served in the freedom struggle. 

Likewise, George Jarvis fought alongside the Greek people, working to supply food, medicine, and clothing to those in need through the American Philhellene Committees.  

Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire was a remarkable achievement, a true David vs. Goliath story, and I am proud that these Americans were able to play a small role in that history.

We continue to stand with Greece today. 

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this March I was proud to secure the unanimous approval of a resolution congratulating Greece on the 200th anniversary of its independence.

And the very next day, that same resolution passed unanimously through the full Senate – a testament to our country’s unwavering support for the Greek people and for our countries’ enduring partnership.

Lord Byron, who died before the end of the war for independence, famously wrote in his poem ‘The Isles of Greece’ and I quote:

‘The mountains look on Marathon—

And Marathon looks on the sea;

And musing there an hour alone,

I dreamed that Greece might still be free.’

Today Byron’s dream is a reality and we revel in that Greece is free, that Greece is prosperous.  

Yet we cannot take this dream for granted. Not at a time when so many challenges to our collective security abound. 

The human race remains locked in an epic battle against a deadly pandemic that has claimed millions of lives and destabilized economies around the world. 

We face an existential threat in the form of climate change, which has already devastated communities throughout Greece and the United States this summer.

And if that were not enough, the rules-based international order that brought us so much peace, prosperity, and progress in the decades since World War II is under threat like never before. 

We built this system of global governance atop a foundation of shared ideals, like democracy, like human rights, the rule of law, free and fair competition and open societies. 

Yet today, new forces are chipping at that very foundation. 

We have an increasingly bold China, determined to rewrite the rules of the world in its own favor, a revanchist Russia threatening the security of its neighbors, an increasingly aggressive Turkey, and a disturbing rise in anti-democratic movements around the world.

Never in my three decades of working on foreign policy can I remember so many challenges imperiling the future of the free world, all at once. 

At a time like this, going it alone will never do. 

We must work together because only together can we turn a time of great peril into a time of great promise, both for the Hellenic Republic and the partnership between our nations.

Let’s start with the China challenge. I believe we have entered into a new era of strategic competition between the United States and China. This competition, however, is not a choice between two nations.

Rather, it is a choice between two visions for how we will govern ourselves as an international community and build a better world.

One vision is driven by open societies, human rights, the rule of law, shared norms, and international institutions, the chorus of Aeschylus beckoning us to embrace dēmou kratousa cheir…. ‘the people’s hand of power.’

And the other vision, one of closed systems, repression, genocide, and a lawless world in which might makes right.

That is the vision we see from China as it challenges the world across every dimension of power – politically, diplomatically, economically, technologically, and even culturally.

Xi Jinping is advancing an alternative, deeply disturbing model for global governance based on old-fashioned military antagonism, predatory economic practices, and digital authoritarianism.

The United States, Greece, and our like-minded partners therefore face an enormous task. 

We must show the people of our countries and the world that our vision – a vision built on our shared values – can deliver greater prosperity, peace, and progress for all. 

This work begins at home – but it does not end there. 

For example, earlier this month the Senate passed historic investments to American infrastructure that will help us build a more sustainable and prosperous economy.  

But as we invest in our people at home, we must ensure they can compete abroad. 

We cannot ignore, for instance, when China uses lucrative port contracts to steamroll developing nations into unfair trade terms, or bends international organizations into ignoring its own horrific human rights abuses. 

We need strong alliances and partnerships to flourish in a 21st century global economy. 

Fortunately, back in May the Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill aimed at responding to the China challenge. It will, among other things, bolster U.S. support for international organizations, counter malign efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to influence those institutions, invest in diplomacy, and better engage the Indo-Pacific. 

It is my hope the House of Representatives will shortly pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk for signature. 

The United States and our allies must meet this moment if we hope to build a more perfect world – one that reflects our cherished commitment to free societies, free markets, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, the dignity of all humankind, the freedom to choose the way in which we worship, and the future of our planet that provides for all of us.

Greece, in this regard, has been a leader. I welcome the Greek government’s decision on 5G and look forward to further cooperation in responding to these challenges well into the future.  

Let me turn to Russia. When we take stock of Russia’s behavior in recent years, we see that Putin has chosen escalation over stability and predictability at every turn. 

Russia continues to spread misinformation and sow discord in democracies worldwide. 

It is doing so throughout Europe. 

