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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras
Mr. Delavekouras: Good afternoon. I’ll start with the programmes.
At 11:00 on Sunday, 3 April, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas will represent the government at the celebrations of the anniversary of the launching of Cyprus’s struggle for liberation. Within this framework, Mr. Droutsas will attend a service and lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
From 4 to 6 April, Mr. Droutsas will accompany the President of the Republic on a visit to Azerbaijan. And on Thursday, 7 April, Mr. Droutsas will accompany the Prime Minister on a working visit to Warsaw.
Today and tomorrow, Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis is carrying out a working visit to Belgrade, where he will have bilateral meetings and participate as a speaker in an event to be attended by Serbian economic, business and political leaders.
At 11:00 on Friday, 8 April, Mr. Kouvelis will meet with the Estonian Ambassador to Athens to discuss the course of the joint development cooperation programme for Afghanistan.
Also on 8 April, Mr. Kouvelis will travel to Thessaloniki to participate as a keynote speaker in an event organized by alumni of the American University of Northern Greece. He will speak on “Economic Diplomacy and Attracting Foreign Investment: Experiences & Opportunities from Diplomatic Contacts.”
On Wednesday, 6 April, the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General, Ambassador Zepos, will have political consultations in Athens with his Cypriot counterpart, Mr. Emiliou, on issues of mutual and regional interest. Mr. Emiliou will also be received by Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou.
Your questions, please.
Journalist: I wanted to ask: Might Cyprus’s refusal to let the Dekeleia base be used impact the next stages in the Cyprus issue? What is your opinion?
Mr. Delavekouras: The Republic of Cyprus is a sovereign country and takes these decisions based on its own evaluations. In no way do I think that it might impact the negotiation process within the UN framework, where we really expect to see progress – and this progress must come from the dialogue between the Communities. Unfortunately, however, we haven’t seen the progress we would have liked to see. We see that Mr. Eroglu continues to present positions that are totally groundless, regressive; they remind one of other times. They are based on partitionist thinking, and this obviously hinders any chance of our taking steps forward. We believe that this stance needs to change. We believe that Turkey has clear responsibilities. With its occupation force, Turkey essentially imposes its will, and that is why we will need to see a change in stance from both Turkey and Mr. Eroglu, who expresses his opinions within the framework of the negotiations.
Journalist: A clarification, Mr. Spokesman. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Droutsas, who was taking part in a tree-planting on Kastelorizo, made a statement on Greek-Turkish relations, saying that we defend our rights through diplomacy and armed forces, and on the next line he says that no one can separate these two – meaning diplomacy and armed forces, we assume. What exactly does he mean? I didn’t understand it exactly. Can you explain it to us?
Mr. Delavekouras: It is obvious that we achieve the protection of our country’s sovereign rights and our country’s interests through diplomacy and with our armed forces, and these two poles always function in absolute coordination, in total cooperation. The attempt made sometimes to point to a gap between the views of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministries damages Greece’s interests and in no case reflects the reality of the situation.
The reality is this: there is constant cooperation and ongoing coordination. There is coincidence of views and a common desire and operational readiness, and diplomatic readiness, so that Greece can always be in a position to defend its rights fully against the provocations we do in fact have to deal with. That is why there should be no doubts, and this is exactly what Mr. Droutsas was stressing yesterday in Kastelorizo.
Journalist: Will there be a wave of illegal migration due to the situation in Libya and Tunisia? What has Greece done so far, and whether it has asked for Europe’s assistance in guarding against the migrants coming from there.
Mr. Delavekouras: The situation as it is developing right now in Libya is cause for great concern. We of course have a framework provided by the Security Council, the international community, in Resolution 1973, which is aimed at protecting civilians and achieving an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, we currently have an open war that really is creating illegal migration pressures.
The immediate need is to launch a political process; a political process that will lead to the ‘day after’ in Libya. We believe that there needs to be an all-inclusive national dialogue with the participation of all camps, all the tribes, so that the Libyan’s – with respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of their country – can take the necessary steps toward shaping a new democratic framework within which their country can function.
But negative developments aren’t all we are seeing. And I would like to mention two specific examples here. In Morocco we had very important announcements from the King regarding democratic reforms – a major development – and we also had the announcement in Egypt of September elections. This shows that there is another path; that through dialogue and reforms, peaceful steps can be taken, and that is what we are waiting to see.
