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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 13 December 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. On Monday, 17 December, the Greek-Bulgarian High Level Cooperation Council will meet here in Athens, and I remind you that the first meeting took place in Sofia. This is a collaboration that points to the desire, the will and the determination of the two governments to strengthen and deepen their cooperation and their relations even further on all levels. This is a relationship that, above all, creates benefits for the two peoples, the two societies, while also functioning as a catalyst for cooperation in our wider region, the Balkans, and giving us the opportunity to coordinate our efforts on the European level.

In the framework of the High Level Cooperation Council, there will be meetings between the two countries’ Ministers who are participating, including the two Prime Ministers. There will naturally be a meeting of the two Foreign Ministers, Mr. Avramopoulos and Mr. Mladenov. Discussions will move ahead on a large number of issues, and we will have the signing of a number of agreements in specific sectors, showing our will to bolster our cooperation even further.

On Thursday, 20 December, Foreign Minister Avramopoulos will carry out a visit to Libya, where he will have meetings with the country’s political leadership. And this is a Greek initiative borne of our firm desire to strengthen our relations with the countries of North Africa. As you have seen, we are intensely active in this region, and we have already had the opportunity for meetings with the Libyan side, following the revolution, and we will continue in precisely in this framework to further the dialogue, discussing all the issues concerning our cooperation.

There is great potential for Greek-Libyan cooperation, in the economic sector as well as in other sectors, as Libya essentially rebuilds its structures and infrastructures, and is pursuing cooperation with the Greek side. Within this framework, this visit will provide the opportunity for talks on all the issues on our bilateral agenda, as well as regarding regional developments.

At 09:30 on Wednesday, 19 December, Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas will address a “Business information day” conference being hosted by the Foreign Ministry, at the Kranidiotis Amphitheatre. On Thursday, 20 December, Mr. Kourkoulas will give a welcome speech and a Hellenic Society of International Law & International Relations conference, also at the Foreign Ministry.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tsiaras will host a luncheon on Thursday, 13 December, in honor of the Chilean Ambassador, and at 13:00 on Tuesday, 18 December, he will address a Greek-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce conference, which will take place at the Foreign Ministry’s Kranidiotis Amphitheatre.

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

M. KOTOVSKA: [Question regarding the GAC conclusions on FYROM and the extent to which Greece is in violation of the Interim Accord in blocking the opening of FYROM's accession negotiations with the EU.]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I would like to inform you that in this room we use the internationally recognized name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as set down in the decisions of the UN, the Security Council and the General Assembly, and I inform you that from now on, I will not answer questions that do not use the correct term.

As for the conclusions that the Council of Foreign Ministers adopted unanimously the day before yesterday, this is a very important decision; a decision that reaffirms the European perspective of all the countries of the Western Balkans, including FYROM. A the same time, the conclusions clearly state the conditions and criteria that need to be met if this course towards the EU is to continue. It is a positive step. We see it as a step that can function as a catalyst and contribute toward our seeing progress.

Greece has maintained a consistent and firm stance throughout these years; a constructive stance in the direction of resolution of the name issue; a constructive stance that has been acknowledged by all our international collocutors. The crowning initiative of this stance is the Greek side’s recent proposal for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, setting out the framework and parameters for the solution we are pursuing.

Thanks to this initiative, there has been movement in the process within the framework of the UN, in which we are participating constructively – as I have already said – and we hope to see it bring substantial results. We will continue to support Mr. Nimetz’s mandate, as well as his efforts, so that we can reach a solution.

As for the specific conclusions, the EU 27 unanimously, in a single voice, stated what steps will have to be achieved. That is, they stated the need for there to be respect for good neighbourly relations and the need for the name issue to be resolved. We hope that this clear message the European Union has sent is received by Skopje, so that we can see a change in stance and constructive participation in the process, and so that we can reach a solution.

Greece will continue to work steadily in this direction, in the belief that the resolution of the name issue will contribute decisively to strengthening the relations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while also contributing to the strengthening of regional stability – as expressly stated in UN Security Council Resolution 817 – and to progress in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s European perspective.

