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Foreign Minister N. Kotzias' interview in the Cyprus newspaper "Politis tis Kyriakis," with journalists Evangelos Aretaios and Giorgos Kakouris
JOURNALIST: How are developments following the attempted coup in Turkey affecting Greek-Turkish relations?
N. KOTZIAS: Long before the attempted coup, I characterized Turkey as a "restless power" that needs to realise that its best neighbour is Greece. That, consequently, it benefits in no way from making revisionist claims against Greece, much less from denial of international law, and even international agreements and treaties, like the International Law of the Sea and the Treaty of Lausanne. History has taught that revisionists are defeated, but the consequences of their defeat are felt by more people.
Our policy is for Turkey's domestic crisis not to find its way into Turkey's foreign policy. And likewise, for the opposition between Turkey's two main parties, with regard to the Treaty of Lausanne, not to be consolidated into a common front against international law. That is why, in our announcement, I highlighted that their fight over the Greek islands is a fight over a third party's property.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried about tensions? What precisely do you support?
N. KOTZIAS: From the very moment the coup attempt started in Turkey, Greece's prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and all of the country's political leadership showed our solidarity with the elected Turkish government, with the Turkish people themselves. We are against any coup or undermining of democracy in Turkey. Of course, our opposition to the coup was not and is not from the perspective of power held by specific individuals, but from the perspective of defence and expansion of democracy and the stability of the institutions, principles and values through which democracy is organized. I firmly believe that Democracy requires democratic organization. In this context, we support our neighbour's European path as a path of modernization and further democratisation, implementation of international law and European rules, particularly with regard to Cyprus and the Cyprus problem.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that their might be negative repercussions due to the eight putschists who have fled to Greece?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece is a state of law. Anyone seeking asylum in our country is dealt with on the basis of international provisions and laws by the independent Hellenic judiciary. A justice system that takes into account any role each of the applicants might have played in the failed coup. I don't think anyone can have reason to complain or be angry due to the fact that we are implementing European culture in practice: rule of law, but also defence of democracy.
JOURNALIST: Will the coup also have a negative impact on the Cyprus talks that are under way?
N. KOTZIAS: The fact that coup forces were discovered in Cyprus, and, in fact, in the higher and highest ranks of the Turkish occupation army, shows that this army cannot be a guarantor of the rights of anyone in occupied Cyprus, much less in a unified free Cyprus. On the other hand, a portion of the Turkish establishment believes that parts of foreign secret services were involved in the coup, or at least they tolerated it. On this basis, the Turkish establishment is playing with the guilt of certain players in the foreign policy of third states, even though it was clear that they were not involved. They are also playing with the dilemma of certain western military players between supporting the Turkish policy on Syria and supporting the Syrian Kurds. We have to be careful. Some "offer" regarding the Cyprus problem should not be considered a solution to this contradiction.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that, with the current unstable situation in Turkey, Ankara and Erdogan will contribute to the finding of a solution to the Cyprus problem? And if so, for what reasons? Why should Erdogan want the Cyprus problem to be resolved now?
N. KOTZIAS: I can't talk about desires. I can talk about real factors. Turkey is relatively isolated in the region. The policy of "zero problems with neighbours" failed due to Turkey's own choices. If it wants a role in the region, it has to contribute to the resolution of problems, and not to the creation of new ones or the perpetuation of old ones. If Turkey conducts itself as a force of peace and understanding, it has a great deal more to gain than if it conducts itself as a force of war and violence. Moreover, the new geopolitical and energy diplomacy provides potential reasons for Ankara's following a policy that is lower key and leads to a solution on the Cyprus issue.
JOURNALIST: Consequently, will Turkey follow such a policy.
N. KOTZIAS: As history shows, leaderships and institutions often do not make the most productive and rational choices. In order to make the right choices, the other side needs to show insistence on principles and on political values. In particular, there is a need not to encourage anachronistic and ahistorical claims and demands from third parties, and from some powerful third parties at that.
JOURNALIST: So does Turkey want a solution to the Cyprus problem, or not?
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey wants a solution to the Cyprus problem tailored to its own measurements. We have to influence these "measurements". It has to be understood by all sides that the solution of the Cyprus problem does not mean a solution that will safeguard geopolitical advantages for Turkey or any other country. The solution should ensure the rights of all the citizens, of the two communities and the three small minorities. The solution must resolve the fundamental problem and cause of the Cyprus issue: the occupation. The Cyprus problem is not primarily a problem of differences between the two communities, but of foreign occupation of a portion of the island and the presence of an occupation army in the areas where the Turkish Cypriots reside.
JOURNALIST: Could Turkey's obtaining a base on the island be the solution?
