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Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias’, interview on ERT 1’s “Morning Zone,” (28.09.2017)
JOURNALIST: I think it’s time for us to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to speak with Minster of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, who is doing us the honour of joining us here on ERT-1 to answer our questions.
Hello, Mr. Kotzias
JOURNALIST: Good morning.
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning, Ms. Kasimati. Good morning, Mr. Siafakas.
JOURNALIST: Minister, we don’t know where to begin. With the trip to the U.S. or from what’s coming in Turkey? Let’s start with your trip to the U.S., where you said, following your talks with the UN Secretary-General, that these meetings pointed up the major upgrading of Greece and Greek foreign policy.
How did these meetings show this, Minister? We‘ve always had meetings. What is the result?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, let me thank you for remembering my words precisely, because it is rare today, in Greece, for people to quote accurately what I have said.
Second, there is a big difference: Up until two years ago, when Greece went to the UN it asked for a large number of appointments and meetings. This year, we did not request any meetings, because we had three times the number of requests we could satisfy from other states. This alone shows the difference and how the country is upgrading. In other words, it is one thing to seek interlocutors and another not to be able to meet all the requests for meetings.
Third, I would say that it was very interesting that we had a number of meetings that were not bilateral, but multilateral; trilateral and quadrilateral. For example, we had a meeting in a new configuration, Croatia-Romania-Bulgaria-Greece, which is a cooperation configuration of the EU member states of Southeast Europe. A configuration that did not exist in the past, and whose decisions are very, very interesting. We have decided, for example, that the four of us will go together, headed by me, to visit Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we will continue this throughout the Balkans.
These are new forms of cooperation. And I am not referring to the trilateral configurations, which have gone from one, in the past, to five. We also had the second meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in the Ancient Civilizations Forum, which includes countries from China to Peru and Bolivia. A Forum, a Conference, that gives us a global role, and, as you know, it is one of the 15 international organizations we developed during the two and a half years I have been at the Ministry.
Moreover, I think that, in terms of international recognition, one can also take into account the awards I received from global organizations. That is, the World Jewish Congress and the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations.
All of these constitute a self-evident upgrading of our country’s presence.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Kotzias, our country is undertaking -this may already by under way, that’s why I’m asking- a role as bridge between East and West, North and South. We see the alliance of the South. We see the trilateral cooperations you mentioned, we see the communication with China. Does Greece have such a role, and can it play this role with success?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece has a multidimensional role. And the multidimensional role means that, as a state of the European Union, it is at the same time the bridge, as you rightly said, and the mediator with the emerging economies and new powers of the 21st century.
Moreover, through our multilateral initiatives, the quadrilateral and trilateral configurations we have developed -five trilateral configurations and three quadrilateral configurations- we have managed to create platforms for geopolitical, geostrategic equilibrium in our region, and to develop, to the benefit of our people, economic relations with all of these countries.
I think that Greece’s role is that of a state with a long history, and there’s recognition of this long history. For example, it is no coincidence that the Chinese see us as their only brotherly people. The see themselves as the centre of Asian culture, and us as the centre of the the culture of the western world.
And we are using all of our country’s qualities in this multidimensional foreign policy of ours. Rather than a foreign policy making worse the crisis-related pressures on our country, it constitutes a mainspring for upgrading the country, its geopolitical and geostrategic role, and for strengthening the country in all the other sectors.
JOURNALIST: Let’s go to Greek-Turkish relations. I would like to ask you, Minister, what stage and level are Greek-Turkish relations at as we speak? We know about the meeting with Mr. Cavusoglu on 24 October, but in the recent past we have seen Turkey intensely disputing things, even to the point of disputing the Treaty of Lausanne.
At what level are the Greek-Turkish relations?
N. KOTZIAS: Greek-Turkish relations are good, but they aren’t as good as we would like them to be. We want a European Turkey, because a European Turkey would mean great gains for Greece. A democratic, europeanized Turkey. We know the road is long. I have explained to my Turkish colleagues that Turkey’s European perspective does not depend so much on Greece as on the Turks themselves. Do they want to democratize their country? Do they want to Europeanize it? These are questions for them to answer. Our economic relations are excellent. The development of tourism, with the problems that arose this week with the islands presented ...
JOURNALIST: The ban as of 12 October.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, due to the fines imposed, even if the fines are provided for by European law. Apart from this, the economic development of our relations is progressing well.
