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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 04 October 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the programme for the coming week. At 12:00 on Monday, 8 October, the National Council of Foreign Policy will convene under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos. The Council will look at Greek-Turkish relations, developments in the Cyprus issue, the European perspective of the Western Balkans and our relations with those countries, and the latest developments in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, 10 October, Mr. Avramopoulos will meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who will be carrying out a visit to Greece. The programme for that visit has not yet been finalised, but we will get the details to you as soon as they are worked out.

From 9 to 11 October, Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas will carry out a visit to Israel at the invitation of his Israeli counterpart. Mr. Kourkoulas’s itinerary includes meetings with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon and with the Deputy Director of the National Security Council, Eran Lerman. He will also meet with Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.

At 11:00 on Friday, 5 October, Deputy Foreign Minister Tsiaras will respond to a current question in Parliament.

Next week, Mr. Tsiaras will have courtesy meetings on Monday, 8 October, at 11:00, with Serbian Ambassador Dragan Županjevac; on Wednesday, 10 October, at 11:00, with Bulgarian Ambassador Emilia Kraleva; and at 11:00 on Thursday, 11 October, with Austrian Ambassador Melitta Schubert.

Tomorrow, 5 October, the Foreign Ministry is hosting a conference on the policy of Greek governments in recent years on sustaining the memory of the Holocaust, respect for human rights, religious tolerance, and the combating of anti-Semitism.

The conference will be opened by the Ministry’s Secretary General, Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis, and the Belgian Chair of the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, Jan Deboutte.

The exhibits to be presented within the framework of the conference will be opened by Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas.

I would also like to say a couple of words about today’s announcement that you received around 10:00 this morning. The government took an important initiative to impart momentum to the negotiation process provided for by UN Resolutions 817 and 845 on the definitive resolution of the name issue. An initiative that shows in practice that Greece has the resolve and political will to work so that we can reach a solution with mutual respect for the history and culture of each party. It is Skopje’s turn now to clarify their position and show whether they really want to achieve a solution.

A fundamental prerequisite for this is our agreeing on the framework and its basic parameters. This will be achieved through the memorandum of understanding we proposed to the government in Skopje. The signing of the memorandum – regarding which we have notified the UN Secretary General’s special envoy, Matthew Nimetz, as well as our collocutors in the EU, NATO and the U.S. – will be a decisive step in strengthening good neighbourly relations between the two countries. It will free up the dynamic in our relations, because the two countries really do have great potential for further deepening and expansion of their cooperation, to the benefit of our peoples, and it will naturally give momentum to Skopje’s Euroatlantic and European aspirations.

But the most important thing is that it will be a loud response to those cultivating hostility, nationalism, and even hatred, as, for instance, we unfortunately saw recently with the mass misinformation of public opinion in our neighbouring country regarding an incident that had not taken place.

I would like to believe that, in reality, our neighbours want good relations with Greece. This is indicated by the contacts between people, the hundreds of thousands of tourists who cross the borders every year, the businesspersons active in both countries, and civil society, which has bypassed the governments to talk calmly about our relations. This is made imperative by our common future in the European family, the vision of their European integration – a process in which Greece will be their most important ally with the resolution of the name issue.

The government in Skopje bears great responsibility, vast responsibility, because it holds this vision in its hands. Let’s not forget that it was Greece that opened the European path for Skopje with the Thessaloniki Agenda in 2003. And today, as well, when the EU is going through the biggest crisis in its history, the Greek Presidency in the first half of 2014 has set as its top priority the European integration of the Western Balkans: overcoming the so-called enlargement fatigue of some partners and turning the EU’s gaze to our neighbourhood once again. We hope that the political leadership in Skopje will study our proposal carefully and respond positively, so that we can move ahead to the signing of the memorandum of understanding.

There are two texts. They are available to you. You can see that it is a positive and constructive proposal that can lay the foundations for our turning the page in our bilateral relations; relations that will be based on mutual respect, good neighbourliness, mutually beneficial cooperation, progress, and our common European future.

That’s it for announcements. I am at your disposal to answer any questions you have.

G. VLAVIANOS: First of all, Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask whether there was any reactions from the Foreign Ministry to Mr. Füle’s Tweet on this theoretical incident in Thessaloniki.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you saw, Mr. Füle made a statement on a social network, to which I myself responded, and he made a statement during his visit to our country this past Monday. His response is on the Foreign Ministry website.