N. KOTZIAS: Any continued presence of the occupation army on the the island of Cyprus is not a solution. Because it perpetuates the problem we are being called upon to resolve -- it's just dressing it up differently. For example, concentrating a portion of the occupation army on a base means legitimisation of the illegal occupation of the northern portion of Cyprus by third-country troops. It means that the occupation is being made permanent and is being legitimised in a region of the Republic of Cyprus and being transformed from temporary-and-under-negotiation to permanent, also gaining sovereign rights in Cypriot territory. I won't go into the risks of the future destabilisation of Cyprus that might result from such a base.
The Turkish army must leave completely within the framework of a realistic time frame. The theory that it has to remain to guarantee the solution is, in reality, proof and admission of the non-resolution of the Cyprus problem.
JOURNALIST: Of late, we have seen strong anti-American and anti-European sentiment in Turkey, with NATO and the U.S. seen by the large majority of Turkish citizens as collaborators in the attempted coup. What does this mean?
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey is a crossroads of many cultures and geographical components. We believe that, provided it meets the prerequisites, it can belong to the European family of the EU. More correctly, it has to accede. A democratic and European Turkey is a plus for our countries. As for the desires of others, I'm not sure everyone wants Turkey's accession to the EU.
Turkey's anti-Westernism is linked to many aspects of its historical legacy. But it doesn't necessarily have to prevail. We have to support and facilitate the democratic and European forces within Turkey. But this has to be done via a policy of principles, and not via the "panicked obligations" of those who feel guilty, or who put their geographical interests ahead of the need for a positive evolution of Turkey. In fact, I would say that these circles are overbidding on Turkey's geopolitical value, and underestimating, for example, that of Greece. Probably because they take our conduct as a given, whatever they do. They are mistaken in this regard.
JOURNALIST: Nevertheless, is the role of Greece, and possibly that of Cyprus, being upgraded in the eyes of the U.S./NATO and the EU due to the tensions in Ankara's relations with Washington and Brussels?
N. KOTZIAS: If they open their eyes and look at things without bias, they will see that the two states, Cyprus and Greece, are the pole of stability in the region. Two years ago I set out the position that our countries are within a triangle of instability, with Ukraine at the top of the triangle, and Libya and the Middle East at the base. The developments in Turkey confirm my analysis of the stabilising and special role of the two countries, Cyprus and Greece. There are some people who have started to show greater pragmatism regarding these analyses on my part. But not enough people yet.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned at the developments with regard to the Turkey-EU agreement on the refugee issue? Ankara has set October as the target for waiving visas. Do you think the EU will back out?
N. KOTZIAS: Every agreement has to be nurtured in order to be implemented. The EU-Turkey agreement has to face the contradictions of both sides. On the European side, all of those who agreed to the deal don't care enough about its full implementation. Some have probably changed their minds. Others who agreed did so in the hope that the time for the agreement's implementation would never arrive. Greece and many other countries must work hard for everyone to get behind the implementation of the agreement. On the other hand, we cannot allow the agreement to be used as a weapon for launching threats back and forth, or as a source of distrust. In any case, the fact is that, so far, Turkey is implementing the agreement.
JOURNALIST: Should the agreement not be implemented, what do you think Ankara's reaction will be, and how will it effect the refugee crisis and Greek-Turkish relations.
N. KOTZIAS: It is obvious that any creation of new refugee flows or new problems with the flows -- at this time, the economic migrants from Morocco and Pakistan outnumber the Syrian refugees -- will complicate the situation. If we are to avoid such a development, we must contribute towards ending the war in the Middle East, because the refugee problem is a product, and not a cause, of the war. The countries neighbouring on Syria and Iraq need to be supported. We need to contribute to the creation of economic zones in Jordan and Lebanon and to the creation of reconstruction zones within Syria itself.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the EU maintained the right stance towards Turkey following the coup attempt?
N. KOTZIAS: There were some who hesitated to take Turkey's side in the battle against this coup. Some sides in the EU believed that there was only the battle against the military. The right stance was: immediate condemnation of the coup and support for policies for more democracy and Europeanisation.
JOURNALIST: What stance would you like to see the EU adopt on Turkey in the coming time?
N. KOTZIAS: A stance of principles and values. We cannot forget our principles in our dealings with third countries, but neither can we ignore the fact of whether they are implemented by third countries. The EU can't be two-faced about this. It can't make out that Turkey's accession to the EU is being negotiated while at the same time following a policy that is indifferent to the extent to which Turkey is being Europeanised -- through the thinking that, in any case, it won't become a member of the Union. I am a fan of clear explanations and implementation of everything that arises from these explanations. If we are interested in Turkey becoming a member of the EU, we have to see to it that it is rendered capable of becoming a member; we have to be strict and fair in the implementation of the criteria and prerequisites. Those who don't care whether these are implemented should stop pretending that they want Turkey in the EU. In any case, everyone should deal with Turkey based on principles and with respect.
