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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 24 January 2013

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the programmes of the political leadership.

Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos will be meeting today with an American Jewish Committee delegation headed by AJC executive director David Harris.

On Monday, 28 January, Mr. Avramopoulos will attend an event marking Memorial Day for the Greek-Jewish victims and heroes of the Holocaust, at the Foundation of the Hellenic World (IME).

On Thursday, 31 January, Mr. Avramopoulos will be in Brussels to participate in the EU Foreign Affairs Council. The FAC agenda includes the latest developments in Syria and Egypt, Iran’s nuclear programme, and the Middle East peace process.

From Brussels, the Minister will travel directly to Tallinn, Estonia, where, on Friday, 1 February, he will hold talks with his Estonian counterpart and meet with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Metropolitan Stephanos of Estonia.

From Tallinn he will depart directly for Munich, where, on Saturday and Sunday, 2 and 3 February, he will take part in the 49th Munich Security Conference, which will be attended by dozens of leaders from around the world.

On Monday and Tuesday, 4 and 5 February, Mr. Avramopoulos will carry out an official visit to Paris, where he will meet with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas will meet on Thursday, 31 January, with Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Muižnieks.

On Friday, 1 February, Mr. Kourkoulas will have consultations with his Indian counterpart Preneet Kaur. Within the framework of the consultations, they will sign a bilateral agreement on mutual waiving of visa requirements for diplomatic passports.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tsiaras will carry out a visit to the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia from 25 to 28 January. There, he will meet with the state’s Finance Minister and the Minister for European Affairs. He will also have meetings with the representatives of the Greek communities in Cologne and Düsseldorf, as well as with Metropolitan Augustine of Germany.

On Wednesday, 30 January, Mr. Tsiaras will meet with Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.

The Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation, Peter Mihalos, met on Wednesday, 23 January, with Suzanne Helm, the Vice President for Development at the Council on Foreign Relations, and on Monday, 28 January, he will meet with executives from the China Cinda Asset Management company.

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

A. TASOULI: Mr. Spokesman, based on the Minister’s recent statements that the country is taking initiatives with planning and strategy, and on the fact that within a month the Ministry has been visited by the Prime Minister and the heads of two political parties, I would like to ask if you can tell us anything more about these diplomatic initiatives, on which the highest level of communication with the opposition parties is required.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Communication and understanding on our foreign policy issues is a basic principle of the Foreign Ministry, particularly on the major national issues we are dealing with, as well as in all the sectors and regarding all the initiatives we undertake, so that we can rehabilitate our country’s image, re-establish our country’s position in the international system, create opportunities, attract investments, increase foreign trade, attract tourism and, naturally, safeguard the rights and defend the interests of Greece.

It is obvious that the Foreign Minister is in ongoing contact, coordination and cooperation with the Prime Minister, while he also briefs the heads of the political parties in the same spirit.

It is a difficult state of affairs for Greece. The crisis has certainly raised hurdles, but we can say that the hard core of our country’s national issues and interests remain intact.

Greece continues to be a stable and stabilizing factor in its region; in a region that is currently facing major challenges.

In the Balkan region, where we are seeing the re-emergence of nationalism, the greatest threat to our neighbourhood, Greece has, throughout these years, followed a firm policy for strengthening peace and security, for increasing contacts among the peoples of the region, for anchoring this neighbourhood firmly to the European Union, the great political endeavor that unifies us all. Thanks to these efforts, major steps have been taken, but there are also serious threats. Both so-called enlargement fatigue in the European Union and reform fatigue in Balkan countries are hindering steps that we want to take forward, and we have to confront this. That is why the issue of bringing the Western Balkans closer to the European Union is so high among our priorities for the Greek EU Presidency in 2014.

But there are also major challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Arab spring, the major geopolitical shifts and political developments within the countries of the region have created a new state of affairs. In this framework, Greece is continuing to be a factor for stability. It is the European country closest to the region, a country with traditional ties of friendship with the Arab world and relations of trust with Israel. A country that can help in this transitional stage so that in the end we can reach a new reality characterized by more democracy and more stability.

That is why, within the EU framework, we have taken initiatives to bring the Arab League closer to the European Union, to bring every country in the region closer to the European Union, to direct the European Union’s gaze and interest towards this region. The basic axis of all the initiatives we undertake is the effort to consolidate peace and stability and conditions of growth and cooperation amongst the peoples of the region.

G. VLAVIANOS: Mr. Spokesman, we have recently seen a lot of reportage in the press concerning the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) issue. Do you have anything official to tell us? Is there anything you would like to inform us of regarding this issue?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: You are well aware of the government’s clear positions. You are well aware that the government is moving based on planning, based on its strategy. And when there is something to be announced, it is clear that it will be announced officially by the competent agencies. Regarding the reportage you refer to, I will stand on what I said – I think it is very clear.