A. PELONI: I would like to ask you what makes you believe that this letter and the memorandum can get us round the impasse, and whether this means that we are starting a new type of negotiations, because we are now bypassing Mr. Nimetz. What is it exactly that you think this memorandum has that can make the difference and change things?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I would say the opposite. This initiative enhances the efforts of Mr. Nimetz and the UN process. As I clearly stated, it is fully within the framework of the process provided for by UN Security Council Resolutions 817 and 845. What we want to do is create the framework and agree on the basic parameters of the solution, as described in detail in the memorandum that we have proposed.

So, based on this we could impart a lot of momentum to the negotiation process, so that we can quickly reach the resolution of the name issue. It is important for them to make their positions clear and for us to know that we are talking on a specific basis so that we can get a specific result. This might enable us to reach a solution sooner. Thus, to close, I repeat that this initiative is an enhancement of Mr. Nimetz’s efforts. That’s why he was the first one who was notified of it.

A. PELONI: Do you think this bypasses the Interim Accord in some way? Is it like …

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No, it’s a memorandum of understanding. The Interim Accord is an international agreement that the two sides have signed. This is a memorandum of understanding that will set down this foundation and the basic parameters, so that we can reach a solution on the name issue.

C. POULIDOU: Excuse me, how is it different from the Interim Accord?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: A memorandum of understanding does not have the same legal status as an international agreement. But this memorandum of understanding, if signed, will expressly state, with the commitment of the two governments, the basis and parameters of the solution we are trying to reach.

It is very important that we finally be able to talk clearly about this issue. A great deal has been heard, and there is a great deal of misinformation. Greece has constantly, and by dint of a great effort, shown at the negotiating table that we want to achieve a solution. And with this initiative we are undertaking now, we are trying to impart momentum to the process, because we really want a solution to be reached. We believe that the two countries need to work together; their relations must be governed by the principles, values and rules of good neighbourly relations. This is what we want to achieve through this initiative, the memorandum, as well as to find a solution within the framework of the UN process.

A. TASOULI: I wanted to ask whether Mr. Davutoglu will see any party leaders, apart from his counterpart, and whether he is planning to visit Thrace.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The itinerary for Mr. Davutoglu’s visit has not been finalized. I don’t know what other meetings he will be having in Athens, but he will be visiting only Athens.

A. MEHMET: What is Greece’s stance on the incident that has occurred between Turkey and Syria?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Late last night a meeting of the North Atlantic Council was convened, at Turkey’s request. And at this meeting all of the allies agreed on a text, a joint communiqué, which condemns this attack and asks that Syria stop the attacks immediately. I think it is a very clear stance. But I want to stress that Greece believes priority should be given to de-escalating the tension. The situation in the region is very fragile, very fluid. The danger of the crisis spreading is very real, and that is why we want to see de-escalation and, naturally, the opening of a political process, which we believe is the only way to resolve the crisis in Syria so that the Syrian people can genuinely express themselves and determine their future.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, again regarding the Memorandum of Understanding you proposed. It contains Greece’s red lines, a compound name with a geographical qualifier – that’s what we understood, at least – erga omnes. Do you believe that … do you expect the other side to accept this? That is, these are precisely Greece’s positions. And what they asked before about the Interim Accord. Last year, we heard Mr. Mallias and Mr. Kofos say, at an ELIAMEP conference, that the Interim Accord has expired. Do you also believe that the Interim Accord has expired or needs revision? Is that why you are proposing this Memorandum of Understanding?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I’ll start with the second question. The Memorandum of Understanding we are proposing does not replace or substitute for the Interim Accord. The Interim Accord, as expressly stipulated in its provisions, is an agreement that continues to be in force until one of the two parties withdraws. Therefore, it is still in force. Beyond that, the move we are making at this time is a positive move aimed at imparting momentum to the process, as I said earlier. I don’t accept your characterizations. What we want to see is the government in our neighbouring country respond positively. It is in the common interest of both countries for us to reach a solution, and that is why we have to communicate. And obviously we have to communicate based on the fundamental parameters of what we are discussing, the result we are pursuing: the finding of a mutually acceptable name. So, this is set down very clearly in the proposed Memorandum, and I would like to believe that we will get a positive response, because it will benefit both countries.

