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Foreign Minister’s Nikos Kotzias opening address to the Conference for Security & Stability (Rhodes, 8 September, 2016)
Thank you for accepting the invitation we extended to convene in Rhodes and discuss the issues of the Eastern Mediterranean, a region of war and peace, cooperation and confrontation, powerful dividing lines but also friendly ties.
Present in our meeting are Middle Eastern countries that are either in or contiguous to the Mediterranean Basin. They are the heart of the Arab world. The Mediterranean and the Arab world: theirs is a centuries-long marriage. We are also joined by SE European EU member-states and SE European EU candidates. Last but not least, the President of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, our dear Miroslav, is in attendance.
In essence, this is the very first meeting of SE European states and their Arab peers. The Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean share a geographic continuum where multiple problems, opportunities and potential ‘intersect’: refugees, trade, transport, economic migrants. We have a lot in common and there is ample scope for all that is connecting us to multiply and develop even more.
The stability of each state in the region reflects on us all. The security of each and every one of us is inseparate of the security of the rest. We live in a world of versatile interactions and interdependencies, a world where even a random event may have multiple repercussions on our people.
Interconnection and interdependence are cornerstones in the quest for common positions and joint solutions to problems in the region. They are, moreover, the pillars of initiatives aiming at actions to the benefit of all.
In our region, various powers with clashing agendas compete. Occasionally their interests might coincide with ours, but this is not always the case. What matters though, is not to predetermine our stance vis-à-vis them, but rather assess the stance of the others having in mind our common interests: to act based on interests and use these interests as a touchstone to assess the stance of others.
The level of Greece’s relations with the Arab world is the cornerstone of our cooperation. Historical relations, cultural relations, economic relations. Relations of trust that we do wish to grow into all of SE Europe.
What, in my opinion, is the primary good for our region? Peace. We must do all, our outmost, to have peace in the region. Still, peace requires stability. Stability depends greatly on the war against terrorism. He who wants peace must fight terrorism, stand up for what is humane, social, beneficial to the people of the region and promotes international cooperation.
Peace means terminating chaos in Libya. Toppling regimes without searching for substantial and just solutions for the day after, has proven anything but wise. We ought to help the Libyan government of national accord solidify power. Necessary precondition to this end, is to include everyone who is combating chaos and terrorism.
Peace means terminating war in Syria and Iraq. It means to agree on a peace treaty that allows local population to return home and build a prosperous future, full of expectations and hope for both themselves and their offspring. It means a broad and realistic reconstruction programme for those countries.
It means achieving stability in unstable areas and a peaceful, long-term solution to the Kurdish issue.
Peace means acknowledging the great work Jordan and Lebanon are doing in healing the consequences the war had upon huge part of the population. It means offering them economic support, especially on the part of the EU. The overall aim is not merely providing for the needs of refugee groups, but moreover, creating new economic structures, as well as agricultural, productive and industrial zones, to combat unemployment among those populations.
The world needs to show respect to these two countries for the way they handled refugee flows, and support them as they suffer the choices of others. And those who made these choices, ought to take full responsibility for their actions and assist these two states.
Environmental protection and security goes hand in hand with peace. The Mediterranean is practically a closed sea, with limited resistance to environmental pressure. We ought to jointly act and adopt rules and provisions to end the uncontrollable exploitation of our Sea by public and private entities. We should further contribute towards preserving the excellent Mediterranean climate and ensuring the best possible conditions for the survival of all species, be they marine or not.
Thus, I suggest that we take common actions, conduct research and produce green technologies to protect the marine environment but also energy production and transportation of conventional energy.
Critical to the stability and security in the region are the rest of the N. African countries and Egypt, in particular. The Gulf countries play an equally important role. In this day and age, stability is a prerequisite for consolidating human rights and meeting the needs of the young.
NE Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East constitute a single geostrategic whole and form a specific area that of the E. Mediterranean and its periphery. This is the place where great civilizations and some of the most important religions of the modern world were born. China apart, this is the place where science, arts, literature and trade were, more than anywhere else, developed for millennia on end.
