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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 06 October 2011

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

This afternoon, Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis will participate in the President of the Republic’s reception of the President of Ukraine, which will take place at the Presidential Mansion, and he will then take part in the expanded talks between the delegations. This evening, Mr. Lambrinidis will attend a dinner being hosted by the President of the Republic in honor of the Ukrainian President.

Tomorrow, Friday, 7 October, Mr. Lambrinidis will have meetings with the U.S. Ambassador (10:30), the new French Ambassador (11:30), and the new Chinese Ambassador (12:15).

On Saturday and Sunday, 8 and 9 October, Mr. Lambrinidis – accompanied by the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry – will travel to Mount Athos to participate in the 20th anniversary of the enthronement of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch.

On Monday and Tuesday, 10 and 11 October, the Foreign Minister will be in Luxembourg to participate in the meetings of the EU Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils (FAC/GAC).

The FAC agenda will include the Southern Neighbourhood (Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt); possibly Yemen, in light of recent developments; Iran; the EU-China Summit; and the Middle East peace process.

The GAC – which will also be participated in by Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou – will focus on Cohesion Policy, which will be presented by the Commission; the measures for bolstering development, which the Presidency will brief the Council on; and preparations for the October 17-18 European Council and the G-20 set for 3-4 November, in Cannes.

Wednesday through Friday, 12 to 14 October, Mr. Lambrinidis – accompanied by Foreign Ministry Secretary General Ambassador Yannis Alexis Zeppos and heads of major Greek business agencies, as well as a parliamentary delegation composed of members of the National Council on Foreign Policy – will carry out visits to North Africa and the Middle East. The first stop on the tour will be Cairo, where Mr. Lambrinidis will meet with his Egyptian counterpart and the Secretary General of the Arab League. The itinerary also includes meetings with the Alternate Minister for Investments, with representatives of political parties, and with Greek Egyptian organizations.

On Thursday, 13 October 2011, Mr. Lambrinidis will be in Amman, where he will be received by the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. There will also be meetings with the Parliamentary Greek-Jordanian Friendship Committee and the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee.

The last stop on the tour, on Friday, 14 October, will be Beirut, Lebanon, where Mr. Lambrinidis is scheduled to be received by the President of the Republic, the Parliament and the Government, and to meet with his Lebanese counterpart. The Minister will take the opportunity of this visit to unveil a memorial plaque to George Seferis, at a ceremony to be attended by Lebanese officials.

On Friday, October 7, Alternate Foreign Minister Xenogiannakopoulou will meet here in Athens with Commissioner Maria Damanaki.

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

A. FOURLIS: Do you have anything new to give us on activity in the wider Middle East region, in Cyprus, how the drilling is progressing, whether you have had anything new from the Cypriot government, and whether you discern any movement to a degree that would be a problem from the Turkish side?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you can see, we are monitoring all the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region very closely. We have said very clearly from the outset that Turkey should desist from actions that might cause tensions and that Turkey needs to respect international law and conduct itself accordingly so that we can avoid an increase in tensions in the region at a critical time, when the Eastern Mediterranean and the countries of the region have very serious challenges to confront.

Challenges deriving from the developments in the Arab Spring, the developments in Syria, from the fact that the Palestinian question is in a very critical phase. And at precisely such a time we see that Turkey – through actions and statements – is creating conditions for increased tensions.

This is a firm and clear message that we have sent to the Turkish side in the meetings the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister have had with their counterparts, and we want to see exactly this respect for international law and the consolidation of stability in our region.

Beyond that, it needs to be clear that Greece is moving ahead with all the necessary actions to fully and always defend its sovereign rights and is sending this message to Turkey in a very clear manner.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Mr. Spokesman, I heard your warning to Turkey. But now I want to ask you – because I read with some surprise, I must admit, in Kathimerini, an Israeli article, a translation, that is, in which the columnist said more or less that he wonders about the possibility of some Israeli pilot getting angry, pushing the button, and shooting down a Turkish plane, taking us into a regional clash.

As you can see, we are in a very tense situation. Fighter pilots don’t usually get angry, because otherwise we would have had an infinite number of wars. So I am wondering how Athens sees the possibility of involvement in a regional clash in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in this state of affairs. What I want to say is, apart from the warning to Turkey, which was understood, what other measures are you taking and what is your analysis of the situation?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, let me say that I will not comment on any article that puts forth hypothetical scenarios.