What’s not progressing so well is the use of the channels of communication concerning the negotiations on the confidence-building measures, especially in the military sector, on confidence-building measures in the economic sector, on the exploratory talks for the implementation of international law throughout the Aegean, and so on. We are having difficulties on this. And I think that these difficulties have to do with the fact that, in Turkey, there is -I say this as a professor, and not as minister- revisionism, an inclination not to accept international law in its entirety. But they cannot escape this net. It isn’t easy.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Mr. Erdogan has already started celebrating the result of the German elections. He says a government will not be formed. We are seeing an escalation in German-Turkish relations. You are preparing for your trip...
N. KOTZIAS: Escalation of tensions in their relations.
JOURNALIST: Exactly. You are preparing for your trip to Turkey on 24 October.
N. KOTZIAS: Certainly.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that, as Greece, we need to seek, to proceed with another way of communicating with Turkey?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, let me say that when two neighbouring countries don’t develop their diplomatic relations, the potential for tensions increases. It isn’t ruled out. Rather than being ruled out, potential for tensions increases. And the analysis we have carried out at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that Turkey is a restless power. In other words, a power rife with contradictions, with its personnel between arrogance, sometimes, and the restlessness of fear and insecurity as regards the developments.
JOURNALIST: Could this revisionism and restlessness lead to an Imia-type incident in the Aegean?
N. KOTZIAS: If we don’t develop our diplomatic relations and make the channels of communication better than they were in the past, there is always the possibility of an accident or mistake. I want stress that the large majority of Turkish pilots are either pilots coming out of their schools without experience, or older pilots returning to service. These people lack recent experience and can also react restlessly. It isn’t just the state that is restless. This is why we are telling the Turks that they have to stop these provocations, not just because they violate international law, but also because those who are violating international law are relatively inexperienced, or, if they have experience, this experience is from long ago, and they can easily end up making a mistake or causing an accident. And we have to be serious.
JOURNALIST: Are we prepared -and serious enough, as you said- to deal with these provocations? On the level of composure and on the level of immediate reaction.
N. KOTZIAS: As you have observed, there is no provocation from Turkey -and I mean on a military, mainly air force and navy, level- that does not receive its appropriate response. What we are doing as diplomats is being diplomats; that is, showing composure and patience. Because I, too, on a personal level, am often provoked by the Turkish side through various statements. Perhaps there are people who would like to see us swear at each other every day, but, you know, state relations states require that one of the two sides be more serious than the other. I have taken on this role.
JOURNALIST: Minister, at the beginning of this interview you talked about the upgrading of Greek foreign policy. Nevertheless, the UN’s response on the Cyprus issue is “reflection”. There also continue to be pending matters on the Skopje issue.
N. KOTZIAS: The upgrading of foreign policy doesn’t mean that the UN cannot go through a phase of reflection. But, regarding the Cyprus issue, I would say that it is a major success of Greek foreign policy that the issue of security and guarantees is, at long last, on the table, where it belongs. We stopped discussing the Cyprus problem solely as a problem of the views of the Turkish Cypriot community, and we framed it in its essence. What is the essence of the Cyprus problem? The occupation. The illegal occupation.
It is of great interest that the UN has accepted that there cannot be a settlement of the Cyprus problem that includes guarantees and rights of intervention. Personally, I am very pleased and satisfied that the UN Secretary-General accepted my wording and my proposals, even the wording that Cyprus must become a “normal state”.
What surprises me is that those who are attacking Greek foreign policy are invoking the positions of the UN Secretary-General, as if these positions fell from the sky after 50 years of not existing. These positive positions of the UN are the result of Greek foreign policy and Greece’s upgraded negotiating power.
Regarding your questions on Skopje, we will wait for the elections on 15 October. If there is a second round, then on 22 October.
JOURNALIST: The local elections.
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. The government itself will have to assess whether it is strengthened or weakened, and depending on the result, the government in Skopje will have to demonstrate whether it wants and can carry out substantial negotiations on the name issue.
Let me say this: Hiding within the name issue is the problem of irredentism. I hope and believe that they will take measures to limit irredentism. For example, we agreed in New York -with the very interesting Minister of Foreign Affairs of our neighbouring country, Nikola Dimitrov- to have a joint Committee starting on November, for four months -I hope it functions and completes its task- which will peruse the school books so as to root out irredentism and the maps that exist therein. This is an important step we’ve already taken. And we are negotiating many other steps.
JOURNALIST: As you raised a number of issues, and Ms. Kasimati raised them as well, I would like to ask whether the Cyprus process is alive. Whether we can say that.
N. KOTZIAS: On the Cyprus problem, I stated from the outset, in a letter addressed to Mr. Eide and to Secretary-General Guterres, that it has to be an “open-ended” process. This is why the process didn’t shut down after Geneva. And this is why, in spite of everything the Turks and Turkish Cypriots said following Switzerland, the UN considers the process open. But right now there needs to be, let’s say in the third phase, much better preparation, especially with regard to the Turkish positions.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Anastasiades said this.
