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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 11 October 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good afternoon. I’ll start with the Ministers’ programmes. Tomorrow at 12:00, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos will meet with BSEC Secretary General Victor Tvircun.

On Sunday and Monday, 14 and 15 October, Mr. Avramopoulos will be in Luxembourg to participate in the Foreign Affairs Council. In that context, at 19:30 on Sunday he will attend a dinner of EU Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Minister of Russia. On Monday he will participate in the working breakfast being hosted by the Foreign Ministers of Luxembourg and Germany.

The agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council includes a discussion of the latest developments in Syria, the situation in Mali, the course of the Middle East issue, Iran, and an assessment of the EU-China Summit Meeting.

On Thursday, 18 October, Mr. Avramopoulos will accompany the President of the Republic on a state visit to Egypt. This visit is very important to us because it is taking place within the framework of the excellent relations between the two countries, relations of friendship and cooperation, with the aim of capitalizing on the many opportunities that exist for strengthening this cooperation to the benefit of both peoples. As you are well aware, Greece has stood by Egypt’s side during the transition process, while at the same time arguing that the EU should also stand by Egypt’s side as it takes these steps.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas will be in Luxembourg on Tuesday, 16 October, to participate in the General Affairs Council. The GAC will look at preparations for the European Council meeting on 18-19 October and the November European Council, and there will be a Presidency presentation on the course of the implementation of the Conclusions of the previous European Council.

During this past week we have had important visits from the Foreign Minister of Albania and the Turkish Foreign Minister, and we had very useful talks and consultations that we can talk about today.

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

K. FRYSSA: What is the Greek Foreign Ministry’s comment on the progress reports on Greece’s neighbouring countries: Albania, FYROM, and Turkey?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is a longstanding process followed within the framework of the EU enlargement policy. These reports essentially set down the Commission’s views on the course and progress of the reforms in these countries in the context of the prerequisites and requirements set by the European Union. These countries are at differing levels of progress. We can talk about each country separately later on, but on the whole I must say that it is a process on which, as you know, the EU Council takes a stance, and the EU Council is responsible for taking decisions on these issues.

As for the accession process, more generally, I must say that Greece is one of the countries in the EU that is at the forefront in promoting the European perspectives of all these countries. We do this because it is our strategic choice to create on our borders a region of peace, security, stability, progress, and development.

Through this process we want to create opportunities that will improve the standard of living of the citizens of these countries, bringing them closer to Europe through the adoption of European standards, European models, and in this manner to essentially complete the European presence in our neighbourhood. This is a very important process – a process that we see as a step of peace and stability that Greece is working very intensively to support.

As you will know, it is among the basic priorities of Greece’s upcoming EU Presidency – in the first half of 2014 – to promote Agenda 2014, which is aimed precisely at imparting momentum to and turning Europe’s attention to our region, despite the difficulties that exist currently, due to the economic state of affairs, precisely because we want to see progress made. We want to be able to leave behind the Balkan mindset of the past so that we can build the Europe of the future, all together, making the necessary reforms, complying with the necessary criteria that are, first of all, in the interest of the countries who want to join the EU. That is a general stance, and we can continue that discussion later on.

D. ANTONIOU: In a discussion he had yesterday with journalists, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu said that Greece cannot declare an EEZ as long as the exploratory talks are pending and before the breadth of territorial waters and the continental shelf is determined. What is the Greek government’s view of this stance?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I’ll start by saying that I don’t know exactly what Mr. Davutoglu has said, so I can’t comment. But I can tell you what Greece’s positions are on a number of issues.

I’ll start with the talks themselves, which took place in a positive climate and  had as their main subject the preparations for the High Level Cooperation Council between the two countries, which is set to take place in January, in Turkey. Yesterday’s meeting took place within the framework of strengthening Greek-Turkish relations, and we ascertained a mutual will to move ahead. As Foreign Minister Avramopoulos said, we need to leave the past behind us, with respect for history, so that we can jointly build a future of peace for our peoples. This is something we can achieve, and we will use all the tools at our disposal to this end. And one of the main tools is the High Level Cooperation Council.

Yesterday they discussed the sectors on which we will focus our attention in order to identify areas where Greek-Turkish cooperation can bring mutual benefits to both peoples. There are already examples of successful cooperation, and we want this to become even more intensive and bring even better results. That’s why there will be meetings on the ministerial level in the coming time, between the two sides, so that preparations can be made.

