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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, on Alpha Radio (1.12.2017)
JOURNALIST: Good morning, Mr. Kotzias.
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning to you, too. It’s afternoon here, of course. I’m in Korea. I have concluded my Asian tour, which had been on the pipeline for over a year. I have been to India, where we really did create a major new opening for the development of our relations. I went to Singapore, which is the centre for new technologies, new sciences and new financial systems, and where, for the first time, we are opening a new Embassy there. And today I am here in Korea. If you consider that covering these distances every day means seven-hour flights and two days of talks and negotiations, you can see that for five days we have been carrying out painstaking work, and I am surprised that some people are saying I left Greece, when I have obligations here that come before anything else. I would like to note that, last Thursday, I was to respond in Parliament to questions from the opposition, from Mr. Loverdos, specifically. He, though knowing I was in Athens and that I would be away this week and the next, opted to take a trip abroad, not a very substantial trip. And now, he criticizes me for taking a trip that has been scheduled for a year; a trip that brings Greece into direct contact with, and further develops our country’s relations with, the major technological centres of Singapore and Korea, and with an emerging power that I think will be one of the three major powers by 2040. In other words, we will have the U.S., China and India, plus the European Union – we’ll see where the EU stands at that time.
JOURNALIST: Let’s take them one at a time. India: What did the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs want to achieve in India? You’re looking ahead to 2040, but by then we’ll all be...
N. KOTZIAS: We 'll still be alive... Listen, amidst the crisis and through the capabilities and relations we developed with the People’s Republic of China, we 've succeeded in creating a strategic relationship with China and in defending our interests on the international stage, but also to develop our economic relations through major investments. This was also achieved through the engagement of relatively small, but very important, Greek technology companies in the Chinese technological programmes.
After the years of the crisis and after having ushered in recovery, we had to pick up from where we left off with India. We held a Joint Interministerial Committee meeting, which Mr. Katrougalos attended last year, to jump-start our economic relations. This year I brought with me a comprehensive strategy proposal that concerns cooperation between Universities and Research Centres, especially cooperation with the central and southern regions of India, where the development of new technologies is concentrated, as well as cooperation in sectors such as culture and others. Let me say this: if one wanted to describe today’s world and the major re-emerging powers, I would say that Russia is, in a sense, the world’s ‘petrol station’. China is the world’s ‘factory’, and India is the world’s ‘technology centre’. We, therefore, had to go to India to relaunch our relations. India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs will be visiting Greece this summer, so we can continue this discussion, and what’s more, India, which initially had reservations about joining our Ancient Civilizations Forum – a forum of civilizations that play a central role today – agreed to attend our next meeting, in the spring of 2018, in Bolivia.
This is a Greek initiative that lends us a global role – a role Greece deserves – in the field of culture.
JOURNALIST: Did you touch on tourism at all in India? The subject of tourism?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, you are absolutely right. The number of Indian visitors to Greece has grown from 20,000 to 30,000. The main reason we haven’t seen more growth is that there are no direct flights. We held an initial discussion that will lead to an agreement on developing direct air connections between Greece and one or two key cities in India. As you know, this promotes tourism and contact between our societies.
JOURNALIST: Yes, because we have wealthy Indians coming to Greece. More and more, and mainly to Santorini.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, there is a large upper-middle class. And, yes, it is true that the Chinese and Indians visit Santorini in particular to hold weddings, because they find the light, the natural environment and the people to be exceptional. What I want to say is, we have to consider powers like India in their strategic perspective. India will be the most populous country in the world in 2040, with a middle class numbering 300 to 400 million. Right now, it already numbers 200 million. If you bring 1% of that to Greece, that is two million wealthy tourists. From this standpoint, too, there is a clear need for us to develop our relations.
JOURNALIST: Let’s move on to Singapore, our next stop.
N. KOTZIAS: Singapore is the fastest-emerging small state in the world. Being the second-largest port in the world – Hong Kong is currently the largest – Singapore has managed to grow, despite its small geographical area – it is a little larger than Rhodes, but has a population of 6 million – to become a country where the average annual per capital income stands at nearly $50,000.
The country – whose population is mainly of Chinese origin (75%), but also Tamil, Indian, Malaysian, etc. – boasts formidable development not only of new technologies, but also – and this is what is interesting – of applications of these technologies. In other words, smart ideas. "Smart ideas for a smart city" is the moto of Singapore, which is the 21st century's Genoa or Venice. Singapore is today what Genoa and Venice were when city-state commercial capitalism was born. It has amazing success in the application of new technologies, in regulating a variety of arrangements to protect personal data and privacy, and they are also effective for the economy. It is considered a global model.
