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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 04 November 2010

Main points:

[regarding the parcel bombs addressed to Embassies]

·       This attempt in Greece has nothing to do with – is not linked by any evidence, at least so far – with international terrorism. And thus it cannot be presented as a unified whole with the attacks that originated in Yemen.

·       This is a phenomenon that the Greek police confronted speedily and effectively. This is a fact that has been acknowledged by our collocutors, and I must say that the Foreign Minister had talks with all of the Ambassadors of the countries whose Embassies were targeted in these attacks.

[regarding the upcoming meeting at the UN between President Christofias and Mr. Eroglu]

·       The meeting to be held at the UN is a meeting that might be the basis for at least some steps forward, but I can’t say that we are ignoring the reality of the situation.

·       And the reality of the situation is that at this time, Mr. Eroglu, with his rhetoric and the support of Turkey, is essentially representing another era; his thinking is that of two-state, two-people partitioning. And these are things that not only hinder the prospect for a solution and the smooth progress of the negotiations, but they also contravene the resolutions of the UN Security Council; resolutions that are the basis for the solution. This state of affairs does not inspire optimism.

[regarding the agreement on the delimitation of Maritime Zones with Albania]

·       Right now, the Albanian government will have to look at how to complete the domestic ratification process for this agreement, in the light of the decision taken by the Constitutional Court. For our part, however, it is well known and clear that this agreement, which was signed by the two governments, fulfills the provisions of the Law of the Seas and is to the benefit of both countries.

[regarding FYROM and the recent Papandreou-Gruevski meeting]

·       We hope to see developments as soon as possible. That is Greece’s position; a position stated by our country’s political leadership on all levels and at every opportunity. And that was the spirit in which the meeting with Mr. Gruevski was held. And I must say that it was a meeting that took place in a good climate.

·       It was essentially and informal luncheon that the two Prime Ministers had, and I hope that this meeting will be able to form the basis for our seeing a change in the stance of the FYROM leadership; a change in stance that will allow us to reach a solution soon.

·       We haven’t scheduled a meeting for before the NATO Summit Meeting. And I really don’t think we can expect such speedy developments, given the messages we have received to date. Nevertheless, I must say that it is our conviction that as soon as the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia really decides that they are ready for us to make some progress, then the solution really can come very quickly.

[regarding the drawing up of the 2011 budget and the reorganization of the Foreign Ministry]

·       The Foreign Ministry has a very important and special mission; a mission that it can carry out only if it has the necessary means; a mission that has multiple benefits for the Greek state. On this basis, a discussion is being carried out on the drawing up of the budget for the coming year.

·       The Foreign Ministry takes decisions concerning the representation of our country abroad based on criteria that have to do with our foreign policy needs, and given that Greece is a country that has many important challenges to face in its immediate neighbourhood. Obviously, you can see that the criteria borne in mind are first and foremost political rather than economic.

·       The Foreign Ministry constantly assesses the operation of its missions abroad and the extent to which they serve our mission. If it is judged at some point that a Diplomatic or Consular Mission has served its purpose or that in the given state of affairs its continued operation is not necessary, then its operation may be suspended – as was the case this year with the Consulates that we have announced, and as happened in 2008 with some other Consulates. But this doesn’t mean that it won’t be decided that it is advisable to create new Diplomatic Missions in other parts of the world that are taking on greater significance for our foreign policy.

Complete transcript of the briefing (translation):

Mr. Delavekouras: Good morning, everyone. I’ll start with the programmes of the political leadership.

At 12:30 today, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas will meet with the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Theodoros II.

On Friday and Saturday, 5 and 6 November, Mr. Droutsas will be in Abu Dhabi to participate in the proceedings of a Forum being organized by the United Arab Emirates in collaboration with the International Peace Institute. The Forum is on “The Middle East – Energy and Security”.

The proceedings of the Forum will focus on four main subject areas: the interdependence of the Middle East region with the rest of the world; the peace process; Iraq’s geostrategic position in the region; and energy and security issues in the Middle East. On the margins of the Forum, Mr. Droutsas is to meet with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah.