Interwoven with the notion of safety in the Mediterranean, is EUMSS, The Maritime Security Strategy of the EU, based on UNCLOS, drafted during the Greek Presidency in June 2014 and implemented through the action plan the Italian Presidency worked out in December 2015.
Safety of transportation is a special issue for the wider region, coupled with developing a modern transport network. Just how real this issue is becomes indeed apparent through existing requirements for maritime security. 40% of the world’s energy reserves get shipped through the Mediterranean, its major maritime hubs and communication channels with routes comprising the Suez, Hormuz, and Aden, all the way to Gibraltar. Greece and Turkey in NATO’s SE flank and Cyprus as the southeastern-most country of the EU are both the limits and links to the two sub-systems, SE Europe and the Middle East. This is a region that can provide energy and diversify natural gas supply to Europe.
This region has given ample evidence to the fact that through synergies between different cultures and religions we may aim for greatness. Islam is not the enemy of the Christian faith, nor is Christianity the foe of Islam. Fanaticism is the enemy to any religion whatsoever, even the fanaticism of certain atheists. We all ought to contribute even further to the culture of coexistence between different religions and encourage interfaith dialogue. Therefore, anyone who so wishes, is welcome to assist in preparing the next, the second. International Conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East, as a follow-up to the first International Conference, convened in Athens, in October 2015.
It is my deep conviction, that our region’s religions are profoundly humanistic, inspired by great ideas and values, and that they cultivate principles. They can contribute to solving social problems and be a source of inspiration for a better future, and not of the destruction of today.
This is why I strongly believe and propose, that apart from alliances and bilateral cooperation within this region, we should come up with joint projects, actions and perspectives, that shall have a positive impact on us all.
Today, the Balkan countries are paying, through the refugee crisis, the toll for a war they are not parties to. We neither started this war, nor did we decide or wage it.
The refugees and economic migrants issue figures among the most critical ones of the 21st century. Millions of people are leaving their homes in search of better living conditions, many of them escaping to save their lives.
The biggest refugee population is now in Turkey, which is carrying a huge burden. The same goes for Lebanon and Jordan. It is imperative we all pitch in, to collectively support those two countries in receiving economic aid through the UN and EU, as well as create new economic infrastructure and industrial areas.
I suggest we put together a joint research and action team for the refugee crisis, to coordinate requests and practices in the region, so that we become the subject and not the object of international migration and refugee policies.
Migrants and refugees have needs that can only be met through growth.
I suggest that we improve coordination among our competent authorities, with a view to having cross-border programs proposed, approved and implemented. To work towards specific regional and broader, even global, cooperation. Let us come up with joint proposals, wherever possible, and submit them to the EU and the UN, especially as regards coping with humanitarian crisis.
I suggest, that those of us who are EU members, examine the possibility to promote joint action and plans through the European Union. Let us join forces and steer the Union towards actions and options that are in line with the spirit of our discussions and serve our shared objectives.
Our region is rich in raw materials, with plenty artisanal small enterprises and human resources. We must find a way to make full use of existing resources and attract more.
I suggest the enhancement of our cooperation all the way from universities and research centres, to finding new methods and ways for organizing production.
Such a strategic choice may be pursued by means of common regional and cross-border programmes, which can be designed, adopted and implemented with the help of the EU and other international organizations. We can and must restore economic and social networks between the two areas: energy grids and networks, oil, gas and transport. What is needed is major infrastructure to interconnect the two sides in our region.
Our region, as we are all aware of, is also witnessing the activity of other types of networks which often take advantage, in a rather unique manner, the new potential that the global economy and information systems offer. They are networks of smugglers and traffickers of terrorists, weapons and other explosives, people and organs, drugs and antiquities. Terrorism, above all, but also all forms of organized crime call for tough responses.
I suggest that our intelligence services work together, exchange information and resources and that our police forces undertake joint actions. We will have to figure out a better way for our countries to improve coordination to that end.