But I think I have already replied, saying that the actions of Turkey are essentially provoking tensions and creating hazards, and this is something all of us should avoid, and we believe that it is in the interest of all the countries of the region to consolidate stability.

We have said before that Turkey is trying to militarize the discussion on the developments on this issue, and we believe that this is a dangerous choice. We have said that we will not follow suit with this kind of thinking on Ankara’s part. We are responding with strong arguments, we are responding within the framework of international law, and we are calling on Turkey – which has recently been invoking international law frequently – to respect it.

This is our position. I think that it is absolutely clear and I hope that we won’t see a continuation of these practices that create tense conditions. What there should be is communication and cooperation and self-evident recognition of all the sovereign rights of every state in the region.

Within this framework, I need to repeat that the Republic of Cyprus is exercising self-evident sovereign rights in carrying out exploration of its natural wealth. This is crystal clear, and the international community has taken a position on this – all the countries with an interest in the region have taken an clear position and said that the Republic of Cyprus has this self-evident right.

A. FOURLIS: Following on from that, under the conditions taking shape today, could you tell us whether a productive enough climate has been created by the Greek and Turkish sides for the holding of the next meeting of the high-level cooperation council, in late October or early November?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece’s choice and will is to have good relations with Turkey. This is a choice deriving from the fact that this is to the benefit of both countries.

That is why we have tried to strengthen and deepen our relations. That is why we moved ahead with the institutionalization of our cooperation through the founding of the High-Level Cooperation Council, which at its first meeting produced very important results; results with an immediate positive impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens in both countries, and that is the spirit in which we want to continue.

It is obvious that this effort needs to take place in an environment that will help us achieve results. In the discussion in New York and elsewhere between Mr. Lambrinidis and Mr. Davutoglu, we have said that we want the High-Level Cooperation Council to take place, and it needs to take place in an environment that allows for productiveness and results.

We haven’t talked about specific dates yet. This still needs to be discussed, and naturally everything will be taken into account in that discussion.

A. PELONI: In the same context, I wanted to ask whether you observe a slowdown on Greek-Turkish issues. We haven’t had exploratory contacts since the end of June or early July, if I remember correctly. There were elections in Turkey. Now it’s October. Will there be a meeting soon? Are we waiting for this whole story in the Eastern Mediterranean to end – if and when – to move ahead again? Because things seem to have stagnated.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Together, the two countries have decided to intensify the exploratory contacts, and this is what they have done. Such meetings have been held much more regularly. I am not in a position right now to say when the next meeting will be, but the last one took place fairly recently – the end of August I think – but we can check on that. But what the Greek side wants is to have progress in the exploratory contacts. We believe that the settlement of the issue of the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries will have very positive results, both for relations between the two countries and for our region as a whole, because it functions as a factor for stability, and this is the framework within which we are continuing.

F. PAPATHANASIOU: What was the reason for yesterday’s visit by Mr. Dollis to the offices of New Democracy, and what did he discuss with Mr. Avramopoulos and Mr. Panagiotopoulos.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: It was a briefing that the Deputy Foreign Minister gives to the opposition from time to time on issues in his portfolio.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, following the meetings Mr. Lambrinidis had in New York with Ban Ki-moon, with Mr. Nimetz and with his counterpart, can we expect some development on the name issue?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece’s desire, which it expresses at every opportunity, is for us to have progress, and we believe that there is a very clear framework for achieving this progress. What is also clear is that Greece has maintained a very constructive stance throughout the time the negotiations have been taking place, and in the same spirit we continue to participate in the negotiations at the UN.

However, I must admit that so far we have not seen from the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the change of stance and will for progress that would allow us to reach a result. In fact, even at the General Assembly we saw moves being made that are not commensurate to this effort and were in a spirit that unfortunately does not inspire optimism about progress.

However – and I want to send this message once again to public opinion in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – Greece wants to reach a solution. Greece wants to achieve a solution at the soonest possible time, and Greece wants to stand at the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s side, having consistently supported its Euroatlantic and European perspective.

