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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekoura

Friday, 09 March 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. This morning, Foreign Minister Dimas met with the Vice President of the Italian Parliament, who is heading a parliamentary delegation, and they discussed bilateral cooperation issues, as well as issues of European and international interest. This visit underscored Italy’s, and the Italian people’s, solidarity with Greece and the efforts we are making; Italy is a friend that Greece can count on and that will stand at our side, because Europeans must be united in their response to the crisis.

At 12:30 today, Mr. Dimas will meet with a delegation from the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. This meeting is taking place within the framework of the international efforts being made to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, and Greece is participating actively in these efforts via contacts with all Syrian opposition groups that support non-violence.

Let me also inform you that the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General, Mr. Zepos, departs today for Turkey – Istanbul – where he will meet today with His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, and tomorrow, Friday, 9 March, he will have political consultations with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioglu on issues of bilateral, regional and international interest.

That’s it for announcements. Your questions, please.

K. FRYSSA: I would like to ask whether the Foreign Minister is planning to visit the U.S. in March, and when.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No, no such trip has been scheduled. I saw some reports in the press, but I would like to inform you, here at the briefing, that no such trip has been scheduled.

D. ANTONIOU: Is there a possibility of the Minister’s scheduling a trip to Turkey, or of Mr. Davutoglu’s coming here? Was there some sort of initial agreement on March, and is Mr. Zepos’s visit perhaps for the purpose of scheduling something like that?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No visit or meeting has been scheduled on the bilateral level yet. Of course, there are meetings when the opportunity arises within the framework of international fora, and I should note that the next meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People” is slated to take place within March, and that will take place in Turkey. There hasn’t been any official announcement yet, but I can’t rule out the possibility of the Minister’s travelling to Turkey for that meeting. But on a bilateral level, there is nothing scheduled at this time.

D. KATSIMENTE: I would like the Foreign Ministry’s comment on the participation of two representatives of the Cham party in the Albanian government.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We have in fact learned of the participation of two PDIU party representatives in the Albanian government. Obviously, we are monitoring domestic developments in Albania very closely and we are fully aware of the political balance taking shape in that country.

The issue of the composition of the Albanian government is a domestic issue. The Albanian government – through the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and other officials – has declared its desire to strengthen relations with Greece and make progress on Albania’s EU accession course. This will is mutual, and throughout these years Greece has shown in practice its support for Albanian.

However, it is also well known that the PDIU party has expressed positions that undermine the prospects for strengthening and further improvement of our bilateral relations.

For this reason, we are waiting for the Albanian government to reaffirm in some tangible way its dedication to the improvement of Greek-Albanian relations. We want good relations with Albania, but on the condition of mutual will and practical implementation of measures that will point up the respect between the two countries and will strengthen bilateral cooperation.

The protection of the rights of the Greek National Minority, as set down in Albania’s obligations within the framework of its accession course, and the settlement of pending bilateral issues are top priorities for Greece.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to pose two questions regarding the Middle East. With regard to Syria, President Obama stated that the departure of Assad is a matter of time, the Europeans state that there is no chance of military intervention, the bloodshed continues anyway. I would like to ask what Greece’s position is on this. Second, whether you have any response to news reports alleging that Greece and other southern European countries are exempt from the embargo on Iranian oil. Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: With regard to Syria and the ongoing attacks on the civilian population, the ongoing violence, Greece has supported and continues to support with all its power the efforts toward finding a peaceful solution in Syria. In this context, we are active in the European Union so that the EU can have a strong voice on the need to put pressure on the regime so that the violence can stop. At the same time, we are participating actively in the consultations taking place on the international level, and we are participating in the Friends of Syria group.

As I said earlier, Mr. Dimas will meet today with one of the groups of the Syrian opposition, and Greece places great importance on the shaping of a joint opposition platform aimed at achieving a peaceful resolution and an immediate stop to the violence the regime is continuing to exercise.

We support the efforts of the UN. we believe that the Security Council should continue its deliberations on achieving consensus amongst its members. We also believe that the Arab League has made significant efforts so far and the stance maintained by the Arab countries on this is very important.

We want to see the efforts being made by the Secretary General’s representative, Mr. Annan, succeed, along with the efforts of UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, so that we can have an immediate ceasefire, protection of civilians and the provision of humanitarian aid.

These need to be the top priorities right now, because the pictures conveyed by Valerie Amos, who visited Syria, are images of utter destruction, and this has to stop. As for Iran, you are aware of the framework that exists, and you know how things stand right now. Nothing has changed on that. Our oil supply is continuing to come in uninterrupted.