We visited technology centres. We agreed that a Greek delegation from the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction, under Olga Gerovasili, will visit Singapore early next year. We also agreed for them to come to Greece so that we can exchange knowledge on new technologies. We also talked about tourism. You should know, and this is interesting, we also met our honorary Consul - and exceptional person – that there are shipping offices in Singapore that are linked to the Greek economy. In addition, we also agreed to create a partnership scheme between the new tech start-ups in Greece and Singapore. In other words, we want to try to share in this new technology. In Singapore and India, we agreed to have an exchange of business forums, so that they can come to Greece and see the potential for cooperation and growth, and so that Greek entrepreneurs can go to Singapore and India. We developed some ideas here in Korea, where I am now, on cooperation between Greek and Korean enterprises, as well as cooperation with Singaporean enterprises in third countries, between construction companies or companies in the transport sector.
JOURNALIST: Greeks have stashed away a great deal of black money in Singapore, of course. Did you reach and inter-state agreement on exchange of information, or are you considering such an agreement?
N. KOTZIAS: That’s a very good question. We are opening an Embassy in Singapore early in 2018. Two diplomats and a commercial attaché are already there, and their duties will initially include judicial cooperation, and then cooperation on the matter you mentioned. We have to make judicial agreements to solve the many problems arising from the black money that has been stashed away in Singapore by Greeks and by certain companies that did business under the table through Singapore.
JOURNALIST: Is there concern in Korea? I would like a geostrategic analysis regarding North and South Korea. What is your take as a professor, not as a politician, the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
N. KOTZIAS: I think that North Korea is using ballistic missiles as a kind of weapon in both domestic and foreign policy. In domestic policy, this is to show that the regime is strong, that it is a major power. What they are essentially pursuing is recognition, from the U.S., as a nuclear power. But they are running this ballistic programme not just to maintain control of the domestic political landscape, but also to create certain fear reflexes in the society: "if foreign countries fear me, you, the citizens of North Korea, have even greater reason to fear me".
The first function of these ballistic missiles is domestic, in the two ways I mentioned. The second function concerns the international position of North Korea, which is always concerned that there may be foreign powers that want to overthrow its regime, it thus wants to “increase the cost” for these foreign powers.
And the third, which is crystal clear, is its effort to provoke third countries in a way that is not compatible with international law and the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.
I would like to say that, in a way, the policy adopted by the leadership of North Korea creates problems for Russian and Chinese foreign policy. Because China, which has very friendly relations with North Korea, and which lost 300,000 lives in the 1950s defending North Korea’s existence, has no reason to want – and does not want – North Korea to have missile systems; especially missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
First, because we are talking about nuclear weapons in foreign hands, and second, because what I imagine worries the Chinese is that, invoking the nuclear weapons North Korea might have – for the time being, it does not have nuclear weapons – the Japanese could return to a revisionist policy and would pursue nuclear technologies themselves. And the Japanese have the capability to do so. In other words, the Chinese are concerned at the potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons in the emerging region of Southeast Asia.
JOURNALIST: Is it true that Russia and China, first and foremost China, are not seeking U.S. involvement in the case of North Korea?
N. KOTZIAS: From what I know of their foreign policy, the Chinese want this situation to be resolved in the easiest possible way. That is, for the North Korean regime to start focusing on other issues and abandon these big plans.The Korean leadership, as I saw it, is concerned. They don’t see North Korea’s ability to fire missiles at the U.S. as a positive development. In other words, they see this as a provocation, rather than a show of real intentions. They have no desire, and this is their policy, to overthrow the North Korean regime. What they want is a peaceful resolution and a peaceful dialogue between the two sides.
JOURNALIST: Do you see a similar stance from the Americans? Or do you think things will change there?
N. KOTZIAS: The Americans are more rigid, I would say. I’ll give you an example: The South Korean leadership’s problem is the lack of channels for communication and consultation with North Korea. And – as they told me, and I find this understandable – they always fear an “accident” that might evolve into a real problem, an accident that could evolve into something bigger. And I can understand this, because, as you know and will remember, I believe that the worst scenario in Greek-Turkish relations is the absence of channels of communication and dialogue. I would much rather have the other side at the table and disagree with them than not be able to talk to them; the risk is that any incident – provocation – caused by a third party could have long-term repercussions for our bilateral relations. From what I gather, this is the South Korean leadership’s main concern. I met with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
JOURNALIST: All of this is very interesting. I’d like to ask a favour of you: that we pause briefly for the news, and then continue with Greek-Turkish relations and everything that is going on here with Saudi Arabia and the accusations being levelled against you.