L. BLAVERIS: I wanted to ask, Mr. Spokesman, whether Mr. Avramopoulos, when he goes to Libya, will also be discussing the matter of compensation, as he did the last time. Do we have any developments on that?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We have an open agenda, on which we will discuss all the issue, and that issue will naturally be among the issues we discuss. As you know, Mr. Avramopoulos has already been in contact with the Libyan Foreign Ministry, in the past, and this is an issue that both countries are interested in settling at the soonest possible time and in the best possible manner.

There has already been some progress, and we are expecting, thanks to the very good relations that exist between the two countries, to see significant progress during this visit, so that we can close this matter definitively. But I want to note that, although this is certainly an important issue in our bilateral relations, we also have many other issues that we will have the opportunity to discuss, as Libya and the Libyan authorities are making this great effort right now, as I said, to essentially rebuild the country.

Libya emerged from the conflict with major wounds. Greece stood by Libya with resolve throughout the duration of the revolution in the humanitarian sector as well. Let me just remind you that over 6,000 Libyans received assistance in Greece from Greek hospitals. But Greece also wants to support Libya now, as the country takes these steps to rebuild infrastructure so that it can complete what started with the revolution.

The two countries are linked by old and strong ties of friendship and mutual respect, and I believe that this is the best foundation for our being able to develop our relations even further. There is mutual will from both sides on this, and that is why I am certain that we will have very good results.

C. KAPOUTSIS: [off microphone] [Question concerning Greek-Libyan and Greek-Egyptian talks on the delimitation of maritime exclusive economic zones.]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you know, Greece’s policy is the delimitation of all maritime zones with all its neighbours, and we are pursuing this not just for the obvious economic benefits it has, but also because it is a decisive step toward strengthening regional stability. These agreements are agreements that essentially strengthen peace, and that is why we are in talks with all our neighbours.

I refer indicatively to Libya, about which you asked. Negotiations began between the two countries in 2007. We had the developments in Libya, which naturally did not allow these negotiations to move ahead at the same pace. But I know that the Libyan side – just as much as our side, naturally – wants to see progress on this matter as well. As I said earlier, we are going to Libya with an open agenda to discuss all the issues, and – given the mutual desire for progress on this issue – I believe we will be talking about this issue as well.

With regard to Egypt, let me also tell you that the two countries, Greece and Egypt, have been in negotiations for some years now. There, too, with the revolution, we had major changes. And, as you know, political developments are continuing, but in the meetings Mr. Avramopoulos has had with his Egyptian counterpart, they have already discussed this issue, and the interest of both sides is clear: that we be able to move ahead, always within the framework determined by the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both sides have ratified and are implementing.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, a question regarding a debate in Parliament that took place about 20 days ago. Golden Dawn MP Panagiotaros, asking a question of Mr. Tsiaras, used the term “Gyftoskopiani”. What is the Foreign Ministry’s stance, because I think it was the first time we have heard anything like that in Parliament, and whether you think Golden Dawn’s stance can create …, cause relations to deteriorate between the two countries with regard to the name issue.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I am the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, so my role is not to comment on the stances of political parties in Greece. The characterization you referred to has in no case been heard from the lips of the government spokesperson or any other government official, and it in no way reflects on the government.

We want good relations. We can have friendly relations. And our two peoples have shown that they have friendly relations. All these contacts between the two peoples, civil society, show that Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can be the best friends in the region.

We have a major issue; an issue that must be resolved via a mutually acceptable solution. So we need to sit down at the table and talk to each other and come to an understanding, but we must never forget that we are neighbours, that we will be partners tomorrow, and that it is in both our interests to build relations of friendship and cooperation. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia visit Greece every year, and Greeks do the same, visiting the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The people have shown that amongst themselves they can talk, work together and move ahead. What is needed is for the governments to follow their example. At every opportunity, the Greek government shows its constructive spirit and desire to reach a solution, and we cannot let these opportunities be missed. We need to sit down at the negotiating table – there is the process at the UN – and talk sincerely, with a willingness to find a solution that will be mutually acceptable and that respects the history and culture of each side.