On Monday and Tuesday, 8 and 9 November, Mr. Droutsas will carry out a working visit to Germany. Specifically, at 18:00 on Monday, he will speak at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (DGAP) – a major German think tank – on “Exercising foreign policy under economic crisis conditions”.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Droutsas will meet with the Co-chairperson of the Green Party, Mr. Oezdemir, and at 12:30, he will meet and have a working luncheon with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. They will make statements following their meeting.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kouvelis will receive the Indian Ambassador to Athens this afternoon, and he will also receive the new Israeli Ambassador. Tomorrow, 5 November 2010, Mr. Kouvelis will meet with the Patriarch of Alexandria, and at 11:30 on Tuesday, 9 November, he will receive the President of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Michalos.

On 12 and 13 November, Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis will be in Istanbul, where he will be received by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom he will discuss issues within his competency.

Finally, Foreign Ministry Secretary General Yannis-Alexis Zepos will travel to London on 12 November to participate in political consultations with Permanent Under Secretary of State Frazer and other officials.

That’s it for announcements. Your questions, please.

Mr. Papathanasiou: Can you tell us today – ahead of the Minister’s visit to Germany – how Greece sees its relations with Germany taking shape recently, in view of developments we will be seeing on the economic front.

Mr. Delavekouras: Cooperation with Germany is firm. We are old partners in the European Union, and our cooperation on all levels – including the political and official levels – is ongoing and constant.

In the midst of the economic crisis, this cooperation has been even further intensified. We had very frequent meetings on the level of Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers, as well as on the official level.

And let me remind you that we have enhanced our bilateral cooperation following the Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Germany, during which it was decided to deepen our cooperation in specific sectors. And this is one of the issues that Mr. Droutsas is going to discuss during his visit to Berlin next week.

At the same time, I want to say that we have very close contact and exchange of views on the institutional reforms we see evolving at this time in the European architecture. Both Greece and Germany now support the creation of a permanent support mechanism for confronting economic crises, and in this context the consultations will continue in the coming time even more intensively, ahead of the December Council, where the relevant decisions will be taken.

But on foreign policy issues, as well, I must say that our contact with Germany in ongoing. Germany acknowledges Greece’s role in our region and in the Balkan space, and that is precisely where we want the support of German foreign policy in our efforts to revitalize the European perspective of the Western Balkans; a perspective that Germany has really supported recently. And within this framework we will have discussions on the Balkan region, the Middle East region and the Eastern Mediterranean.

That is the framework for the meetings we will have. Mr. Droutsas will have the opportunity to talk to one of the most important think tanks in Germany. The think tank is based in Berlin, and I think there will be a very good discussion there and we will have the chance to point up the initiatives and thoughts our country has regarding our wider region.

And within this framework we will continue our contacts. Just yesterday, Mr. Papandreou had a contact with Ms. Merkel and they had the opportunity to discuss various issues of concern to us, as well as the latest developments on the issue of the terrorist attacks.

Ms. Peloni: Are you concerned about the fact that tomorrow there is going to be an emergency meeting of experts? Has it been requested that the issue be discussed at Monday’s Home Affairs Council?

And the fact that an effort is being made towards tightening security measures, obviously, but within this effort it is as if what happened here is being packaged, in a sense, with the packages from Yemen. Has it been made clear that there is no relationship whatsoever between domestic terrorism and international or Islamist – as the Europeans see it – because there is a relevant hysteria concerning this issue?

Mr. Delavekouras
: Let me say, first of all, that it has in fact been decided that this issue will be discussed on Monday, within the framework of the meeting of Home Affairs Ministers

There was an immediate reaction on our part, as well as on the part of other countries, and here I come back to Germany, where we had relevant statements from Ms. Merkel to the effect that this phenomenon, what is happening, has to be dealt with. A security gap has been revealed, and that is why we need – and I think Europe shows this – very fast reflexes. We have to create structures that will not allow for the repetition of these things.

But I want to be absolutely clear. There are already the relevant statements from all the competent agencies in Greece, and this is acknowledged by our collocutors abroad: that this attempt in Greece has nothing to do with – is not linked by any evidence, at least so far – with international terrorism. And thus it cannot be presented as a unified whole with the attacks that originated in Yemen.

This is a phenomenon that the Greek police confronted speedily and effectively. This is a fact that has been acknowledged by our collocutors, and I must say that the Foreign Minister had talks with all of the Ambassadors of the countries whose Embassies were targeted in these attacks.