JOURNALIST: We now return to Korea, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs is waiting for us patiently. He’s told us so many interesting things about India, Singapore and Korea. Remember, Russia is the ‘petrol station’, China is the ‘factory’, and India is the ‘technology centre’.
N. KOTZIAS: I will be travelling on from here to Budapest, where we are holding the first meeting of the four Balkan EU member states with the four Visegrad countries. A meeting on the future of Europe. This is an initiative I took in collaboration with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary. Eight mid-sized states will talk together, so that it won’t be just the powerful countries deciding for us.
JOURNALIST: You were the first person among the international relations expert community who, early on, stressed, that, beyond Erdogan and all the problems and irrespective of the way he runs his country and moves on the diplomatic chess board, –it benefits Greece to have good relations with Turkey and that Erdogan is not our worst case scenario; and that while Erdogan has been president or prime minister of Turkey, Greek-Turkish relations have not been at their worst. Would you still maintain this statement?
N. KOTZIAS: There hasn’t been an “accident”.
JOURNALIST: No, there hasn’t been an “accident”.
N. KOTZIAS: Certainly. That is the main thing. Over the past 25 days, since I returned from my visit to Turkey, with the exception of two days, Turkey’s movements over Greek territory, movements over areas that the Turks claim they don’t belong to us, weren’t very limited. On at least ten of these days, we didn’t have a single violation, for the first time in many, many years, and no one is pointing this out. Conversely, they did call me on one day when there were a high number of violations, to say, “Kotzias, what did you do about Turkey? Look at the high number of violations".
The fact is that for ten days there were no violations but no one considered this to be news, because it doesn’t fit in with their personal attacks on me.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think Erdogan’s visit to Greece is important?
N. KOTZIAS: The main thing for me is that we need to keep the channels of communication open and discuss our problems. Some people say to me: “But don’t we have problems with Turkey?” We certainly do, I respond. They say, “then we shouldn’t be talking to them.” But the mindset that says “you should isolate yourself politically from anyone you have a problem with” was Enver Hoxha’s mindset in Albania during the Cold War.
It isn’t a mindset for an era of open horizons and globalization. The best thing we can do is talk. Talk frankly. I have conversed a number of times with the Turkish president. He has told me his views, and I have responded diplomatically, when necessary, but also frankly, on the views he expresses and on which we have disagreements. And at the same time we are seeking ways to increase the contacts between the two countries and the two societies. I think it is a good thing that a million Turkish citizens spent their holidays in Greece this year. And I think it is a good thing for us to open up the Izmir-Thessaloniki route, so that Thessaloniki can develop further as an international port. It would also be a good thing to build a high-speed railway line between Istanbul and Thessaloniki, so as to connect us to the vast market to which Turkey is a gateway. We should build a second bridge in Evros. Projects that we have agreed on and that we will begin implementing next year. We aren’t hard headed. If a friend stands us up, we may stop talking to him. But this is about policy and our policy is one of responsibility; a policy that is not a product of weakness, but a product of responsibility.
JOURNALIST: It creates a certain restlessness...
N. KOTZIAS: ... open channels, no margin for “accidents”.
JOURNALIST: Minister, is Erdogan’s visit to Thrace creating certain concerns? Because during his last visit the Prime Minister talked about a Turkish minority. And things have changed there, you know. What is going to happen there in this case? Might the President of the Republic accompany him?
N. KOTZIAS: These matters are being arranged between our President’s office and President Erdogan’s team. I’ve been on the road for five days. I don’t know what details they have agreed on during this time. One thing is certain: Greece needs to develop Thrace economically and socially. To reintegrate women into social life, because they are very isolated, especially in the villages outside the cities.To reintegrate into the educational system the three groups of the Muslim minority – the Roma, the Pomaks and those who determine themselves as Greek citizens whose descent might be related to Turkey. We shouldn’t just surrender all these people to third parties. We shouldn’t treat them as if they were all the same. Above all, they are Greek citizens, and through the measures of the economic development policy for Thrace, we will ensure that they see their future in this region and in this country. In my opinion, in Thrace, from what we have seen, thousands of people left during the years of the great crisis to work in third countries, and not just villages, but also families, have been left deserted.
JOURNALIST: That’s very true.
