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Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias’, answer to a parliamentary question from New Democracy MPs

Wednesday, 08 November 2017

"1. I won’t go into the uninstitutional practice of a recipient’s becoming aware of the existence and content of a question through the press, before receiving it officially from the services of the Parliament’s Parliamentary Control Directorate.

2. As regards the substance of the question: without a doubt, turkish violations are escalating constantly, resulting in an increasing risk of an 'accident' in the Aegean; in particular the violations of national airspace, which –following a three-year period of relative decline, from 2011 to 2013– in the first months of 2017 surpassed even the levels of 2014, when the sharp increase in these violations began. It is to be noted that Turkish violations of such intensity –albeit smaller in scale– had not been manifested in the Aegean since the period from 2008 to 2010. Of particular concern are also the violations of national territorial waters, which are at their highest level of the past decade. This increase in turkish violations is also related, of course, with the general political situation in our neighbouring country, following the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

3. During the same period, we have seen strident rhetoric and sloganeering, coloured with Turkey’s revisionist policy as regards the wider region as a whole. The disputing of the Treaty of Lausanne is a characteristic example. More generally, as I have often noted, the political and social stage in Turkey, especially following the coup attempt, is characterized by acute restlessness and an amplification of revisionist trends both in high-ranking government circles and across a wide portion of the opposition.

4. Nevertheless, following the Tsipras-Erdogan meeting in Beijing (12-15 May 2017), held on a Greek initiative, tones have been less strident, at least on the part of Turkish government officials, in particular regarding the issue of the Treaty of Lausanne. As you know, during the aforementioned meeting, the Turkish President agreed with the imperative need for full respect of the Treaty of Lausanne. This constitutes a strong indication that meetings between Greece and Turkey are necessary and useful for de-escalating the tensions in the relations between the two countries. In the same context, of particular importance was the visit of the President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, to Istanbul, where, on the margins of the BSEC Summit (21-22 May 2017), a meeting was scheduled with the Turkish President. Although in the end the meeting did not take place, due to the Turkish President’s being indisposed, the general assessment is that the added value of the President of the Republic’s visit was not impacted by this fact. In the same direction, that of reducing tensions, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister received the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, in Athens on 19 June 2017.

5. Therefore, precisely because the escalation of tensions gives rise to understandable concerns, Diplomacy is more necessary than ever in order to bring down tensions. Because if Diplomacy is silent, there will no longer be a response to the irresponsible voices on both sides, with all the implications this might have for the occurence of an ‘accident’.

6. Athens’ long-standing pursuit is to transform Greek-Turkish relations from confrontational to cooperative. A necessary condition for this is respect for international law and keeping open the channels of communication with the Turkish side so that bridges of cooperation can be put in place. This was the goal of my latest visit to Turkey and my meetings with the Turkish President and my Turkish counterpart.

7. I would like to note at this point that, for at least a year now, Greek-Turkish relations have been showing clear signs of stagnancy. Characteristic of this is that the High-Level Cooperation Council, which, starting in 2010, convened twice in Greece and twice in Turkey, has not convened since 2016. Moreover, for a year and a half now, the exploratory talks and the meetings between the two countries’ militaries have stopped. What is more, a Greek-Turkish bilateral meeting on the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs had not taken place since the summer of 2016, when, after the coup in Turkey, I invited my Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, to Crete. I note that, during my recent visit to Turkey, it was agreed to convene the High-Level Cooperation Council –most likely in February 2018– and to reopen the meetings between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs on all levels, every six months. It was also agreed to relaunch the meetings between the military committees, so that issues of (military) confidence-building measures (CBMs) can be discussed. In support of the position that meetings and talks with the Turkish side have a positive impact on the de-escalation of tensions, I note, finally, that we saw a clear reduction in turkish infringements/violations during the period immediately after my visit to Turkey.

8. I have to admit that I do not fully understand the purpose of the this question, perhaps because it lacks any proposal/recommendation regarding the policy being followed on Turkey. In principle, do you favour the severing of talks or meetings with the turkish side or with all of the countries with which Greece has disputes? Are you adherents of a policy of ‘modern isolationism’? I must note, in any case, that even if Greece followed such a policy, the problems you describe would not only continue to exist, but would grow, possibly with even more dangerous repercussions.

9. I assure you that the Greek Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‘are letting nothing go unanswered’ in the name of the peaceful settlement of any differences with neighbouring countries. They will continue to unwaveringly defend our country’s national and sovereign rights, as they have done to date."

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