Beyond that, the illegal migration issue is a very serious concern. From the outbreak of the turmoil in Tunisia, Greece recognized the risk – a risk for all of Europe, not just Greece. Our country is on the front line, but this is a burden all of the countries will have to share.
That is why we have already had meetings in the EU. The issue has been raised by the competent minister, Mr. Papoutsis, by the Foreign Minister and by the Prime Minister. A process has begun for the Commission to present comprehensive proposals in June, and at the same time Frontex is operating in the Mediterranean in areas of Greek and Italian interest.
Beyond that, we believe that Europe as a whole needs to formulate its policy based on thinking that bears in mind the fact that this is a European issue; that this burden cannot be carried by just one or two countries that happen to be on the front line. That is why we are moving along the lines of burden sharing, so that everyone can take their share of responsibility for dealing with possible waves of migrants and refugees.
Journalist: Mr. Spokesman, I would like your comment on the public hearings procedure that was concluded yesterday in The Hague, and why Greece thinks that the application does not fall within the jurisdiction
of the Court.
Mr. Delavekouras: Yesterday did in fact see the conclusion of the public hearings. One question remains to be answered by 7 April, and the FYROM side will be able to submit its observations by 14 April.
Beyond that, we had the opportunity at the Court to present all of Greece’s arguments in a very thorough manner; arguments that point precisely to the strength of our positions and the reasons why this application cannot be accepted by the Court, as well as why the arguments presented by the FYROM side cannot be accepted by the Court.
We respect the International Court in The Hague. We respect the judicial process and we await the decision the Court will issue. And we are satisfied because we had the opportunity in this process to set out Greece’s positions in a very detailed manner and with strong arguments; positions that point precisely to all of these kinds of conduct that have to date led to violations of the Interim Accord by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Ms. Ristovska: Will the decision, whatever it is, impact the other process?
Mr. Delavekouras: We have to make this differentiation, as I have said before. We have a political process based on the decisions of the UN Security Council; the international community has recognized that we are dealing with an international issue and has designated the manner in which this international issue needs to be resolved, which is the negotiations being carried out under the UN Secretary General’s special envoy, Mr. Nimetz. Greece is participating constructively in this process and has taken huge steps precisely so that we can reach a solution.
What we have had so far is the other side, FYROM, essentially ignoring or stalling the process, not participating constructively, and this unfortunately will not allow us to reach a solution.
A solution that Greece wants soon. We would like to have a solution in front of us tomorrow, if we could; a solution that will allow the relations between the two countries to develop in a spirit of good neighbourliness so that we can move ahead with FYROM’s accession course, for which a solution on the name issue has been set as a prerequisite by unanimous decisions from both the EU and NATO.
The judicial process we have in The Hague is another process. It is a legal process that we have confronted with very great respect and seriousness from the very outset.
That is why we have faithfully followed the instructions of the Court, and in no case have we criticized the process and the arguments being presented, which is something FYROM has not respected, I must say.
In any case, we will respectfully await the Court’s announcement of its decision to see what the next steps will be.
Mr. Konstantakopoulos: Mr. Spokesman, despite the diplomatic language you use in these cases to cover up differences, over the past 15 days we have witnessed a major schism in the international community, between those who want the bombings in Libya to go as far as they can and for Qaddafi to leave – like France, followed in a way by the U.S. and Britain, if with less enthusiasm – and on the other side there is Germany, Russia, China, Brazil, India.
Where does Greece stand on this rift in the international community? What is its position. What is its voice? Does it have an opinion on what should be done in Libya and how the case should move forward?
That is, should the operation continue until Qaddafi leaves, or should the bombings stop? What exactly is the Greek government’s position. What signal is Greece sending out at this critical moment?
Mr. Delavekouras: Greece has a strong voice and has set out its positions, which I will repeat for you shortly. But before I do that, I would like to stress a few points in your analysis.
Decisions to intervene militarily are very difficult. The Security Council, which, as you know, takes decisions on such matters with great difficulty, managed to conclude on resolution 1970 unanimously, and Resolution 1973 was voted for by 10 members, with five abstentions, including from two permanent members of the Security Council.
