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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, following their meeting in Athens (4 March 2016)
N. KOTZIAS: Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to have here with us today the Turkish delegation, headed by my friend the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
I welcome him to Athens and I hope we will have other opportunities in the future to have these types of meetings: creative, open and sincere talks.
We and our government, as well as Greece as a whole, are in favor of the development, often in the midst of difficulties, of Greek-Turkish relations, based on good neighbourliness and international law.
To the degree that they can, Greece and Turkey will resolve their problems, will constitute a strong stabilizing factor in the region.
Obviously, we discussed the upcoming meetings; that is, the Summit Meeting this Monday, in Brussels, at which the European Union and Turkey will discuss the refugee crisis, and of course the High-Level Cooperation Council between Greece and Turkey, which will take place in Izmir on 8 March – World Women’s Day, as you know, and I hope no one forgets to honor that day.
Mevlut and I discussed the issues in the relations between Turkey and the EU, the experiences we have from the European Union, the problems the European Union is facing, as well as the agreement on NATO assistance in dealing with the refugee issue.
We are talking with Turkey – especially to the degree that it concerns us, of course – about the external aspect of the Cyprus issue, which concerns the guarantors of the Zurich and London agreements, the guarantor powers. We want a solution to be found on the Cyprus issue that corresponds to the hopes, the tribulations and the prospects of both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots, so that they can all feel at home and secure in a sovereign, independent, federal, bicommunal, bizonal state.
Together with the Cyprus issue – the solution of which problem will also bolster Greek-Turkish relations – we are talking about and talked about the course of the exploratory talks. As you know, this past Tuesday we had the 60th round of these talks, and we exchanged thoughts and proposals on issues that are the subject of the exploratory talks.
Naturally, the major problems of our region were discussed at this meeting. More specifically, the problems linked to the war in Syria, to the war in Iraq, and to the situation in Libya.
We hope and desire that countries with a different geographical position will stop the wars so there can be peace, and so the root of the new refugee problem we are facing can be dealt with. Naturally, we talked about the regions and countries with major negative repercussions from the war and the refugee crisis. I am referring in particular to Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the major issues our country and Turkey are facing due to the refugee crisis.
We agreed that the refugee crisis is not a Turkish issue, is not a Greek issue; nor can it be limited to Greek-Turkish relations. It is a global issue, in its European expression, that concerns the whole of Europe and, of course, has left its mark on Greece and Turkey.
We also talked about cooperation issues. That is, we also talked about the problems that exist in our relations and the way to solve those problems, but we talked much more about the positive aspects, the ways in which we can develop the relations between the two countries.
We talked about the cooperation that will be the subject of the Council in Izmir on Tuesday. We looked at the agreements there were in the past. Some of these have gone into implementation – from the previous three Councils – but some require that we do better work so they can be implemented.
Our cooperation concerns many, many sectors. First of all, we are aware of the major development in tourism, with a million Turks coming to Greece and 700,000 Greeks – proportionately more – going to Turkey.
We have the major plans of energy cooperation, which are expressed, first of all, in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the vertical corridor that we agreed on recently, with the competent Minister, Panos Skourletis, signing with Bulgaria and Romania.
We talked about how we can develop investments on both sides and the reverse the trend that, due to the economic crisis in Greece and the international problems, has limited trade between the two countries. That is, how we can collaborate in the manufacturing sector.
And there are issues that we will discuss in greater depth on Monday, like the refugee issue. And we made preparations that are not necessary for the press, but are necessary for our delegations on Monday.
And we also made preparations that will be expressed positively and, I hope, with success on Tuesday, with regard to our cooperation in the sectors of economic policy, joint economic plans. And of these I would like to mention two plans that I consider to be of extreme importance, as you know that I am a fan of developing the connectivity networks of the states in the region.
There is the plan for a high-speed train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki and, if we can, to Igoumenitsa. And there is the plan for linking Izmir with Thessaloniki by ferry, which will facilitate the transport of persons and merchandise.
