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Statements of Foreign Minister Droutsas and his Australian counterpart, Mr. Rudd, following their meeting (2 February 2011)

Main points:

Mr. Droutsas:

·       “Australia and the Australians are most loved here in Greece.  This is due to the tens of thousands of people who live in Australia who are of Greek origin, who love to live in that country and have prospered in that country and love both countries equally.”

·       “There is much room for us to do more in our bilateral relations, starting with our economic relations. Certainly it would be of interest to know that we have become an attractive destination for investments in a number of sectors, given the substantial changes that are being made now in Greece.”

·       “It is with pain and concern that we see Egypt in the throes of a profound political crisis in recent days. Greece will stand by Egypt’s side as it is reborn.”

·       “We are in close contact with various leaders in the region, in constant contact. We are monitoring developments closely and we, too, are prepared to take any necessary initiatives for Greece to contribute to the stability of the region.”

·       “This change needs to result in a stronger, more stable, more democratic and more united Egypt. For this to happen, Egypt will have to rely on its own strength; on dialogue and consensus among all the political powers and especially the people. With respect for Egypt’s sovereignty and independence, without foreign intervention.”

·       “I think the speech – the proclamation – President Mubarak made yesterday can be either a new point of divergence, or the springboard for democratic dialogue. I firmly believe – I think we all firmly believe – that Egypt needs the latter.”

Complete transcript of statements:

Mr. Droutsas:  I would like to take this opportunity to extend a very, very warm welcome to a very good friend of Greece, from a country which is also a very good friend of Greece, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, Kevin Rudd.  Welcome.

You will of course have seen, during your stay here, Kevin, that Australia and the Australians are most loved here in Greece.  This is due to the tens of thousands of people who live in Australia who are of Greek origin, who love to live in that country and have prospered in that country and love both countries equally. And I do think that that’s very important as a dimension to the relations between our two countries, and certainly we will be able to discuss this later and you too will be able to develop this further.  You will have the opportunity, in your discussions later on with our Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Dollis, who in fact both in terms of his institutional position, but also as a person who also has lived in Australia, comes from Australia and is of Greek origin, is the right person.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank you most warmly, for the fact that Greek will be one of the three official languages taught in Australian schools. That I think is a very important indication of how significant the Greeks are in Australia.

I would like to also say that the great love that Greeks have for Australians, also has its roots back in history.  They both have fought side by side in the major struggles of the past century. And, of course, we also have a lot of Australians who are soldiers that have died in combat here in Greece, I would like to remind you of the great battle of Crete, which basically turned the tide of the Second World War, 70 years ago, whose memory in fact we are commemorating this year.  And also, the population on Limnos, that basically took care of those who were in the battle of the Dardanelles.  And all over Greece you will find monuments which bear witness to that sacrifice of blood, which was shed for the ideal of freedom.

Don’t forget that Greece and the Greeks always stand by you and support you and I know, because you have informed me, about the natural disasters that are under way in Australia and the great concern that you have in terms of the typhoon which seems to be approaching the coast of Australia.

We will be able now to have the opportunity to discuss in greater length, bilateral relations, regional issues, as well as international issues.  We will be able, of course, to discuss in greater length our bilateral issues and I think that first and foremost, would be discussion of our economic cooperation. 

There is much room for us to do more in our bilateral relations, starting with our economic relations. Certainly it would be of interest to know that we have become an attractive destination for investments in a number of sectors, given the substantial changes that are being made now in Greece. I think that this offers a good opportunity and makes Greece an attractive destination for investments. And I would like to take the opportunity of thanking you, Kevin, for having included in your program here, during your stay here in Greece, a number of meetings with competent Ministers which will be able to discuss with you especially economic development.

We will be able to proceed further with our discussions, Kevin, as concerns various issues where Greece has undertaken a number of initiatives.  For example, in helping our northern neighbors to accede to European Union, in time to find a solution to the name of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, and here I must reiterate our thanks to Australia for the position you have taken on this and the stance that you have on that, as well as our relations with Turkey and Cyprus, which we will be discussing together, and also other issues pertaining to the Middle East, especially Egypt.  Perhaps I might just take a few more moments of your time, Kevin, to explain the developments in Egypt and Greece’s role herein.

Greece’s ties with Egypt are as deep as our history. The ties between the two peoples are close – brotherly – and the friendship linking us is strong.

It is with pain and concern that we see Egypt in the throes of a profound political crisis in recent days. A crisis that has it roots in the just demands of the people – and particularly the youth of Egypt – for change and reforms; for respect for fundamental freedoms and the right to a dream for a better future.

This change needs to result in a stronger, more stable, more democratic and more united Egypt. For this to happen, Egypt will have to rely on its own strength; on dialogue and consensus among all the political powers and especially the people. With respect for Egypt’s sovereignty and independence, without foreign intervention. Violence will not provide a solution; it cannot provide a solution to the problems the country is facing. Egypt itself and its people can give an answer to the violence and chaos of the first days.

Greece will stand by Egypt’s side as it is reborn. With all our power, we will support the efforts made to build a new society; a relationship of trust between the state and the citizen. With respect for Egypt’s history and its strategic role in the wider Middle East region.

In times of crisis, the beginning is the hardest part; beginning a dialogue that will lead to consensus. This is why the leaders of all the political powers need to make the good of the whole their priority and pursue understanding that will open the way to the day after. At a steady pace and guided by the restoration of normalcy and a smooth transition to the new era. I think the speech – the proclamation – President Mubarak made yesterday can be either a new point of divergence, or the springboard for democratic dialogue. I firmly believe – I think we all firmly believe – that Egypt needs the latter.

