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Foreign Minister N. Kotzias' interview in the "Sunday Ethnos", with journalist Giorgos Skafidas
JOURNALIST: Ankara's 'grey' claims in the Aegean returned through the back door, via domestic Turkish political disputes. How do you interpret the development in question?
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey is a "restless power". It has some things in common with 19th-century Germany: Fast growth, the size of its economy, relatively strong leadership, multiple conflicts and contradictions. Following the defeat of the putschists, elements of nationalism are resurfacing on many sides. But whatever becomes a subject of conflict domestically also takes on an external dimension and becomes part of a sui generis revisionism of the Turkish political scene. We are confronting this upsurge in revisionism with sobriety, composure, self-confidence and a long-term view. We aren't underestimating it, but nor are we overestimating it. With Turkey, everything needs its proper measure.
JOURNALIST: Is there a risk of the Aegean's becoming a "prize" in a contest of national bidding between Islamists and Kemalists?
N. KOTZIAS: The Aegean will not become anyone's "prize". The rights to the Aegean are defined by international treaties and agreements, the rules of international law, and in particular the law of the sea. The Aegean is a sea of peace and must remain so. That is our concern. But we will not allow the policy of peace to be misunderstood as a policy of backing down or appeasement. We are deterring any endeavour to the contrary by all means. The national bidding contest -- more precisely, nationalist -- has to end where it came from.
JOURNALIST: Is there fear of a heated incident?
N. KOTZIAS: There hasn't been a heated incident in the Erdogan era, as there was in the time of the Kemalists. But circles in the Turkish elite are still trying to call into question international law and the Greek rights deriving from international law. Their goal is to render these rights a 'grey area' and then start a process of disputing them from the perspective of an historical revisionism. This kind of planning has no success with us.
JOURNALIST: How can Greece armour itself against a new round of Turkish revisionism?
N. KOTZIAS: We have excellent defence and diplomacy. Greece knows what it wants and how it can deter manifestations of all kinds. We base ourselves on international law and our historical rights. We explain to the international player the importance and the risks of an ahistorical revisionism that appears not to have realised that any disputing of Greek rights is also a disputing of corresponding international and European law.
Turkey has to realise that Greece is its most serious and prudent neighbour. Moreover, I believe that Greece will come out a winner from the further democratization of Turkey and Turkey's full adaptation to the European acquis.
JOURNALIST: Will Erdogan be able to secure the visa waiver he wants from the EU?
N. KOTZIAS: The implementation of any agreement requires the positive energy of all those involved in the agreement. Today in the EU there are states that are not "absolutely" convinced of the necessity of this agreement. But, again, they hoped it wouldn't be necessary to implement what was agreed upon. Our position is that the agreement benefits both sides and that we have to do whatever is possible for its implementation. At the same time, we are taking care to increase the political cost for anyone, on any side, who might undermine the implementation of the agreement.
JOURNALIST: How do you judge Commissioner Hahn's reference to the "Cham issue"?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece and Albania are negotiating issues on which they have differences and disagreements. Negotiation is the means of diplomacy. In the context of these negotiations, the other side asked that the non-existent problem you referred to be discussed. This was not accepted.
Commissioner Hahn is responsible, in the European Commission, for the enlargement process, and in the progress reports on each separate candidate country he made three mistakes on the issue you are asking me about. The first, without having any mandate or role, he came out and published a list of issues for negotiation. The second, worse than the first, is that he added a non-existent issue to the list. The third is that, in this way, he jeopardized the whole negotiation process. You will have seen my letter, in which I set all this out for the Commission, along with the many violations of the truth and of the treaties.
Unfortunately, there are those in the main opposition party who tend to adopt anything anyone says, as long is it is aimed against Greece and our foreign policy. I hope they come round at some point.
JOURNALIST: The Albanian government persists in pushing the Cham issue. How do you interpret this persistence?
N. KOTZIAS: The fact is, they are governing with the Cham party and adopt a portion of the latter's agenda. But, first, the issue of those Chams who committed war crimes in Greece has been judged by the courts definitively and irreversibly. The Cham issue concerns them, and not the 160,000 or more Albanian Chams who never had anything to do with Greece or the crimes of that time. The second mistake is that there are some people who, since 2008 and due to the crisis, underestimate Greece and believe they can play games against it.
JOURNALIST: Are they perhaps ignoring the real balance of power?
N. KOTZIAS: I recommend they look at the magnitudes of the two states: Greece outclasses them in every sector, including a GDP ten times larger, defence and security systems more powerful in many ways, much stronger economic dependency on their part (currency remitted by immigrants, investments, trade), different soft power, asymmetrical presence in the international and regional system. So it would be good for some people to become realists and contribute to mutually beneficial relations and the settlement of pending issues based on European and international law and tradition.