Connectivity in general, with energy, trains, roads throughout the Balkans and throughout the region, and particularly with Turkey, is a network that facilitates stability and security, cooperation and mutual understanding in our region.
I must say that, on issues on which we have differences, as well as on issues on which we are working hard, jointly, to develop, our talks are always friendly, taking place within the framework of concern for seeking solutions. And that is why I think that Mevlut’s presence here today, at our Ministry and in Athens, assists the development of Greek-Turkish relations.
He is very tired, but he put up with us, because he was on a tour with the Turkish President, with Mr. Erdogan, of four African countries. Their construction firms are doing better than ours, and thus they have projects there. And he returned in the early morning hours today from that long trip, and I want to thank him in particular for his patience, after such a trip, in coming here so we could have our talks. These are friendly talks, and that is why, once again, Mevlut, welcome to Athens. It is a pleasure for us to have you here and talk, as we should talk, about the relations between our two states and peoples. Thank you very much.
Μ. CAVUSOGLU: My dear friend Nikos, I thank you very much for what you said, for your very kind invitation, for the wonderful hospitality. I want to thank you personally and on behalf of the whole delegation. It was very pleasant for us to come to Athens today, and I must say that I am always happy to talk to you, to see you.
In this regard, I want to say that it is a pleasure and a success for me to have the opportunity to talk with my friend Nikos. Normally, this visit would have started this morning, but due to the trip we took with the Turkish President, to African countries, we returned to Turkey this morning, and this delayed our arrival in Greece.
Subsequently, we will have talks and a meeting with the President of the Hellenic Republic and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Before we get to the refugee issue, I would also like to say that our visit to Africa was not just for opening up new fields of activity for Turkish construction firms, for construction firms. We have a broad framework and field of activity in Africa, including the humanitarian aid we can provide to these countries.
I will also say that, in the talks with the Greek Foreign Minister, we discussed various bilateral and international issues. We reexamined the agenda for this Tuesday’s High-Level Council in Izmir, but before that we will also meet again in Brussels, on Monday, 7 March.
Regarding bilateral cooperation, let me say that we talked about and agreed that it does not suffice to sign various agreements at the High-level Councils – these agreements have to be implemented.
We also talked about projects that will further boost the economic, trade and real connection of the peoples of the two countries, like the high-speed rail line linking Istanbul with Thessaloniki, like the line that will link Izmir and Thessaloniki by ferry and will be serviced with freight-type vessels.
On the energy level, each has his vision, his dream. We concluded that the most realistic of these are the TAP and the TANAP, and we agreed that the acceleration of the TANAP project will also help in the development and acceleration of the TAP. We believe that the various issues that exist on both sides should be settled.
Regarding the Cyprus issue and the energy deposits that will be exploited by Cyprus, Israel and, potentially, Egypt, Turkey proposes that it be the transit territory for these energy deposits, natural gas, etc.
Naturally we know, and we said this again in our one-on-one meeting, that there are differences and problems that need to be resolved in Greek-Turkish relations. However, it is very, very positive that the proceedings of the committees are continuing for the exploratory talks, a round of which took place this past Tuesday. Both sides believe that we need to avoid any intervention, any statement that will cause the climate that exists between Greece and Turkey to deteriorate.
The two sides also agreed that on the issue of the settlement of the Cyprus problem there are matters on which Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey have a say, as guarantor powers. But the first say goes to the Cypriot people, the two communities. And I think that the solution to the Cyprus issue must be an acceptable and viable solution, because this solution will be put to a referendum that needs to have a positive result. Both Greece and Turkey, but mainly the two sides in Cyprus, should conclude on solutions that can be accepted by the two communities. I know that my friend Nikos, representing Greece, is making a huge effort in this area.
We also talked in detail about – and we will continue to discuss – the issues being faced in the wider region, like those of Syria and Iraq. We believe that these issues concern not only Turkey and Greece. They are issues of global, and not just European, scope.