Everyone expressed their gratitude for both the interest and immediate notification they had from the Foreign Ministry, because the Foreign Ministry had begun on Monday to notify all of the Embassies of the police operation. And they were also grateful for the speed and effectiveness with which the Greek police reacted.

So I think that in this context it is clear to everyone that this phenomenon is not related to or linked to the phenomenon of international terrorism, and that there was a speedy and effective reaction from the Greek state.

Mr. Bibe: Mr. Spokesman, the following happened recently in Albania, in the village of Bobostitsa: A memorial has been set up to the Greeks who fell in the war, but right now the cemetery in this village doesn’t contain the bones of a single Greek soldier.

In the presence of the Greek Consul in the area, they said that the Greek army had liberated the region, and there needs to be a monument in this specific place, a monument to the Greek soldiers, and Albanian Justice is prosecuting for the desecration of graves.

I wanted to ask, does Athens see additional cemeteries to the ones agreed upon when you closed the issue with the Albanian Defence Ministry some two years ago, I think? Beyond the two cemeteries that exist, more or not? Or was this whole scene just a coincidence?

Mr. Delavekouras: The ceremony at the monument in Bobostitsa has been happening for many years now, and the monument symbolizes the great struggle of the Greek forces to confront fascism; the successful struggle of Greece to block the progress of the Axis powers.

We are talking about a historical period that has been set down in glowing letters and whose importance is universally recognized. So we are talking about great symbolism that is still, today, commemorated in these ceremonies that have been carried out for years.

And I need to say that the phenomena we saw – the burning of wreaths that had been laid during the memorial ceremony, are very worrying and condemnable. It is unacceptable, precisely because they express certain extremist elements who cannot comprehend the new framework of Greek-Albanian relations or the historical significance of the struggle against the Axis powers.

Beyond that, regarding the agreement on the cemeteries, it was an agreement regarding which both governments have expressed their satisfaction, and, of course, its implementation needs to be completed. This is precisely the framework agreed upon on the inter-state level between the two countries.

Mr. Bibe: I want us to clarify that there have always been graves of local villagers in this space; graves that were desecrated according to the Albanian courts. We’re not saying it. It is apparent in photographs taken and the people who had the bones of their relatives had their wreaths burned. Maybe we need to separate which is …

Mr. Delavekouras: I’m am not going to get into a discussion of an investigation carried out by the Albanian authorities. I will stand on the symbolism of the ceremony carried out; a symbolism that is clear and belongs to the new context of Greek-Albanian relations, the relations we want to have; relations of good cooperation. But the fact that there are still people who apparently are living in another time or another reality has to be condemned.

Mr. Pallas: President Christofias and Mr. Eroglu are going to meet at the UN on 18 November. Are you expecting a positive result, even after Mr. Eroglu’s insistence on an independent state?


Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, such statements are unfounded. The whole of the international community, the UN, recognizes the reality of the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus and its participation in all the international organizations.

Beyond that, we hope that we will be able to see steps forward. The meeting to be held at the UN is a meeting that might be the basis for at least some steps forward, but I can’t say that we are ignoring the reality of the situation.

And the reality of the situation is that at this time, Mr. Eroglu, with his rhetoric and the support of Turkey, is essentially representing another era; his thinking is that of two-state, two-people partitioning. And these are things that not only hinder the prospect for a solution and the smooth progress of the negotiations, but they also contravene the resolutions of the UN Security Council; resolutions that are the basis for the solution. This state of affairs does not inspire optimism.

I hope that Turkey will change its stance in order for us to really have progress on the Cyprus issue, which Turkey says it wants to see. But there is no point in empty rhetoric that is not accompanied by deeds. And the deeds up until now – the deeds of Mr. Eroglu at the negotiating table – are unfortunately nothing to be optimistic about.

Mr. Pantazopoulos: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask the following: A few days ago, In Thrace, a French TV channel team was jeered, and on Sunday there was a coordination among minority parties. Do you think this is all part of the destabilization of the region? And whether it is the position of the Greek state to react earlier than is feasible.

Mr. Delavekouras: There is no basis for any scenario concerning destabilization anywhere in Greece.

The Hellenic Republic is a member state of the European Union and NATO. It is a stable democracy with very strong democratic structures, and these scenarios you are describing bear no relationship with reality. They are completely unfounded.

The fact that there are extremists – and there are extremists – is something that has to be confronted by Greek society, and I think Greek society is confronting it in the best way, but there is no way that I will accept positions to the effect that any place within Greek territory is unstable or that there are destabilization scenarios.