JOURNALIST: Does the Albanian persistence leave the Greek side room to negotiate.
N. KOTZIAS: There are voices of pragmatism and cooperation in Albania. There are the objective interests in both countries that require good relations. I will not back down from the principle that history is a school for foreign policy, not a prison. You know that often, in the Balkans, more history is produced than the region can consume. A region where we are by far the strongest and, by extension, have the greatest responsibility for resolving the problems, and without the intervention of third parties. Responsibility for resolving the problems with the countries that want to join the EU, and resolving them before their accession negotiations begin. I hope they see that this is in their interest.
JOURNALIST: You have come in for criticism regarding your method of negotiation with Albania.
N. KOTZIAS: Some people got used to having the ministry as a source of information for themselves. Learning what was happening even before the minister. That time is over. Whatever needs to be made public is made public. Whatever is required for negotiations and protecting negotiations is protected. We have again become a country whose foreign policy is appreciated and respected. A foreign policy that is sober, serious, with a wide range of initiatives. In the past year alone, we have formed five new regional and international institutions. Our initiatives garnered a response, and this shows the international standing that the country is regaining.
Foreign policy -- this is what I believe -- is not public relations. It is for responsible, prudent patriots who attend to the country's interest as best they can.
JOURNALIST: Are there external pressures -- direct or indirect -- on the Greek side to back down on issues concerning Albania and Skopje?
N. KOTZIAS: No one can put pressure on a multidimensional foreign policy to change orientations and goals. It is no coincidence that in some capitals we are called "tough customers". Just a week ago, we used our veto. I reminded everyone that the EU needs to be governed by the rules of law and that this is what sets it apart from other regional cooperation platforms and unions. Last year, the day before my first trip, in June 2015, to FYROM, I used my veto regarding that country. This year I used my veto against the sanctions on FYROM. So actions respond to this question.
The time of the Greek "yes to everything" is over. We are living in the period of the responsibility, seriousness and sobriety of a foreign policy that focuses on Greece's interests and not on micropolitical gossip.
JOURNALIST: Regarding the Cyprus issue, do you share the optimism for a solution within the coming months?
N. KOTZIAS: Our government unanimously supports the solution of the Cyprus issue based on principles and values. We do not support any fabrication of a supposed solution. Our point of departure is the precise designation of what is the foundation of the Cyprus problem. This is the foreign occupation in the name of a system of guarantees. A real solution must eliminate these two things definitively and irrevocably. We support the negotiations of the Cypriot government without intervening in the internal aspects of the negotiations, respecting the sovereignty and independence of Cyprus. Of course compromises will be made between the two sides that are negotiating right now. These compromises must be good, not shoddy. Let's not forget that the objective is to remedy the negative consequences of a political betrayal and a military defeat. Nicosia and Athens insist on the need for the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces from Cyprus. It is the requirement for a solution. Anything else is a non-solution perpetuating the state of affairs arising from illegal actions. How feasible this is depends on our persistence and patience, in combination with whether the solution being sought is one that gives security to the Cypriots and to all of Cyprus, or one that has to do with geostrategic advantages in Turkey. We will do everything we can to satisfy the Cypriots' security needs. A prerequisite for this is the withdrawal of the occupation forces and the elimination of the system of guarantees.
JOURNALIST: Would a gradual withdrawal with an open-ended completion date be acceptable?
N. KOTZIAS: No! Out of the question. From the moment there are component states with the same quality of rights, the problem cannot be referred to the future. An open-ended withdrawal means legitimisation and perpetuation of the presence of occupation forces. A direct confession of a non-solution of the Cyprus issue. Such an agreement is needless and dangerous.
JOURNALIST: Is it feasible for the hurdle of guarantees to be overcome through a new, alternative security system?
N. KOTZIAS: There are those who want to replace the "guarantees" with Turkish "guarantees" exclusively for the Turkish Cypriots. This would mean the de facto partitioning of the island and the transformation of occupied Cyprus into a protectorate. But in that case, why all the effort? To legitimise the occupation? There are others who, based on the same "thinking", want Turkey to be given a military base. That is, they want the legitimisation of the occupation of a part of the island, serving the geostrategic plans of Ankara and creating a source of future problems. To be clear, the problem to be resolved is the security of all Cypriots, and not the interests of a third country. Third countries like Greece and Turkey can contribute, together with Cyprus, to peace in the region and the deterrence of external dangers to the Republic of Cyprus, not to its partitioning.
JOURNALIST: The Foreign Ministry has come in for criticism for the "circles" through which it responds to the provocations.
N. KOTZIAS: Responses of "Foreign Ministry circles" is an international practice, particularly in the U.S. We didn't invent the wheel. What's more, under New Democracy this tactic was used regarding issues having to do with FYROM and Turkish provocations. It appears that there are some who either don't have a good memory or didn't know what it was doing while it was in government.