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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras (12 January 2012)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras (12 January 2012)

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Let me say a couple of things about the programme, though there are some things still pending that I can’t announce yet. So, during the week we will have further announcements.

As we speak, a meeting is under way under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Dimas on the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, ahead of Greek negotiator Vassilakis’s meeting with the UN Secretary General’s special envoy, Mr. Nimetz, in New York. This meeting is being attended by Mr. Vassilakis, of course, and Foreign Ministry officials. It is a preparatory meeting, as I said. Mr. Vassilakis will have two meetings with Mr. Nimetz: one on Monday and one on Tuesday.

At 14:00 today, Mr. Dimas will meet with the chair of the Greek-Turkish Forum, and tomorrow, 13 January, he will have meetings with the Ambassadors of Croatia and Egypt.

That’s it for the programme. Your questions, please.

D. ANTONIOU: Mr. Spokesman, you said there is a meeting going on right now in preparation for the meetings in New York. Yesterday, in an interview in a Skopje daily, the FYROM Prime Minister called this process a waste of time. What is your comment?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Of late, we have observed an ongoing escalation on the part of the FYROM leadership – leading up to the point you mentioned – which is essentially undermining the result or the prospects for progress in the negotiations under way.

As we are well aware, the international community as a whole, as well as the ICJ in its judgement, has urged the two sides to proceed to negotiations in good faith in order to achieve a solution on the name issue, as provided for in Security Council Resolutions 817 and 845.

This is the firm desire and will of the Greek side, which is participating constructively in these negotiations so that we can reach a solution on the name issue at the soonest possible time.

Unfortunately, however, as I said, we see an ongoing escalation and a stance that in no way helps toward progress in the process. At the same time, we also have other developments, like the “Skopje 2014” programme, where we even had the raising of an archway, regarding which the Foreign Ministry will make a demarche to the FYROM Foreign Ministry.

We would like to see a change from the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We would like to see dedication to the process so that we can reach a solution. This, I repeat, is the firm will of Greece, and we show this at the negotiating table.

L. BLAVERIS: Mr. Spokesman, could you please comment on the announcement issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the issue of the Russian Church’s intervention in the Mount Athos issue?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Patriarchate’s position – as well as Greece’s firm support for the Patriarchate and its ecumenical role – is clear on issues of regulation within the Orthodox Church. This is the only comment I would like to make, and it should be clear to everyone that Greece supports with all its power the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the work of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which is of major importance for Orthodoxy as a whole.

S. GANTONA: Mr. Spokesman, Mr. Dimas met yesterday with Israeli Defense Minister Barak, and I would like you to tell me whether Mr. Barak requested new joint naval exercises related, of course, to the Iran issue.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The meeting, which took place in a very warm climate – confirming the relations between the two countries and the mutual will for deepening of those relations – did not look at Greek-Israeli military cooperation issues.

But Mr. Dimas and Mr. Barak did have the opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues concerning both Greek-Israeli cooperation on a bilateral level, as well as regional issues being faced by our region.

In this context, they naturally discussed economic cooperation, the potential for Israeli enterprises to become active in Greece; tourism issues, on which we have very good cooperation; energy issues; issues concerning developments in Iran, which, as you can see, are of special concern to both countries; developments in Syria; the Arab Spring; the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these issues were discussed in a very good climate.

A. VOUDOURI: On the subject of Iran, on 23 January I imagine there will be a General Affairs Council, and one of the subjects up for discussion is possible EU sanctions. What is Greece’s position, and are there in fact scenarios for a possible exemption of Greece from imposing sanctions on Iran with regard to oil imports.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I want to note that at the 1 December General Affairs Council, in which Foreign Minister Dimas participated, there was extensive discussion of this issue. Mr. Dimas talked with his counterparts, and with everyone’s support they concluded that the European Union would examine the imposition of further sanctions on Iran. At the same time however, and before we proceed to such a measure, we need to carefully explore the impact such a measure would have on European economies.

Let me note that there are a number of EU countries that currently import significant quantities of oil from Iran. These discussions have been in progress all this time, and the issue is set to be raised on the level of Foreign Ministers, as you said, at the 23 January General Affairs Council.

It is extremely important to Greece to ensure a regular supply of oil for the Greek market, and it is important that we ensure corresponding financial terms for these supplies. That is the framework within which we are moving and participating constructively with our partners ahead of the discussions that are to take place on 23 January.

M. POPOVIK: Mr. Spokesman, I want your comment on two things. At the Foreign Ministry a few days ago, there was a discussion in which Mr. Kofos and Mr. Mallias put forward a proposal to form a team of experts to monitor Greek-FYROM relations and make proposals as to how Greece should proceed. Meanwhile, in Skopje there is a proposal to request, in New York, a clarification of the negotiating framework: whether it is the name, or whether there is something else as well. I’d like your comment on that.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Foreign Ministry obviously already has teams that are closely monitoring the whole range of our relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

What I want to stress here is that throughout these years, Greece has worked actively to encourage and support the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s perspective for accession to European and Euroatlantic institutions, and we continue to do so.

That is the basic point of reference in our policy – support for the country’s stability – because the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is an immediate neighbour with whom we want to have good relations, good neighbourly relations, and we want to see the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia progress because it is in its interest as well as the interest of Greece and stability in the wider region, within the framework of our European neighbourhood.