Mr. Pollatos: I would like you to brief us on the results of the meeting Mr. Droutsas had the day before yesterday with the Finance Minister.

I assume that it may be related to the subject of the speech Mr. Droutsas is going to give in Berlin – how foreign policy is exercised in an economic crisis, whether you have any economic data regarding what changes.

And an comment on the latest announcement from the Association of Diplomatic Personnel, which complains about the taxing of compensation for service abroad. Thank you.

Mr. Delavekouras: Regarding your first question, this meeting between the Foreign and Finance Ministers took place within the framework of preparations for the 2011 budget. It was an initial meeting. There will be additional meetings, and right now the two ministries are at the stage of analyzing the data we have, bearing in mind the financial state of affairs.

But it need to be clear that the Foreign Ministry has a very important and special mission; a mission that it can carry out only if it has the necessary means; a mission that has multiple benefits for the Greek state. On this basis, a discussion is being carried out on the drawing up of the budget for the coming year.

As regards issues concerning associations of Foreign Ministry personnel, I will make no comment. But I must say that the administrative leadership of the Foreign Ministry is currently studying the circular that has been issued and will take action when the precise impact of the circular has been determined.

Ms. Kourbela: I would like to ask you about the European Union’s budget. That is, 2011 will see the opening of negotiations on the new financial perspectives – “the centre is growing”, that is. Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou has already started contacts with other countries to shape the new positions, etc., because after 2013 we will have greater need of money than we do today.

Mr. Delavekouras
: This was one of the first things Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou did after taking on her duties, and she has already initiated her contacts.

Essentially, our country is entering into coordination with other EU member states with characteristics and priorities similar to Greece’s; priorities that we want to see reflected in the budget that is formulated for the European Union.

And, naturally, as the discussions proceed, you will see states – pressure groups – closing ranks to strengthen the formulation of the budget in the direction they desire.

Mr. Athanasopoulos: A clarification regarding Mr. Droutsas’s meeting with the Finance Minister. Did the Finance Minister propose the closing of missions abroad to save on Foreign Ministry expenses? That is the first question.

Second, on another issue. What exactly is happening with our discussions on saving the agreement with Albania on determining maritime zones? Thank you.

Mr. Delavekouras: The operation of our Diplomatic and Consular Missions abroad is not determined in the manner you suggested. The Foreign Ministry takes decisions concerning the representation of our country abroad based on criteria that have to do with our foreign policy needs, and given that Greece is a country that has many important challenges to face in its immediate neighbourhood. Obviously, you can see that the criteria borne in mind are first and foremost political rather than economic.

The Foreign Ministry constantly assesses the operation of its missions abroad and the extent to which they serve our mission. If it is judged at some point that a Diplomatic or Consular Mission has served its purpose or that in the given state of affairs its continued operation is not necessary, then its operation may be suspended – as was the case this year with the Consulates that we have announced, and as happened in 2008 with some other Consulates. But this doesn’t mean that it won’t be decided that it is advisable to create new Diplomatic Missions in other parts of the world that are taking on greater significance for our foreign policy.

So that is the framework. In any case, as you know, and as the Foreign Minister has announced, we are in a process of modernizing the way the Ministry operates and reorganizing the Foreign Ministry to make it more effective and flexible.

This process is already under way. The Secretary General is already carrying out the relevant proceedings, and as the Foreign Minister has announced, it is among his intentions to appoint a Special Secretary who will undertake the implementation of the changes decided upon; changes that concern not only the Foreign Ministry organogram, but also personnel issues, technological issues, communication issues, issues concerning the monitoring of the effectiveness of the Foreign Ministry and communication issues. But all of this is an integrated package that will be presented when the work has been completed, followed by speedy implementation.

Regarding the agreement on delimitation of maritime zones between Greek and Albania, let me tell you that our country’s views are clear and have been made known to the Albanian side. Right now, the Albanian government will have to look at how to complete the domestic ratification process for this agreement, in the light of the decision taken by the Constitutional Court. For our part, however, it is well known and clear that this agreement, which was signed by the two governments, fulfills the provisions of the Law of the Seas and is to the benefit of both countries.