Beyond that, both sides acknowledge that there are issues in our relations; issues that we need to confront, because otherwise we cannot move ahead to full normalization of our relations, which is the ultimate goal. That is why the Greek side has repeatedly made clear its positions on all of these issues, and the Foreign Ministry said yesterday that actions that run the risk of causing an accident or a crisis – or that unquestionably put a strain on the climate in our bilateral relations – need to be avoided. So it is very important that we be able to build trust.

Regarding the continental shelf issue, as you know – and this is Greece’s longstanding position – the exploratory talks are being carried out with the aim of seeking common ground for the opening of negotiations that will allow for the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries from Evros to Kastelorizo. What was discussed yesterday was the continuation of this process and our having a meeting of the representatives from both sides in the coming weeks. This meeting will be announced in the usual way. So, this is Greece’s crystal clear position, based on which we are talking with Turkey.

A. BARAKAT: The day before yesterday there were discussions between Egypt and Foreign Ministry officials. Can you tell us something more about what they have discussed and whether there is anything more regarding the visit of the President and the Minister to Egypt.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: These announcements will naturally be made by the President of the Republic. What I can stress is that Greece sees Egypt as a very, very important, invaluable strategic partner in our region. We regard Egypt as a very important country in the region.

The Egyptian people took their fate into their own hands, expressed themselves genuinely, and have started down the path towards creating a new reality that will undoubtedly impact the whole region. Greece wants to stand by the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government every step of the way in this process. We want to support Egypt. As you know, we have historical relations, traditional relations, but we also have a significant presence today, with the Greek community that is very active, in Cairo and Alexandria, as well as the presence of Greek enterprises that are active and are creating the conditions for growth. It is characteristic that the Greek investment presence in Egypt increased following the revolution there. This is a clear vote of confidence Greece has given to Egypt.

Within the framework of the President of the Republic’s visit, we will have the opportunity to discuss the whole range of Greek-Egyptian relations and how we can promote our cooperation even further, as well as how we can attract the interest of the European Union so that it can have a more intensive presence, realizing that this is an investment in the European Union itself. Because Egypt is at a strategic location in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. It is important not only that Egypt succeed, but also that the whole region emerge – together – from this current period of instability and move toward stability and development.

D. ANTONIOU: I’d like to backtrack a little. You answered with regard to the exploratory contacts that are being held regarding the delimitation of the continental shelf. My question was this: Mr. Davutoglu linked the process for the declaration of the EEZ with the process of delimiting the continental shelf and territorial waters, and I wonder whether the Greek side sees these issues as being linked.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is clear in the Law of the Sea – it is absolutely clear. I can repeat to you that the matter of declaring maritime zones is the sovereign right of every coastal state.

As you know, Greece has made the strategic choice of moving ahead to the delimitation of all maritime zones with all its neighbours. This is very clear. It is a policy that we have followed consistently in recent years, and in that context there have already been a number of developments. As you know, we have signed an agreement on the delimitation of maritime zones with Albania; with Italy there has been an agreement on the delimitation of the continental shelf since 1977; and with Libya and Egypt, talks are continuing despite the crisis. Foreign Minister Avramopoulos, in the meetings he had with his counterparts – in Egypt and in New York – had the opportunity to discuss precisely this issue, and there is interest from their side as well in moving ahead with the relevant negotiations on the level of experts.

With regard to the Republic of Cyprus, as you know, we are in ongoing contact and ongoing coordination. With regard to Turkey, I mentioned the exploratory talks earlier. So I think that the framework is perfectly clear and is described clearly in the Law of the Sea.

G. VLAVIANOS: Mr. Spokesman, watching the two Foreign Ministers’ statements yesterday, what I observed is that the two countries remain in the positions they have taken so far, even in terms of what you just said about the Law of the Sea: we support it, Turkey has not signed it. How do you build relations of mutual trust when we once again heard statements saying that everyone stands on what they have supported to date? We didn’t see anything different.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As I said earlier, it is the choice of Greece and of Turkey, as stated yesterday by the Foreign Ministers after their meeting, for our two countries to take steps forward, to create a different climate in their relations and to be able to move ahead, creating an environment of cooperation that will benefit not only the two countries, but stability throughout our neighbourhood. Because there’s no getting round the fact that Greece and Turkey have a strategic role in this region. But there are different stances, and there are often actions that strain the climate and create obstacles, and might even create the conditions for an accident or crisis. These need to be avoided – they have to stop.

