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Speech of FM Ms. Bakoyannis to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,
The year that has just begun is a year of challenges and opportunities for our country’s foreign policy.
Our pursuit: To meet the former and capitalize on the latter in the best possible manner.
This task will be neither simple nor easy.
We are being called upon to act in an international environment that is particularly unstable. The reasons for this include:
· The global economic recession that will undoubtedly impact the external conduct of states.
· The instability in the area of energy security, the repercussions of which many European countries and neighbours of ours recently got a taste of.
· The deterioration of the already problematic security and stability situation in the Middle East.
· The extremely fragile equilibrium in the Caucasus region.
· The ongoing institutional uncertainty in the European Union, due to the serious pending matter of the Lisbon Treaty.
· The continuing need to confront major common challenges, such as climate change, international terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons, growing illegal migration.
An additional critical parameter that will impact international developments is the policy that U.S. President Obama’s administration follows.
We should note that the first critical decisions and actions of the new American president come up to the expectations created by his visionary and at the same time realistic and resolute political discourse.
I am referring in particular to his immediate action with regard to the Middle East issue, which – in the wake of the recent tragic and dangerous developments in Gaza and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in general – requires vigilance and urgent attention from the international community.
The situation in Gaza remains extremely fragile. We do not yet have a truce agreement between the immediately involved parties. Rather, we have a peculiar situation of two unilateral ceasefire decisions that might be overturned at any time.
The humanitarian situation is still tragic – an exceedingly urgent situation. The flow of international humanitarian aid is problematic because the crossing points into Gaza remain for the most part closed.
The combination of insecurity, misery, pain and anger is – unfortunately – fertile ground for cultivating extremist views and behaviour.
It makes inter-Palestinian reconciliation even more difficult to achieve; reconciliation that the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas believe in and are pursuing.
The disparity of approaches to the crisis that we see in the Arab world makes the situation even more complicated. This, in turn, unavoidably impacts the prospects for the reopening of the stalled peace process that began 14 months ago – in November 2007 – in Annapolis.
In this exceedingly complex environment of crisis and multiple conflicting interests inside and outside the Middle East, Greece – as a neighbouring country and member of the EU – is following a consistent and active policy.
A policy of substantial assistance in the efforts, on the one hand, to confront the crisis and, on the other, to shape the conditions that would breathe new life into the prospects for peace in the region. I want to stress that this can be achieved only based on the co-existence of two independent and secure states – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state.
Our traditional relations of friendship with the Arab world; consistent, sincere and constructive cooperation with Israel; the fact that as a country we have no special interest beyond stability and peace; and, of course, our significant presence in the region – whether through the UNIFIL mission, or our rapid response with significant humanitarian aid for Gaza, or our economic and business presence – have combined to have Greece accepted as a trusted collocutor with its own special weight in the Middle East.
In view of the consultations at the recent EU General Affairs Council, I met with the Foreign Ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan. Immediately following the GAERC, the Foreign Minister of Iraq and Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran visited Athens.
At these meeting – and all the talks and meetings with my European counterparts – I had the opportunity to stress the basic parameters of the Greek stance:
1. The first priority – a matter of great weight – is immediate progress in confronting the humanitarian tragedy being played out in Gaza. I am sincerely dismayed – and this is something I underscored at the GAERC – that more real, substantial steps have not yet been achieved in this direction. Unfortunately, our requests did not meet with the response we expected.
2. The ending of isolation and the opening of border crossing points is of paramount importance so that we can ensure the smooth flow of humanitarian aid from the international community. The proposals Egypt submitted on this matter provide a firm basis for a speedy solution.
3. But no international aid and support will suffice, by itself, to heal – soon – the deep wounds left by the recent crisis. Without reconciliation and the unity of the Palestinian people, the major problems being faced today will remain unsolved. Reconciliation and unity is an urgent political imperative for progress in the peace process.
4. The Palestinian Authority and President Abbas believe this. That is why they must have the full and tangible support of the EU as well as more generally.
5. Opening lines of communication and the provision of necessities is, as I said, the top priority and need. At the same time, the problem of tunnels – which is of particular importance with regard to the general security environment in the region – must be confronted in an effective manner.
6. The efforts must move ahead without delay to rebuild Gaza, where, as you know, great damage has been done to infrastructure.