However, the repercussions on a humanitarian level are huge, and they are being experience by Greece and Turkey. We need to look at what we, as Turkey, and you, as Greece, can do, and at what we can do in cooperation with the European union.
There is a joint action plan that was decided on at the end of November. As Nikos said earlier, the refugee issue is not Turkish or Greek. Our issue is how we will resolve it, how this huge influx, this refugee and humanitarian crisis, will be resolved.
Each side must take its measures. We have taken specific measures on the issue of visas from third countries, and we saw that the results of this new legislation are very, very positive with regard to the flow of refugees through Turkey.
Of course, we support and will always support the NATO forces operating in the Aegean to assist with this refugee crisis.
We also assess our bilateral relations on a regular basis, especially in the context of the exploratory talks. We are aware, and we reiterate once again, that Greece is the neighbour of Turkey with which Turkey wants to cooperate, and we must capitalize on every opportunity to deepen the existing cooperation framework.
We have to make this framework even more effective. Of course, there are also issues that directly concern the European Union. The European Union, too, is facing its own internal problems.
My friend Nikos is a politician whom I truly value. He is a politician and a thinker who questions assumptions and presents issues from another perspective, and this is a stance that I very much value.
As such, I had the opportunity and the good fortune to hear him analyze, if only briefly, the issue of the European Union and the issue of the global state of affairs. I think that Monday’s meeting in Brussels and our meeting on Tuesday, in Izmir, will further contribute to bilateral relations.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Foreign Minister of Turkey, I would like to ask this: In the framework of the cooperation and assistance of Turkey in dealing with the refugee problem, will the agreement that exists with Greece and the European Union on the readmission of irregular migrants be activated and implemented?
And the second question, as you referred to the improvement of relations and the climate of trust that must exist between the two countries: I would like to ask how Turkey will contribute when, almost daily, we have violations of Greek airspace, even within the zone of six nautical miles, and when, just a month ago, on the island of Kinaros, in the heart of the Aegean, on the occasion of the crash of a Greek helicopter, which cost the lives of three officers, Turkey wanted to carry out the search and rescue. If you don’t know where Kinaros is, I could give you an idea: It would be like Greece wanting to carry out a search and rescue operation at Canakkale or Mugla. Thank you.
M. CAVUSOGLU: Thank you very much. We have a readmission agreement that we signed with Greece and Bulgaria and with other countries of the European Union. And we are making preparations to sign additional readmission agreements.
We have accepted a large portion of the requests submitted by the Greek side to Turkey for readmission, and we have also amended a legislative framework on this issue, and we have the results of this. I think there were 860 requests for readmission from the Greek side to Turkey, and 99% have been accepted. That is, almost all of them have been carried out.
Regarding third-country applicants for asylum, we are trying and we have started working towards a number of agreements with third countries for readmission. These countries include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco. And I believe that in the coming time we will have the opportunity to implement these readmission agreements, which are progressing very well and will be signed very soon.
Of course, there is also the humanitarian aspect of the Turkish contribution to the refugee problem, like the camps we have built close to the border with Syria and where the Syrians can stay, the large number of Syrian refugees.
Of course, the second issue is the issue of violations of airspace. I refer to what I said in my speech; that is, the existing legal disagreements between the two countries.
However, I would like to underscore the following: On issues of humanitarian aid and on issues of cooperation in the sector of humanitarian aid, we do not exploit human misery for political gains. And this has been proven in the past.
When Turkey was hit by the natural disasters, the earthquakes, the first to assist Turkey were its neighbours, the Greeks. I want to say that the issues with a humanitarian dimension should not be confused with political or legal issues. The issue of “which is your island, which is mine,” when it is a rescue matter, we raise no issues there.
And I think that we should separate very carefully the humanitarian and political dimensions of the issues we are facing. As such, in this framework, too, we are determined to continue our talks in this spirit.