So, there are such groups. They are already functioning and it is natural that they should be in contact with agencies outside the Foreign Minister, such as think tanks, so that there can be an open debate, an open dialogue; so that all the options and possibilities can be examined – always based on Greece’s fundamental political choice: achievement of a solution on the name issue quickly, and good cooperation with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

As for the negotiating framework under the UN, it is crystal clear and determined by Security Council Resolutions 817 and 845, which no one can call into question. Thus it useful for us to focus on the process, rather than on seeking ways out or alternatives for avoiding the process. The process exists and can bring a result provided both parties have the political will. Greece has repeatedly stated, has shown at the negotiating table, that it wants to achieve a solution, and so we are waiting for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia side to focus on this goal. But the fact is that all the statements made by the Skopje side to date make no reference to achieving a solution. In fact, as we saw with Mr. Gruevski’s recent statements, it appears that participation in the negotiations is a delay tactic and is not aimed at achieving a solution. What we are waiting to hear from Skopje is, rather than attacks on Greece, their saying that they really want to reach a solution, and we are waiting for them to show this at the negotiating table, presenting positions that will allow for convergence between the two sides.

M. RIGOU: In a recent statement, the UN Secretary General, referring to Cyprus, said that the process cannot continue in this manner. At the end of the month, on the 23rd and 24th, we have the meetings of Christofias and Eroglu with the Secretary General. I would like your comment on these developments.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The situation cannot continue like this. This situation has to change. The Cyprus issue must be resolved. There is the process under the UN, but in this process we see that the Turkish Cypriot side is not maintaining a constructive stance; in contrast, it is backing out on issues on which there was agreement in the past, and unfortunately this fact inspires no optimism. Greece supports the UN process. We support the efforts of the Cypriot government and President Christofias to reach a solution. We have a major meeting ahead of us, at Greentree, and we hope this meeting will produce results. But one has to ask oneself – and this certainly holds true for those immediately involved in the negotiations – where this process can lead when one side appears constantly with completely inflexible and regressive positions.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, what does the Greek side expect from the meeting with Mr. Nimetz? Because it’s been a year since the last meeting in New York. Whether you expect some development, some new proposal, and what Greece’s stance will be. That’s one question. The other is, whether you have any details regarding the February meeting in Thessaloniki.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first issue, in no case would I like to jump to any conclusions regarding the content of these talks. I think it is positive that a meeting will take place – this is something Greece wants, and we see it as useful so that the UN process can be activated and gain some momentum. In this sense it is very useful that Mr. Nimetz will meet with the two negotiators to hear the views of the two sides, and we hope that there will be ground for our seeing progress from there on.

Regarding your second question, Greece – within the framework of the policy it has announced for promoting the process of the whole region’s accession to the EU and the preparations we are making for an EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting in the first half of 2014 – is planning and is in consultations right now with all the involved parties so that we can hold a meeting of Western Balkan Foreign Ministers in Thessaloniki, precisely to start preparations ahead of the goal of holding the Summit Meeting.

We want to be able to impart momentum to the accession course of the Western Balkans. We know that the current environment is not an easy one. It is a fact that the European Union is facing very major challenges in the economic sector, as is our country. At the same time, however, we don’t think that Europe should forget the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans are an intrinsic part of the European space, and that is why it is very important, as a step towards stability, peace, progress and development, for us to be able to keep this process alive and find ways to revitalize it. Let’s not forget that the European perspective of the Western Balkans was born here, in Greece, in Thessaloniki, in 2003. What we are trying to do – after 11 years – is to once again convene a summit meeting that will give fresh momentum to this process so we can see our neighbours come closer to the European Union and its institutions.

S. RISTOVSKA: Have the invitations been sent?


S. GANTONA: Mr. Spokesman, during the meetings the government had with Mr. Barak, did you determine approximately when the joint ministerial conference with Israel will take place? Also, does the Minister’s meeting later today with the Greek-Turkish Forum have to do with preparations for some contacts with Turkey, for the joint ministerial council that might be prepared?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As for the first question, let me say that no specific reference was made to the time for holding the meeting between the two governments. However, it is the joint will of Greece and Israel to hold this Council as soon as the conditions and the programmes of the two governments allow.

Regarding your second question, there is no relation between the two. The Forum has been operating for a number of years now. It will be a meeting for a briefing on the work and discussions they have been carrying out.

S. GANTONA: There have been some more press reports to the effect that when Mr. Droutsas was minister we agreed with Turkey to have recourse to the ICJ, not just regarding the continental shelf issue, but also regarding Greek sovereignty over 114 islands in the Southern Aegean. If this is true, I would like your comment.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: It is totally inaccurate.

A. VOUDOURI: Back to the Cyprus issue. Turkey is indirectly promoting a multilateral conference after the Greentree meeting, and according to reports in the Turkish press, a Burgenstock process. What is Greece’s positions.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Our country’s position, as we have expressed it before and in the past, is that there needs to be substantial progress on the issues under negotiation right now, and when such progress has been achieved, it will be logical for issues that have to do with the external dimension of the Cyprus issue to be discussed at a conference. But we cannot enter into a mindset where a conference will be an end in itself, because it isn’t an end in itself.

The UN process – and this is clear from the agreements, as well – belongs to Cyprus. That is, it is being carried out by the Cypriots, for the Cypriots, and that is the only way a viable solution can be reached. That is why I will repeat that the Turkish Cypriot side needs to change its stance; otherwise, no one can be optimistic that we will get results.

Unfortunately, Mr. Eroglu’s stance right now – with his constantly backing out of agreements – does not allow for optimism at this time.

Thank you very much.