N. KOTZIAS: I asked for this, as you will remember, in November 2016 and ahead of the two previous conferences. And I believe this is a success for us: that everyone now accepts that we can’t go unprepared.
JOURNALIST: So you are saying that the process is open. Regarding the Skopje issue, I would like to ask whether the Bucharest decision from 2008 is still in effect: that if they don’t resolve the name issue, they don’t join the European Union, they don’t join NATO.
N. KOTZIAS: Our friendly neighbouring country -as I say, since our peoples have very friendly relations- cannot join international organizations of this type, like NATO or the European Union, without the name issue’s having first been resolved, as dictated by the agreements of the 1990s, the Interim Accord.
The weakness of the Interim Accord was that it assumed the name issue would be resolved quickly, and that is why it provided for our neighbouring country’s joining international organizations and did not provide for -and this is one of its weaknesses- the measures to be taken if our neighbouring country does not negotiate in substance. Because over these decades it hasn’t negotiated.
JOURNALIST: We read in the press that “Vardar Macedonia” might be a proposal from Athens. Is such a proposal on the table?
N. KOTZIAS: From our part, we haven’t put proposals on the table, in a manner that would make them the subject of articles in the press. Whatever anyone writes, they write it in their journalistic assessment.
JOURNALIST: I also want to ask about Albania, where we have seen, and are seeing still, the violation of the human rights of the minority. I’m referring to northern Epirus region and the property of the people there.
N. KOTZIAS: The Greek National Minority is under the great protection of the Hellenic Republic, and right now it is also under the protection of the European Union and even of the U.S.
As you will know, Albania is a candidate for membership in the European Union. Unfortunately, as with our northern neighbour, Skopje, these candidacies were granted unconditionally by previous governments. But in order for the negotiations to open, certain conditions have to be met.
In Albania, the European Commission set the reform of the judicial system as a prerequisite. The European Commission came to the Council of Ministers, and this view was defeated, because we added another four prerequisites.
These four key priorities include the combating of organized crime, which concerns southern Albania and all the drug money circulating in Albania. And we have said that the protection of minority rights is also required. And I made this clear again at the UN, and it was immediately understood by all sides, that this Hoxha “reform” -that you are part of the minority only if you are in one of two regions, but if you leave your village and go to Tirana, you are not part of the minority- is against European law. The minority must be recognized throughout Albania, wherever members of the minority are.
We also introduced as a criterion for Albania’s accession to the European Union the protection of the property of people who have small and medium-sized property holdings. And this combination means protection of the minority’s property.
Let me explain what the problem is there: In the 1940s, these properties were nationalized. When the Hoxha regime fell and they were again privatized, deeds of ownership were not granted.
Greece is fighting for the granting of deeds of ownership, for securing the right of those who want to sell, or for property to be expropriated due to real, and not ostensible, needs, so that the owners can receive payment.
Because what we have isn’t just that they are taking the property of the Himariots; they take this property without paying for it, without financial recompense. Consequently, we have taken measures and we have the support of international players, and, as you have seen, these demolitions have stopped.
We also took certain strict measures. For example, politicians who do not respect the rights of the Greek National Minority cannot hold Greek citizenship. Oddly enough -I don’t know what previous governments did- various people whom you wouldn’t expect to hold Greek citizenship do in fact have Greek citizenship, including the Mayor of Himarë, who is promoting these plans.
As you know, we stripped him of his citizenship. Because, you cannot be a Greek national, an Albanian national and violate the rights of the Greek minority. These are unprecedented situations I found, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in my area of responsibility.
JOURNALIST: Will you tell us about the Prime Minister’s trip to the U.S., whether preparations are under way?
N. KOTZIAS: We are in the process of discussion with the Americans, and by the end of next week we will know the precise date for the Prime Minister’s trip.
I will be making a second trip to the U.S., as I have been invited to give the annual lecture at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University.
JOURNALIST: When is that?
N. KOTZIAS: On 17 October. On 16 October I will give a speech at Harvard, and then I have a meeting at the National Security Council in Washington. If the dates happen to coincide, the Prime Minister’s visit takes precedence.
JOURNALIST: There are efforts to meet with Mr. Trump as well?
N. KOTZIAS: The Prime Minister will travel to the U.S. only to meet with Mr. Trump. I mean, he will meet with other people, but only if he is going to see Mr. Trump.
JOURNALIST: That is the main thing.
JOURNALIST: That’s what’s most important.
N. KOTZIAS: We’ll see the dates.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it will take place in October?
N. KOTZIAS: We are exploring dates.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: Have a good and patriotic day.