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Foreign Minister N. Kotzias’ interview with Ath. Ellis and Kathimerini daily (Sept. 25, 2016)
REPORTER: Where are we today with regard to Cyprus? Are we close, as it appears, to finding a solution?
Ν. KOTZIAS: The first four chapters have been negotiated and there has been agreement on many issues. Quite a few others are still open, such as the rotating presidency, and there are the issues of territory, guarantees and security that have yet to be thoroughly discussed between both sides. Nonetheless we have been testing out (for a long time) ideas on possible solutions or even compromise.
REPORTER: What is the position and the role of Greece?
Ν. KOTZIAS: On the chapter of security, Greece has a say, too. Personally, as of the very first time that I came over to the USA, on a visit, back in April 2015, I made it clear that we needed to put an end to the System of Guarantees as it is anachronistic. An effort is being made by both the Greek-Cypriots and us to create a system for cooperation and friendship, so that Cyprus may cooperate with the two, by now former, I would say, guarantor powers without them having any right to intervene.
REPORTER: What is the stance of Turkey?
Ν. KOTZIAS: At this point, Turkey is still in a thought-ripening process. I have had many meetings with Mr. Çavuşoğlu, during which we discussed this topic. We have not come to an agreement yet. At the meeting with President Erdogan, here in New York City, we said we would meet again soon to discuss it further. I have drafted a long document on those issues, which the Cypriot government is also aware of and we have agreed it will be the basis on which we shall proceed.
REPORTER: Obviously, Turkish troops must leave. Will it happen immediately? Or will it happen over time?
Ν. KOTZIAS: Turkish occupation troops will have to leave. It is absolutely obvious, and from a practical point of view they cannot go overnight. Yet, what the Cypriot President is pursuing -with the full support of Greece- is to have most of the troops ready to go the day after, as the Turkish-Cypriots will be reaping immediate benefits from the unification and evolution of the Republic of Cyprus, whereas the same does not apply and still needs to be ensured for the Greek-Cypriots, and that in turn involves the withdrawal of occupation troops, the return of territory and overall agreeing on the core issues. Therefore, most of the troops must go immediately and, subsequently, there will be a retreat procedure unfolding over reasonable time, within a deadline.
REPORTER: Will there be a small number left?
Ν. KOTZIAS: No, there will be none left.
REPORTER: How many are bound to remain over a certain period of time and how long will that be?
Ν. KOTZIAS: This is subject to negotiation by the Cypriot government: the main idea is to have most troops leave on day one and the rest over a period of time, to show that no more occupation troops are left in Cyprus.
REPORTER: You met with Vice-President Biden. What about the role of the United States?
Ν. KOTZIAS: The Americans would be pleased to see an end to the juxtaposition of Greece and Turkey over to the Cyprus issue. That is their primary concern. Then, they wish for a compromise solution to the problem. In the US Establishment and the Administration there are many positive views about Cyprus, and there are others that are not so positive and which are being appropriately addressed.
REPORTER: What did you talk about with Mr. Erdoğan, as to the refugee issue?
Ν. KOTZIAS: The Prime Minister talked with Mr. Erdoğan about certain parameters that have emerged while dealing with the refugee issue and need to be handled. The two leaders assigned us, Foreign Ministers, to work on them.
REPORTER: Which particular points are we talking about?
Ν. KOTZIAS: They are relevant to refugees for whom there is not enough room on the islands and due care for them must be provided by the Greek side. Also those who will not be granted asylum and will have to be returned to Turkey.
REPORTER: Greece is in favour of visa-free access for Turkish citizens as long as Turkey upholds its commitments.
Ν. KOTZIAS: We want what has been agreed upon to materialise, i.e. what Turkey has committed to with regard to controls and refugee returns and what Europe has promised on financing and the visa regime.
REPORTER: Have they so far failed to deliver to the extent they should?
Ν. ΚΟΤΖΙΑΣ: There are certain member-states which would like to see the agreement fall through, especially due to the second segment, and thus what Greece and Turkey, but also the European institutions, must make sure of, is that the agreement is being implemented.
REPORTER: Did you discuss Greek-Turkish relations and differences?