And I think this is something that the Albanian government has said. And the Albanian government believes that it is important and beneficial for this process to be completed so that the two countries can move ahead to capitalized even further on the wealth of the two countries’ sea zones. And it is also something that – as the Foreign Minister of Albania has said – would have a positive impact on Albania’s course towards the European Union.

Mr. Panteloglou: Mr. Spokesman, a joint Greek-Turkish-Bulgarian exercise – under the NATO flag – started in the Aegean on 6 November. In the Foreign Ministry’s assessment, will this in any way impact the talks on the Aegean?

Mr. Delavekouras: According to the information I have from the Defence General Staff, and to be specific, this exercise is taking place in Turkish territorial waters off the coast of Izmir. This is an exercise that takes place every year, and I think a second part takes place in Patras. But the Defence General Staff will brief you on that. This exercise obviously has nothing to do with the very clear status that is in effect in the Aegean.

Mr. Kapoutsis: At yesterday’s meeting between Mr. Droutsas and Defence Minister Venizelos, was Mr. Venizelos briefed in detail on – among other things – the results of the 47 rounds, so far, of talks on the level of Greek and Turkish experts, on various issues?

Mr. Delavekouras: Contact and collaboration between the Foreign and Defence Ministries is ongoing and there is ongoing mutual briefing on all issues. 

The central subject of yesterday’s meeting was the upcoming NATO Summit Meeting in Lisbon and the preparations of the two Ministries. I remind you that a few weeks ago, the two Ministers participated in a joint meeting of NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers in Brussels.

Ms. Kourbela: What is your comment, Mr. Spokesman, on the fact that the European Commmission yesterday presented a draft decision of the Council that approves the agreement on Prespes? The agreement that was signed on 2 February 2010.

Mr. Delavekouras: That is an issue that is being monitored by the Environment and Climate Change Ministry, but I want to take this opportunity to remind you of our position in favour of this cross-border cooperation. 

That, after all, was why the Prime Minister called this meeting of Prime Ministers in Prespes. It was an important development that came ten years after the initial declaration issued by three Prime Ministers, and we believe that this is a very good sign, not just for the necessary cooperation – cross-border and regional cooperation on environmental issues – but also as an example of better coordination of the whole region on vital horizontal issues. Another such example – because this Greek government strategy is very broad – was the recent International Conference aimed at coordination of Mediterranean countries’ postions ahead of the Cancun Climate Change Conference.

Mr. Panteloglou: Ahead of the NATO Summit, what is the Foreign Ministry’s assessment of how Greece’s positions will fare?

Mr. Delavekouras: We are talking essentially based on a draft that has been prepared by a team of experts that, as you know, included our Foreign Ministry’s current Secretary General.

It is a text that was prepared by the NATO Secretary General, and we had the opportunity to talk during his recent visit to Athens. It is a draft that is a good foundation. The issues that our country raised have been borne in mind substantially.

We see, for example, that the principle of unanimity in decision-making has remained intact, that the implementation of article 5 of the alliance remains intact. There are, that is, specific matters that we wanted to make sure were set down in the new strategic concept, and this is the case.

Beyond that, there are a number of issues that will be discussed and on which the NATO Secretary General is essentially to create the perspective, the “guide” for the Alliance’s operation in the coming time. It is an important text – a general text, of course – and within this framework I think that we will have good results at the Summit Meeting.

Ms. Popovik: Regarding the meeting Prime Minister Papandreou had with Prime Minister Gruevski, I’m interested as to whether there is a prospect for another bilateral meeting soon, before the NATO Summit Meeting, or whether we can expect any developments on the Skopje issue before Lisbon.

Mr. Delavekouras: We hope to see developments as soon as possible. That is Greece’s position; a position stated by our country’s political leadership on all levels and at every opportunity. And that was the spirit in which the meeting with Mr. Gruevski was held. And I must say that it was a meeting that took place in a good climate.

It was essentially and informal luncheon that the two Prime Ministers had, and I hope that this meeting will be able to form the basis for our seeing a change in the stance of the FYROM leadership; a change in stance that will allow us to reach a solution soon.

We haven’t scheduled a meeting for before the NATO Summit Meeting. And I really don’t think we can expect such speedy developments, given the messages we have received to date. Nevertheless, I must say that it is our conviction that as soon as the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia really decides that they are ready for us to make some progress, then the solution really can come very quickly.

Any other questions?

Thank you.

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