N. KOTZIAS: Why do I say this? It is very clear that the President of Turkey will want to go to Thrace. And, myself, when I go to Istanbul, I visit the Patriarch. But if he goes – provided a visit is agreed upon – he will go in a way that, as I explained to him, doesn’t damage Greek-Turkish relations, because this trip has to benefit these relations. This visit shouldn’t damage Turkey’s image in Europe. His conduct and the agreements reached should be such as to also improve his image in Europe. It is up to him to make a decision, and I hope he makes the correct decision.
JOURNALIST: Do you think he was open to what you said on this?
N. KOTZIAS: I think Erdogan is smart. Some people don’t understand why I say he is smart, but they shouldn’t have the sense that Erdogan stops being a talented person, capable and smart, just because we have one issue or another with our neighbours. Erdogan is a great leader for his country, a leader who I think is going through a period of reflection. He has realised that he needs to show more rationality, reduce the restlessness his country is showing, including in foreign policy. We will see if this is the case of course; we will work in this direction but it is something that remains to be seen.
JOURNALIST: Now to our domestic issues. New Democracy is accusing you personally, saying that, in addition to the Prime Minister, Nikos Kotzias was involved in what they are calling the Saudi Arabia scandal. They refer to your maligning and exposing the Diplomatic Service and the fact that you aren’t giving all the evidence, all the documents, to the main opposition party. What Mr. Katrougalos showed them yesterday.
N. KOTZIAS: Let’s take things one by one, because you raised a number of issues.
First of all, I haven’t talked about any Greek diplomat publicly. Not a single one. And if they come out and say that I am maligning someone because I refuse to do something, it is wrong. Second. I have to confess the following: I was involved in a days-long negotiation with the Albanians, and when I finished I came across a Greek newspaper. And this Greek newspaper, "TA NEA", had published an email from a diplomat to a military officer. I had never come across this email, even though it was old, because it wasn't addressed, as it should have been, to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the competent Directorate and, by extension, to the minister. I was shocked. Five days later, I read the contents of a top secret despatch in another newspaper, PROTO THEMA.
A problem automatically emerged. What is the problem? It isn’t that the newspaper has the despatch and is publishing it, and it isn’t that such-and-such a politician got hold of it and put it in the newspaper. The question is very simple. What public servant takes classified documents – his own correspondence, in fact – or classified despatches to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and gives them to journalists and MPs? New Democracy pretends that my statements concern the rights of one MP or another, or the President of a party. But it is well known that, for three weeks now, a portion of the despatches they themselves submitted to Parliament had already been published in newspapers. And they avoid answering the fundamental question: can a Greek diplomat, a Greek military officer, a civil servant who has a classified document in his hands pass it on? Because you can’t tell me that some New Democracy or PASOK MP woke up one morning having seen a prophet of the Lord in his dreams, like in the Old Testament, when God tells Moses to go to the Mount to find the Ten Commandments. I don’t think the Lord told them to go forth and they would find these despatches in their path. The fact is, someone gave them the document. And the question is: does a public servant have the right to take it upon himself to make such documents public in newspapers; documents that damage our international relations? Certainly not.
Second: these documents that were published in newspapers – some of which have content calling for special handling – are sent by an employee and received only by the Minister. They don’t find their way into newspapers. Nor did the newspapers have them.
I have a question. I asked, and I said that the penal code does not allow these despatches to be passed out like flyers on the street. This takes us to 11 November. The debate in Parliament was postponed. These are New Democracy games. And I have asked them to respond. Do people have the right to sell, or for some other reason, I don’t know, I’m not a detective, to pass on classified despatches for publication in newspapers?
Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs have a duty to protect the public interest and keep these documents from being made public? Because, you know something? I have two further comments on this. If I were the ambassador of a third country that had poor relations with Greece and I saw all of these despatches circulating left and right, wouldn’t I laugh at the state of the country? I would certainly laugh and think that this country isn’t serious, because even the most classified despatches can be published in newspapers.
My second question: when we make these documents public, are we perhaps damaging our relations and our international image? Seriously, someone in this country must think more rationally, less in terms of party-politics and less selfishly and take seriously under consideration the need to defend the country’s international image and the trust certain countries have in us.
For example, suppose I have five despatches that are strongly critical of a third country in relation to this case. Does anyone think I need to satisfy someone’s curiosity? Does it benefit the country to publish these documents against this country while Greece has not decided about its stance towards this country?
JOURNALIST: Certainly not.