JOURNALIST: Is Greece prepared to come forward with specific proposals -- proposals that have a chance of being accepted -- in the case of an international conference on the Cyprus problem?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece supports all of the efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. It supports -- without a second thought -- the choices of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. It supports a just and viable solution without the anachronistic system of guarantees or the presence of the occupation army. Cyprus is a member state of the UN and the EU. It is not in the process of being created, as it was in 1959-1960. It is no longer being judged, but instead now judges the accession, for example, of Turkey to the EU. So its international position has changed in the past 57 years. The system of guarantees that existed has been violated by many sides, and foremost by Turkey. It is, in fact, a protracted violation.
Greece has made and is making realistic proposals concerning issues on which it has the right to speak; that is, regarding the system of guarantees and the occupation. At the epicentre of our policy is that fact that all Cypriots have to be safeguarded, but not the rights of third countries. Anything but.
JOURNALIST: What do you think Turkey's priorities are with regard to the chapter on guarantees and security in the Cyprus issue? Is it a matter of substantial strategic security for our neighbour, or more a matter of prestige and rhetoric?
N. KOTZIAS: There are more than a few people in Turkey who would like to legitimise and perpetuate the country's military presence on the island of Cyprus. There are also more realistic forces. Turkey has to decide what it wants after all: the security of the Turkish Cypriots, or to secure its own geopolitical advantages. Regarding the security of the Turkish Cypriots, there will always be a good and creative compromise. Regarding Ankara's narrow interests, there won't. What we are pursuing is the resolution of the Cyprus problem. The definition of a real and genuine solution does not include Turkey's rights over the Republic of Cyprus. It includes provisions for Cyprus' cooperation with neighbouring countries and friendly relations. But third-party rights of intervention, in any case, are ruled out.
JOURNALIST: What messages are you getting from the international players regarding how they see the security framework following the solution? Are the U.S., Britain and the European powers prepared to insist to Ankara that the guarantees be eliminated?
N. KOTZIAS: The powers you mentioned want a solution to the Cyprus issue. For a different reason, they sometimes rush and forget that the quality and justness of a solution is not directly proportional to the speed at which it is sought. Our obligation is to point out and to highlight to everyone that a solution without the elimination of the anachronistic system of guarantees and with occupation troops not only isn't a solution, but in fact runs counter to the principles of the UN and of international and European law, of human rights and humanism. That these are not consistent with an independent sovereign nomocracy.
JOURNALIST: Is it feasible to have a framework of guarantees that contains an institutionalised role for Turkey -- as the Turkish Cypriots are reported to be pursuing -- but does not cause insecurity and a sense of threat for the Greek Cypriots.
N. KOTZIAS: Maintaining any form of anachronistic guarantees is an admission of failure to find a real solution to the Cyprus issue, because, following any such solution, there will be some parties who have need of outside guarantees. It is also an admission that the solution being sought does not have the Cypriots as its foremost criterion -- not even specifically the Turkish Cypriots -- but the geostrategic aspirations of third parties. Something on this order certainly doesn't create a sense of justice and security in any honest Cypriot. Don't forget that half of the Turkish Cypriots left the island during the years of the occupation.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the new rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is impacting the Cyprus problem?
N. KOTZIAS: I don't think that Turkish and Russian interests coincide with regard to the solution of the Cyprus issue. What I discern is that some persons in the west -- more royalist than the king -- rather than defending principles and values against a third party who violates them, claim that, from the west's perspective, the Turks' having illegal occupation forces on the island is preferable to the Russians' having a veto on Cyprus. A united Cyprus needs neither the one nor the other. The truth is, the presence of the occupation forces never contributed to the implementation of the principles for which NATO, as its express policy, claims it was created. Anything but. Everything that happened with the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus -- from whatever standpoint one looks at the issue -- comes into complete opposition with the principles proclaimed by the western world, international law, and European law and its value system. What's more, Russia has a veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and not due to some special agreement on the Cyprus issue. The use of the veto by members of the UN Security Council is possible as long as there hasn't been a just and definitive settlement of the Cyprus problem, which is first and foremost a problem of occupation.
JOURNALIST: And one last question: Won't a less isolated Turkey feel stronger at the table, in the face of any pressure from the permanent members of the Security Council?
N. KOTZIAS: In my life, I've learned that real negotiation can take place when the non-solution of a problem will have a cost for both sides. There are some who are pressuring only one side and want to exempt Turkey from any cost from the illegal occupation of a third state. Even by retroactively legitimising this occupation. So the issue isn't Turkey's general relations with a number of powers, but any tolerance or 'understanding' these powers show for Turkey's wrongdoings.
JOURNALIST: What did you think of the recent demonstrations outside the Greek embassy?
N. KOTZIAS: I was shocked that Cypriot political leaders demonstrated in front of the Greek embassy a few days ago. That even for a second they abandoned the common bulwark and forgot who is a friend of Cyprus today and who is not. Fortunately, the democratic Cypriot people distanced themselves from such actions.