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Statements of Foreign Minister Droutsas and his Israeli counterpart, Mr. Liberman, following their meeting

Thursday, 13 January 2011

proto_thema/liberman120111_m.jpg Main points

Mr. Droutsas:
· “The two Prime Ministers, Messrs. Papandreou and Netanyahu, conferred by telephone and decided to impart even greater depth to our bilateral relations, to strengthen them institutionally, as well. So a Cooperation Council will be formed with the participation of many Ministers from both sides, and Avigdor and I have undertaken to coordinate this effort and the first meeting, which will take place within the next three months.”

· “Ministerial agencies and others have already carried out good preparation. I think the range, the potential and the sectors for cooperation are very many, indeed. Just as an indication, I will mention economic cooperation, possible Israeli investments here in Greece, as well as the sectors of tourism, culture. Already, last summer, we saw a spectacular rise in the number of Israeli tourists visiting Greece. I think this is a sector in which we can collaborate very substantially. But there is also the agricultural development sector, the hi-tech sector, in which Israel plays a pioneering role, and Greece can benefit greatly from cooperation in this area. And of course there is the sector of energy, in many forms.”

· “I will never tire of reiterating, at every opportunity, our desire for a just, viable and comprehensive solution to be found on the Palestinian question; a solution based, as we all know, on the existence of two independent states that will coexist in peace and security in the region. It is true that we, too, are concerned at the impasse the peace process is currently at. We believe that all sides need to give impetus to this process so that the dialogue can continue. This is imperative, but it is also imperative that the sides desist from unilateral actions that undermine this prospect.”

Mr. Liberman:
· “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Greece again for all its invaluable help during the wildfires in Israel. There is not a single Israeli citizen who does not acknowledge the great assistance provided by the Hellenic Air Force in putting out those fires.”

· “We are also aware of and lay emphasis on the relations Greece has with the other countries in the region, and I will be very happy if Greece can do even more to strengthen Israel’s relations with neighbouring countries.”

· “The strengthening of economic relations is without doubt a challenge for the coming year. We are also aware of and lay emphasis on the relations Greece has with the other countries in the region, and I will be very happy if Greece can do even more to strengthen Israel’s relations with neighbouring countries. I also aim during this visit to discuss bilateral issues concerning climate change, energy and issues that concern the environment in general.”

Complete transcript of statements (translation)

Mr. Droutsas: I want to extend a warm welcome to Athens today to the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, Mr. Avigdor Liberman. You already know that exchanges of visits with Israel have become more frequent over the past year, and this is not by chance – it is the result of our mutual will to upgrade our relations in every sector.

Last night, as you will have already learned, the two Prime Ministers, Messrs. Papandreou and Netanyahu, conferred by telephone and decided to impart even greater depth to our bilateral relations, to strengthen them institutionally, as well. So a Cooperation Council will be formed with the participation of many Ministers from both sides, and Avigdor and I have undertaken to coordinate this effort and the first meeting, which will take place within the next three months.

This gives me the opportunity to say once again – and I want to stress this – that our closer cooperation with the state of Israel will bring multiple benefits, not just for our two peoples, but for all of the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and the whole region.

Allow me to give an example of this approach. All of us were moved by the recent catastrophic wildfires in Israel that even cost human lives. We have had similar bitter experiences, and so we thought it our duty to send help to put out the fires quickly and limit the disastrous consequences.

So I believe that it will be very beneficial if we expand our cooperation in the area of prevention and containment of natural disasters on a regional level, and that is why we proposed an initiative, a Greek initiative, for the creation of a rapid reaction force to deal with disasters in the future, with the cooperation of the other states in the region.

The two Prime Ministers discussed the plan yesterday, and today we will talk more about the first steps for substantial progress in carrying through this initiative.

As you know, developments in this region are of particular interest to Greece. As I stress at every opportunity, this is Greece’s immediate neighbourhood. And last October I had the opportunity to see this first hand, talking to all the leaders in the region. I found, with great satisfaction, that Greece is present everywhere and can have a constructive role and say. That is why I announced at that time my intention of appointing a Greek special envoy to the region, and, dear Avigdor, allow me to say that Ambassador Nikolaidis, who has taken on the role of Greece’s Special Envoy to the region, has long diplomatic experience and has my complete confidence.

With these thoughts, I once again welcome Mr. Liberman to Athens, and we will have to opportunity to talk in detail afterwards, together with our associates. Once again, Avigdor, welcome to Athens.