We want to continue to do this, and we believe that with a solution on the name issue – which is a prerequisite for both the EU and NATO – we will really be able to develop the dynamic of this relationship and very quickly promote the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s European and Euroatlantic perspective.

S. RISTOVSKA: Do we have any news from Nimetz? Whether he wants to come to the region.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Mr. Nimetz made statements in New York, saying it is not on his programme right now to visit the region. Beyond that, of course, it is up to him to decide what his next steps are going to be.

M. POPOVIK: Do we have any news from The Hague on the case between Skopje and Greece? And can you tell us something about Greece’s strategy in case of a negative or positive result?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: At this stage, no, as you can understand. We are awaiting the Court’s decision. The procedure is in progress and we will have to see what decision the Court comes to, and, naturally, afterwards we will take a position.

F. PAPATHANASIOU: What is your assessment of the situation developing in Cyprus following the Polyvios findings, in the midst of all these developments, and the and the drilling in the area and the general state of affairs?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you raised a number of issues, first of all I want to make it clear that the issue of the findings on and investigation into the explosion is a purely domestic issue of the Republic of Cyprus; an issue to which I will not return.

Beyond that, regarding all the other issues you mentioned, as I said earlier, what we want is to see stability in the region and respect for the self-evident sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, which Turkey persists in challenging. The negotiations on the Cyprus issue are at a very critical stage. Unfortunately, as we saw in the statement made by the Turkish Prime Minister, Turkey continues, in essence, to be an obstacle to progress, and this needs to change.

It is a given that Turkey, with its occupation army, is exercising decisive control over occupied Cyprus and similarly impacting the progress in the negotiations, as well. Turkey should guide the Turkish Cypriot side so that we can see progress.

The UN Secretary-General invited the two leaders to a meeting, at which  we hope there will be progress, but this naturally depends on the results and on the stances maintained by the two sides at the negotiating table. And, unfortunately, neither the statements nor the information we have on the progress in the negotiations currently inspire optimism as to progress; progress that President Christofias and the Greek Cypriot side have pursued consistently.

N. MELETIS: Are you satisfied with the draft Progress Report on Turkey, which I assume was done following efforts on the part of the Greek government, as well?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Progress Report drawn up by the Commission is a Commission document that sets out the Commission’s positions. Right now, as far as I know, the process of drawing up the document is still under way, so I won’t comment on that anyway. Beyond that, I want to stress that the Council and the member states will take stances at the December General Affairs Council.

N. MELETIS: I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I said that the Report is a document that sets out the views of the Commission. The member states and the Council take positions through their own procedures. Beyond that, I will not take a stance on a text that has yet to be finalized. I have seen leaks, but this, of course, does not reflect the final text.

N. MELETIS: Given that the Commission texts are important in the accession process of every candidate country, I want to ask, is it your hope that the threatening and revisionist stance Turkey has taken over the past six months in the Eastern Mediterranean will be noted? And, as the Greek government, have you taken steps to ensure that this will be set down in the Commission’s Report?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I repeat that this document is a document that expresses the views of the Commission, but I think it is obvious that it will be an objective record of the reality of the situation. And the reality of the situation is that recently we have see conduct on the part of Turkey that is cause for concern.

A. FOURLIS: I’d like to ask a question on another issue. Do you have any comment on the case of the Albanian census or any new information or some comment to make on how the process is going?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We think that the census should function as a tool for the better functioning of Albania’s Public Administration towards its citizens and the consolidation and defense of the rights of the minorities living in the country. The decision of the representatives of the major minority groups, including the Greek National Minority, to call on their members to abstain in protest against the fact that respect for the right to free self-determination is not being strengthened is indicative of a very serious lack of trust in the Albanian government among the minorities, and the Albanian government itself should deal with this as a matter of urgency.

Respect for human and minority rights is, for the European Union, an essential criterion for progress in the accession negotiations. Over the years, Greece has invested in the building of good relations with Albania, and we will continue to do so, considering self-evident, within this framework, that there should be respect for and protection of the rights of the Greek National Minority, which is a bridge of friendship between the two countries.

N. MELETIS: Do you agree with the abstention that has been declared by Omonoia and the other Organizations?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is the decision of the representatives of the minorities in the country, and it is a decision that, as I said, unfortunately points to the lack of trust in the Albanian state.

Thank  you very much.