S. GANTONA: We see that the Troika has imposed on our economy even a cutback in our diplomatic representation in many countries, and at a time when we have serious issues pending, and when we need strong trade representation to bolster economic transactions. From what we’ve learned, in Russia, if this is true, the Trade Attaché Section is operating only through “personal efforts”. Is this the case? And if so, what is the Foreign Ministry’s response?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, let me say that with regard to foreign policy, neither the Troika or anyone else is imposing anything. Foreign policy is exercised based on the defence of the country’s interests and based on government planning and decisions. Beyond that, it is a fact that there have been significant cutbacks in the Foreign Ministry budget, and this inevitably creates operational problems.

It is important to understand that the needs and mission of the Foreign Ministry are special, that its mission is very important and benefits the Greek economy an Greek society in a number of ways.

For precisely this reason, at a time of crisis, when Greece needs to internationalize business and maximize the benefits of its presence abroad, whether we are talking about investments, whether we are talking about the country’s image and tourism, whether we are talking about cooperation within the framework of international organizations or bilaterally, whether we are talking about progress in the development of our region – all these things require a presence, and this means that the Foreign Ministry needs to have the means to exercise its policy.

Regarding the specific issue you raised, it is a given that all Foreign Ministry personnel, despite the limited funds there are right now, are doing their best every day, all around the world, to defend and promote Greece’s interests. We have to bear this in mind constantly, and at the same time I hope we will be able to see the importance of the Foreign Ministry’s being able to carry out its mission with the necessary means.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, last week we had the meeting between Mr. Papademos and Mr. Gruevski in Brussels. Was any proposal made at that meeting? Did they discuss anything substantial? I ask because a few days ago Mr. Gruevski made a statement saying that he is awaiting feedback from Greece.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The two prime minister did meet in Brussels within the framework of the firm political stance Greece maintains regarding efforts toward improvement in the atmosphere in bilateral relations; improvement that can have a beneficial effect on the prospects for resolving the name issue.

Let me also remind you that there have recently been meetings of the UN Secretary General’s representative, Mr. Nimetz, with the negotiators in New York, as well as Mr. Nimetz’s visit. So, we do see the process continuing. But the issue is whether the process can produce results, and so far there has been so such result, because the requisite political will is lacking.

I think that Greece has expressed its constructive stance at the negotiating table very clearly, and that we need to see similar political will form the Skopje side as well.

It is very important to Greece that the negative propaganda against us should stop in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and unfortunately, despite the meetings and discussions that have taken place, we see these attacks continuing unabated on all levels.

I can point to statements made in recent days alone by the President or the Foreign Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that distorted the truth. Mr. Popovski went so far as to say that Greece is not implementing the Interim Accord between the two countries.

At some point, this negative propaganda needs to stop, because in the final analysis it shows that there is no real willingness to achieve a solution. How can you talk about reaching a solution when public opinion in Skopje is being systematically goaded into a negative stance against Greece?

We need to realise that the achievement of a solution will benefit both countries, that both sides will gain from this solution, that our neighborhood will benefit, which is very important; that stability and security in the Balkans – a very sensitive region – will be strengthened, and we will be able to move ahead together towards the European Union.

That is our future. It is a common future and at some point everyone who is making these negative statements has to realise this. They have to realise that Greece will be a partner, an ally, a friend, and that that is the only way we can move ahead.

S. RISTOVSKA: Was a specific proposal made at the meeting, or not?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I have nothing to add to the announcements made by the offices of the two prime ministers.

C. KAPOUTSIS: Regarding Mr. Zepos’s meeting with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioglu, who is the head of Turkey’s negotiating team in the talks taking place regularly between Greece and Turkey on high policy matters, I think. What exactly is on the agenda for that meeting? You mentioned Greek-Turkish relations in general. Something more specific?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I said they will discuss bilateral, regional and international issues. This meeting is taking place within the framework of the Memorandum the two countries signed in May 2010, which provides for – among other things – regular political consultations on the level of Secretaries General. They will talk about the issues I mentioned, and naturally they will also discuss the prospects for convening the High-level Cooperation Council between the two countries, the relevant preparations that have to be made so that that can be scheduled.

A. FOURLIS: But yesterday there was what I would call an unusual wave of Turkish activity in the wider Aegean region, with a large number of violations and a large number of flights at the same time. Do you say that in spite of this the situation is going smoothly and we are moving to prepare for the Cooperation Council?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I’m telling you what the subject of the talks between the Secretary General and Mr. Sinirlioglu will be. Beyond that, Turkey’s violation conduct obviously undermines the prospects for strengthening bilateral relations.

