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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 19 January 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I hope you’re all well. Let’s start with the programmes of the political leadership.

At 12:00 today, Foreign Minister Dimas will attend the President of the Republic’s accreditation ceremony for the Ambassadors of Turkey, Italy and Qatar. On Sunday, 22 January, Mr. Dimas will be in Brussels, where he will attend a dinner being hosted by the European People’s Party in honor of the Foreign Minister.

On Monday the 23rd, Mr. Dimas will participate in the proceedings of the Foreign Affairs Council, where there will be a discussion of, among other things, the matter of sanctions on Iran, recent developments in Syria, Egypt and the Middle East, while the agenda also includes a discussion on the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, the situation in Myanmar and Belarus.

At 19:30 on Tuesday, 24 January, Mr. Dimas will attend a reception being held by the President of the Republic in honor of the Diplomatic Corps.

From 20 to 22 January, Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis will be in Thessaloniki at the invitation of the Jewish Community to participate in Remembrance Day for the Greek Jewish Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust.

That’s it for the programme. Let me also say that this past week we had visits from the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Bulgaria. They were very good meetings that covered regional issues, developments in Europe and our bilateral relations, which are developing very positively with both Germany and Bulgaria.

Your questions, please.

K. FRYSSA: I wanted to ask whether we have had a reaction from the demarche you made yesterday in Skopje.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Yesterday, the head of Greece’s Liaison Office in Skopje made a demarche on the level of the Director General regarding the unacceptable and provocative actions we saw take place within the framework of a carnival. For our part, beyond our considering what we saw to be unacceptable, like the insults to our national symbols and the burning of our flag, what we asked for was an express and unequivocal condemnation of these actions, and that measures be taken to hold those responsible accountable and avoid such phenomena in the future. We’ll wait to see what stance is taken by the authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

M. KOLONA: I would like you to tell me what our country’s stance is toward the Egyptian government, which has asked Cyprus and Turkey to start negotiations on the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while Greece was not included in this. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, according to the information we have, the information reported in the media is not confirmed. Whatever the case, in the meeting Foreign Minister Dimas has with the Egyptian Ambassador in Athens, as well as following contacts made by our Embassy in Cairo, there was confirmation of the two countries’ – Greece’s and Egypt’s – will to delimit their maritime zones and continue the negotiations that have already begun between Greece and Egypt so that we can move ahead on this issue.

Cooperation with Egypt is very, very good. Relations between the two countries remain very close. We have regular contacts on the highest level. Greece supports the reform process in Egypt. We hope and believe that Egypt will find its stride very soon. We consider Egypt a country of strategic importance for the whole Middle East region, and, naturally, a country with which Greece has traditional, historic ties, and by which we will stand throughout this process. At the same time, we also believe that the European Union needs to have a stronger presence in the region, providing substantial support for the developments we see there, because we believe that this is an investment the EU will make in the Middle East region; an investment that will serve its own interests as well, beyond the need for stability and development in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region.

O. PANTELOGLOU: Mr. Spokesman, has Egypt extended an invitation to Cyprus and Turkey? And if so, isn’t this outright acceptance of the Turkish stance on the Kastelorizo EEZ?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As I said a short while ago, this information has not been confirmed. Secondly, Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus already have a signed and ratified agreement on delimitation of the EEZs, so there really is no such issue.

Beyond that, we believe that the delimitation of maritime zones in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean, beyond he economic benefits it creates, is a factor for stability, and that is why Greece is pursuing the delimitation of maritime zones with all of its neighbours. This is a policy we are exercising actively.

As you know, we already have – as of 1977 – an agreement with Italy. We have a signed agreement with Albania; an agreement that unfortunately has yet to be ratified, due to a ruling by the Albanian Constitutional Court, but we hope to see progress on this issue as well.

We mustn’t forget that this agreement has been signed by the two governments and was drawn up based on international law. Moreover, Greece is in negotiations with Libya and Egypt so that we can move ahead with these countries as well. This is a priority for us, of course, but you need to bear in mind the political developments and political environment in which we are moving at this time.

We are in constant contact with the Republic of Cyprus – this is an issue that we have discussed on all levels and at the highest political level, and it is, of course, part of the broader strategy and planning Greece and the Republic of Cyprus have regarding the developments in the region. But with Turkey as well, we want to delimit the continental shelf between us, and this is why we are having the exploratory contacts: so that we can explore the potential for progress on this issue.

A. ATHANASOPOULOS: Could you perhaps tell us in Greek precisely how the Egyptian Energy Minister’s statement went, first of all, to avoid any misunderstanding? Second, regarding the Skopje issue, there was this carnival in Skopje. Don’t you think, following this incident, that the Greek side should reconsider the option of withdrawing from the Interim Accord? And additionally on that, with everything that’s going on in Skopje, what exactly will Mr. Nimetz come to the region for, if he does in fact come in February? Thank you.

DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first matter you raised, I’m not going to tell you what the Egyptian Energy Minister said. But we do know there are different versions of this report. In any case, what we keep from all this is that in Mr. Dimas’s meeting with the Egyptian Ambassador there was confirmation of Egypt’s firm desire to delimit the maritime zones between us. That is why we are in negotiations and looking at when we can hold the next meeting on the technocratic level, so that there can be progress on this issue. I think this is very clear and was stated in the meeting we had with the Egyptian Ambassador.

Regarding your second question, the carnival and the unacceptable scenes we witnessed did not occur in a vacuum. They are the result of a specific policy; a policy of negative propaganda against Greece; a policy that does not respect the rules of the good neighborly relations that must exist between two countries in our wider region. It is something that gives us very serious pause and that obviously raises doubts as to the intentions of Mr. Gruevski and the government in Skopje. Because on the one hand Mr. Gruevski announced that the meetings with Mr. Nimetz are a waste of time. WhentheCommissionreportcameoutonhiscountry’sprogress in the accession process, instead of carefully studying all these shortfalls that are cause for concern – not just in Greece, but with all our partners and in the EU itself – he chose again to put it down to the name issue. We have ongoing negative propaganda that urges public opinion in Skopje to adopt positions that are in no way favorable to the resolution of the name issue.

So, for that reason, we are interested in seeing the extent to which the government in Skopje wants a solution. At every opportunity, and at the negotiating table, Greece has consistently shown by its constructive stance that it wants to achieve a solution. That was the message Mr. Vassilakis sent in the meeting he had with Mr. Nimetz.

We think it would be useful for Mr. Nimetz to come to the region, so that he can determine in Skopje, at the highest political level, the extent to which there is a willingness to make progress in the negotiations. But this is something the government in Skopje will have to show through actions, and within that framework we think it is self-evident that this ongoing negative propaganda against Greece has to stop, along with the attempts to distort our positions.

After Mr. Nimetz’s meeting with Mr. Vassilakis, we also saw an effort to distort Greece’s positions in Skopje, at the highest political level, and this raises very serious questions. And this, in combination with the fact that there are freedom-of-the-press issues in our neighboring country, which has been noted in the European Union reports as well as by international organizations that monitor these issues.

So, for all these reasons, what we want to see is the extent to which the government in Skopje wants us to make progress.

On the issue of withdrawing from the accord, I have said before in the briefing room that withdrawal from the Accord is provided for in the Accord itself and is an option that both sides have. And naturally the relevant decisions will be taken after very careful consideration of all the data and all the factors.

A. FOURLIS: Is there some sort of timeframe for the contacts that will continue between Greece and Egypt on the delimitation of the EEZ? When will the meetings take place, when will they start up again? Is there anything in progress that you can tell us about?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No, at this time there is no specific timeframe. But I underscore the will of the two countries for progress and their shared desire to delimit the maritime zones between them.

A. FOURLIS: On the Egypt issue, can we talk about a time? I understand that the process started in 2009, if I remember correctly.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Earlier.

A. FOURLIS: Even earlier, and a number of years have gone by and there doesn’t seem to be any particular progress. I wanted to ask you whether this pace satisfies you, and whether you think – in the case of Egypt and Libya – any role is played by the fact that there was a political change, at the very least, so we should expect this to cause delays and, necessarily, additional discussion.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Two things on that. The first is that the delimitation of maritime zones in general is a very complicated, technical and sensitive issue. The settlement of such matters requires time. But the most important thing is for there to be good will and good faith. And in the case of Greece and Egypt we have these things. The two countries have very friendly relations, they have both ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea, so there is a foundation on which we can talk, and we both want to move ahead.

Beyond that, we cannot ignore the major political changes and developments we have had throughout the region; developments that impact potentialities on this issue as well as on any field of cooperation. However, I want to stress again that Greece has stood by Egypt’s side throughout this time and supports the changes taking place there, while at the same time keeping in very close contact with Egypt throughout this time.

We have ongoing contacts on the ministerial level, many meetings, and we will continue in the same spirit. We are interested in ongoing development and deepening of our relations with Egypt, because we consider Egypt to be a strategic partner in the region.

AsforLibya, where the negotiations had started a little earlier, I think, we also had a huge change in the country’s political system. We were among the countries that supported the process of change. Greece contributed to the efforts to confront the humanitarian crisis in Libya, and we had frequent contacts throughout the duration of the conflict.

We were able, as I said, to contribute decisively in the humanitarian sector, transporting wounded to Greece for care. Greece has hosted the largest number of wounded from Libya, and we were among the countries that immediately set up an office in Benghazi during the conflict. Our Embassy in Tripoli has re-opened, there are regular, frequent contacts with the government in Libya right now, and we will continue our close cooperation there as well.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, can you give us additional details from Mr. Vassilakis’s meeting with Mr. Nimetz? We read some news reports about the briefing – if there was a briefing – of Greek journalists by Mr. Vassilakis in New York City, and they said that Greece does not want to negotiate now; it wants to freeze the negotiations because it has a transitional government, etc. How true is what we read?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: What you read is part of the phenomenon I described to you earlier. Mr. Vassilakis gave an on-the-record briefing to Greek correspondents who were covering the meeting with Mr. Nimetz. Those statements appeared in the media and are completely clear and express in a clear manner what Greece’s position is.

