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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Mr. Delavekouras: Good morning and welcome.

I’ll start with the Foreign Minister’s programme. A little earlier today, Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis met with representatives of Greek enterprises active in Libya, together with Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis. It was a very useful meeting that gave us a chance to exchange views, first of all, on the situation taking shape in Libya. The transition in Libya is entering its most critical phase. It is important that Greece should have a business presence as well. We had companies with substantial activities in the country, and they will certainly need to deal with specific problems that exist right now, but at the same time it is very important for them to stay there, to expand their activities and help Libya and the Libyan people in their efforts toward development. Because we believe that for the political process to succeed, there will have to be a strong development dimension.

Mr. Lambrinidis will brief the Ministerial Council, which will be convening shortly, on developments in Libya. There will be a relevant discussion ahead of the “Friends of Libya” meeting taking place in Paris tomorrow. The Prime Minister and Mr. Lambrinidis will be attending that meeting.

On Friday and Saturday, Mr. Lambrinidis will be in Sopot, Poland, to participate in the informal meeting there of EU Foreign Ministers. Let me note that candidate countries will be participating in the morning meeting. The main issues on the agenda for this informal meeting are the Middle East peace process, European Neighbourhood Policy and the EU’s relations with strategic partners.

Next week, from 6 to 8 September, the Foreign Minister will carry out a working visit to Zagreb, Belgrade and Pristina. Naturally, we will have talks about our bilateral cooperation, but we will also be discussing the European perspective of the Western Balkans, our neighbourhood’s European perspective, the efforts Greece is making, the room we have to expand our cooperation on promoting the European perspective of the whole region within the framework of Agenda 2014. The schedule of meetings and visits has not been finalized yet, so I will let you know the details next week.

On Friday, 2 September, the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General will be carrying out a visit to Madrid, where he will have political consultations with the Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister to discuss issues of bilateral, European and international interest.

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

Ms. Fryssa: We would like the Greek government’s comment on its assessment of the Turkish government’s decision regarding the public benefit foundations.

Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, we are talking about a process of changes and reforms that the Turkish government has undertaken to carry out within the framework of its European perspective, as well as in the context of its obligations to its own citizens. As the Turkish Prime Minister himself has said, the Turkish government followed an unjust policy for decades – a policy of persecution of minorities – and we consider it to be Turkey’s historical obligation, as the Turkish leadership themselves have stated, to remedy these injustices, to the extent possible today.

As such, this move is a positive step. It is a positive step on a long road. In particular with regard to property issues, we need to point out that in 2002 and 2008, reforms were made that could not provide adequate solutions. Even today, on a first reading of this legislation, we see that there are important chapters – such as occupied foundations, such as the inheritance rights of members of the Greek minority in Turkey – that are not dealt with. We hope to see these matters dealt with, as well, within the framework of the Turkish government’s stated will to do so.

So, I want to stress that it is a positive step, but one that naturally needs also to be assessed based on the results it brings, on the manner in which it is implemented, so that members of the Greek minority, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, all the minorities in Turkey can defend their rights and have a framework for the protection of human and minority rights that meets European standards.

Ms. Ristovsca: The first question is why Skopje is not on Mr. Lambrinidis’s itinerary, since he is visiting the region. Another question: What is your comment on Mr. Gruevski’s statements – a statement he made yesterday and another that was more of a reaction from the government to an interview? That is, Mr. Gruevski said that he wants a new meeting with Mr. Papandreou, since he will be in New York. Do you think things have changed a little?

Mr. Delavekouras: Regarding the first question, the Foreign Minister will be carrying out visits to the specific cities I mentioned. No other country on his itinerary.

Regarding the second issue you raised, first of all you are well aware that the Greek Prime Minister and the Greek government have made great efforts toward improving the climate in our bilateral relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We have shown at the negotiating table that Greece is participating in a constructive manner and wants a speedy solution on this issue: a solution that is a name with a geographical qualifier for use in relation to everyone, erga omnes.

The Greek Prime Minister has met a number of times with Prime Minister Gruevski, precisely in an effort to create a framework of trust so that we might help the negotiation process. Greece stands by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: We truly believe that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s moving ahead towards European institution is first and foremost to the benefit of the people of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but it is also to the benefit of Greece, within the framework of Athens’ strategic pursuit of the creation of a zone of security, development and stability on its borders.

