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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, with journalist V. Skouris in Sunday’s “Real News” (17 December 2017)
JOURNALIST: What moves are you expecting Tayyip Erdogan to make to justify his visit to Athens and impart momentum to Greek-Turkish relations?
N. KOTZIAS: The visit itself helped to set Greek-Turkish relations within a more systematic framework, because difficulties had arisen due to the whole situation in Turkey following the attempted coup. A number of agreements beneficial to both countries were concluded. There is one more side to this. A few days ago I was in Korea. I asked the leadership there what their biggest problem is with North Korea, and their answer, which impressed me, was, “the lack of communication.” In difficult situations, channels of communication are the ‘alpha and omega’ for keeping a mistake or an accident from leading to a deterioration in relations.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us a few examples of the agreements that were reached?
N. KOTZIAS: The Erdogan visit had direct results, and there is no need for us to justify it in hindsight. We agreed on the date for the G2G meeting in Thessaloniki, as well as on the preparatory meetings on all levels, and many meetings were held leading up to the visit itself. We agreed to reopen the exploratory talks. The way to handle the formulation of military ‘confidence-building’ measures. An interesting agreement was reached on the migration issue, which may help us relieve the crowding on the islands. We agreed on the joint promotion of major projects and development of the transport networks between the two countries. And we agreed to develop cooperation between universities and research centres, and many other things that the opposition chooses to ignore so that it talk nonsense.
JOURNALIST: Will the Treaty of Lausanne be revised? Is Greece discussing the possibility of amendments to some points of the Treaty? And why do you think Ankara persists in this stance?
N. KOTZIAS: I think we saw Mr. Erdogan make an interesting adaptation to his position in the course of his visit. From revision to updating. I think he has the eastern side of Turkey more in mind when he thinks about these issues. What interests me is that, for the first time, the Turkish President officially stated that Turkey makes no claims on Greek territory.
JOURNALIST: What is your response to Tayyip Erdogan’s asking that the Muslims of Western Thrace be allowed to elect their chief mufti? Can the Turkish President pose as the guarantor of the minority’s rights?
N. KOTZIAS: The Prime Minister made it clear, once again, to the Turkish President – who accepted this – that the members of the Muslim minority are Muslim Greeks. We are taking a number of social and economic measures that will improve the lives of the Greeks of Thrace – Christians and Muslims – as well as the organization of the muftis. More specifically with regard to the latter, Turkish diplomacy is making proposals regarding the Greek muftis, but it has no say in the matter. It proposes the promotion of something that doesn’t even happen in Turkey itself, while its own muftis do not perform judicial duties. As the Turkish President admitted during the talks, he expressed a “request” and not a political position.
JOURNALIST: Some people wonder why every Turkish official visits Thrace?
N. KOTZIAS: I think it would be totally pointless to prohibit someone from visiting Thrace. It would show weakness and fear. We don’t have such feelings, and our policy has self-confidence and a perspective for the region. What happened under New Democracy didn’t happen to us. Under New Democracy, Erdogan made four speeches, while it had been agreed there would be none, and nor were his wanderings in Komotini, accompanied by thousands of people, agreed upon, with the result that his itinerary was delayed by four hours.
JOURNALIST: The talks with Skopje have started again. What are the requirements for a successful outcome, Minister? Is there any chance Greece will accept fYROM’s joining NATO under its provisional name?
N. KOTZIAS: On 6 December we had a discussion in NATO on the Alliance’s relations with the Western Balkan states. What I told my colleagues is that they shouldn’t create the impression that fYROM can join NATO –assuming fYROM wants to join– without a culture of compromise and consensus, without complying with NATO’s decisions regarding fYROM. That by telling Skopje what it wants to hear, some people are keeping fYROM from promptly realising the truth.
JOURNALIST: Under what conditions might there be a package solution with Albania, and when?
N. KOTZIAS: We need to be honest with one another; I am. We need to really mean what we say; I do. To not look back at yesterday or only at the domestic climate; to look to tomorrow and consider the international political stage. In January, we will meet in Korçë, and I hope we will continue the positive steps we have been taking for some time now; steps that picked up a lot of momentum at the meeting in Crete.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we can delimit the EEZs with Egypt, Italy and Albania within 2018?
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll see. I hope we can, and we are working in that direction. But it isn’t up us alone. It depends on third countries, their external environs and their domestic tensions. We certainly have to be serious, sober and patient, resolute and well prepared.
JOURNALIST: When should the Cyprus talks resume, in your opinion? On what basis and timeframe?