Greece’s position is based on the negotiation process, it is based on Mr. Nimetz’s mandate and the desire to make progress and reach a definitive solution on the name issue. Whatever else came out in the media in Skopje is untrue.

This is not the first time we have seen this happen. In the past, as well, there have been anonymous leaks in Skopje, attempting to distort Greece’s position. We believe this does not help the efforts we are making towards progress in the negotiation process.

At long last, the government in Skopje should take a position and tell us in what way it intends to proceed, because the government in Skopje is currently accusing Greece of not wanting progress – which is not the case – while at the same time asserting that the FYROM side has not, these past 17 years, moved an inch in its positions. I ask you, how can we reach a solution if one side refuses to budge?

At the same time, even on the level of the climate in the negotiations and the discussions, a few days before the meeting with Mr. Nimetz, Mr. Gruevski announced that these negotiations are a “waste of time”. You haven’t heard anything like that from the Greek side. In fact, we have said that we are participating actively so that we can make progress.

This whole communication game for domestic consumption is not helping us toward reaching a solution, and what Greece wants is a solution. We support the European and Euroatlantic perspective of our neighbouring country, and we believe that this is in the interest of the whole region; in the interest of stability and peace in the Balkans.

We will not join in this communication game. We will continue to consistently state our positions, in pursuit of a solution. Norwillweenterintorhetoric jousting with Mr. Gruevski, who it appears would like us to do just that. We need to see – and we are waiting to see this in the coming time – a change in stance as to conduct, because this negative propaganda against Greece cannot continue – it does not serve the end of reaching a solution.

A. VOUDOURI: A clarification. We read in the announcement issued by the FYROM Foreign Ministry about the successive meetings Mr. Nimetz had in New York, that the Foreign Ministry of our neighbouring country is dismayed that there was not a trilateral meeting. I want to ask: Was it a process where there was already a decision for two separate meetings with Mr. Nimetz, or was it something we wanted – for there not to be a trilateral meeting?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: It was within the framework agreed upon so that we could look at where the two countries are right now with their positions, and for our part we told Mr. Nimetz that he is welcome in the region, that he should come as soon as the right time is found, so that we can take the next step. What interests us is that we find the right framework so we can move ahead, but to do that we need a collocutor; that is, the other side needs to be willing to make progress. Without that, we can’t move ahead.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, I would like your comment on the developments to date in Syria and what Greece’s position is. Thankyou.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The developments to date in Syria are cause for very great concern; concern not just at the fact that the attacks on civilians are continuing, but also at the fact that developments in Syria will inevitably impact stability and security throughout the region.

We consider the Arab League’s involvement to be important. That is, we think it is important that the countries of the region themselves play an active role, and we think that the Security Council should in any case manage policy on this issue, because it is the UN organ that legitimizes international actions.

But this situation has to stop, because essentially the ongoing attacks on civilians are increasing the instability. A solution on the Syria issue will not be found through violence. What is needed is open processes and reform. That is, the Syrian people themselves have to be allowed to speak.

F. PAPATHANASIOU: What is your view of the information that exists to the effect that the Kurdish parties in Syria are going to found a National Council?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: It is not just the Kurdish community of Syria. Right now there are various political forces moving in Syria, trying for change and reform. The regime needs to listen to the voice of the people and the opposition forces if we are to achieve conditions of normalcy, stability and peace, because right now what we are seeing is continued violence, and as long as there is violence, progress can’t be made.

D. ANTONIOU: In Brussels on Monday, they will be discussing the issue of the embargo on Iran. What position will we be taking to that discussion?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, let me remind you that it is a discussion that started in November and was discussed on the level of Foreign Ministers at the 1 December Foreign Affairs Council, in which Mr. Dimas participated. There, Greece clearly stated its concerns regarding the impact such a measure would have on the European economy’s energy supply.

It is not just Greece, but other European countries as well, that will face similar issues. What interests us, and the basis on which we are participating in this discussion in a constructive manner, is ensuring our country’s energy supply and ensuring corresponding funding terms, and it is within this framework that we will be participating in the 23 January meeting.

We hope we will be able to have a solution within the framework of the meetings taking place with all the other countries. As of 1 December, all 27 member states have acknowledged that there are issues that need to be studied very carefully by the EU before decisions are taken. The contacts naturally continued, and naturally, during that time Greek companies and the Energy Ministry had the time for their meetings. So we will have to see how all this takes shape by the time of the discussion on 23 January.

A. FOURLIS: What is happening with the Greek-Turkish and Greek-Israeli Interministerial meetings we were to have about now – January 2012? Will we have to wait longer for scheduling reasons? Will we have to wait for the elections? Which of the two?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece and our partners, Turkey and Israel, all have the will for these Councils to take place; Councils that we see as very useful tools for strengthening cooperation between our country and these countries. As you can understand, we have had major developments in the economic field of late, and there is a schedule for the government’s work, which has to be borne in mind when determining the relevant dates. So, right now I am not in a position to tell you anything concrete on a timeframe, but there is the will, and when it is possible, these meetings will be held.

Thank you.

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