Terrorism, in particular, is the result of multiple socio-political problems in our region. Great nations still do not have a state of their own. I am actually referring, above all, to Palestine and the need to establish in the Middle East two states, living together in peace and security, respecting human dignity and diversity, Israel and Palestine.
Terrorism in our region has been associated with massive violence and extremist ideas. Actually today, in the globalization era, it found ways to spread across continents. The most worrisome fact is that even little children are involved. We are running the risk of an entire lost generation, swamped with lies, hatred, at an impasse.
I suggest that we find ways for the youth in the entire region to work together peacefully, to foster ties of friendship and cooperation, especially in the field of culture, sports and education. Let us look for such forms of regional cooperation in our two-day discussion and establish them with a long-term vision in mind.
In addition, we will need to develop joint capacities to communicate the message of cooperation and peace, to work on alternative actions to juxtapose hatred and violence.
We need to strike at the root of whatever it is that breeds religious, racial, nationalistic hatred and violence, to contribute towards achieving a balanced socio-economic growth.
Wars in the Middle East heightened the need to protect all cultural and religious communities within the region.
In our region often multicultural and/or multi-religious communities coexisted as an integral part of our reality, especially so in the Middle East. And no doubt those communities would have survived to this day, had there been no interventions and interference by countries that are now admonishing various states in the region, pointing the finger at them. Because even in those cases where there had been no institutions similar to, or as fully-fledged as those in the western democracy, communities were extroverted and respectful of diversity. And that should not be left to perish. Therefore, should you wish to, I urge you to join the International Observatory, established in the aftermath of the Conference in Athens, which works on those matters. It has already done a lot of work in view of the next conference, which is due in the autumn of 2017 and to which you are all invited to participate.
We subscribe fundamentally to a core idea suggesting that our region should not be seen solely through the lenses of the Middle East problem, but through its prospects and dynamics.
Proof of such dynamics may be found in what this region contributed, as cradle of civilizations, birthplace of the great monotheistic religions and home of democracy.
Problems in this region cannot be solved from the outside. Such attempts have always failed. Policies, the ownership of which belonged to the people themselves and which were compatible with institutions in our respective countries, were always crowned with success. Our own people and institutions should be the ones to encourage cooperation, dialogue, teamwork. They must be the ones making the choices. Choices that others, third parties, could help realize and promote, providing material and spiritual support. It cannot be the other way around.
This is why we object to interference in the internal affairs of states, for this often leads to tension and is why we want to promote a cooperative culture on all levels. Should this not be immediately feasible, let us establish cooperation networks and promptly proceed with confidence-building measures on multiple fields and sectors.
Our actions and the enhancement of our cooperation are based on International Law, the UN, the EU, existing cooperation among Arab countries and the institutions of this cooperation. Our driving force is the collective vision we can help create together for a stable and secure Eastern Mediterranean, a region of synergies and peace.
We do not need to discuss only problems and clashes and conflicts. What is important for us is to also talk about positive prospects, positive attitudes and cooperation; how we can deal with our future and shape our future. Which is why I suggest that our conference becomes a permanent institution for peace, security and dialogue for the entire region. Let it become the Rhodes Conference as of this year. Therefore, I would like to invite you to have another meeting next September, with the content of our positive cooperation. Our goal should be the establishment of networks and shared and common projects and programs. Even synergies and activities such as youth festivals or music festivals, motion pictures festivals, shared actions and activities undertaken by research centers or our universities, touching on the problems of this region, are very important elements that we can start discussing on this year. Let’s work on them throughout the year, so that next September we are better prepared to promote them.
Once again, let me extend my gratitude to my dear colleagues, and the representatives of States in the region. I am personally happy and satisfied to be joined by you. With most of you I share deep friendship and it is always a pleasure to work together with you and meet you yet again.
I am looking forward to a productive two-day event, and in the meantime let's get to know Rhodes, a hub, where our worlds come together. Thank you for your attention.