Foreign Minister Kotzias’ statements at his joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif (Tehran, 29 November 2015)
N. KOTZIAS: It is well known that Greek-Iranian relations are among the
oldest in the history of humanity. A relationship that goes back
thousands of years. Countries that don’t have this kind of history
cannot understand relations of this kind. Our relations are far beyond
the problems of today and can contribute to the resolution of many
We want to welcome the Geneva Agreement with the 5+1 group, which contains a profound wisdom. It shows the way in which problems should be resolved. Whoever doesn’t implement it will lose. Iran is a state that knows the importance of implementing what it signs, but this also has to be done by the other parties to the agreement.
We also welcome the Vienna talks and certainly the participation of Iran, an important player in the region, in these talks. We are interested in Syria on multiple levels. It is a country to which we are linked by longstanding ties. It is a country with a great culture. A country in which the most diverse of religious and cultural communities reside. But a country, unfortunately, from which millions of refugees are fleeing, and these refugee flows are creating difficulties for my country. I want to say that countries like Greece – on the refugee issue, as well – are paying for the decisions of third parties. And I want to underscore that in Syria we are working with all of our partners and friends for there to be peace and a political solution.
Greece’s role is important as the role of a country that serves as a bridge between the Middle East and the EU. As I sometimes say, there are partners of ours that cannot understand what is really happening in the region, cannot understand the manner in which the peoples an leaderships of this region think. But Greece knows, because, while it is the cradle of European civilization and a member state of the EU, at the same time it is part of this world, which it can understand. That is why we can mediate for negotiations and help the culture and political thinking of everyone in the region to be understood.
We consider the development of our relations with Iran to be a very important factor in the stabilization of the region. These relations are in a good stream, as we say in Greece, that we want to become a river. They are relations that concern bilateral issues, the development of economic relations, the development of relations in the sectors of culture, science and education. They are relations of exchange of political visits on all levels. Minister Zarif and I agreed that we will incorporate all of this into an action plan that we both hope will be ready ahead of the visit from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which will not be long in coming.
Finally, we agreed with the Minister to see one another more often. We have met three times in the past six months. I had the pleasure of welcoming him to Greece. We met at the UN, in New York. I am grateful to him for his invitation to visit him here today. We said we will be exchanging visits at least two times a year -- once in Tehran, once in Athens – to see how this action plan is moving ahead, including our economic relations and our political dialogue.
Once again, I express my deep gratitude to the Foreign Minister of Iran and all of the country’s leadership for the hospitality and for the friendship they have shown to us, to Greece, but to our delegation in particular.
Journalist’s question on the situation in Idomeni
N. KOTZIAS: The problem with the Iranian migrants arose due to certain states’ in the region being forced to follow decisions of member states of the EU to close their borders to people who are not from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. As usual, it is a problem that we did not create. We have been trying in recent days to take all the measures to meet the humanitarian needs of these people. You know that they found themselves on a collision course with the mechanisms in FYROM. From what I know, these issues were resolved last night. But I want to say something. In the end, no one can block the people who are on the move. I tell our friends and partners in the EU that the U.S. is the most technologically developed country in the world. They built a huge wall on their border with Mexico and they also laid barbed wire, and behind it, in many regions, there is desert, but 38 million Hispanics have managed to cross, and they didn’t have to pass over the sea and through islands.
Journalist’s question on the downing of the Russian aircraft
N. KOTZIAS: The incident of the downing of the Russian aircraft, which fell on Syrian territory, should not have happened. Neither Turkey nor Syria is the enemy. The enemy is terrorism, the Daesh, and this has to end. It is an enemy not just for foreign policy, but, as shown by the events in Paris, also for the internal policy of the EU. When, in February 2015, I said in the EU that we need to pay more attention to the developments in Libya and Syria, and to the repercussions these would have, most of my colleagues gave me strange looks. At that time they were focused only on the problems in northeastern Europe. But history takes us by surprise if we don’t anticipate it.
The second point I want to make a reminder of, for any of you who didn’t see the international media coverage, is that there are at least 1,500 violations of Greek airspace every year by Turkey. Imagine what the Aegean would be like if our reflexes were like those of Turkey. This is not a leading question: What would happen? This is why Greece is among the states that persistently seek and want a political solution to the Syrian issue, at the soonest possible time. In Greek we say, if it the Syrian issue could be resolved yesterday, because people are suffering here. Millions of people have been left without food, without homes, without education, without work. And all of this in the name of real ideals that, however, are not implemented in a creative manner.
I think that the EU now has an obligation to realize the extent of these problems, from Libya to Syria; the extent of the problems in the great triangle of destabilization, as I say in theory. Greece, a country within the Ukraine-Libya-Syria triangle, is contributing to the region in a stabilizing manner. We want to implement a policy of mediation, arbitration, assisting negotiations, and we believe that we are a good partner for everyone who wants solutions.
Journalist’s question on the Prime Minister’s visit to Iran and the prospects for cooperation between Greece and Iran
N. KOTZIAS: I thank you for the welcome and the questions. The Prime Minister will be coming in the first half of 2016, but this is a matter that will be arranged by the diplomatic cabinets of the President and the Prime Minister. It wouldn’t be right for me to announce it.
With regard to the second part of your question, the agreements on cooperation on tourism and shipping will be concluded and, we hope, will be included in the action plan that will be drawn up ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit. Iran is rich in raw materials. Allah gave it gas and oil. And us, our gods gave us our shipping ages ago. We are two economies with very many complementary sectors, as Minister Zarif says. So we are optimistic, and I must stress that, thanks to the cooperation between the Foreign Ministry of Iran and our Embassy here in Tehran, our air links must be restored; a development that will have positive repercussions for the promotion of tourism and our bilateral trade.
Thank you very much.