So, essentially, these 15 countries, which at this time are participating in the Security Council, passed a very important resolution that set the framework for the international community’s actions, and this resolution has to be implemented by everyone.
These ambiguities, contradictions, disagreements do exist – we’ve seen them expressed – and this is to be expected when we are talking about an issue as sensitive as this effort being made right now. But we mustn’t forget when this resolution was passed.
It was passed at a moment when the Qaddafi regime’s forces were outside Benghazi and were announcing that they were proceeding to mass attacks against the civilian population.
So that is where the international community drew a line, and with Resolution 1973 it said that this cannot be allowed; that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire and protection of civilians by all available means.
That is the guideline, the compass for the international community’s action, and Greece believes that we need to stay within the mandates given by the Security Council, which are binding for all members of the international community. We shouldn’t have broad interpretations of Resolution 1973, but execute it precisely.
Beyond that, Greece’s view – which was expressed by the Prime Minister at the Paris Meeting and by the Foreign Minister at the London Conference – is that a political process must start immediately.
We said this from the very outset, and we are satisfied to see that the international community shares this view, and this is the only route that can lead us to a viable solution in Libya. We need always to bear in mind respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Libyan, and we mustn’t allow the creation of conditions that would lead to the partitioning of the country.
So, decisive action is needed from the international community to protect civilians, but also to create the conditions that will allow for the Libyan people themselves to determine their future. That is Greece’s position. It has been expressed in a clear manner, and based on it we will continue our efforts to help so that this national dialogue can be carried out.
Mr. Konstantakopoulos: So, do you believe the bombing should continue right now, as things stand? Because you referred to the moment in time when the civilians of Benghazi were under threat.
I of course read in the Italian and German newspapers that some were preparing for the war last year. But that’s just rumours and information – what actually happened will be ascertained.
But I’m taking your analysis. At the time, there was the issue of the civilians in Baghdad. What I see, as a simple reader, is a new Yugoslavia, a new Iraq, a new Afghanistan before my eyes. Is the Greek government in favor of continuing or discontinuing these bombings right now?
Mr. Delavekouras: It is your choice to ignore Resolution 1973, but that is the point of reference, the framework that the international community has laid down, and we cannot ignore a UN Security Council resolution that needs to be implemented by everyone.
Beyond that, until the goals of Resolution 1973 have been achieved – immediate ceasefire – as long as there are civilians in danger, the international community needs to protect them, and that is what is happening.
Ms. Peloni: A question on Greek-Turkish issues. The day before yesterday, Mr. Droutsas gave an interview to Hurriyet, setting a timeframe, saying that after the elections in Turkey, we want progress; otherwise we will go to The Hague. That was essentially what he said.
Is that the substance of the Greek position? Have we set some deadline – by the end of the year? What do we mean by “after the elections in Turkey”? Do you think there are signs indicating that there might be progress so soon, because on a practical level, I can’t see it.
Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, let’s go back a little. I remind you that from the time the decision was taken to intensify the exploratory contacts – in meetings between Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Erdogan – Greece stated clearly that this process, the process of exploratory contacts, cannot just go on indefinitely without producing any results. And we said at that time that there needs to be a time horizon for results.
If we are not in a position to get results via the exploratory contacts process, then we should have recourse to the International Court in The Hague, as is the obvious choice for a legal dispute that the two countries need to deal with, to resolve. So, what we are saying is that this process exists, it is in progress, it has been intensified, but it hasn’t reached a point where we are seeing results.
As this process has been continuing, we have seen a series of provocations from Turkey; provocations that in each case get the appropriate operational and diplomatic reply that fully defends Greece’s rights. What we are waiting for, and what is now at stake, is Turkey’s credibility: Turkey’s showing that it means what it says.
Because right now we have a Turkish leadership, a Turkish government, that says it wants progress in its relations with Greece. It want good neighbourly relations. It wants to resolve this issue. This is what Greece wants, and Greece has shown this to be the case.
What remains is for Turkey to show the same thing. That is why we are waiting for results. We understand the fact that Turkey is currently in the run-up to elections, and that is why we are saying that after the elections, Turkey should show its credibility.