It is conduct that contravenes international law and that, as you can see and as is well known, receives an immediate and appropriate response, both operationally and on the diplomatic level. It is clear that for the relations between to two countries to move ahead, Turkey will have to stop this conduct.

L. KALARRYTIS: At yesterday’s presentation of Mr. Kikilias’s book on the EEZ, at the Athens Concert Hall, Mr. Solon Kasinis, the Director General of the Cypriot Commerce Ministry, said among other things that during the delimitation of the EEZ between Cyprus and Egypt and when the Greek side was also invited to participate but refused, because there was the problem with Turkey, he said that the Greek side urged Cyprus not to mention Kastelorizo in its delimitation of the continental shelf with Egypt, so as to avoid issues with Turkey, and that the line was moved significantly eastward following pressure from Greece. Can you tell us when this happened and whether it is the case?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I didn’t attend Mr. Kasinis’s speech, so I don’t know exactly what he said. Second, Kastelorizo is in Greek territory, and its maritime zones are not the subject of negotiations between Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus, but of Greece’s negotiations with those countries.

Cyprus and Egypt have an agreement on the maritime zones between them; an agreement in accordance with the Law of the Sea and that establishes the two countries’ rights, allowing them, naturally, to move ahead with exercising their sovereign rights to exploration for and exploitation of natural resources.

Beyond that, Kastelorizo, just like any other region of Greece, has the rights provided for by the Law of the Sea. That is, it has maritime zone rights. There is no question of that.

L. KALARRYTIS: In order for the EEZ line to be drawn between Cyprus and Egypt, the potential EEZ line between Greece and Cyprus should be borne in mind.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: That obviously needs to be done where there is overlapping. Greece is in any case in talks with Egypt for the delimitation of maritime zones between us, and similarly in contact and coordination with the Republic of Cyprus to implement our strategy. There is no issue concerning Kastelorizo. Kastelorizo, like every other point on Greek territory, has the rights provided for by the Law of the Sea.

S. GANTONA: We know that because of the Schengen Treaty we cannot issue as many visas as we like to third countries such as China and Russia. So, why can’t our country issue national visas? Because some countries, like Russia with Kastoria, for example, have key trade transactions. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Our country, particularly in Russia, to which you referred, is exercising a very effective visa polity, within the framework set out by Schengen regulations, and essentially it is among the countries that grant visas more quickly.

This, in combination with the strengthened tourist flows from Russia, has led to a rapid increase in visas granted to Russian citizens, and this is something we want to pursue in many other countries that are important tourism markets for Greece.

National visas cannot be granted for tourism purposes. This is a special category and there are special provisions for this in the Schengen Treaty. But I want to make it clear that the instructions that have been given to our Consulates and the policy being exercised by the Foreign Ministry, together with the Tourism Ministry, is to grant visas at the fastest possible rates and within the framework set down by Schengen regulations, so that we can strengthen the flow of tourists into Greece.

A. FOURLIS: On another issue – back to Iran. We repeatedly hear your assessment that there is no cause for immediate Greek concern regarding the purchasing of oil, and I would like to ask if efforts have been made to secure alternative sources. And can you also clarify for us the Greek government’s view on the issue of sanctions and the prospect of sanctions being tightened.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: There was an earlier question on this, so I will repeat what I said earlier. There is a clear framework that has been decided at the level of the EU, and there is the reality of the current situation, which has not changed.

Greece is receiving its supply from Iran as usual. Beyond that, if there is some change, this will have to do with a unilateral Iranian decision, which we have not seen to date. From the time of the first discussion, this past November, of the issue of cutting off Iranian oil supplies to European countries, the Greek Foreign Minister expressed our country’s concerns as to the impact such a measure might have on European economies.

The Council agreed with Greece’s positions, and so at the end of January, if I’m not mistaken, when the decision on the embargo on Iranian oil was taken, we succeeded in getting a grace period – up until 1 July – during which the already existing contracts would continue to be carried out.

This provides sufficient time for the competent Greek agencies to seek alternative supply sources, and I know that such contacts have been made and are continuing.

A. FOURLIS: [off microphone]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: That is a matter for the companies carrying out the relevant consultations. What interests Greece is a secure supply: for alternative supply sources to be found, with the same favourable economic terms, so that supplies can continue. There is no issue of oil supply security for the Greek market.

On the matter of sanctions, first of all we need to realise that the sanctions are not an end in themselves. The sanctions are a tool for giving impetus to progress in the negotiations taking place on the matter of Iran’s nuclear programme.

We have said in the past, as well, and very clearly, that all countries have the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy. This is provided for in international treaties. But with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme, there is an issue of lack of trust. That is why we have called on Iran to proceed to steps that will allow for trust to be restored.