7. The EU should have a decisive role in the Middle East. The EU is facing a two-fold challenge. On the one hand, to contribute to specific actions and policies for healing the wounds left throughout the region by the recent conflict. And, on the other hand, to take action to avert additional delay in the peace process, lest inertia set in. It is encouraging that the new U.S. administration has already sent clear messages of interest in the progress of this effort.
Beyond the discussions on the Middle East, these meetings gave us the opportunity to carefully examine the prospects for our bilateral relations with the states of the region. We emphasise the promotion of economic cooperation.
This purpose will be served by the opening in Arbil, in northern Iraq, of a Greek Economic and Commercial Affairs Office, with the prospect of its evolving into a full Consular Mission.
Our decision to avoid a one-dimensional – entrenched, I would say – Greek foreign policy that addresses only issues of immediate, purely Greek interest is irreversible.
It is based on the profound conviction that in the modern world of interdependence, interaction and imperative cooperation, states that conduct themselves as isolated islands in the ocean of international developments cannot effectively serve even their own interests and aspirations.
It is in this spirit that we are approaching the challenge of our country’s Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
We are determined and committed to make every possible effort to convert this challenge into a real opportunity for Greek diplomacy and, by extension, the country.
We already have a very good foundation of know-how in taking on international roles and duties: our four EU presidencies, our successful two-year term on the UN Security Council. We also have a worthy and highly professional diplomatic force that allows us to look forward to a successful OSCE Chairmanship, despite the many and extremely thorny problems we are being called upon to handle.
We will do this – we are already doing this – as an active, cautious and consistent honest broker.
As the Chairmanship, we have already submitted a comprehensive three-point proposal for the quickest possible resolution of the important problem of the OSCE’s presence in Georgia and the region of South Ossetia.
It is a practical proposal that at the same time respects the various positions of principle of the main interested parties. The first reactions encouraged us to continue the intensive effort to bridge positions and build convergence.
This is an extremely difficult endeavour, because the positions of each side – following the crisis in Georgia last August – have completely different points of departure.
On my recent visit to Moscow, I had the opportunity to discuss our proposal in detail with my Russian counterpart, Mr. Lavrov. Soon – some time in February – I will be visiting Tbilisi.
On another issue of particular humanitarian importance, we had our first positive results as the Chairmanship.
I am referring to the major problem of supplying natural gas to the area of South Ossetia via a pipeline coming from Tbilisi. Our intensive activity, which was favourably received, contributed decisively to the problem’s having been resolved for four days now.
Beyond the Caucasus region, which will be at the center of our attention, the other matter on which we hope to take steps forward is the necessary dialogue on the European security architecture.
As you know, this issue has been raised by both the Russian President, Mr. Medvedev, and the French President, Mr. Sarkozy.
Their positions are not identical. But they converge and are in favour of launching such a dialogue.
Greece believes in the usefulness and feasibility of a broad dialogue on European security within the framework of the OSCE. But a lot will depend on whether unanimity can be reached among the participating states.
In any event, we will make the effort at the level of permanent representatives and, if the conditions are right, at the level of high-ranking officials.
Ladies and Gentlemen MPs, the consolidation of security and the preservation of stability and peace are the main strategic objectives of our policy aimed at the normalization of Greek-Turkish relations that our country has consistently pursued without any concessions.
Last year – I want to repeat this before you as well – was a year of stagnation in our relations with Turkey, and not because of Greece.
It was marked by intensive violations these past two months on the part of the Turkish military in the Aegean.
Seen quantitatively, from a year-on-year point of view, this activity has abated somewhat, but the concerns about its qualitative characteristics are real.
We have not ignored or downplayed the facts.
They are the subject of an ongoing and detailed assessment and evaluation by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense, which in every case take all the necessary actions in order to address them.
At the same time, and I am categorical on this, we will not adopt, we will not succumb to, exaggeration.
We will not be drawn into this – involuntary, I hope – attempt to create this atmosphere of a looming crisis.
Calm, determination, and dedication to one’s strategic objective is not a shortcoming, as some have tried to argue.
It is a virtue, ladies and gentlemen MPs.
It is the necessary prerequisite for the calm management of a truly difficult and complex situation, such as the course of Greek-Turkish relations over the past 35 years. A course that has not been – and will not be from one day to the next – one of steady improvement or continuously positive.
Irrespective of variations in its implementation, the characteristics of Turkey's policy of assertion remain unchanged. We all know that.