We are talking so that we can really be able to turn the page. Greece’s positions are well known, and Turkey’s positions are well known. Moreover, each side is aware of the other’s position, but as Greece we always keep international organizations, our partners, the European Union, the Alliance apprised, so that everyone has a clear and complete picture. International law is very clear on the substance of these issues. Beyond that, we are looking at how we can take steps forward, but always while defending our national rights, our rights, the country’s interests, and with respect for international law.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask you this, because Mr. Davutoglu said something about Kastelorizo, and I want to ask you whether these exploratory talks – where, as you said, the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries is being discussed – include Kastelorizo; that is, the region outside the Aegean, the region around Kastelorizo.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I repeat that Greece’s position is that the exploratory contacts are being held so that we can seek common ground for opening negotiations on the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries throughout its length, from Evros to Kastelorizo.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Right. So from your answer we can conclude that it is a negotiation on the negotiation. That’s what you said.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: They’re not negotiations. They are exploratory contacts.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Exploratory talks discussing how the negotiations will take place. I get it.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Exploratory talks to seek common ground for negotiations on the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries throughout its length, from Evros to Kastelorizo.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: With regard to Mr. Avramopoulos’s statement – the Greek side’s showing yet again its solidarity with Turkey on the Syria issue – I wonder, does this solidarity serve some Greek national interest? I remind you that Syria is a traditional friend of Greece, and the Assad regime in particular signed a strategic cooperation agreement in the mid-1990s. I also remind you that there is a Christian community that supports the Assad regime and fears the coming of another, and I also remind you that there is foreign intervention – agreed on in the foreign media – by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So why is Greece adopting such a view in favor of Turkey when Greece itself is being threatened by Turkey and half of Cyprus is under Turkish occupation? I’m a little confused.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you said, Greece, the Greek people, has traditional relations with the Syrian people.

At this time there is a specific reality. This reality is that the Assad regime chose the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations and attacked the Syrian people. The situation in Syria has deteriorated significantly, with an incalculable cost in human lives for the civilian population, and that needs to stop immediately. So I don’t think it serves anyone’s interests for us to seek ways to relativize the tragedy that is happening right now in Syria.

Greece has taken a clear stance on the situation in Syria and has said that we need to seek a political solution and nothing else. We believe that it is only through political processes that a viable solution can be found for the Syrian crisis, and this means dialogue between the opposing parties, so that the Syrian people can genuinely express themselves and decide on their future, with respect for the sovereignty of Syria and popular will. This is Greece’s position. This is what we have expressed at all the fora in which we participate.

As for the specific incident to which you referred, shells were fired on Turkish territory and the Atlantic Alliance, of which Greece is a member, expressed its solidarity with Turkey – which had come under attack – and at the same time asked that the hostile actions stop immediately. This was also acknowledged by the Syrian regime in a relevant letter sent to the UN. At the same time, Greece said from the very outset – we were here at the briefing last week – that we need to aim for de-escalation, that the danger of the crisis’s spreading is real and great, and that is why we must do whatever we can to help a political process move ahead.

A. VOUDOURI: As you referred to Syria, yesterday the Greek side, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, raised the issue of illegal migration under the shadow of the refugee burden Turkey is now facing. We didn’t hear Mr. Davutoglu respond to that, at least publicly. Did we have any development?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The illegal migration issue is a very important issue for Greece, because Greece right now, as a member of the European Union and the Schengen space, is under disproportionately heavy pressure from this situation, in comparison to any other member state. We mustn’t forget that the motivation behind this illegal migration is not to end up in Greece. These people are trying to get to Europe. It is above all an issue that compromises human dignity, and we need to confront it. It has a very sensitive humanitarian dimension. Beyond that, it is an issue that is being used by smugglers to exploit human souls, and those responsible must be brought to justice so that we can put an end to this situation.

