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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, on ERT TV, with journalists G. Pittaras and D. Kottaridis (3 April 2020)

Saturday, 04 April 2020

JOURNALIST:  We have the pleasure of having the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, with us. Good morning, Mr. Dendias.

N. DENDIAS: Good morning. Good morning to your viewers, and allow me to wish them the best of health.

JOURNALIST:  We all wish them the best of health. Yesterday, you had a meeting of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, from what I understand.

N. DENDIAS: The Council of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

JOURNALIST:  By video conference, I assume.

N. DENDIAS: Everything is being held by video conference now. Yes, it was held via video conference, for the first time.

JOURNALIST:  As various issues concerning Turkey and our national issues were discussed, there was a tense exchange with Mr. Cavusoglu, from what I understand, from what I’ve learned. The matter came up, anyway. Did you talk at all about the coronavirus issue and what NATO can do?

N. DENDIAS: The main topic of discussion was how the alliance’s structures might function to supplement the national health systems and civil protection authorities of the alliance members to help deal with this unprecedented coronavirus crisis. In the end, we have to see that this huge NATO mechanism can be used in multiple exigencies. Not just the usual situations one thinks of for a defensive alliance, but also to help in the daily lives of alliance citizens.

JOURNALIST:  And how to deal with disinformation was also on the agenda.

N. DENDIAS: Certainly.

JOURNALIST:  And fake news. How will you be handling this?

N. DENDIAS: NATO has a much more advanced mechanism than the EU for dealing with the dissemination of fake news. But we mustn't kid ourselves: this whole mechanism is oriented towards dealing with dissemination of fake news by specific sources – and you can imagine which sources I’m referring to. In the current state of affairs, it is not a given that the mechanisms disseminating fake news are the same ones the alliance traditionally expects this from. Adapting to this reality will require that certain measures be taken. You can see that, precisely because this is a military alliance, it’s a little difficult for me to go into greater detail on air.

JOURNALIST:  Let’s go to the other issue, the exchange with Mr. Cavusoglu, because I understand that you raised the issue of the recent situation in Evros and Ankara’s efforts to exploit the refugees. Mr. Cavusoglu responded, and then you responded to him. Would you like to describe what happened?

N. DENDIAS: I’ll tell you. I don’t want to dramatize things. But there is a fundamental misunderstanding, I think, on the part of the Turkish side. The alliance and solidarity among the alliance countries is not a matter of choice. It isn’t à la carte. It is comprehensive. We all help each other on all the issues covered by the alliance’s broader agenda. So you can’t have a member state of the alliance, an ally, asking for help from all of the other members on an issue that concerns it – Turkey, let’s say, asking for help on issues that have to do with Syria – and meanwhile, the same member state of the alliance not being very friendly, to put it mildly, to a member state of the alliance or to a union of states, the European Union, to which many members of the alliance belong. These two things are incompatible, and Turkey has to realise this. There is an English phrase, “cherry picking.” You can’t take one cherry and not take the other because it doesn't suit you. Mr. Cavusoglu saw fit to respond to this. And, of course, this left me no choice but to directly address the issues concerning Turkey's actions in Evros and on the islands of the Eastern Aegean, using migration flows as a battering ram against the borders of Greece and Europe. The exploitation of human suffering, in other words. Of course, I assume you didn’t expect Turkey to like this.

JOURNALIST:  Minister, I’d just like to convey – and you can comment on it, if you like – what the Turkish news media are saying about this incident. Mr. Cavusoglu’s version, obviously. According to the reports on Turkish news media, Mr. Cavusoglu says that there were allied countries, such as the United states, the UK, Germany, Hungary and Holland, who took Turkey’s side against Greece, which – according to the reports of my Turkish colleagues – tried to make support for Turkey dependent on the activities in the Aegean and the commitment to the agreement of 18 March. I don't know if you’d like to comment on that.

N. DENDIAS: I won’t speak on behalf of other member-state Foreign Ministers, but again, the Turkish side wants to see things in a way that serves its own interests and to promulgate this view in a way that serves its own interests. There were at least four countries that linked Turkey’s obligations deriving from the EU-Turkey agreement of March 2016 with the broader issues we were discussing. It wasn't just Greece. It’s not just a matter of what is said in these meetings. What can be read into the way it is said it is also important. There is support for Greece’s views on the migration issue. Very broad support for Greece’s views. Now, if a number of allies choose not to say this expressly in the context of the alliance, provided they’ve said it in the context of other forums, such as the European Union, this doesn’t take the onus off of Turkey. It is clear that, on this issue, Turkey was exposed in the eyes of international public opinion. It was exposed. This is the reality of the situation. And, if I may – if I can advise another country, a large country – I would advise Turkey not to continue down this road. Turkey has to realise that Greece would like to have good relations with it. But these good relations with Turkey require compliance with the agreements and the rules of international law. Under these conditions, Greece and Turkey could be two very friendly neighbouring countries. And Turkey has to understand this. It’s in Turkey’s interest. Not to its detriment. What is to its detriment is to do what it is trying to do in the Aegean and in Evros. This doesn’t help Turkey’s case.