S. RISTOVSKA: Following the meetings Mr. Avramopoulos had in New York with Ban Ki-moon, with Mr. Nimetz, with Mr. Poposki, I would like your assessment of where we stand on the name issue – whether there is any progress towards a solution.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: What we ascertained is that there is a delay in the process; a delay that we don’t want. Greece has worked very, very intensively so that we can reach a solution, and that is why we are taking this initiative. The meetings the Foreign Minister had in New York City on this issue were very important. There was a very useful dialogue with the UN Secretary General and his personal envoy, Mr. Nimetz. The meeting with Mr. Poposki was a meeting of introduction, their first meeting. Certainly, they will have others. We hope that the Memorandum we are proposing – provided it goes through and the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia responds positively – can give us the chance for the process to go even faster. That is our goal, that is why we made this proposal, and we hope it has positive results.

D. ANTONIOU: This memorandum is a Greek proposal, so is it a process that might develop into a new negotiation? Will we accept counterproposals to it so that we can come to a final text, or is it a take-it-or-leave-it proposal?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: For the time being it is a proposal we are making to the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and we are awaiting their reaction.

M. POPOVIK: Can the contents of the proposal change?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As I said, at this time Greece has made a proposal and is awaiting the reaction of the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We hope it will be a positive response.

M. POPOVIK: Does what it says about the non-use of symbols of historical or cultural significance perhaps mean that at some point the statues will have to go?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I think the reference is very clear and is set down in the Interim Accord.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, can we go to another Memorandum – a little to the west? In the Minister’s talks yesterday with his Albanian counterpart, Mr. Panariti, and in reference to the Cham issue, apart from the property issue, regarding which you gave a clear answer yesterday, were other parameters set by Mr. Panariti, as reported by the Albanian news media yesterday? Also, with regard to the Athens-Tirana energy cooperation, what initiatives can we expect from Athens?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding the first issue, I have already answered on a webpage that referred to the issue. The Foreign Minister of Albania referred superficially to this issue and there was an immediate answer from the Foreign Minister: Greece’s longstanding position, which is that Greece has rule of law, and anyone who thinks that Greece has pending property issues should appeal to the Greek justice system. I think this is very clear and leaves no room for doubt. The talks covered a very wide range of issues, as you saw yesterday from the two Minister’s statements. They took place in a good climate, so that our two countries can develop the cooperation they can have and that benefits the two peoples.

We have a lot of room for cooperation. We have a lot of interaction between the economies and societies of the two countries, and that is why it is important that we work together so that our countries can benefit. Naturally, they discussed more frequent contacts on the governmental level, with meetings of the Foreign Ministers twice a year, which is itself an important development, given that it had been a long time since we received a visit from the Albanian Foreign Minister here in Greece. These meetings are useful. Following an initiative from the Foreign Ministers, we will also be looking at the potential for strengthening our intergovernmental cooperation in the coming year, with meetings between other Ministers, co-competent Ministers, so that we can deal with issues that arise in our bilateral relations, and so that we can enrich the scope of our cooperation and capitalize on all the potential we have.

Of strategic importance in this context is our energy cooperation. In New York we had an important development, an important first step: the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the three countries involved in the TAP: Greece, Albania and Italy. This is an important first step, and the consultations are continuing so we can get to the signing of an agreement that will help in the development and implementation of this important project.

This is a mutually beneficial project. It creates jobs, brings growth and major investments. But it is also of major geostrategic importance, because it essentially makes Greece a point of reference in the European Union’s energy supply. I’ll finish by saying that it is a project that contributes to Europe’s energy security: as we have said many times, we are interested in diversification of routes and energy sources. This is very important for Europe’s energy security. So, this project is precisely within this strategic choice on the part of the European Union.

K. FRYSSA: According to a blog, it was written last week that you are going to be transferred as Consul General in Vancouver. If that’s true, who will your replacement be?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I didn’t apply for a transfer, and the Council meeting at which I wasn’t transferred took place yesterday.

A. PELONI: Can you tell us who will be representing the political parties at the National Council on Foreign Policy this Monday.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I don’t know whether we have been notified by the parties. I’ll look into it and let you know.

Thank you very much.