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, I want to ask you about two issues. One concerns the consultations taking place at this time between the EU and the U.S. on the signing of a free trade agreement – whether Greece has participated actively. The second question concerns facilitation – a more elastic European policy – for entry visas, which the EU is implementing and promoting systematically. Do we have any priorities on that, mainly due to tourism? Those two issues. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece participates in all the proceedings within the framework of the European Union, as well as in the shaping of the Union’s positions, its relations with its partners, and the U.S. is of course a strategic partner of the EU. Our goal is to get the best possible result for Europe, which corresponds to the best possible result for Greece.

Regarding your second question, I want to say that Greece has undertaken initiatives within the competent organs of the European Union to move in the direction of easing the visa regime – within the regime determined by Schengen, but possibly with improvements to that system – so that we can facilitate contacts between people, between peoples.

Essentially – and the countries of Southeast Europe are one example of this – the liberalization of visas creates a bridge of communication; it gives them the opportunity to see the European reality first hand, to see European standards and then to strive for them through the reforms that have to be carried out in their own countries, so that these countries can come closer to the European reality.

The visa system also directly impacts tourism. We believe that all the necessary steps should be taken with the European Union’s major partners so that we can achieve a liberalization of the visa regime and in this way facilitate  communication and travel.

With the Russian Federation, for example, we have discussed this, we have exchanged information, we have coordinated so that we can take faster steps and promote the relevant discussion within the framework of the EU.

C. HATZI: Mr. Spokesman, the second Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council has already been put back. When might this take place? Is there anything scheduled for February? Thank you very  much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Both governments have expressed the will, the desire to hold the second Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council, and this is because it is a very useful tool, an institutional tool, for cooperation between the two countries in many sectors of mutual interest where there is significant room for developing cooperation and, correspondingly, for benefits to both peoples and both countries. We are currently in the process of diplomatic contacts to identify the right time for the Cooperation Council. But I want to stress that there is express will from both governments to hold the Council, and I hope that we are in a position to announce dates soon.

A. VOUDOURI: Is the new round of exploratory talks being scheduled, and for when?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The new round of exploratory talks is being scheduled. The date will be announced when the time comes, as always.

A. ATHANASOPOULOS: Good morning. Two questions. First, does Greece intend to participate in Mr. Füle’s proposal for a trilateral meeting on the Skopje issue? Second, regarding the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), do you have anything new, because it looks like the procedures for the signing of this, shall we say, intergovernmental political agreement have been delayed, and the clock is running.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first issue, you will remember that we have already taken a stance based on certain FYROM news reports that contained similar conjecture. It is absolutely clear that the UN process for the definitive resolution of the FYROM name issue bears no relation with the European Union and FYROM’s EU accession process.

We have also stated that in principle we are not opposed to any meeting, but that these meetings must have a point, they must be well prepared and they must lead to a result. That is why we are putting great emphasis on the resolution of the name issue via the agreed process at the UN, as provided for by the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

We hope that at the next meeting, which is to take place in New York at the end of January, there will be a change in stance on the part of Skopje; a change in stance that will allow us to see progress at the negotiating table. This was the aim of Greece’s effort from the very outset, and in this context we took the initiative of proposing the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the other side; a memorandum of understanding setting the framework for the solution. That is, it is a very specific means, a step, to take us forward, and we are satisfied because this initiative led to fresh activity in the negotiation process at the UN. What needs to happen now is for both sides to participate actively, constructively and, most important of all, with political will so that we can move forward. This is what we are anticipating and this is what we want.

I want to take the opportunity of your question to make a comment on a statement I saw that was attributed to the President of Bulgaria, based on which – if it is reported correctly – “Bulgaria is not at war with the Former Yugoslav Republic, unlike Greece.” I want to make it clear – and this should be clear to everyone – that the Bulgarian President seems to have got confused, because Greece is certainly the country that is not threatening the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece has worked for the security and stability of our country’s neighbourhood, to bring its neighbourhood closer to the European Union, to make it part of the European family. For that reason, everyone needs to be more careful in the comments they make.

Regarding your question on the TAP, I would like to inform you that the consultations are continuing on the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between the three countries – Greece, Albania and Italy. It is a strategic plan of major importance to all three countries. But it is also a plan of strategic importance to the European Union itself and its energy security, and we hope to see positive progress in the coming time, and that we will be able to see this project carried out with very positive benefits for all the countries and the European Union itself.

A. ATHANSOPOULOS: Do you have an idea of when it might be signed? Because the option timeframe is in place.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The consultations are in progress, and when they have been completed we will have the relevant announcements.