As to the specific tools we are using to confront the issue: First of all we are in talks with our European partners so that we can make it clear – and this has now been realized by everyone – that this is a European problem. We are collaborating with the European Commission, we are cooperating on economic and technical issues, we have the Frontex presence in Greece, a strong presence that assists the Greek forces; we have many initiatives being taken on the level of domestic legislation, procedures and institutions, so that we can handle situations that are created by the presence in our country of such a large number of illegal migrants. Naturally – and this is of critical importance – we need to have cooperation with our neighbouring countries. We need cooperation first of all with Turkey, with whom we have had a readmission agreement since 2002; an agreement that is not being implemented as we would like to see it implemented; that isn’t substantially confronting the real dimensions of the problem.

We have seen that there is now better cooperation from the Turkish side on a technical level. There are meetings of competent committees, there are contacts between the forces whose job it is to guard the borders on each side. But a lot more needs to be done, and that is why this issue was so high on the agenda for the talks we had with the Turkish Foreign Minister. And we will continue to have these meetings, because in the end, Turkey, too, needs to confront this problem. Turkey is part of this whole situation, it is a basic link in this chain, and we need to have better cooperation so that we can close off the routes used by smugglers and put an end to this situation.

At the same time – and we mustn’t forget this either – it is vital that we have better cooperation with third countries, the countries of origin, because it is there, too, that the European Union needs to speak in a single voice, and efforts are being made in that direction. But a lot more must be done, because as long as there is this steady flow of illegal migrants towards our country, we will not be able to confront it just by guarding Greece’s borders. It has to be dealt with at its source. So we need readmission agreements that are implemented.

On the level of Turkey, to return to your question, there is already a text of a readmission agreement that Turkey has agreed to with the European Union and that has yet to be ratified and implemented. It is important for this text to move ahead. It is vital that this pending issue be closed so that the agreement can be implemented. Meanwhile, however, we need to achieve better implementation, because the implementation we have had to date – of the existing Greek-Turkish readmission agreement – does not suffice.

C. BOUATARD: On the issue of Syria and the refugees. Mr. Dendias was heard to say to an Alpha camera, during a visit to Amygdaleza – and he was relaxed, so it wasn’t a gaffe; we are trying to check – that Greece is prepared to receive 30,000 Syrian refugees. We heard this from a colleague, so we’re sure. We are trying to check this with the Ministry. From the Foreign Ministry – because we were talking about Syrian refugees, which is not exactly the same issue as illegal migration – is there some plan, some understanding concerning Europe, for a first wave, if it comes, a first plan for temporary hosting of refugees here in Greece?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I am not aware of the statement you are referring to, so I won’t comment.

C. BOUATARD: Based on what to us, too, seemed a little …

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Now, regarding the substance of the matter. At this time, we have a very difficult situation that is deteriorating constantly in Syria. We have a steady flow of refugees towards neighbouring countries. This has repercussions first of all for these countries that are receiving these refugees, and though Turkey may be heard about more, in fact the issue is much more serious for Jordan and Lebanon, and Iraq has received thousands of refugees, but this is a burning issue for Jordan and Lebanon.

For that reason, on the level of the European Union, what we are discussing is supporting – but really supporting, with means, with funds, so that they can handle this huge burden – the countries neighbouring on Syria. This is the first action that needs to be taken, the top priority, because as a rule, in such crisis situations, the greatest burden falls on neighbouring countries. So that is where we have to put the emphasis. Beyond that, on the level of the EU, there will naturally be some discussions on the potential each country has to receive refugees should that become necessary. We are not there yet, and I think that, as Greece, but much more as the European Union, we need to put emphasis right now on supporting the neighbouring countries, who have a real need of this support.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask about the report that came out yesterday on your neighbouring country. In it there is a reference …, there is the word “Macedonian”. Do you have a comment on that issue and a general assessment of the report, how you saw it. Is it generally positive? And whether Greece could accept there being two parallel processes: our getting a date for the opening of accession negotiations, and parallel continuation of the negotiations to resolve the name issue.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Before anything else, I want to remind you that there is a specific procedure that is provided for: The Commission carries out this assessment, does this progress report every year, and then the Council makes decisions. The Council – the member states, that is – is responsible for this, and for the last three years it has expressed a clear position. This position should be respected. It is important for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to realize this: that this position must be respected.

Greece made a very positive and constructive proposal, and in fact notified its partners, allies and collocutors internationally of this initiative. The response we have had so far is very positive. Everyone recognizes that Greece took a positive step aimed at breaking the impasse. Greece is taking an important initiative aimed at moving ahead.

