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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Mr. Delavekouras: Good morning. This morning, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas opened an exhibition of Greek Revolution-related documents from the Foreign Ministry archives and copies of paintings from the National Gallery’s “National Rebirth” collection. The exhibit is being organized by the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic and Historical Archive Department, within the framework of celebrations marking Greek Independence Day – March 25.

Tomorrow and the day after, Mr. Droutsas and Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou will be accompanying the Prime Minister to the European Council in Brussels.

At 15:00 on Tuesday, 29 March, Mr. Droutsas will meet at his office with AKEL Secretary General Andros Kyprianou, and on 4 and 5 April, he will accompany the President of the Republic on a state visit to Azerbaijan.

Tomorrow, 24 March, Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis will meet, along with Deputy Prime Minister Pangalos, with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who will be visiting our country. The meeting will take place at the Deputy Prime Minister’s office, at 12:50, and will be followed by a press conference with the two Deputy Ministers on the ground floor of 1 Akadimias.

On 28 March, Mr. Kouvelis will co-chair a Greek-Indian Joint Interministerial Committee with his Indian counterpart Mr. Scindia.

On 29 March, Mr. Kouvelis will have separate meetings with the Ambassadors of Spain and Hungary, and with the Lithuanian Charge d’Affaires. On the afternoon of the same day, he will participate in a luncheon being hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Athens.

On 30 March, in collaboration with the Canadian Ambassador and the International Organization for Migration, Mr. Kouvelis will present – at the Foreign Ministry’s Kranidiotis Amphitheatre – the Foreign Ministry’s action plan for raising public awareness in the fight against modern slavery. The presentation will include a screening of the award-winning documentary “Sex Slaves”, which relates the true stories of victims of human trafficking.

On 31 March and 1 April, Mr. Kouvelis will be in Belgrade, where he will have bilateral meetings and participate in an event to be attended by prominent Serbian economic, business and political figures.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis travelled to the U.S. yesterday and will be there through the 26th of the month to represent the government at the White House events marking Greek Independence Day – March 25.

Finally, the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations & Development Cooperation, Mr. Papadopoulos, will participate on 30 March in a conference on “Greece’s way out of the crisis”, which is being organized by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.

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

Mr. Loukas: On Libya, a series of clarifications – this won’t take long.

Who is in charge of the military operations in Libya – I’m talking overall, because the picture isn’t clear. What is the Greek government’s interpretation of Resolution 1973: in the government’s opinion, does it allow for the deployment of ground forces? The British view is, yes. The U.S. view, obviously, is that it doesn’t. What is the minimum duration of our involvement in Libya. I’m sure you’ve drawn up such scenarios – I’m talking about the best-case scenario. And, finally, what cost are we talking about for taxpayers? Thank you.

Mr. Delavekouras: With regard to the situation in Libya, first of all, as you know, the Security Council has adopted the very important Resolution 1973, which calls for an immediate ceasefire and protection of civilians via all the necessary measures. And it is important that even members that might have blocked this Resolution allowed it to be adopted precisely so that hostilities might cease immediately and the bloodshed stop.

Based on this Resolution, Resolution 1973, a group of countries took immediate action to confront the threat to civilians. At the same time, international and regional organizations, like NATO and the EU, in which we participate, as well as other organizations, including the Arab League, proceeded to deliberations and announced their decisions.

On the level that concerns our country, which is a member of NATO and the EU, deliberations are under way right now in the Alliance. Operational plans have been adopted to confront the humanitarian situation, implement the embargo provided for by Resolutions 1970 and 1973, and implement the no-fly zone over Libya. A decision has also been taken to begin execution of the operational plan for implementation of the arms embargo.

Meanwhile, the European Union has so far decided to have substantial involvement in the humanitarian sector and is drawing up its plans. Beyond that, we believe that there is an immediate need to stop the hostilities and protect civilians. This is the mission, this is the objective and the framework and the line set by Resolution 1973, and this has to be achieved. I can’t tell you now how long the operations will last. That depends on the developments we have on the ground. But the Qaddafi regime is obliged to implement, to respect the resolutions adopted by the Security Council, which have very strong legitimizing power. As long as the regime does not implement the Resolutions, the international community will have to take all the necessary measures to see them implemented.

Mr. Kapoutsis: You didn’t say how much it’s going to cost.

Mr. Delavekouras: The operation is in progress, so we will know how much it costs when the operation ends, which I hope will be soon.

Mr. Kapoutsis: Are the bombings being carried out by alliance warplanes of a humanitarian nature?

Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, I am not the spokesman for the alliance you are referring to. Greece is not participating in the military operations …

Mr. Kapoutsis: Excuse me, but let’s have an end to this fairytale, because Greece is participating by providing support for the forces operating in Libya. And an operation consists of support teams and strike teams. That’s clear. But we are on the support team.

Mr. Delavekouras: Greece is not participating in the military operations taking place at this time. Within the framework of Resolution 1973, Greece is meeting the requests of allies and friendly countries precisely so that this Resolution can be implemented. So that is the context in which we are talking. Beyond that, we have a clear resolution asking that the hostilities stop and civilians be protected. This has to happen. It is a humanitarian matter and it is the demand of the international community. Our country’s involvement is to provide support to allies and friends who are acting based on Resolution 1973.

Mr. Papathanasiou: Mr. Spokesman, we saw that the Qaddafi regime has issued threats against Mediterranean countries in recent days, in retaliation for the attacks. I wanted to ask whether Athens considers this to be rhetoric for domestic consumption or a fact to be monitored closely. Thank you very much.

Mr. Delavekouras: Obviously, Greece is monitoring all developments very, very closely. Right now we have military operations under way in Libya. Beyond that, there have been statements from the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers saying that all the necessary measures are being taken, and that according to the information we have, the Qaddafi regime is not in a position to threaten Greek territory.

Mr. Tsakiroglou: I wanted to ask – I am pointing out a political paradox here, I would say, in the sense that we are participating in the operations, if only in a support capacity, as you say, in the manner in which we are participating, but on the other hand, however, we are saying, I think – including in a recent interview you gave – that after the operations there will be a new bridge of communication with the Arab world. I think this is a contradiction, and I would like you to explain how this might happen. And if I may, I would like to ask a second question.

Mr. Delavekouras: Let me answer to your first question that there is absolutely no contradiction. Right now, the international community has to deal with a regime that is attacking its citizens. This can in no way be linked to the relationship Greece or Europe has with the Arab world. Greece has a relationship of trust with the Arab world; a relationship of mutual respect.

We are a country of the wider region. We know the region’s sensitivities. We know its concerns. We know the disputes, and over time we have played the role of a bridge, and we will be called upon to play this role again after this crisis. At some point – I repeat: I hope it is soon – this unacceptable situation we see right now will have stopped.

But what is important is what we do on the day after, and we need to create a new partnership with the Arab world, with the countries in our region – a region that is currently in turmoil, with breakneck developments. There are social movements that make it clear that there will be a new face in this region. Europe needs to stand by the Arab world in this transition process, on this course towards democratization.

That is why it is vital that the European Union, as well as Greece, see that we need to leave aside the little picture and get to work making the necessary investments, making the political and economic investments; investing in civil society, creating new communication relations amongst societies. Precisely for us – Greece, to create a very strong bond, not just because of geography, but also because of history and the role we have played – to play a leading role in this effort.

Mr. Tsakiroglou: A second question: There is information to the effect that the French aircraft carrier De Gaulle – I don’t know if it is already here, if its coming, or if its on its way – but that permission has been requested for it to operate within the Greek FIR. I would like to ask whether this is the case, and, if so, whether there is a reply from the Greek government.

Mr. Delavekouras: I don’t know where the aircraft carrier is right now, but the relevant permission has been requested within the framework of the cooperation we have, as I said, with these countries, our allies, who are operating at this time. The permission will be given, if it has not already been given.

Mr. Papathanasiou: On a diplomatic level, has it been proposed that Greece participate in this Committee they want, that the French have proposed, which will be something like a steering committee for the war, on a political level, in which the French side has proposed that U.S., EU and Arab world ministers participate?

And a second question: On a diplomatic level, does Athens believe that dialogue with Qaddafi can produce results? And is Athens preparing something in cooperation with its partners and allies? A while ago, I saw the cars of the Ambassadors of the Security Council countries – the U.S., France, the UK, China – at the Foreign Ministry. I something being prepared in cooperation with them?

Mr. Delavekouras: Let me repeat, first of all, that our country is not participating in the military operations being carried out at this time. Beyond that, our opinion – and this is the opinion that was expressed by the Prime Minister during his participation in the Paris Summit Meeting – is that we need to look for, to keep trying for, a political, diplomatic solution to the crisis we are facing.

It is obvious that military operation alone cannot provide the solution. The Security Council mandate is to stop the bloodshed; to protect the civilians. Beyond that, however, it is a fact that we need to see the solution in political terms if we are to have peace and achieve the primary goal of protecting civilians.

It is Greece’s view – and this is based on the principles served by Greek foreign policy and respect for international law – that diplomatic solutions should be pursued, and Greece can contribute to such an effort. Right now, however – I repeat once again – the priority is a ceasefire and protection of civilians.