Greece – the Prime Minister and I, personally – are in close contact with various leaders in the region, in constant contact. We are monitoring developments closely and we, too, are prepared to take any necessary initiatives for Greece to contribute to the stability of the region.

Finally, I want to express my respect for the courage and composure of the Greeks of Egypt. They are an intrinsic part of Egyptian society and are a living expression of the strong ties between the two countries. To those who returned to Greece due to the developments in Egypt, I express our support and the hope that Egypt will soon return to peace so that they can return home. Everyone can be sure that Greece is at their side.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations and thanks to all of those who have worked so hard, in the Foreign Ministry, to make this whole evacuation project yesterday a success, with the evacuation of the Greeks from Alexandria.  My greatest thanks to our Deputy Minister, Mr. Dollis, who has worked so hard and coordinated all of these very difficult, but necessary, things which had to be done.  And I would also like to thank again our Air Force, which has demonstrated its readiness and its high degree of professionalism in fulfilling this mission.

Kevin, I am awfully sorry for having taken up so much of your time discussing these issues, but as you can see, they are matters of the moment, things are under way and it really is in our near neighborhood, in our back yard, so we are closely monitoring what is happening.  So, once again, a very warm welcome to you, to our country here, we will be continuing our talks and thereby forging our closer collaboration and ties. 

Thank you.

Mr. Rudd:  Thank you very much, Dimitris, for your kind welcome to Greece, to Athens, to me as Foreign Minister of Australia and if I could also thank Prime Minister Papandreou, for his kind welcome this morning and for our extensive discussions on a range of bilateral and regional questions earlier today.

It is also good to be here in Greece, the home of ancient democracy, as we begin to see the emergence of modern democratic forces in this wider region. The relationship between Greece and Australia has always been close and it will be close into the future. The Minister mentioned that we celebrate and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle of Crete and earlier the battle of Greece, where many Australian troops fought and died, and that is one of the ties which bind our two great democracies.  And since the war, many Greeks have made Australia their home and who now number something close to one million Greek Australians, and they make a huge contribution to our country, to our economy, to our political system, and to our culture. 

Australia therefore follows closely what happens here in Greece and we are fully supportive of the economic reform program being implemented by Prime Minister Papandreou and his government, because we believe this is fundamental to Greece’s future.  We support what the government is seeking to do, because Greece is an important country in Europe’s future and therefore these matters are the subject of important and legitimate reform.

Secondly, I thank both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, for the great solidarity and support we had from Greeks, both here in Greece and around the world, in response to the natural disasters which have recently afflicted Australia and the great floods in Queensland, my own home state.  And I particularly acknowledge here the great contribution of the Greek community in my own home state, my own home city, in fact in my own constituency, through the Parish Church of Saint George in South Brisbane, in coordinating so much of the voluntary flood relief effort.

Thirdly, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and I, have discussed extensively recent developments in Egypt, as I did in the last two days with both the President and the Foreign Minister of Turkey.  In Australia we have not just many Greek Australians, we also have many Egyptian Australians.  We have also discussed, of course, the evacuation arrangements for our respective peoples from Cairo and from Alexandria. And I personally commend the work of Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis and the work that he has done the last 24-48 hours in the Ministry here. 

On the political challenges in Egypt, I share the sentiments which have just been reflected by the Greek Foreign Minister.  On Egypt, our position is clear: we support fundamental political reform, we support this process being undertaken peacefully and we continue to call for restraint on the part of the Security Forces and the Armed Forces in responding to protestors peacefully and in a non-violent manner.

Moreover, in the wider Arab world and in the wider Middle East, the force of democracy now again raises itself, a force which must be dealt with.  Our view in Australia is that democracy is a universal aspiration, not simply limited to one country or one culture or one time.  It is not that we simply face two alternatives in the Arab world, either an authoritarian state on the one hand or an Islamist regime on the other.  There is a third way, a democratic way, open to the various governments and peoples of the wider region.

Furthermore, recent developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world have implications for the peace process between Israel and Palestine.  And again, I would urge our friends, both in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah, to seize the opportunity to bring this peace agreement to a conclusion.

Finally, in the case of the Sinai, we are watching developments closely as well.  Australia is a longstanding contributor to the multinational force in the Sinai and we will be in close dialogue with governments in the region about this, in the days ahead.  To conclude, I would commend the government of Greece for its various diplomatic initiatives in relation to Turkey, in relation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as on the question of Cyprus. 

Yesterday, in Ankara, I was with our colleague, Foreign Minister and colleague, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey.  From an Australian perspective and as a friend of all countries in this region, we believe there are great opportunities and new opportunities for new agreements to be reached between Greece and Turkey and on the question of Cyprus.  And we would encourage both Greek and Turkish Cypriots to seize the opportunities which now present themselves to them. 

I come to Athens today as Foreign Minister of Australia and it is wonderful to have been received as such.  The last time I was here was with my wife and my children, as a much younger man, and I spent a long, long time travelling in a Fiat 500 around most of the cities of Greece.  It’s good to see that traffic is just as terrifying today.  But fortunately, on this occasion, I am not driving myself. 

This is a beautiful country. Australians love Greece and I am glad to be here on this occasion.  Thank you. 

Last Updated Thursday, 03 February 2011
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