Ν. KOTZIAS: Discussion on Greek-Turkish affairs was limited. There is a communication channel between the two Ministries, in which Mr. Sinirioglu, the former Deputy Minister who is now the Ambassador of Turkey to the UN, had an important role to play and we are currently waiting for the other side to appoint his successor to go ahead with fact-finding, contacts, confidence-building measures and dialogue at the level of ministries.
REPORTER: Did the representatives of Jewish organizations that you met raise the issue of the trilateral cooperation with Palestine?
Ν. KOTZIAS: No, they were not interested in that. It was not brought up. We want to establish a new regional security architecture for S.E. Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is in this context that we have put in place, in conjunction with Cyprus, trilateral arrangements with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and now Palestine, i.e. all players in the region, thus acting as a vehicle for understanding and working together with everyone in the Eastern Mediterranean. Secondly, we hosted a meeting in Rhodes, on September 8-9, among six European and six Arab countries, to inaugurate a cooperative structure. Third, we aspire to formulating an overall positive, not a negative, cooperation agenda, encompassing a wide range of issues. You know, whenever there is talk of the Middle East in bilateral meetings and multilateral forums, there is always mention of conflict and warfare. We are opting to rather move towards a positive agenda consisting of cooperation items, be they cultural, economic, educational and so on. Fourth, there is the proposal I made two weeks ago at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Potsdam, where I suggested that, just as we did when we came up with a security structure for Europe during the Cold War, and decisions were made in Helsinki on the Accords that eventually led us to the setting-up of the OSCE, today we ought to be looking into a similar security setup for the Eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, we took the initiative to have the GC9, an alliance of the oldest civilizations of the world that are still playing a role as we speak. In this framework we are planning a meeting in Athens, at the end of the year, whith the participation of Iraq, Iran, China, India, Italy, Egypt, Mexico and Bolivia.
REPORTER: By way of conclusion, and since we are in the USA, to what extent is the outcome of the US election expected to affect Greece?
Ν. KOTZIAS: What I make sure of is to establish communication channels with everyone. This is imperative for our national interests and it is exactly what I do. Given that point of view, I capitalized on my presence here, in New York, and met with people from the teams of both H. Clinton and D. Trump. The latter are not really sought after by many foreigners, which in my opionion is wrong. They were all appreciative of our interest to see them. You know, Greece draws no benefits from siding with one or the other. No matter who wins, I believe we will still be in a position to work together with the new Administration effectivly.
REPORTER: Will there be mobility as concerns Skopje? You saw Mr. Poposki.
Ν. KOTZIAS: Yes, I saw my counterpart, Nicola Poposki. I expect that, after the end of the electoral process on December 11, many sides will definitely be urging for a solution to the "name issue". As a result, after the elections, this issue will have to be subject to deliberations between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and not be left over to third parties, and certainly always with the aid of mediator Matthew Nimetz.
REPORTER: Are your Confidence-Building Measures initiatives bringing us somewhat closer to finding a solution?
Ν. KOTZIAS: We will see. CBMs have really helped a certain false image of Greece in Skopje deconstruct, one suggesting that we supposedly wanted that state to disintegrate and dissolve. We believe it is good that FYROM exists and we want it to survive. This is, after all, the reason I exercised the right to veto during the discussion the EU was having on possible sanctions.
REPORTER: Do the neighbours understand that?
Ν. KOTZIAS: Like I said, the CBMs have contributed to that end. The problem is that the godfather of this state made a mistake with its name.
REPORTER: What sort of support did the Prime Minister ask Vice-President Biden for as to the debt?
Ν. KOTZIAS: There has to be an end to the policy of austerity which is keeping the debt ratio elevated and is the source of problems for the Greek society. Problems leading to an impasse not only our own economy but that of Europe, as a whole. As far as this is concerned, the Americans, whose economy is the biggest in the world, are very supportive and believe the Greek debt has to be adjusted in a way to make it sustainable. This is a view they not only subscribe to in private, they also hold and promote it in public.
REPORTER: Are they willing to exercise their influence on certain partners?
Ν. KOTZIAS: The Americans are trying to influence their partners but, as you know, this is a time when allies and partners are not always heeding the United States, and that must be taken into account by Greece in its foreign policy.