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Annually, American Hellenic Institute (AHI) President Nick Larigakis embarks on a year-end trip to Greece and Cyprus that aims to strengthen ties between the Greek American community and Greece and Cyprus in sectors such as government, commerce, and defense. This year’s trip, which spanned from November 27 to December 9, 2011, integrated the Institute’s first-ever official visit to Israel to meet with officials.
“Annually, I plan this year-end trip to Greece and Cyprus, on behalf of AHI, to discuss our organization’s goals and to focus on exploring new areas of mutual cooperation and development that will serve to strengthen the bonds between Greek America and Greece and Cyprus,” Larigakis said. “This year, because of significant developments in the region, including closer cooperation between Israel and Greece and Cyprus; and with increased dialogue between the Greek American and Jewish American communities, AHI believed it was important to make a historic visit to Israel, which was extremely beneficial.”
Extensive Meetings Held with Cypriot Ministry Officials
President Larigakis visited Cyprus November 27 to 29. Meetings with Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou and President of the House of Representatives Yiannakis Omirou, highlighted the visit. In addition, two luncheon meetings, one with Ambassador Andreas Kakouris, director, Division of Cyprus Question and Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and a second with Mr. Miltos Miltiadou, senior press and information officer, Office of Press and Information, were held. Other meetings of note included:
Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Schofer, U.S. embassy in Nicosia,
Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Press and Information Division Androula Lanitis, andProfessor Constantinos Christofides, rector, University of Cyprus.
Landmark Visit to Israel
A historic AHI official visit to Israel occurred November 30 to December 1, 2011. There, President Larigakis met with leaders and heads of government, think – tanks, and commerce on November 30, including:
Ambassador Yoram Ettinger (ret.), former minister for Congressional Affairs, Israeli Embassy in Washington, Israeli consul general in Houston, and director, Israeli Government Press Office; and current CEO of Second Thought: An American Israel Initiative, a think-tank organization,
Mrs. Anat Shlein, head, International Department, Research Section, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Mrs. Irit Lilian, department head, Western Europe Division, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Mr. Eli Lev, economic development, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Professor Efraim Inbar, head, BESA Center for Strategic Studies.
A two – hour dinner meeting with Mr. Bini Zomer, director, Corporate Affairs, Israel Office, Noble Energy focused on the energy firm’s current efforts to explore for oil and gas reserves in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. The firm’s exploration off the coast of Cyprus has been conducted despite threats issued by Turkey to the firm, and U.S. allies Cyprus and Israel.
Alan Schneider, director, B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem, helped to arrange the entire itinerary, including the dinner with Mr. Zomer, for President Larigakis in Israel. Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president, B’nai B’rith International in Washington recommended AHI reach out to Schneider.
“On behalf of AHI, I am deeply grateful to Daniel Mariaschin and Alan Schneider for their invaluable assistance which helped to make AHI’s first visit to Israel a tremendous success,” said Larigakis. “In particular, my meeting with Bini Zomer was extremely informative and it provided great insight on the current situation in the region.”
Larigakis also visited Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where he met with several members of Parliament. Moreover, he received a private tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
“The tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority was a tremendously moving experience,” said Larigakis. “It is one I will share with colleagues and friends, and I will never forget it.”
On December 1, President Larigakis met with His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III and visited the Embassy of Greece in Tel Aviv. He also visited the Western Wall.