Ms. Fryssa: The EU, like Greece, is expected to be involved in the humanitarian side. In practical terms, what does this mean for Greece?

Mr. Delavekouras: As a member of the European Union, Greece will certainly be involved in this dimension as well. But this will depend on the overall planning the EU carries out to open up humanitarian channels. We are essentially talking about transporting humanitarian aid, evacuating citizens, facilitating people trapped on the borders; helping them leave the war zone. But all of this will be fleshed out in due course.

Mr. Papathanasiou: Has Greece been asked to participate in this informal Ministerial Council that the French have proposed? Will Greece participate?

Mr. Delavekouras: As of this time, I am not aware of any proposal. Beyond that, we participated in the Paris Summit Meeting and we’ll see what the next steps are. I say again that our point of reference is the effort to find a political solution. Right now, the military operations can meet the immediate need to protect civilians. But we also have to deal with the day after.

Ms. Voudouri: Yesterday, the UNHCR warned of a large wave of migrants from North Africa to Europe. After the General Affairs Council the day before yesterday, Foreign Minister Droutsas said that there wasn’t exactly a discussion of this issue and that we are awaiting a comprehensive plan from the Commission by June. Might June be a little too late? Are we going to take a more specific initiative, at least in cooperation with the countries of Southern Europe?

Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, these discussions have been under way for some time. During the tensions in Egypt, Greece raised the issue on the level of the competent Minister, Mr. Papoutsis, and the issue has also been discussed on the level of heads of state and government. This issue is very high on our agenda, and we are taking care to keep it high on the EU agenda.

It is quite possible that we will see migration waves and illegal migration pressures. That is why there are already EU operations in Greece and Italy, two countries expected to come under the greatest pressure. But there is also a comprehensive strategy being drawn up by the Commission right now, and it will be presented by June. But I want to say that beyond everything that the EU will do as an organization to confront illegal migration pressures, it is very important that we have a change in philosophy in the EU.

The partners solidarity should be visible on this matter, because it isn’t right that front-line countries like Greece and Italy should shoulder the burden all by themselves. That is why we have to change to a mindset of burden sharing, and we will have to see how the EU is able to confront this overall, both by creating infrastructure – preparation for receiving illegal migrants, migrants or refugees – and by strengthening border control.

Mr. Loukas: I’m coming back to the first question. I didn’t get an answer as to Athens’s interpretation of 1973, for ground operations – whether we interpret that they are allowed, the deployment of ground forces, not occupation forces.

Beyond Charles De Gaulle, whether we have other ships operating in regions under Greece’s responsibility. For example, the Mirages from Qatar, or anyone else operating from regions under Greece’s, Athens’s, responsibility.

Mr. Delavekouras: I repeat that Resolution 1973 clearly stipulates what the goal is: a ceasefire and protection of civilians, via all necessary measures. It also expressly states that there are no occupation forces and that there is respect for Libyan sovereignty. Respect for the territorial integrity, the sovereignty and the independence of Libya is of paramount importance to Greece.

The operation being carried out right now is aimed at protecting civilians. This is the mission, and any interpretation of Resolution 1973 should be made in this manner. Beyond that, regarding your second question: Right now, aircraft from friendly and allied countries are at Greek airfields, participating in this effort being made by the group of countries we mentioned earlier. So, as you can see, Greece is providing some facilitations to these countries within the framework of Resolution 1973.

Mr. Loukas: [off microphone]

Mr. Delavekouras: Yes, right now I don’t want to go into a hypothetical discussion of an operation that is in progress. What I can tell you is that there are forces, there are aircraft, that are at Greek airfields right now, within the framework of the implementation of Resolution 1973.

Ms. Popovik: The case has begun in The Hague. You heard what the other side said. It’s your turn tomorrow. How do you see things so far? What do you expect from this case; that is, how will it develop and whether it will create any difficulties or changes for you – the documents from Wikileaks that mention a Greek veto from 2007.

Mr. Delavekouras: I’ll start with your last question and say that I will make absolutely no comment on Wikileaks. Leaked documents are condemnable wherever they occur.

The leaks of these documents essentially raise a question of the confidentiality of diplomatic communication. But in no case will we comment on their content. Beyond that, the hearing procedure began the day before yesterday with the presentation of the views and arguments of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Greek side will follow, on Thursday and Friday, and then each country will have an additional day to present their arguments.

Greece’s arguments are very strong. I will not answer you at this time regarding the arguments presented by Mr. Milososki and the FYROM team. We will have the opportunity in the coming days to see in detail, one by one, the arguments with which the Greek side replies.

Any other questions? Thank you very much.