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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 25 October 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the Ministers’ programmes.

On Sunday, 28 October 2012, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos will be in New York City, accompanied by Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis and Secretary General for International Economic Relations & Development Cooperation Peter Mihalos, to attend a dinner being hosted by the BoD and members of “The Hellenic Initiative”.

From Tuesday to Thursday, 25 October-1 November, Mr. Avramopoulos will carry out a visit to Canada, within the framework of the celebration of 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Minister’s itinerary starts in Montreal, with a visit to the Center of the Greek Community of Greater Montreal, where he will meet with the President of the Community, Nicholas Pagonis, and address an event at the Center.

On Wednesday, Mr. Avramopoulos will meet with Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay. He will also speak at a Seminar hosted by the Royal Bank of Canada. Invest in Greece will also be participating in that seminar.

Mr. Avramopoulos will then travel to Ottawa, where he will visit and attend the proceedings of the Canadian Parliament, also attending a dinner hosted in his honor by the Speaker of the Canadian Senate, Noël Κinsella.

On the same day, he will have the opportunity to meet with the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario and President of the Treasury, Tony Clement, who is of Greek Cypriot descent.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Avramopoulos will deliver a speech at the official event marking the 70th anniversary of Greek-Canadian diplomatic relations, which is being hosted by the Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, in cooperation with the Greek-Canadian Parliamentary Friendship Group and the Greek Embassy.

On Thursday, 1 November, Mr. Avramopoulos will meet with his Canadian counterpart, John Baird.

He will then travel to Toronto, where he will address a Business Forum being hosted by the Royal Bank of Canada, in collaboration with the Hellenic Canadian Board of Trade Toronto. Invest in Greece will also participate in that Forum.

The Foreign Minister will also meet with Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada, and he will visit the Hellenic Community Center, where he will meet with the President of the community and representatives of the Greek Canadian news media.

At 11:00 on Saturday, 3 November, Mr. Avramopoulos will meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov, who will be visiting Greece.

On Monday, 29 October, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas will participate in a conference being hosted by the Bank of Greece and ELIAMEP. He will also attend a luncheon being hosted by the Australian Ambassador for ASEM member-state Ambassadors ahead of the Summit meeting in Laos.

On Tuesday, 30 November, Mr. Kourkoulas will address a Parliamentary plenary session on the ratification of Croatia’s Act of Accession to the European Union. He will then meet with the Norwegian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and, finally, sign – in Parliament – the Greek-Canadian agreement on Youth Mobility.

Within the framework of the meetings Mr. Kourkoulas has with shadow foreign ministers, he will meet on Wednesday, 31 October, with Rena Dourou, from SYRIZA, and Maria Giannakaki, from the Democratic Left party.

From 30 October to 1 November, Deputy Foreign Minister Kostas Tsiaras will carry out a visit to South Africa.

His itinerary starts in Johannesburg, where he will meet on Wednesday with Metropolitan Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria. He will then visit the Greek South African school S.A.H.E.T.I. and meet with Greek educators, also holding a meeting with all the BoDs of the Greek Communities.

On Thursday, 1 November, Mr. Tsiaras will travel to Pretoria for meetings with South African officials and business leaders.

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

K. FRYSSA: During his stay in the U.S., will the Foreign Minister have meetings with U.S. government officials or UN officials.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No, he will be in the U.S., in New York City, for the Hellenic Initiative. This is essentially the second meeting since the Hellenic Initiative coordinators visited Athens. As you will remember, they visited Athens with Bill Clinton, who had expressed his support for this initiative. And it is an important effort aimed at enabling Greece to capitalize on the great potential of ecumenical Hellenism. We are essentially trying to amplify our power abroad. Greek communities all over the world are very active, and right now any and all support is invaluable, as you can understand.

M. KOTOVSKA: A few days ago in Washington D.C. there was this event, a discussion where representatives from the "Macedonian", "Turkish" and "Albanian" minority in Greece discussed and complained about the constant violation of their human rights here in Greece. Now we have a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights, regarding the "Macedonian minority", and this judgment is not being respected by the Greek Government, and also we have recommendations from the UN expert Kane McDougal, who is also not being respected. So, I wanted to know if the Government, like by Prime Minister Samaras, is planning to start respecting some of those recommendations or the human rights in general.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece is a country that – not only as an EU member state for over 30 years now, but also as a country that embraces and implements the principles governing human rights globally – is at the forefront of the protection of human rights. There are in fact some organizations that are trying to tarnish Greece’s image and create a false picture, and I think the best response to these attempts is the Greek reality, which is that in Greece there is full respect for human rights.

As you are well aware, there is a Muslim minority in Greece, and nothing more. There are certain organizations and certain fringe groups who are trying to create situations, trying to marginalize a portion of the Greek population. They haven’t succeeded. They haven’t succeeded precisely because in Greece we have a bond in our society that enables us to move ahead all together.

We are aware of these efforts, and we make the appropriate responses wherever necessary, but it needs to be clear that our neighbouring countries would do well to follow Greece’s example, because the level of social peace that exists in Greece is unfortunately absent elsewhere.

Greece has taken major steps and made great efforts to help our whole neighbourhood come closer to European standards. So, we would like these countries to move ahead in this spirit with the necessary reforms, so that they can all come closer to the implementation of European values.