N. KOTZIAS: Only if the conditions we set in November 2016 are met. Many ignored those conditions, but we were proved right. During the preparations for Erdogan’s visit to Greece, there were positive steps in one direction, because we agreed that the necessary discussions have to take place before we go to a new conference.
JOURNALIST: The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) persists in saying there is a risk of war in the region, and that Greece might be involved. Do you agree with this view?
N. KOTZIAS: There is instability and insecurity in our region. Our foreign policy is designed to foster peace and stability. My old comrades have been questioning this for three years. They say we don’t go where we go with these goals in mind, but to “promote war the investments of the bourgeoisie.” I think they overestimate and are in awe of Greece’s bourgeoisie. If we had a bourgeoisie that could make investments in dozens of countries, we wouldn’t have the kind of capitalism we have today.
JOURNALIST: What concerns you, Minister, ahead of the talks on the changes in the eurozone?
N. KOTZIAS: That we are discussing one change or another, that we support one specific proposal or another, but we aren’t looking at the main issue: the fact that the eurozone and its institutional system are a parallel system outside the treaties. It took us fifty years to implement the steps for the democratization of the EU, and then monetary policy and related matters were set outside this relatively democratized system. The European Parliament does not even participate in eurozone procedures. So, the main thing is for the eurozone to be placed in the framework of the treaties, with control and initiatives from the European Parliament and with equality among the member states. That is why, I think, Greece’s recent initiative for discussion of such issues jointly with nine other EU member states was a great initiative.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Panos Kammenos is “clean” in the munitions sales case? And if so, why don’t you accept New Democracy’s proposal that an investigation committee be set up?
N. KOTZIAS: New Democracy employed its usual tactics: it fabricates a non-existent case, it bases it on a source that proved to be on the ‘outside’ of things but close to New Democracy itself. It did the same thing with the Erdogan visit. Before the visit even started, New Democracy, Pasok and the extreme right, led by the ex-king, discovered it was a failure. When they had discovered the non-existent scandal and the non-existent failure – and they still haven’t explained why it was a failure – they started assigning blame. But when cases are non-existent, what is the point of assigning blame?
JOURNALIST: The opposition also accuses you personally of compromising the country’s interests, insisting that munitions were supplied to ISIS terrorists ...
N. KOTZIAS: New Democracy would do well to stop thinking of foreign policy as the rehashing of the various kinds of falsehoods published in the pro-New Democracy media. Let me remind you of the cases of the Czech Republic and Spain. These countries apologized to us, and New Democracy denigrated us for taking measures. Was it hearing things when it came to the results of Tsipras’ trip to the U.S., but when its own officials went to talk to low-ranking officials at the U.S. Department of State ... silence? New Democracy’s foreign policy is one of irresponsibility. It practices foreign policy with its head in the sand, or, more accurately, in the mud of domestic politics. Regarding Daesh, you are referring to a case that dates back to 2012-2014, so it’s up to them tell us if it’s true or not.
JOURNALIST: The New Democracy Conference comes to a close today. How do you characterize it as a political party?
N. KOTZIAS: It is a right-wing party with extreme-right pitchmen. Today, unlike other times, it does not think or reflect on itself enough. Of course this doesn’t go for all of its ranks. But it is the dominant trend. A trend that did not incorporate any positive characteristics the popular Right might have had.
JOURNALIST: And the Movement for Change? What do you think of the initial indications since Fofi Gennimata took the reins?
N. KOTZIAS: They have to decide on exactly what they want to be. An offshoot of New Democracy? Servants to interests? Exponents of popular interests? They need to decide whom they will side with and whom they will leave behind. Right now, the dominant discourse they are putting out is that of the old professional politicians and the fellow travellers of New Democracy, of the people of yesterday, who think they are the “new thing”. I was surprised that, in the recent debate on foreign policy, their parliamentary spokesperson went along with many of Golden Dawn’s positions.
JOURNALIST: Do you see similarities between them?
N. KOTZIAS: I have observed that on foreign policy they often put forward the same baseless arguments. Their goal is to undermine the acceptance our foreign policy has found with the vast majority of the Greek people. Their problem is that the personal attacks on me and their lies cannot make up for the absence of substance in their foreign policy. What concerns me is that I see that the main opposition party, lacking a plan or programme, is holding up the new isolationism and inertia as the highest of principles. As for the term new patriotism, which they have been using of late, it is a term that I introduced into the conversation in the 1990s, but with substantial content, not hot air.