We recently had visits of IAEA experts to Iran. There is collaboration that is in progress, but that has not moved ahead at the pace we would like to see. And at the same time, just a few days ago EU High Representative Ashton sent a letter to the Iranian side calling for negotiations.

We believe that through diplomacy we can find the solutions to restore trust, and we want to see things move ahead in that direction.

C. HATZI: From the Cihan news agency and the daily Zaman. Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask, the Tourkiki Enosi Xanthis’s application last week – ten days ago – to the Supreme Court was rejected by the Court, even though the European Court of Human Rights found in favor of the Tourkiki Enosi Xanthis. What are your thoughts on this issue? First of all, I want to refer to a statement made on this issue by Koumoutsakos, in 2008, when he said that Greece, as a member of the EU supports and respects the institution of the European Court and its decisions. What are your thoughts on that statement? Has Greece changed its stance? Don’t you respect it anymore? And a second question: We know that there are two associations in Thrace right now, under the names “Pomaki” and “Roma”. Why did Greece reject this application again? Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: In reply to both your questions, the statement made by Foreign Ministry spokesman Koumoutsakos in 2008 is in full effect, and that is Greece’s position. Beyond that, as Foreign Ministry spokesman, I cannot comment on any decision of Greece’s Judicial Branch. As you can see, there is a separation of powers.

A. FOURLIS: I want you to give us as much information as possible on the issue of hydrocarbon exploration, which, from what I understand, is being set in motion by the Energy Ministry. I know that it is in consultation with the Foreign Ministry. We would like an assessment of the interest that has been expressed, whether it is satisfactory and to what extent, and whether you think there should be further consultation with neighbouring countries so the process can develop. Is this called for? For example, in the Ionian, is there any reason for further consultations with Italy, or are things simple and clear so that the exploration process will move ahead smoothly?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Let me start by saying that the cooperation of agencies dealing with such issues is a given. In this context, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Dimas, and Energy Minister Papakonstantinou had a meeting with the participation of the political and civil leadership of the two ministries to discuss all the energy issues. It was decided at that time to set up a joint committee that will collaborate on a permanent basis so that the next steps can be taken.

As you know, our country is moving ahead at a fast pace on exploration of its natural wealth, and this is imperative so that we can utilise it and have a clear picture of what our country possesses.

The Energy Ministry has already called for tenders for seismic exploration in the Ionian and south of Crete. There was a very positive response to these calls for tenders, as well as for those for land-based exploration in regions for which there was already data regarding oil extraction.

So, Greece has moved ahead with exploration and, in parallel, precisely because it is our policy and because – beyond the economic benefits – it is a factor in strengthened stability and security in the region, Greece wants the delimitation of all its maritime zones with all its neighbours.

Within this framework, the talks already under way with countries like Egypt and Libya will continue. We hope we can have progress in these talks so that we can move ahead to the delimitation of maritime zones.

I also told you earlier that contacts with the Republic of Cyprus are ongoing, as is coordination, on both the political and technocratic levels. I remind you that there are already relevant agreements with Italy and Albania.

Albania has yet to ratify the agreement, but that is a domestic issue the Albanian side will have to deal with. With Turkey, we have the exploratory contacts.

G. VLAVIANOS: Two questions. The one has to do with energy: the extent to which this whole case, provided it is launched within 2012, whether Greek diplomacy is bringing pressure to bear so that precisely these maritime zones can be delimited. The second question is whether you have any comment on all the statements Mr. Bagis made recently.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first issue, I would like to clarify that the delimitation of maritime zones with our neighbours does not impact the country’s ability to carry out exploration and exploitation in regions that are on the Greek continental shelf, so let’s not link the two together, making the one a precondition for the other.

There is an exploration plan that is being carried out at a fast pace, and at the same time we want to delimit the maritime zones because we believe that this is a factor in stability, security and peace in the wider region, and it also creates economic opportunities.

Your second question. As Mr. Dimas said yesterday, these statements from Mr. Bagis – and I saw that there are new statements, that this mindset is continuing – reveal the true face of Turkey and what Turkey’s stance on the Cyprus issue is.

These statements gainsay every notion of Law, every sense of the resolutions of the Security Council, and they confirm who is responsible for the lack of progress on the Cyprus issue. There needs to be a solution that will allow for the reunification of the island and that will allow for the island’s people to live in harmony, unified.

This requires that Turkey stop statements of this kind. And it also requires that Turkey allow Mr. Eroglu – who is representing the Turkish Cypriots at the negotiating table – to achieve the convergence necessary for our reaching a solution. Such statements and this attitude in no way allow for progress.

Thank you very much.