So far we haven’t had any official reaction from the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia beyond an entry into a calendar, from what I understand. In contrast, yesterday we had a statement from Enlargement Commissioner Fule saying that this proposal is serious and that he hopes the government of FYROM will respond positively. We are waiting to see this response, because we believe that it can be the catalyst for our moving forward.

Regarding the contents of the report, concerning the use you mentioned of that term, I must say that we were not at all impressed with the way the leadership of FYROM essentially tried to “blackmail” the European Commission, saying that it will not accept and will not take delivery of the report. We don’t think this is proper conduct for a country that is a candidate for accession to the European Union.

Moreover, we have been informed that efforts were made by the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for there to be very extensive use of various terms, and we see that they weren’t used in the end. Obviously, the Commission chose not to do so.

In any case, this matter is one that in our opinion was pointed up as a ruse by the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to distract attention from the content, from the substance of the report from the Commission, which every year finds there to be serious shortfalls. Dealing with these shortfalls will be, first of all, to the benefit of the country itself, to the people of the country. We believe that sweeping problems under the rug essentially makes those problems grow, and tomorrow you will have to face them in larger form. Because our neighbourhood has often confronted very serious problems – precisely because it covered up the issues that existed – we believe that these should be made clear and that we must speak frankly.

Greece makes its own assessment of the progress of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I has nothing to do with the assessment carried out by the European Commission, and Greece will take a clear stance at the Council in December. In any case, I repeat – so as to be perfectly clear – that the decisions on these matters are the responsibility of the member states and the Council of the European Union, and the decisions of the Council must be respected.

Greece’s positions are absolutely clear and have been made clear to all the organs of the European Union and to all our partners, naturally.

And in any case, we must not forget the substance of the matter. The substance is that we have an opportunity right now, with the proposal Greece has made, to take a step forward. Rather than entrenching itself with pretenses, the leadership of FYROM needs to respond in substance. At this time it is to the benefit of both countries to take steps forward, and Greece has once again done so. It took the initiative that was needed for us to achieve this. It is an opportunity.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Can I get a clarification on that? Let’s say that Skopje responds to this step forward, as you called it, from the Greek government. In what sense do you think this will help in the resolution of the name issue?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Greek initiative, as I said last week, sets out a framework that will allow us to move ahead. I clarifies the framework and the basic parameters for a solution – a solution we have been seeking for almost 20 years now – based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Everyone acknowledges that this UN process has not made progress. Greece has taken major steps in these efforts and submitted them at the negotiating table, but so far it hasn’t seen the necessary response.

In taking this initiative, Greece is revitalizing the negotiation process at the UN. We hope that the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will respond positively and that it won’t let this opportunity go by. It is in their hands, and we are certain that, if they respond positively, this will impart an totally different dynamic to our bilateral relations. It will respond to all those who are trying to cultivate hostility between the two peoples, and naturally it will give fresh momentum to this country’s Euroatlantic and European perspective. And more importantly, it will enable us to resolve the name issue and capitalize on the vast potential that exists for development of our relations.

P. PAPATHANSIOU: Mr. Spokesman, due to the ongoing Sino-Japanese tension over the disputed islands, the central banker of China and four other state banks yesterday cancelled their participation in the Meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Tokyo. This Meeting, in which a former Greek prime minister will participate, is critical for the country, particularly at this time in the negotiations, and this move by Beijing, as you can see, created concerns as to its outcome. I’d like your comment, please.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Issues that concern the Law of the Sea – as we well know – delimitation of maritime zones, are very complex and technical, and settlement of these issues requires procedures, negotiations that are time consuming and demanding. That is why Greece wants to take steps forward with the achievement of agreements on the delimitation of maritime zones with all its neighbours. Because it isn’t just a matter of the economic benefits. It is also the impact the achievement of such agreements has on the creation of a climate and an environment of stability and security regionally, across a much larger area than concerns the two countries talking at a given time. We hope there will be restraint there, as well, but we hope that here – because, I say again, we are very familiar with these issues – we will see mindsets prevail that will allow us to achieve such agreements, which we are certain will create economic, investment and development opportunities. But even more, they will also contribute to peace and stability.

Thank you very much.