But it needs to be clear that a foundation is needed, and this foundation is good neighbourly relations. The Greek Prime Minister is always ready to see his Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia counterpart. He has done so and will continue to do so. But it has to be clear that we need to see similar conduct from the Skopje side.

We have seen – even recently – a systematic violation of the interim accord, which we have brought before international organizations because this fact needs to be documented. We see the raising of statues, we see efforts to usurp Greek history – things that the interim accord expressly states must not be done, and the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is to blame here.

Specifically, everything we see happening and everything we are hearing about statues crosses the line and does not contribute toward enabling us to take the next step; it does not contribute toward better communication between the two peoples; it does not contribute to better relations between the two countries. When you have negative propaganda against Greece, how can you convince your people tomorrow that it is really worth compromising so that we can reach a solution? This rationale and attitude has to change.

For Greece’s part, it is a given that we have feelings of friendship for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but we also need to see this response and the political decision needs to be taken in Skopje, at long last, regarding the resolution of this issue. It’s possible. All that’s needed is the political will. That is what we are waiting for from the government in Skopje.

Mr. Papathaniasiou: Are there any plans for a visit to Skopje?

Mr. Delavekouras: We don’t have any such visit planned at this time.

Mr. Panteloglou: Mr. Spokesman, could you give us some more details regarding the Minister’s and Deputy Minister’s meeting with the businesspersons this morning? What kind of enterprises are these that are active and are still operating, if they are? Whether they can operate right now, in Libya. Whether some assistance measures have been decided on for Greek enterprises. Whether any that have already been decided on are being implemented.

Mr. Delavekouras: I’ll tell you about the basic needs that exist in Libya right now, and I will tell you about the discussion we had this morning. As I said, we are talking about the most critical and sensitive phase, because right now the National Transitional Council has essentially taken on a huge responsibility. It has undertaken to guide the Libyan people through the next steps of democratization, building institutions where there were none, developing infrastructure that was destroyed or didn’t exist in the first place.

There is an immediate need to deal with huge humanitarian issues, supply issues, issues concerning access to isolated areas of the country. All this has to be done while hostilities are continuing, and the international community is trying to coordinate the aid it is going provide to the NTC so that this process can move ahead.

Tomorrow’s meeting in Paris is very important, and other meetings will certainly follow. Greece’s position is, first of all, that the main role in the whole process has to go to the UN – not just for the legitimization it provides, but also because of its know-how in confronting situations of this kind.

So, these steps need to be taken in the political and economic dimensions, because for the democratization and institution-building processes to move ahead, there needs to be development. In other words, the people have to be able to meet their immediate needs.

Now, as to the Greek enterprises that are active in Libya, today’s meeting was mainly with representatives of companies active in the energy sector, the construction sector and the health sector. There are other enterprises active in Libya, and we will see how we can collaborate with everyone.

What is important at this stage is for Greece to be able to help with the humanitarian issues – due, for one thing, to our geographical position and the fact that Crete is a basic transit hub and point of reference for the humanitarian effort under way, but also because Greece’s relations with the Libyan people are relations of friendship, and it is precisely these close ties that we want to point up.

That is why we are working to see how to meet the specific needs that exist. There are very serious problems with the water supply right now, serious problems in the fuel sector, which impacts the electricity situation: the operation of hospitals, food storage and all that. All this has very serious repercussions, as you can see.

That is why we are working, in contact with the NTC, to be able to cover the needs that exist, in coordination with the European Union and the UN, of course.

Now, as regards Greek enterprises, we are not just interested in their staying there. We want them to expand the scope of their operations. It is an opportunity for the companies themselves, but it is also very important for the development effort that is going to be mounted in Libya.

To some extent, their activities have a humanitarian dimension. We are looking at how we can help with the water supply problem, where there is the know-how of the Greek Water Company (EYDAP), and this can help. The energy issue is important: getting Libya’s fuel supply system up and running again so that Libya itself can reactivate its oil wells and get back into the market.

We can also help in the health sector. We talked about some specific plans and proposals. We also talked about some problems that exist and are being faced by our companies, precisely because of the current situation, but also within the framework of the economic cooperation with Libya under the old regime; cooperation that was not as developed as it might have been.

