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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Friday, 09 December 2011

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. As you know, these past 10 days have seen intensive diplomatic developments and contacts. The Foreign Minister, following his first visit, which was to Cyprus, went to Germany, where he had a bilateral meeting with his German counterpart, as well as with his counterpart from Poland, which currently holds the EU Presidency. They were very good meetings within the framework of preparations we were making for the developments that followed.

Foreign Minister Dimas also took the opportunity of the three Ministerials this week – at the EU, the OSCE and NATO – to hold bilateral meetings with a number of his counterparts, with whom he discussed a wide range of issues, from Greek foreign policy issues to issues concerning the economic crisis in Europe, as well as the need for Greece’s image abroad to change. In this context, he met with his counterparts from France, Italy, Belgium and elsewhere.

Mr. Dimas also met in a very friendly climate with the Foreign Minister of Russia, with whom he discussed a wide range of issues concerning Greek-Russian relations. They discussed the strengthening of the contractual framework for cooperation between the two countries, and Mr. Dimas noted the importance to Greece of strengthened relations with Russia and the participation of Russian enterprises in the investment opportunities arising in our country right now. Naturally, they also discussed the strong tourist flow coming from Russia, our further cooperation in the visa area and progress on signing the relevant protocol between the two countries. The Greek consulates have already taken action to speed up the process for issuing visas to Russian nationals. Finally, they discussed developments in our region, the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus.

Mr. Dimas also met a short while ago with the U.S. Secretary of State on the margins of the NATO Ministerial. Their meeting took place on the initiative of the U.S., lasted about 45 minutes, and took place in a very warm climate. During the meeting, the two ministers had the opportunity to discuss developments in the economy. The U.S. side reiterated how much it respects and admires the efforts Greece and the Greek people are making to emerge for the crisis, as well as its commitment to stand by Greece in this effort.

Mr. Dimas proposed the reactivation of the Greek-American Joint Committee on Economy and Trade, and the two sides agreed to look at the details and move ahead on this. They also discussed the need to attract U.S. investments to Greece, to improve Greece’s image in the U.S., capitalize on the potential of the Greek American community – this was noted by both sides – and continue our cooperation between the two Foreign Ministries on all the issues concerning our region. Within this framework, they naturally discussed developments in the Balkans, the issue of the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the Cyprus issue.

As you know, this week was very important. Greek foreign policy, the Greek Foreign Minister, essentially had to confront very difficult circumstances and, despite that fact, we were able to meet the challenges before us.

On Monday, the International Court of Justice issued its judgement. You are aware of this. The Foreign Ministry took a position, and we can discuss that when I’ve finished. That was followed by two Ministerials, the EU Meeting of Foreign Ministers on Monday, and the NATO Ministerial on Wednesday.

In unanimous decisions, these two organizations essentially reaffirmed the open-door policy; the fact that they are prepared to welcome candidate countries into these organizations, reiterating the prerequisites that must be met in order to achieve this goal. We see this as a positive message that candidate countries must capitalize on. It’s up to the candidate countries themselves.

These decisions are very important. It is very important that they come following the ICJ judgement, and we hope they will serve as a springboard, with regard to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, so that we can intensify the negotiations within the UN framework, under the Secretary General’s special representative, Mr. Nimetz, so that we can reach a solution. This is Greece’s firm will. We have shown this at every opportunity. We have shown it at the negotiating table, and we hope we will be able to see real progress.

As you are well aware, Greece has worked for the European and Euroatlantic perspectives of the countries of the Western Balkans, and we will continue to do so in the coming time, taking relevant initiatives to further strengthen these perspectives, culminating in the Greek EU Presidency in the first half of 2014. We want to have all our partners in the Western Balkans with us in this effort. That is our thinking, because we believe that the European vision for the region is in essence a vision of peace and development. It is in everyone’s interest to work for this.

Regarding the programme, Foreign Minister Dimas is still in Brussels and will be at the Prime Minister’s disposal within the framework of the European Council. And of course the proceedings of the NATO Ministerial are still under way.

Alternate Foreign Minister Xenogiannakopoulou is in Brussels to accompany the Prime Minister. The European Council agenda, as you know, includes the economic and financial crisis, the Union’s economic policy, enlargement issues, the Bulgarian and Romanian bids to join the Schengen area, and the situation in Iran.

Finally the ceremony for Croatia’s signing of the Treaty of Accession is set to take place on Friday, 9 December.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis will be in Moscow from 14 to 17 December to participate in the 25th BSEC Meeting of Foreign Ministers. He will meet with Russian officials on the margins of the Ministerial.

The Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations, Mr. Papadopoulos, will be in Berlin on 12 and 13 December to participate in a conference being organized by the Greek Embassy, in collaboration with the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The conference is on investment opportunities in Greece. And on 14 and 15 December, Mr. Papadopoulos will be in Geneva to participate in the Foreign Affairs Council on trade policy issues.