D. ANTONIOU: What does the Foreign Ministry’s decision to expel the Syrian Ambassador to Athens mean? And whether Greece – with its participation in yesterday’s Friends of Syria meeting, and the signing, I assume, of a text of conclusions there – now recognizes the anti-regime forces, shall we say, as the official representative of the Syrian people. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, we have expressed our concern at the developments there, at the danger created to the Syrian people, at the vast humanitarian cost to the Syrian people, at the pressure Syria’s neighbours are under, at the risk of the crisis spreading. And we have underscored the imperative need to start a political process that will allow the Syrian people, with full respect for their sovereignty, to decide on their own future.

We have expressed these positions in every forum we participate in, also stressing that any political solution will have to be arrived at in such a way that it respects and protects the rights and security of the minority communities – religious and ethnic – living in the country.

We are especially concerned about the issue of protection, of the security, of the Greek Orthodox community, which lost its spiritual leader a few days ago and is currently facing great challenges. Nevertheless, the situation in Syria continues to be very worrying, and at the meeting of the Friends of Syria, in which Foreign Minister Avramopoulos participated, we stressed that we need to focus on the opening of a political process.

We believe that military solutions cannot produce results. The only thing they will do is widen the chasm that already exists, making it more difficult to manage the situation and increasing the risks to regional stability. Our decision to expel the Syrian Ambassador to Greece and two other Syrian diplomats was made in this spirit.

I have said before that the Syrian and Greek people are linked by bonds of friendship and respect; traditional bonds of friendship. We will be at the Syrian people’s side in these difficult hours, but it needs to be clear that this regime that is attacking its people cannot do so, cannot continue to do so, and must stop. At long last, this regime needs to allow the political process we are talking about to start.

Regarding the opposition to which you referred, the Council of the European Union, the 27, have already agreed – and we said this at yesterday’s meeting in Morocco – that this faction is the most representative faction that has presented itself to date among the Syrian opposition and anti-regime groups.

This creates a very great responsibility: responsibility for ensuring this broad participation, for gaining the trust of the communities in Syria, and that is why they will have to work to prove this in action.

We hope a political process can be launched so that all the social groups, all the political forces of the country can sit at the same table and find a solution for the good of their country, for the future of the Syrian people. But Greece, wherever we are and at every opportunity, will continue to support the efforts toward launching this peaceful political process.

C. POULIDOU: Regarding this last topic, other European countries have expelled diplomats from Syria’s diplomatic representations, first. Second, I’m not asking why you did it, but why wasn’t the same thing done in the case of Egypt and Libya? Why is it being done now with Syria? And a third question: You said there is going to be a Greek-Bulgarian High Level Cooperation Council meeting. I assume there is nothing new on Turkey or Israel.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: In answer to your first question, as far as I know, most European countries, if not all, have made the same move. On your second question, during the crisis in Libya, at a given point the operation of the Libyan Embassy here in Athens was suspended.

C. POULIDOU: By the Libyan’s themselves, or by us?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: No, by us. As for your third question, I can’t give you any dates yet – preparations are proceeding. As you know, in the case of Israel there are elections in January, so we are talking about some time after that. Regarding Turkey, the plan is for the High Level Cooperation Council to meet within January. Beyond that, when the exact dates are determined, we will announce them, naturally.

G. HADOULIS: Which means, since when is this recognition in effect?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: There is a relevant decision from the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which was made on Monday and that refers to this issue.

A. VIDOURI: Regarding the Greek-Bulgarian High Level Cooperation Council, you said agreements are to be signed in various sectors. Do we have anything specific about what sectors these agreements will concern?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We will have the signing of some agreements in the sectors of culture, sports, agricultural development, tourism and some other sectors. There will of course be meetings between the competent Ministers. We will have consultations, because it is an opportunity to talk about all the issues. So, we will have more specifics on Monday. Any other questions?

Thank you.