N. KOTZIAS: I would like to say that the battle against the refugee problem – and not against the refugees; there are some in our country who confuse this: it is one thing to deal with a problem and another to deal with souls who need help – in this battle, what we agreed with the Minister is that there needs to be a major, systematic effort to combat the new networks that have been set up, traffickers, mafia structures, of which the turnover is currently estimated to be €6 billion.
The refugee problem got tangled up in illegal business as well. And this also requires special handling and cooperation.
With regard to the problems in the Aegean, the exploratory talks are being carried out precisely for this purpose. So we can agree on how to overcome these problems. Greece is not a revisionist power. Greece believes in good neighbourly relations and the implementation of international law.
JOURNALIST: I am from Edirne, and I have interviewed the Minister. My question concerns the Cyprus issue. In the talks on the Cyprus issue, I would like to ask you how you assess the progress that has been made on this issue. Are you optimistic? I would like to hear your opinion, Your Excellency Mr. Minister.
N. KOTZIAS: I have the bad habit, when I am being interviewed, of also interviewing my interviewer. I, too, ask questions, because I believe that the great wealth in life is to get to know people. This is the most important thing – more important than money or power. It is people and getting to know them well.
But because there was to be a meeting between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey in Edirne, regarding the waters of the Evros river – a meeting that Bulgaria could not attend and that did not take place in the end – we had a conversation beforehand with my colleague Mevlut, that I know a journalist who is from Edirne, and there you are, in the front row. Thus the comment.
As I also say in interviews that I give in the Turkish press, who are kind enough to request interviews frequently, the question is not whether I am optimistic or not. The question is that we have to work in such a way as to be optimistic. That is, optimism arises from our contribution to resolving issues.
As you know, we, Greece, don’t get involved in the internal aspect of the Cyprus issue, because that is an issue of the Republic of Cyprus, it is an issue of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. We talk, with regard to the negotiations on the Cyprus issue, on issues linked to our capacity as a member state of the European union and as a guarantor power, together with Turkey and the UK on this. You know my position: that we consider this system to be anachronistic, that the byproducts of this system must be abolished. These are issues that we discuss with Mevlut very frequently – much more frequently than is apparent from the news cycle.
Because, you know, foreign policy is not a space of public relations. Nor is it a space in which to make a show of whether we are working or not. It is a space that also requires silence and calm and composure and the shaping of good relations that we have between people, so that we can, with trust between them, contribute to the resolution of issues.
Now, whether progress has been made. I think, as far as I can tell and have the right, that in many aspects that concern the Cyprus issue, internal aspects, the two sides have made progress and there are a number of convergences that can facilitate a comprehensive agreement.
The Cyprus issue – because these have been discussed, or are going to be discussed – is coming to the major issues. The territorial, economic aspect of the solution of the problem; governance, guarantees, presence of foreign troops – the more difficult issues are coming, but the preparation that has been made on the other issues is good.
And what Mevlut said – which we agree on – is that the solution must be considered fair and acceptable for both sides, for both of the communities of Cyprus, as well as for the three small minorities, as I tend to underscore. The Maronite, Latin and Armenian minorities. Small communities, but existing communities. They too have their rights.
The solution must be such that both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots, and all of the others, feel that it is their home, that it is worth defending it, developing it; that they can dream, that their children will stay, grow up, prosper, as we say in Greece, on this island. Both communities must have a sense of security, and any sense of fear – deriving from many historical factors that we won’t go into right now – must be eliminated. I have spoken publicly about these from time to time. Last year, for the first time, coming from the UN, I talked about these issues.
What I want to say, once again, is that our role is to help with a proper solution, based on international law, universal human values, the choices made by the Cypriots themselves.
We have taken steps forward. We need to find the way to resolve the most difficult issues. The conversation we are having justifies one in feeling that one has the right to create optimism for a good solution.
Thank you very much.