N. KOTZIAS: I want to be a serious person. I don’t go along with the whims of anyone who wants to air public documents at the wrong time and talk about them in order to cover up the major scandals that we know are behind their publication.
That is my duty as Minister of Foreign Affairs, whatever the personal cost in terms of the constant attacks being made on me.
JOURNALIST: What do your critics fear from you? What makes them attack you so relentlessly? Is it perhaps what the Prime Minister said, that you are an “old fox”?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me tell you something. I have sent 93 cases to the State Prosecutor. These cases I have sent to the Prosecutor, without making them public, involve many of my critics. So the first thing they fear is that real facts, and not just fabrications, might be revealed.
The second is that it is well known, even in the New Democracy lines, that the current government's foreign policy is multidimensional and proactive and has upgraded our country’s position, and no one denies this. I read an interview with the U.S. Ambassador today, and he says how much our country has been upgraded. This bothers some people, because it impacts the conservative lines even within New Democracy itself. And this is why it is perhaps no coincidence that New Democracy held a special meeting, saying they have to start attacking me with anything they can, real or fabricated. Let me remind you of the most recent fabrication.
The Mayor of Thessaloniki, Mr. Boutaris, said that he informed me he would be going to Skopje. He did inform me and he went to Skopje, and he characterized the country in his own way. New Democracy is reproaching me – with 20 MPs submitting a question for me in Parliament – for supposedly allowing Mr. Boutaris to say what he said in Skopje. What does New Democracy want from me? Do they want me to carry a hunting rifle and hinder the free expression of a public figure?
JOURNALIST: The problem is, New Democracy says you didn’t show them all the documents.
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll get to that. Another example, the Spanish Ambassador behaved in an astonishing manner towards our country. I took measures. New Democracy insulted me for the measures I took. It vilified me. Because it can’t stand the fact that we have an independent proactive foreign policy with dignity and consistency. And what happened three days after New Democracy came down on me? Spain issued a public apology.
The same thing happened when I brought back our Ambassador from Prague, when the Czech President insulted us. The Czech government also apologized. But for three days, until the apology came, New Democracy denigrated me. In other words, there is an evident lack of calm and restraint.
JOURNALIST: New Democracy says you aren’t showing them all the documents, that they can’t have access to all of them.
N. KOTZIAS: The documents the Prime Minister referred to without making them public; they came and saw them at the Ministry. But we have two instances of clowning here, sorry but I can’t find a better word. Mr. Loverdos showed up at the Ministry one day, at the wing where my office is located. He came, opened a door, found a junior diplomat who had nothing to do with the classified and "special handling" despatches, and asked him, “Where are the despatches?” The diplomat responded that he didn’t have competency on that issue, and what did Mr. Loverdos do? He went out and started making complaints against me. What was the reasonable thing to do? What he did afterwards, which was to phone the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was in Greece, because I was abroad, to arrange an appointment to go and read the documents. That’s what you would normally do, not just walk in any door you happen to find. It would be like my coming to ALPHA, opening the first door I come to, which is your storage clerk’s, and saying, “Are you Verykios?”, and his answering, “No, I’m not Verykios.” And then I start accusing Verykios of hiding from me. This is ridiculous. It isn’t a serious way to behave.
Second: There was a case in which two New Democracy MPs requested access to classified documents, and this was during Mr. Loverdos’ tenure at the Ministry. Question: Did he give them the documents? Answer: No. Why? Because the Minister of Foreign Affairs can’t give out classified documents. The law prohibits it. The law prohibits it and, as Mr. Katrougalos rightly pointed out, so do the Parliament's Standing Orders.
There is a procedure to all of this. And can I say something else? First we’ll find out who gave documents to whom, and then we’ll see what happens.
Second: I sent this whole case to the Ministry’s Inspector General, which is the preliminary investigation procedure, in the first week of September. I then sent it to sworn administrative inquiry and to the Prosecutor. Do you know what the law says? That in cases under sworn administrative inquiry and being investigated by the Prosecutor, I can’t make the relevant documents public. Things can’t be taken that lightly.
JOURNALIST: So the case has a long way to go.
N. KOTZIAS: Of course. They have been referred to the Prosecutor, they’re under sworn administrative inquiry, and that’s why I’m not saying anything about the personnel at my Ministry. The competent bodies will investigate all of this. It is a responsible stance.
JOURNALIST: Understood, Minister. Thank you very much. Have a good return trip to Europe and home, and we’ll see whether your assessments regarding Erdogan are borne out.
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll talk again, thank you.