JOURNALIST:  Mr. Dendias, from what I understand, during the meeting, you discussed the potential for increased NATO assistance in the Aegean, to head off irregular migration flows.

N. DENDIAS: Yes.

JOURNALIST:  In Evros, we saw there were countries – like Austria, and other countries – that lent practical support for Greece’s effort. In NATO’s case, we’ve seen – in the Secretary General’s recent meetings here, at the Prime Minister’s office – that whenever we ask about anything that has to do with Greek-Turkish relations, and earlier with the Macedonia issue, he looks at the ceiling, takes a drink of water, does anything but answer the question. Are we happy with this? I don’t expect NATO to intervene substantially in a confrontation between two member states. Are we happy with NATO’s support in the effort to defend the European Union’s borders from illegal migration?

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Stoltenberg is the Secretary General of the Alliance and tries to manage all the issues at the same time. Sometimes this isn’t easy at all, and you’re right that he sometimes avoids the issue. I had a very long talk with him after his visit here, when he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Last week we had a long telephone conversation – about 45 minutes. That’s ample time in which to understand each other – at least to let him know how Greece is dealing with these problems. And I wanted to explain to him that Turkey’s stance in NATO – which concerns him – isn't helping the Greek side. Beyond that, the NATO operation in the Aegean is a useful operation. If only on the level of observation, having NATO there to clearly record what is happening and how it is happening – and, if you will, who might be responsible for what is happening – is extremely important for Greece. This is exactly why I came out in favour of continuing the operation and bolstering the operation. You understand, of course, that the other side – our neighbour, Turkey – doesn't want the operation to continue, much less be bolstered. Now, why is that? I think that’s easy for anyone to understand. Anyway, the two neighbours don't agree on this point either – on the NATO operation in the Aegean.

JOURNALIST:  I want to cite a recent article of yours in the Financial Times, in which you said there can be no EU-Turkey cooperation under duress, threat or blackmail. How certain are you that Pres. Erdogan will not abandon extortion diplomacy as long as he sees only recommendations – and not sanctions, for example – on the table?

N. DENDIAS: First of all, allow me to say that I’m not one to “step into the shoes” of President Erdogan. President Erdogan has a long career in the leadership of Turkey. He has had major successes. For many years, he has significantly raised Turkish citizens’ standard of living, and my hope is for him to see clearly that what is in the interest of the country and the society he is leading is good relations with Greece, good relations with the European Union, so that he can look forward to a close relationship and in the end – Why not? – participation in the modern European process. This is our view of the interests of Turkey and the region. Greece wants to have friendly relations with Turkey, even if Turkey isn’t making this very easy. Beyond that, I hope it is clear that the effort to exert pressure on the European Union by encouraging migration flows, to put it politely, isn’t just encouragement. We all saw what happened in Evros and we all saw what happened in the Eastern Aegean. No one has any doubt that these flows were fully orchestrated and encouraged by the Turkish side. Human suffering was exploited. This is the truth, and it is not acceptable in 21st-century society.  So, I hope the Turkish side sees this clearly, because I want to be fair and honest. At least at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Turkey helped and hosted people. So, how does a country that boasts of the help it provided back then go to the opposite extreme of exploiting human suffering, with the result that we are fully justified in accusing it of exerting pressure, using blackmail and everything that I am sadly forced to say and to write in the Financial Times. I must say that the Greek government and the Prime Minister and I did not choose to expose Turkey. Turkey chose to take a stance in the same newspaper, via its Minister of Foreign Affairs, accusing Greece of using fake news, which forced me to respond through my own article in the Financial Times.

JOURNALIST:  One last thing, Mr. Dendias. I’d like a short answer. What’s happening with the Greek's who are stranded in various EU states and want to return to Greece? Because we received messages from many, many people. There are a lot of Greeks in England. And they have problems, because it’s not easy for them to communicate with the embassy in London. There are various issues.

N. DENDIAS: You’re right. First of all, I want to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not responsible for overall coordination of this issue. The Civil Protection authority is. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is helping these people under the instructions of the Civil Protection authority. There is a very large number of people, I know. You referred in particular to London, because there is a very big issue in London. I sent a special envoy, one of the three most senior ambassadors, to coordinate the effort with the English authorities, with our Civil Protection service, with the EU system, because it is very complicated. Every morning I have a list – this is it – of what is happening throughout the world and how the largest effort to repatriate Greeks is proceeding, but with complete safety, because we have to bring our fellow citizens back in a way that is safe for them, their families and Greek society. This is no simple matter. And we have to coordinate with the various countries. It’s not simple at all. Peru, for example. A very specific example. We have at least 10 Greeks in Peru – and not even in Lima – whom we are trying to bring back, with the European Civil Protection Mechanism, our own Civil Protection Authority, us, the airline companies – it’s chaotic. We’re doing everything we can. I understand that there are problems, but I assure you we are doing everything we can. There is a special service here, under Ms. Matzila – a very experienced employee of the Ministry – that is working round the clock.

JOURNALIST:  Mr. Dendias, thank you very much.

N. DENDIAS: Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:  Thank you

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