C. POULIDOU: Mr. Spokesman, Serbian President Nikolic made some statements a few days ago, addressing Skopje and expressing his understanding regarding the problems of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the name issue. And he said various other things. Do you have any comment to make on that?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The particular interview of the Serbian President is in no case compatible with the high level of relations between our two countries and the longstanding support Greece has provided for Serbia in difficult times. Nor does it correspond to the traditional feelings of friendship linking the two peoples. On the instructions of Foreign Minister Avramopoulos, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Political Affairs conveyed to the Serbian Ambassador Greece’s dismay at the statements in question.

A. VOUDOURI: Has there been any response to the letter we sent to Skopje about a month ago, to the proposals we made in the memorandum of understanding, if I’m not mistaken?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Unfortunately, there has been no response. Unfortunately, there have been new attacks against Greece and an effort to discredit the negotiating process within the UN framework. Greece took this initiative in a constructive spirit, so that we might find a way round the current impasse, the current delays. Unfortunately, even just yesterday I read an interview with Mr. Poposki, in which he called all of this senseless. This is insulting, of course, and shows a lack of respect for even the UN process itself, and this is not in the spirit that would enable us to move ahead.

Our proposal is there. Greece’s initiative is there, and we are waiting for a clear, positive response that will impart fresh momentum to the negotiation process – because our initiative is in support of that process – enabling us to greatly improve the climate in our bilateral relations and develop the potential that exists. The constant insults and inflammatory statements serve no purpose but to perpetuate the dispute and, unfortunately, fuel the negative climate that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has cultivated systematically; a climate that we believe needs to change if we are to see progress.

C. KAPOUTSIS: At the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, Mr. Avramopoulos presented the Greek proposal for the institutional upgrading of the EU’s relations with the Arab world. Do you have anything more to say on that. That is, what does the Greek proposal consist of?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is one of the most important initiatives we have undertaken of late, because we believe that Europe needs to have a much stronger presence in development in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab world in general. The EU is present both politically and economically – it has an important role – but we believe that this neighbourhood means something more to Europe. It is in Europe’s immediate sphere of interest, and every investment, whether political or economic, that the EU makes there essentially benefits the development and stability of the whole region, with major benefits for the European Union itself.

So, in this spirit Greece proposed the upgrading of the European Union’s relations with the Arab League, on both the political and economic levels.

On the political level we are talking about more frequent meetings between the institutional organs of the two organizations, which would enable us to exchange information and exchange views and ideas on how things are developing, so that we can coordinate our initiatives.

On the economic level we are talking about cooperation in many sectors of immediate interest to the countries of the region: tourism, trade, investments, for example. In these sectors we really can garner major benefits for both sides, and we have to capitalize on this, because the region’s countries are in the midst of a transition process, and one of the critical parameters is that there be the economic means to support this reform process.

Our neighbouring countries are facing very serious challenges, and not just political challenges. There is the issue of economic development, and that is why the European Union needs to invest in these countries. We took these initiatives for the above reasons. Next month, the Arab League Foreign Ministers will meet with the EU, and we hope that our meetings will be more frequent in the future.

M. POPOVIC: Again on the name issue. The European Commission proposed a solution – basically, what it proposed is that there be a solution on the name issue in the early stages of the negotiations with the European Union. Hypothetically, what would be the timeframe that would satisfy Greece in these initial stages. And a second question: What is Greece’s stance on the current issue in the European Union regarding bringing back the visa requirement for Western Balkan countries? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first issue, first of all, I don’t respond to hypothetical questions. Second, the Commission itself has avoided responding to this question. And third: in any case, we are talking about a proposal and a report drawn up by the Commission. As I said at the previous briefing, the member states are responsible for deciding these issues, and the member states have spoken very clearly over the past three years, stressing the need to respect the rules of good neighbourly relations. This is a given. It is the unanimous decision of the European Union, and the sooner this is realised, the better it will be for the process and for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia itself.

Greece has always supported FYROM’s efforts to approach the European Union, and I want to take this opportunity to remind you once again that Skopje has a European perspective because Greece created that perspective in 2003, with the Thessaloniki Agenda. We are currently making similar efforts, for 2014. We want to see progress. It is in the immediate interests of each individual country, including Greece, because we want to create a space of security, stability and development around us. That is why we are disappointed when we see this response from the other side. We submitted this initiative, this proposal, some weeks ago, and we continue to get only unfavourable and negative comments. Unfortunately, we can’t move ahead like this.

So, with regard to what we said earlier about the firm support Greece has provided to date, I note in response to your second question that our consistency was proven once again on the visa issue: Greece supported the Western Balkan countries’ petition for visa waiver status.

We believe that this is a very important, very positive step on the part of the European Union – not just on the level of states, but on the level of civil society. Giving the residents of these countries the opportunity to travel to Europe more frequently, to see the European reality, to adopt European standards, to cultivate accession aspirations – their inclusion in the European family – is a very important incentive for the implementation of the reforms that need to be carried out, and that is why Greece firmly supports this measure.

No official proposal has been submitted yet on this particular issue, but it is our view that the citizens of these countries need to be given the opportunity to travel freely.

Thank you very much.