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

A. PELONI: I wanted to ask about the ICJ judgement. Whether you are concerned at the fact that in the judgement the judges’ interpretation was somewhat broad, considering even the expression of objections a veto. That’s one question. The other is, given that we had many, many instances of violations of the interim accord throughout these years, why didn’t the Court accept them? Was the evidence lacking? Did we not have enough evidence to prove what we were saying? There were so many instances: from basketball to their appearing at the UN under the name “Macedonia”, etc. How do you explain this?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, let me note that the interim accord, in article 11, refers to objection, so that was what the ICJ was being called upon to examine. I would like us to bear in mind that the ICJ considered a specific case based on specific circumstances and specific facts.

Before we start making generalizations about what this judgement means, we need to allow a little time for our legal experts to examine the judgement very carefully and assess every aspect of it. But I want to stress that we need to be very careful when we interpret the Court’s judgment, which, I repeat, concerns principally the specific article – article 11 – of the Interim Accord.

Let’s not forget that the ICJ examined the implementation of article 11, and refers to specific instances during a specific time period. So, I would be careful about drawing conclusions and making generalizations.

Naturally, we will study the judgement very carefully. There are certain to be questions regarding the rationale behind the judgement. We presented a lot of evidence. There are a lot of things we need to assess, such as, for example, the school-books issue, regarding which there is no explanation of the stance taken by the Court on this fact, even though it does establish it as a fact.

I would say that at this stage we should focus on the fact that the Court’s judgement has to do with a very specific issue: the implementation of article 11 at a very specific time – April 2008 – and based on the real events surrounding that issue.

We will have the opportunity in the future to discuss this further, including the content of the judgement. But we need to focus on the substance of this issue, which is that the Court decided not to pronounce on Greece’s future conduct.

In essence, the Court calls on Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to proceed to negotiations in good faith so that we can reach a solution on the name issue.

This is what Greece wants. It is Greece’s will. We have said this at every opportunity and shown it by our constructive stance at the negotiating table: we want to reach a solution.

I think that this week the international community, the EU and NATO all sent the same message. They asked the two countries to negotiate in good faith so that we can get results, and I think this is what we should all focus and act on. Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – the countries and their peoples – can benefit greatly from cooperation.

C. KAPOUTSIS: In your assessment, is there justification for the view – a view not supported by the Foreign Ministry – that we should have withdrawn from the Interim Accord?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The potential for withdrawal from the Accord is provided for in the Accord itself, and both sides are free to do so, deciding, based on the facts they have and the state of affairs, whether they want to decide to make such a move. I don’t think there is any point right now in discussing what we might have done five or three or two years ago, but it needs to be clear that …

C. KAPOUTSIS: I’m asking because we have a specific result.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Yes, we have a specific result that we just analyzed and that, by my reading, puts the name issue back into its real dimensions: the need for us to sit down at the UN and find a mutually acceptable solution. And this is the most important thing, because this is essentially what will create security and stability in our region, just as the Security Council has requested in its resolutions.

A. VOUDOURI: Today, Mr. Gruevski, using the ICJ judgement, asked the European Commission – as well as during the European Council – to approve a date for the opening of accession negotiations, without coming to the essence of the issue, without asking for negotiations with Athens. What is your comment? Second, I want to ask whether Mr. Nimetz has notified you of a possible initiative on his part?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: In answer to your first question, this is a position that Skopje has expressed for the past two years. The European Union has taken a position, has spoken in unanimous decisions, in successive decisions, in 2009, in 2010, and, for the third time, this past Monday. What is important is for all of us to get the right message. When the international community speaks in such a clear voice, what we need to do is focus our efforts so that we can find a solution to the problems that exist. This is what Greece wants. This is our message to Skopje, and we hope to see progress.

Regarding your second question, Mr. Nimetz, as you will have seen from the announcement he issued, is in contact with the two sides. But I have nothing more to tell you right now. In any case, these announcements come from him. Greece supports the UN mediators work. We support his efforts and we hope that he will be able, through these efforts, to guide us to a solution. But once again, I want to stress that in recent days we have seen various sides send a specific message: that we need to sit at the UN negotiating table. This is what Mr. Nimetz said in his announcement. He is in contact with both sides and has asked them, following the ICJ ruling, to focus their efforts so that we can reach a solution. That is what we need to do now.

S. GANTONA: Following a relevant decision, we saw that Albania is abolishing ethnicity. As such, the members of the Greek National Minority will have no document proving they are Greek. What is your comment on that?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We have been informed of the Albanian Constitutional Court’s decision, and we will be looking at it very closely in order to ascertain the extent to which it meets the international criteria and prerequisites that exist regarding the protection of minorities. It is very important that the Albanian government be able to gain the trust of the minorities – a trust that eroded during the recent census carried out there. And that is why the Albanian government needs to put emphasis on how it can cultivate relations of trust. Again, we will be looking at the Court’s decision very carefully. 