N. VAGENA: Mr. Spokesman, there are reports almost daily in the international news media – print and electronic – presenting extremist incidents, sometimes deadly, of racial violence in Greece, identifying the problem in the clear rise of neo-Nazi and extreme nationalist organizations. How is your Ministry dealing with this in your foreign contacts?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I want to make it clear that these actions, the racist attacks, are absolutely condemnable and completely foreign to the principles, the values, and the very identity of Greek society, which is a tolerant society. The competent Ministries, the competent authorities in Greece, are taking all the necessary measures, and the relevant announcements have been made by the Citizen Protection Ministry so that the law is enforced. So that this situation won’t continue. We are adamant on this. As for our partners abroad, they are well aware of the Greek government’s resolve. They know that these extreme phenomena are foreign to the Greek people, and that Greek society will give the necessary response.

C. POULIDOU: I would like to ask you two things – I don’t know whether they are precisely within your competencies. The one is whether you have any comment on Cameron’s speech yesterday, and the other is whether you have anything to tell us regarding the French President’s visit to Athens – whether it is going to take place. And based on that, who took the initiative for this visit, and what the subject of the visit is, if there is a specific subject, beyond the generalities I imagine will be discussed. Whether there is a main issue.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I’ll start with your second question. First of all, I am not competent on issues concerning the scheduling of visits on the level of President of the Republic and Prime Minister. But in no case will I accept the characterization “generalities that will be discussed.” I want to clarify that Greece has very close cooperation with France, that we have worked together in many, many sectors, not just on foreign policy, and that in the present phase, the present state of affairs – with Europe facing this major crisis – Greece and France are working together so that we can not only move ahead, facing the crisis today, but also lay the foundations for a better Europe tomorrow. For a Europe with a strong voice on the global stage, a Europe that is competitive and dynamic, and that can successfully meet the challenges of the decades to come.

As for the UK Prime Ministers announcement, I want to say that each EU member state has the right to make its choices. However, the united Europe is an achievement of the European peoples, a political endeavour that no one should weaken, and unfortunately this development is not moving in this direction. We believe that, particularly in the current state of affairs, we need to convert the crisis into an opportunity for deepened political relations and closer union of the European peoples.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, following Mr. Nimetz’s meeting here in Athens, Mr. Nimetz said that he was optimistic about a solution. He also said something like that after his meeting in Skopje. Is the Greek side optimistic? Do you see some change following the meetings? Since we will be having the meetings in New York shortly, has there been any progress?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, let me say that the Greek government firmly supports, with all its power, the mandate and efforts of the UN mediator, and we have shown this at every opportunity. I think the best proof of this was the initiative we undertook for the signing of a memorandum of understanding, which imparted substantial momentum to the process and the efforts of Mr. Nimetz.

Beyond that, it needs to be clear that for us to reach a solution, what is needed is political will. Greece has shown in practice, once again, through the proposal it made, that it has the political will. Unfortunately, we have not seen a reaction to this proposal. In essence, there was never a response to our initiative. For us to see progress, for us to reach a solution, what is needed is for the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to show at the negotiating table that they want to reach a solution and can.

Right now the leadership in our neighbouring country is applying itself to systematic negative propaganda against Greece, with more or less acute rhetoric. But the message is permanently oriented not toward how we can resolve the name issue, but toward how we can circumvent it. It has to become clear that this issue must be resolved. It is necessary and will give momentum and strength to our bilateral relations.

That is what we are working for, and we will continue to make these efforts. Because we know that the resolution of the name issue will strengthen our bilateral relations, create opportunities for cooperation, contribute to regional stability and security, and impart momentum to the European and Euroatlantic course of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We want all of this to become a reality, but a prerequisite for this is for European standards, the European way, to be respected, and unfortunately we don’t see this being respected right now.

I would also like to take the opportunity of your question to say that we hope the matter that has arisen domestically within the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is settled quickly, and the only way this can happen is through dialogue. We want to see prevail in our neighbouring country an environment in which there will be growth and prosperity, where European standards are implemented. Right now there are shortfalls that need to be dealt with sincerely. The necessary measures need to be taken so that steps forward can be taken. Greece will continue to be positive, will continue to be constructive, and will continue to work for the solution, and that is what we expect from the other side as well.

M. POPOVIC: Mr. Spokesman, do we know when the new Ambassador will be going to the Embassy in Skopje? And something else on Mr. Füle. There were some reports that next week, when the Minister is in Brussels, he might meet with Mr. Füle. Is such a bilateral meeting being considered?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, Ambassador Lalakos, the head of the Liaison Office, is already in Skopje. Regarding your second question, I don’t have anything on the Minister’s schedule right now. Thank you very much.