It continues to threaten the security of Ukraine in a hot war in Donbas. 

In Syria, it continues to support the criminal Assad regime in a narrow pursuit of its own self-interest and in complete disregard for human life. 

My friends, what Putin wants in Syria is no mystery. He wants to secure military access to the Mediterranean through which Russia can threaten the Europeans’ southern flank. 

Yet even in Moscow, the spark of democracy first lit by the Greeks remains alive in the Russian people.

Earlier this year, the world drew inspiration from the courage of Russian protestors who rallied in support of Alexei Navalny and a democratic future.

We know that it will be the people of Russia – not the United States or anyone else – who will steer their struggle for democracy and ultimately determine their own destiny.

Yet as democracies, America, Greece and free people around the world must stand in solidarity with the Russian people in their desire to be free.

With respect to Turkey, I know we all share the hope for a constructive, democratic partner that abides by its international commitments to NATO and its neighbors in the region. That is a hope that has not yet been realized. 

The United States stands ready to support efforts in the region to improve relations and ease tensions.  

But we also cannot be silent when Turkey’s behavior exacerbates tensions.  

All too often the current leadership in Turkey seems intent on stoking division, be it in the eastern Mediterranean, the South Caucasus or elsewhere. 

I expect the United States to hold Turkey accountable for this behavior when it happens and to stand by our historic partners and allies who embody a commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. 

My friends, Plato said that ‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.’

And while bicentennial celebrations, as the Ambassador spoke about, are great opportunities to reflect on past accomplishments, they also spur the imagination to see what can be.

And the possibilities, I believe, that await the Hellenic Republic are limitless. 

Two hundred years ago, you won your independence. Today, you are a leader in the region, promoting peace and stability in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, in Europe and around the world. 

And I have no doubt that the boundless energy and creativity of the Greek people will empower this nation to soar to new heights for another two centuries and beyond. 

Two years ago, I traveled to this great city and spoke about a piece of legislation called the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act.  

I am proud to say that this idea is now American law, a new foundation for U.S. engagement in the region and affirmation of support for the 3+1 relationship between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the United States. 

Greece is an ideal partner for the United States. The tenets of democracy were born in this place and today, you are well-positioned to help lead diplomatic efforts to counter autocracy and protect human rights worldwide.  

Already, Greece’s commitment to combating the existential challenge of global climate change has made you a beacon of leadership in Europe and around the world.

Your willingness to lead by example is the definition of moral leadership. And it makes good economic sense as well. 

Your innovations in solar and wind have not only solidified Greece’s leadership in this space but spurred greater economic opportunities for your people. 

Your country is showing the world how embracing clean energy can place your country on the cutting edge of innovation. 

And we can do more. The legislation I authored – the Eastern Mediterranean Act – authorized a new Energy Center to help accelerate the region’s move toward renewables. 

And the U.S.-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act allows the United States to transfer excess defense articles to Greece, including aircraft ideal for battling wildfires and other climate catastrophes. 

Socrates once said that he ‘was not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.’

And I think we see this same sentiment reflected today in Greece’s commitment to a clean planet and a safe environment.  

I want to tell you that watching hundreds of fires burn across this beautiful country broke my heart. 

I offer my deepest sympathies for the loss of the brave firefighter, and peoples’ homes, and have called on the Biden administration to assist with relief, rebuilding, and reforestation.

The United States was one of the first to respond to the Greek government’s request for assistance with a U.S. Navy P-8 that provided Greek firefighters with indispensable real time surveillance data to locate the fastest spreading fires.  

This ability to deploy forces rapidly is the signature of the U.S. military in Europe. I wish only that there was more political consensus in my own country to tackle this climate crisis with the same conviction, the same dedication to science, and the same ingenuity as the people of Greece.

The commercial ties and strong economic partnerships between the United States and Greece continue to benefit both of our nations. And the success of the Greek economy is good for the region, for Europe, and for the world. 

While the financial crisis remains a vivid memory, we have come so far in such a short time frame.  

Greek governments and the private sector are building a brighter future by harnessing digital transformation, green technology, and innovation while bolstering traditional strengths like the shipping sector.  

And there are exciting new opportunities for Greece’s economic leadership in the years ahead. 

Greece, Israel and Cyprus are the lynchpins of democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean and natural partners of the United States. 