Mr. Liberman: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. I am very happy to be visiting Greece. I think this is our sixth meeting over the past year, not including our many telephone conversations. I am happy to be part of this tightening of relations between our two countries, the high points of which have been Mr. Papandreou’s visit to Israel and Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Greece.

Both of us are, of course, very satisfied, very happy, and we state that we will continue our efforts and work to bring the two countries even closer together, to bring about the tightening of relations between the two countries.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Greece again for all its invaluable help during the wildfires in Israel. There is not a single Israeli citizen who does not acknowledge the great assistance provided by the Hellenic Air Force in putting out those fires.

I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Minister, in particular, and the Greek government for everything they have done recently, which we have seen in general in the region for peacemaking and good neighbourliness.

On a practical level, as well, our cooperation has been very smooth. We have seen an increase in tourist flows recently, to high levels, and I would also like to welcome the cooperation and closer relations between our Ministries. The cooperation between the two Foreign Ministries of our countries is very important, and I welcome it in particular.

We agreed on the creation of various committees and groups that will visit the two countries in turn. I hope that in the near future there will be many more visits from the Ministers of Culture, Trade, Industry and other productive Ministries.
The strengthening of economic relations is without doubt a challenge for the coming year. We are also aware of and lay emphasis on the relations Greece has with the other countries in the region, and I will be very happy if Greece can do even more to strengthen Israel’s relations with neighbouring countries.

I also aim during this visit to discuss bilateral issues concerning climate change, energy and issues that concern the environment in general.

At the same time, we want to further develop the thoughts of the two Prime Ministers regarding the creation of joint teams for confronting natural disasters.

I thank you very much, and I hope for a productive continuation of our cooperation. Thank you.

Mr. Delavekouras: There will be two questions. Mr. Papathanasiou.

Mr. Papathanasiou: [off microphone – question concerning deepening of bilateral relations within the framework of the high-level cooperation council]

Mr. Liberman: We hope to have the first meeting within the next three months, as a government. Regarding your second question, in general I would say that this concerns the economic issue. These are issues that we have to look at, that we have to explore so that we can have a more informed view. I take this opportunity to say that it is in everyone’s interest, and we want to begin economic cooperation with Greece as soon as possible.

Mr. Droutsas: Let me add, too, that from what the two Prime Ministers said yesterday on the phone, the first meeting will take place soon, as Mr. Liberman said, within the next three months. The first meeting will likely be in Israel. That was the spirit of yesterday’s phone call, and these are issues that we will discuss today, as well as issues concerning sectors for cooperation.

Ministerial agencies and others have already carried out good preparation. I think the range, the potential and the sectors for cooperation are very many, indeed. Just as an indication, I will mention economic cooperation, possible Israeli investments here in Greece, as well as the sectors of tourism, culture.

Already, last summer, we saw a spectacular rise in the number of Israeli tourists visiting Greece. I think this is a sector in which we can collaborate very substantially. But there is also the agricultural development sector, the hi-tech sector, in which Israel plays a pioneering role, and Greece can benefit greatly from cooperation in this area.

And of course there is the sector of energy, in many forms. But these are issues that we will look at in depth during our meeting today with Mr. Liberman, and then we will prepare the first meeting of this institutional organ that we have decided to set up.

Mr. Delavekouras: Ms. Poulidou.

Ms. Poulidou:
[off microphone – question concerning the tightening of bilateral relations at a time when Israel is coming in for criticism from the international community]

Mr. Droutsas: I will never tire of reiterating, at every opportunity, our desire for a just, viable and comprehensive solution to be found on the Palestinian question; a solution based, as we all know, on the existence of two independent states that will coexist in peace and security in the region.

It is true that we, too, are concerned at the impasse the peace process is currently at. We believe that all sides need to give impetus to this process so that the dialogue can continue. This is imperative, but it is also imperative that the sides desist from unilateral actions that undermine this prospect; actions like the one you mentioned. These things shouldn’t happen, and in the end it is not in the interest of Israel itself; the results aren’t legitimate.

I want to say – and this is perfectly reasonable – that our positions do not always coincide completely on all the issues. But the aim of our discussions, including today’s, is to speak openly and sincerely about all the issues – even ones on which we have diverging views.

And allow me to stress one last thing, because this question comes up a lot. Greece has the trust of the Arab world and of Israel. I think that this cooperation we are developing with Israel shows the confidence being built between the two countries. I think there are few countries that can claim to have relations of trust throughout the region.

I think this is due to the fact that Greece has consistently followed a policy of principles, and it is precisely this that is Greece’s added value in the region: the Greek presence in the region, Greece’s contribution – especially right now, given the situation in the Middle East.

Mr. Delavekouras: Thank you.

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