February 2, 2012

Hillary Clinton travels to Athens to sign cultural heritage protection memorandum

Posted at 1:48 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, has signed an agreement with Greece, to restrict importation of antiquities, in an aim to help prevent looting of archaeological sites.

The Art Newspaper

Clinton signs memorandum with Greece restricting import of antiquities
New agreement looks to end looting and black market sales by reducing the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place
By Helen Stoilas | Web only
Published online 21 Jul 11

ATHENS. While in the Greece on a diplomatic visit this weekend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stavros Lambrinidis, concerning the imposition of import restrictions on archaeological and Byzantine objects. The new memorandum, which still has to be ratified by the Greek Parliament, would make it illegal for protected works of art to enter the US without the approval of Greek authorities.

The signing of the memorandum was yet another demonstration of the US government’s vocal support of Greece’s austerity measures to help the debt-ridden country get back on its feet. “America is just as committed to Greece’s future as we are to preserving your past,” Clinton said at the signing. “During these difficult economic times, we will stand with you. We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy, and inspired the world can rise to the current challenge.”

According to a fact sheet released by the US State Department, “the agreement will strengthen collaboration to reduce looting and trafficking of antiquities, and provide for their return to Greece. It also aims to further the international interchange of such materials for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes.”

“We are trying to protect our treasures from illegal diggings and excavations,” Lambrinidis said at the signing. “That is why this MOU that we’re about to sign is so important.” Clinton said that the agreement “will protect Greece’s culturally significant objects even further from looting and sale on the international market” by helping to “reduce the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place”. She added: “We know from experience that measures like this work. This will be our 15th cultural property agreement. And in countries from Cambodia to Cyprus, we have seen real results.”

Some groups have not been as keen to embrace import restrictions. In October 2010 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) submitted testimony to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee criticising an extension of the memorandum for being “overly broad” and suggesting that the new agreement include provisions for long-term loans and a licit market for antiquities. The AAMD’s attorney Stephen J. Knerly, Jr also claimed that “Greece has not taken sufficient measures to protect its cultural property and its efforts towards protecting its archaeological sites to date are not adequate”.

The secrecy surrounding the decision-making process of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee has also been called into question. ArtsJournal writer Lee Rosenbaum (aka Culturegrrl) said on her blog: “I think that under American law, any agreement that we have officially signed ought to be public information. There is already too much secrecy in how CPAC, a federal government advisory body, operates. Once a State Department decision regarding foreign cultural-property requests is finalized, the full extent of what has been agreed to should be promptly disclosed to the American public.”

The State Department says that “a list of the types of archaeological and ecclesiastical ethnological material that will require documentation to be brought into the US” will be published in the Federal Register. “The restricted material will include objects generally associated with the Upper Paleolithic through Late Byzantine periods. The agreement and Federal Register notice will be published after the Governments have notified each other by diplomatic note that each has completed all the internal requirements for the agreement’s entry into force.”

US State Department

Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Athens

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Westin Athens
Athens, Greece
July 18, 2011

Good morning, everyone. I am so pleased to see you, and what a setting for our time together. I apologize for keeping you waiting. Dan was making me work till the very last second. (Laughter.)

But it is for me a great personal pleasure to be back in Greece and to have this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, American and Greek alike, for everything you’re doing on behalf of this critical relationship, and especially now as we try to support the Greek Government and the Greek people through this very difficult economic period.

I’ve tried to get to Greece as Secretary of State four times. The first time, I was really excited about coming and I broke my elbow. (Laughter.) And the next two times, we rearranged schedules because of other crises in the world. Then I finally said, “I am going to Greece no matter what.” And this has been an extremely important trip as well as a delight to go to the Acropolis Museum, to sign the important memorandum between our governments to protect the heritage and treasures of Greece’s storied past, and to have serious conversations with many decision-makers of Greece about the difficult economic way forward.

It is a great pleasure too for me to be here with Ambassador Smith and Diane. Dan and Diane are exemplary examples of the Foreign Service in action and the work that they do. As Dan said, I worked very closely with them from the transition to my position as Secretary of State, and then for the first year and a half, I saw him every morning at 8:45 and he always looked good, which I found to be – (laughter) – especially unfortunate. (Laughter.) He clearly has made a commitment to serving our country, and I know what capable hands you are in here in our Embassy.

I think that coming at this time actually turned out to be very good timing because of the need to demonstrate our solidarity and support for the difficult, painful times that Greece is experiencing. And I know that you are the daily face of that relationship. All of the interactions that you have are a manifestation of our long, enduring friendship, partnership, and alliance. And I also know you care for American citizens, whom I saw in great numbers on the streets in Athens and in the museum. It was wonderful for me to see Americans from all over our country of all ages just taking in the beauty of this extraordinary country and respecting and understanding more about what it means, and all the many contributions that Greece has made to our own democracy and values.

I also am very much aware of everything you’ve done in addition to your daily jobs. You helped with the evacuation of Americans from Egypt during the upheaval in that country, and you staffed the airport, you handed out water, diapers, clothing, whatever people needed. You cared for stranded Peace Corps volunteers who hadn’t slept or eaten in days, and a group of tourists with the wonderful nickname “Grannies On Safari.” (Laughter.) So just a few of the ways that you have helped in making sure that Americans anywhere in the world are going to have a friendly face and a helping hand.

I know Dr. Jill Biden was just here a few weeks ago to celebrate the Special Olympics. And we are very grateful to everyone on Team Athens, particularly thanks to John Cockrell, for making this trip such a success. I also want to thank your family members because everyone is part of this team, and your service to this mission could not be possible without the strong support of those who are behind you here in Greece and back home.

And I especially want to thank our terrific Greek employees. I often say that secretaries come and go, even ambassadors come and go, and DCMs and political officers and economic officers and PAOs and everybody else comes and goes except our Greek employees. Some of you have been with this Embassy for a very long time. You are absolutely essential to our operation, you bring valuable knowledge and expertise, and this Embassy, like all of our embassies, simply could not work without you.

So thanks so much for what you’re doing. I know that these are hard times, but I have a lot of confidence in the resilience of the Greek people, and I believe that you will be able to go through this period of challenge and sacrifice and come out even stronger. It will require unity and solidarity, but it’s something that I fully believe will happen. So just know that the United States, and particularly this Administration and myself personally, are going to stand with you the whole way. We’ll do everything we can to be supportive as you make these tough decisions.

Let me now just shake a few hands and thank you personally, but I so appreciate everything you’ve done and everything you do every single day on behalf of the Greek-American relationship. Thank you all. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/T51-10

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