The conclusion was that we are looking at how the Foreign Ministry can support them so that they can regain their position in the Libyan market and make the optimum contribution to the development effort that is starting.

Ms. Matsi: New Democracy MP Panos Panagiotopoulos submitted a question in Parliament yesterday, asking Mr. Lambrinidis if the Foreign Ministry intends to sell embassies, consulates and residences abroad. I would like to ask whether this is the case.

Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, let me say that state property, including missions and residences abroad, does not belong to the Foreign Ministry. It belongs to the Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation. Thus, those decisions are made by the Public Real Estate Corporation. Beyond that, it is a fact that the Foreign Ministry, in the effort to rationalize and reduce expenses, is taking care, whenever possible and when leases expire, to move to more economical premises.

Ms. Matsi: A related question: Have the scheduled re-postings been postponed, as we have heard?

Mr. Delavekouras: The posting process is moving ahead as planned. There were some minor delays, but those have been dealt with and, as far as I know, the process is moving ahead as usual.

Ms. Matsi: Right. My third and last question, regarding the ICJ decision on the Skopje case. Do we have anything new? When are we expecting a decision?

Mr. Delavekouras: Our assessment is that it will be in mid-November.

Ms. Voudouri: Let’s go back to the issue of public benefit foundations. According to an article in the Turkish daily “Vatan,” Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu raised the issue of mutuality regarding the return of the public benefit minority foundations, referring specifically, in fact, to his interest in Greece. What is your comment on that? Second, whether a mutuality issue was raised during Mr. Papandreou’s phone call to Mr. Erdogan yesterday.

Mr. Delavekouras: Let me start with a position of principle. A position of principle not just for Greece, but based on international law: There is no issue of mutuality on human rights matters. This is crystal clear and is set down in all international conventions on human rights.

States have an obligation to their citizens to protect human rights. They have a responsibility to their citizens and are judged on their conduct and the manner in which they protect their citizens. There is no issue of mutuality as concerns Turkey’s obligations to its own citizens. Obligations related to the injustices and obstacles that the Turkish state itself imposed on those citizens and the efforts the Turkish state is making today to remedy these injustices.

These obligations that Turkey has undertaken to its citizens are also obligations that Turkey has to the European Union, within the framework of meeting the accession process criteria. It is in this framework that assessment is made.

Mr. Papathanasiou: Nevertheless, this is the Greek position. Has the Turkish side, in any discussion with Greece, raised the issue of mutuality for the return of the public benefit foundations? At any time during this process, is there a Turkish law, has the Turkish side raised the issue of mutuality for Turkish public benefit foundations?

Mr. Delavekouras: I repeat that there is no issue of mutuality, and Greece is not discussing this based …

Mr. Meletis: The question is whether the issue has been raised. Whether we are discussing it is another matter.

Mr. Delavekouras: I say this because Ms. Voudouri said earlier that specific statements regarding mutuality were attributed to the Turkish Foreign Minister. I think the answer is clear: there is no issue of mutuality. Neither does Greece discuss matters concerning Greek citizens with third governments. I think this is crystal clear.

I would like to say once more that the move that was made – the Presidential Decree – was a positive step. It is important, first of all, for there to be a change in the Turkish state’s attitude to its citizens. The obstacles, the injustices, the persecutions suffered by minorities in Turkey were not the result of some external factor – they came from the Turkish state itself.

It is very significant that the Turkish Prime Minister and government have recognized these injustices and said they want to remedy them. This is very important in principle. The step that was taken was also very positive. But in the end we will have to base our judgements on the results. I remind you that in 2008 a law was passed on the public benefit foundations, but that law failed to remedy the situation. We are still waiting to see and to analyze the articles on how the law is to be implemented, and those haven’t been published yet. The applications of the members of the Greek minority will be assessed by a specific committee. Our final judgement has to be based on the results. But we acknowledge that the Turkish government has declared a new stance to its citizens, and this is important. Right now, a positive step has been taken.

Mr. Berberakis: Mr. Spokesman, regardless of whether or not it is an issue of mutuality, are there pending issues concerning the public benefit foundations of the Muslims in Thrace? Because from time to time we have heard – including from Ms. Bakoyannis, when she was foreign minister – that some problems were settled, and we didn’t know exactly what those problems were.

Mr. Delavekouras: I am not aware of any substantial property issues existing in Greece.

Thank you very much.