And the 3+1 partnership formed by United States, Greece, Israel and Cyprus is now ripe for expansion beyond energy cooperation. 

I believe that we can leverage the 3+1 partnership to further deepen cooperation between our countries in other areas like security and trade. 

In my view, any time that democracies can join forces on energy and provide alternatives to Russia and others, the world is safer and more stable for it.  

And given today’s regional dynamics, including the direction of Turkey in recent years, I believe these partnerships have never mattered more.

So you can rest assured I will continue to champion the 3+1 partnership back at home in Washington. 

Likewise, I am looking forward to the signing of the updated Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with Greece this year, which will both deepen our partnership while respecting Greek sovereignty. 

The U.S.-Greece Defense Partnership Act, which I authored, has passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee and is now pending before the full Senate.  

On all of these fronts, the alliance between the United States and Greece has never been stronger. You are a reliable partner, a fellow democracy, a NATO ally, a European Union member, and a champion for peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, and beyond.  

Yet perhaps the greatest source of friendship between our two nations flows directly from the Greek and American people.

The ties between the United States and Greece may be enabled by our governments, but they are nourished by our people and the values we share.

Pericles, who is credited with initiating the construction of the Acropolis, said that ‘What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.’

Throughout history, Greek immigrants and Americans have helped to improve the lives of others and make the United States what it is today through their enterprising spirit, creativity, and ingenuity. 

My home state of New Jersey is fortunate to have a vibrant Greek American community that contributes so much.

In one of our favorite national sports, on the basketball court, Americans everywhere marvel at the dominance of one Milwaukee Bucks player whose exalted status in our culture deems him recognizable by only one name: Giannis. The MVP. Extraordinary athlete.

Likewise, both of our nations benefit tremendously by the work of organizations so devoted to the U.S.-Greece relationship.

My own journey as a Philhellene began due to my friendship with the Cyprus Federation of America, and I have worked with them and the Hellenic American Leadership Council for years to improve the bilateral relationship we are celebrating today. Their work, and the work of other groups like PSEKA, AHEPA, the American Hellenic Institute, the National Hellenic Society and the Oxi Day Foundation have brought our nations closer together than ever before.  

These American Philhellenes deserve our gratitude for all they do in tireless pursuit of a better future here in Greece and back at home in the United States.

My friends, the United States and Greece should take pride in how far we’ve come. As someone who has championed the promise of this relationship for decades, I know that it has not always been this way. But rest assured – I have always and will always be proud to stand by Greece, through times both good and bad. 

I truly believe our bilateral relationship is on the cusp of greatness. We share the same values. We face the same challenges. We hold the same interests. 

And because we enjoy strong bipartisan leadership in the United States and courageous multiparty leadership here, I believe there are no limits to what we can achieve together in the 21st century.  

I, for one, consider myself fortunate to be present at this moment. It will be the task of future generations to bring this relationship to even greater heights, but I take pride in where we are today. 

One thing is clear – we are dedicated to the task at hand and the work ahead. 

From the ancient Greek thinkers who inspired America’s Framers, to the friendship between Jefferson and Koraes that gave succor to the Greek independence movement, to our shared commitment to advancing human freedom in the 21st century, our destinies have been and always will be forever linked. 

Our love of freedom, our belief in democracy, and our trust in the rule of law are all part of our collective DNA. 

And that DNA will remain the foundation of the friendship between our nations for generations to come.

Today Greece is on the cusp of a new future, one with deep roots that both inspired the ancient world and continue to illuminate and inspire today. Just like the shining Acropolis behind me. 

Tomorrow, I will humbly receive the Grand Cross and the Order of Honor from the President. I am deeply moved by this honor. 

Put yourself in my shoes. I am the son of Cuban refugees. I grew up poor, in a place called Union City, New Jersey. 

To think that someday I would become one of 100 United States Senators in a nation of more than 330 million people is a testament to the possibilities unlocked by the democratic values we share.

To be here tonight, speaking to such an august audience of dignitaries is truly more than I could have ever imagined. 

Efcharisto poli.

I thank the people of Greece for this honor. I thank you for the friendship, most importantly, between our nations. And I thank you for the opportunity to share with you a vision for the future I know we can build together. 

Pericles tells us that ‘freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.’ Let us together – the United States of America and Greece – have the courage to defend it.

Zito i ellada. May God bless the Hellenic Republic. And may God bless the United States of America. Kalinixta.

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