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, Mr. Dimas said that Greece is gradually starting to prepare for its Presidency in 2014, a year that has also been linked to the European perspective of the Balkans. Albania had applied for candidacy to join the European Union. Will we see these Balkan enlargement issue as a priority of our Presidency?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The revitalization of the accession perspectives of the countries of the Western Balkans is one of the top priorities of Greece’s 2014 Presidency, and it is our goal to hold an EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting, like the one we held during our 2003 Presidency, which saw the adoption of the Thessaloniki Agenda, which is essentially the framework for the European perspectives of all these countries.

We intend in the coming time to take specific initiatives in an effort to prepare the ground for this Summit Meeting, with all the countries in the region making progress and, at the same time, raising awareness in the countries of Europe, which are currently facing the biggest crisis in the history of the EU.

It is reasonable that there should be “enlargement fatigue”. But Europe mustn’t close its eyes to its neighbourhood. Europe cannot leave a black hole. It has to do what it can to integrate this region. This will be in the interest of stability in our region, and it will also be in Europe’s interest. And our goal is, in the coming time, to announce relevant initiatives and to work very closely with all the countries in the region, including Albania, so that we can take steps forward.

L. KALARRYTIS: With regard to everything Albania has done to date concerning the Greek minority – whether it be omissions or specific actions, in the census, regarding property – what has Greece done, in practical terms, to get Albania to conform or at least explain its conduct?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece is sending messages very clearly to the Albanian government, within the framework of our conviction that the minority must be seen as a bridge of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. And that is why we talk so much about trust.

Greece wants to see Albania progress. This is a priority for us. It is in the interest of both Albania and Greece to have borders with a country that is moving forward.

That is why we tried to contribute to the efforts to resolve the political impasse that existed in Albania. That is why we are trying to make sure Albania respects all these criteria and prerequisites – the basic criteria and prerequisites underscored by the EU, thanks in part to Greece’s contribution – including respect for minority rights.

There is certainly a need for dialogue with the Albanian side. I think that Minister Dimas will be meeting with the Albanian Foreign Minister today on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, precisely to pass on these messages and call on Albania to maintain a policy that respects minorities, that respects European benchmarks and enables Albania to take steps towards Europe.

G. VLAVIANOS: You used the word “negotiations” in your previous reply concerning Skopje. Does Greece’s red line still hold, or has something changed.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece’s position is clear. It is crystal clear and it was reiterated by the Foreign Minister in the Hellenic Parliament during the reading of the new government’s policy platform.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, do you have any details, information, regarding the Poposki-Dimas meeting? The other question: What you said, the red line – that is, has anything changed with regard to Greece’s positions following the ICJ ruling?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As I said a few minutes ago, Greece’s position is firm and clear and was reiterated by the Foreign Minister during the reading of the policy platform speeches in Parliament.

As for Mr. Dimas’s meeting with Mr. Poposki, it was their first meeting, an introductory meeting. Both sides noted the importance of the negotiating process within the framework of the UN.

We conveyed our firm policy regarding the European and Euroatlantic integration of the Western Balkan region. I will not tire of saying that this is Greece’s priority. I think there will be further meetings in the future.

D. KATSIMENTE: Yesterday, Bulgaria announced its withdrawal from the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline. What is Greece’s stance following this decision?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, Mr. Maniatis, the Deputy Energy Minister, has already stated our position, so I will refer you to that. As far as I know, there still hasn’t been formal notification from the Bulgarian side to the partners regarding this decision. The Bulgarian side will have to notify us officially so that we can assess our stance.

But, as you know, it is Greece’s firm policy that this energy plan is very important for Europe, for supplying Europe with oil and decongesting the Turkish Straits. The environmental studies have been carried out and have shown that it is a safe project, and we hope it will move ahead.

This was something the Foreign Minister and Mr. Lavrov discussed, ascertaining that both sides remain devoted to carrying out the project. Consequently, the Bulgarian side needs to explain what its decisions are.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Let’s change continents. I’d like to ask you about the announcement you issued last week concerning the events at the UK Embassy in Tehran – whether this marks a hardening of Greece’s stance on Iran, and, if so, whether Athens has a backup plan should our energy relations with Iran be impacted. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The statement we issued – and in addition to the statement, demarches were made to the Iranian side – had to do with the attack on the UK Embassy and the importance of respecting international law, and specifically the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It was a very serious incident.

Beyond that, concerning the energy issues, last Thursday’s Foreign Affairs Council looked in detail at the EU’s policy on Iran, and the EU Foreign Ministers decided to look at the adoption of further measures against Iran in key sectors, like transport and energy.

Foreign Minister Dimas participated in this discussion and set out all the arguments in favor of our taking decisions with caution, bearing in mind the interests of the EU itself during the decision-making process. I think it is a discussion that will continue.