What does that mean? Does that mean that we should stop trying to improve this situation through dialogue, through contacts and initiatives? Does that mean that we should not pursue the best possible implementation of confidence-building measures? That we should not promote bilateral cooperation with Turkey in individual mutually beneficial areas?
That we should abandon the policy of supporting Turkey's European perspective based on the firm position “full compliance means full accession”?
Is there anyone in this room who believes that every possibility and every working scenario has not been thoroughly examined or evaluated?
To all the nationalist voices and efforts to score superficial points, our government responds with determination and responsibility for its actions.
The normalization of Greek-Turkish relations on the firm basis of respect for international treaties and rules is a strategic choice for Greece.
It is a choice in favour of effective protection of our just demands and interests. It is a choice in favour of stability and peace.
Through this strategic choice, we do not ignore or downplay the fact that Turkey's accession process shows visible signs of fatigue.
We know that 2009 will be a crucial period from this point of view, during which Turkey will be called upon to make some substantial moves to comply with the prerequisites of its accession perspective.
And this also includes the need for the Ankara Treaty’s Additional Protocol on the customs union to be implemented. The European Commission and the Council will evaluate it at the end of the year.
One last word about Turkey before I come to developments and prospects on the Cyprus issue.
We are neighbours with Turkey in this difficult part of the world. We are members of the same Alliance and dozens of international organizations. Our relations cannot but be based on full respect for international law, international legality and good neighbourly relations.
This is also dictated by the prospect of our future partnership, when a European democratic Turkey joins the European Union, as Greece wants it to.
Unacceptable provocations and arbitrary demands do not serve these positive prospects for peace, stability, and mutual benefits.
Greece will face these provocations and demands calmly and decisively and will work sincerely, with perseverance and patience, to realise these prospects.
A necessary step towards the full normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations and in favour of a future of peace and cooperation in the broader region is putting an end to today’s unacceptable situation and injustice in Cyprus.
In 2008, we welcomed the start of a new effort within the UN framework for direct talks between the two sides. Greece has been working closely with the Republic of Cyprus towards a positive outcome.
These negotiations sometimes accelerate and sometimes slow down. It is a painstaking process.
At the current stage, the thorny issue of the form of governance has been settled. Yesterday, negotiations started - through an exchange of letters - on the equally, if not more, complex issue of property.
We hope that this new effort will result in an agreement on the reunification of the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with a single sovereignty, a single international legal personality and a single citizenship, putting an end to Turkish military occupation.
Such a solution cannot but take into account the status of the Republic of Cyprus as an EU member state, as well as the European principles and values.
Our objective is a reunified Cyprus with two communities living side by side in peace, enjoying the benefits of accession to the European Union, without occupation forces and outdated guarantees that are foreign to European thinking.
We are evaluating the shocking testimony/confession of Attila Olgac with great care. The subsequent attempts to rebut it do not change or alter that which has already become widely known.
That is, that the illegal Turkish invasion in Cyprus was accompanied and marked by acts of flagrant violation of international and humanitarian law.
It is therefore imperative for the relevant rulings of the European Court of Human Rights to be fully implemented and for the necessary immediate actions to be taken on the part of Turkey and for Turkey to cooperate in order to fully resolve all the cases of those persons that went missing during the Turkish invasion.
Finally, a short reference to the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The next meeting of the negotiators within the framework of the UN will be held in New York on 11 February.
I do not expect that anything substantially new will come out of this meeting, given the climate created by the Gruevski government’s successive decisions and nationalist, intolerant and intransigent actions. This will mostly be an introductory meeting, given that it is the first meeting that the other side's new negotiator is taking part in.
Apart from that, I do not need to reiterate that our well-known position – one compound name with a geographical qualifier and valid for everyone – remains firm.
In closing, I would like to remind you that the recent actions on the part of the Skopje government – actions lacking in seriousness, but provocative nevertheless – have led us to the decision that for as long as this counterproductive climate of tension and fanaticism remains, not one single euro will be disbursed from HiPERB for Corridor X.
Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,
This year will have its share of problems, difficulties and challenges.
We are resolved to face them with the determination and seriousness that our country’s foreign policy issues call for.
We are looking forward to a responsible stance on the part of the country’s political forces.
We are looking forward to a climate of national consensus and understanding.
These have always been a strong asset for the successful conclusion of our joint efforts.