Mr. Fourlis: What you are saying raises a query as to the effectiveness of your stance. I mean to say, the extent to which you think you are making things easier by coming out and saying that we are expecting gestures after the elections. I don’t know whether that makes things easier for the government that is elected in Turkey, but that may not be your concern.
Regarding the recent provocations, I wanted to ask whether, in hindsight, things were handled correctly in the case of the Italian research vessel “Explora” or whether you perhaps think that the Greek Foreign Ministry, the Greek side, showed a certain naïveté with the Italians by not checking as carefully as they should have – the real moves made by the Turkish side before the Navtex was issued regarding the research the vessel carried out in the Kastelorizo region.
Mr. Delavekouras: I have nothing to say on your first comment. Greece’s positions, as I set them out, were clear. These are our views, and these are the results we want to see.
As for the Italian vessel “Explora”, as there has been a great deal of discussion, we need to clear a few things up. The Italian vessel requested – as provided for by the Law of the Sea – permission to carry to some work in an area under Greek jurisdiction.
The documents and international charts it submitted within the framework of the process for obtaining a permit clearly showed that we were talking about a region in Greek jurisdiction and that the vessel would be active there.
Based on this application, “Explora” received from the competent Greek authorities the permit to carry out its work. This vessel was harassed, in violation of international law, by Turkey, and the actions to which it then proceeded were irregular, invalid and void based on the law and the relevant provisions of the competent organ, the IMO, and consequently they can in no way call into question our country’s sovereign rights.
Beyond that, Greece carried out actions toward the Italian side in good time, in order to confirm that there would be no development other than that provided for. Contrary to the assurances we had received from the Italian side, in the end, we were notified that the Italian vessel did in fact request permission from Turkey.
For that reason, a demarche was made immediately to the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian Ambassador here, and at the same time we announced the immediate revocation of the permit that had been issued and that another permit would not be issued for the vessel to complete its work.
Through this framework of actions, Greece has fully defended its sovereign rights, and Turkey’s irregular actions have no legal consequences for Greece’s sovereign rights. This needs to be clear.
Mr. Fourlis: But it didn’t cross your mind when you saw the Turkish Navtex that there had been some sort of arrangement or request, because until that time, I want to remind you that the Foreign Ministry – you insist that the issuing of a Navtex by Turkey is an arbitrary and unilateral action and in any case there is no chance that the Italian side had requested permission earlier. In hindsight, however, you must admit that your reckoning was completely off on this point.
Mr. Delavekouras: We’re not talking about reckonings – the Foreign Ministry talks about facts.
Mr. Fourlis: But that was the fact: that at that time you said that the Italian side can’t have submitted a request to Turkey.
Mr. Delavekouras: Long before Turkey issued the Navtex, Greece made demarches to the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian Embassy here, precisely to say that nothing irregular should be done, and that if anything irregular were done, there would be consequences. We had assurances that nothing of the kind had occurred, and we acted on that information. When it was ascertained that there had been irregular conduct, the Greek side acted immediately to defend Greece’s rights.
Mr. Fourlis: (off microphone)
Mr. Delavekouras: Of course. The action is made by the vessel, but we communicated with the Italian Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Konstantakopoulos: Mr. Droutsas brought back the issue of The Hague in his interview in the Hurriyet, and I would like ask what I assume other Greek citizens have asked, because the government has never informed us of its stance on this.
You realise that the results of an application to The Hague, if it is accepted by the current or another Turkish prime minister, might vary greatly as to the breadth of Greece’s territorial waters – 6 or 12 miles – whether it will have an exclusive economic zone, whether Turkey will withdraw its territorial claims in the Aegean, three issues. How is the government thinking of going to The Hague when it has left these issues unresolved?
Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, not to leave things in the air, there is no question of Greece’s sovereignty anywhere in its territory – because you mentioned claims – and that is clear. Beyond that, there are exploratory contacts between the two countries so that we can reach a result.
We believe that the framework is always and for everyone the Law of the Sea and the customary rules of the Law of the Sea, which are binding for everyone. We are talking about the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has been ratified by 160 countries throughout the world.
We believe – and we hope to see this soon – Turkey will follow the example of the majority of the members of the international community and ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
An application to The Hague would mean the two countries’ signing an agreement to refer a dispute to arbitration, which would naturally be a subject of discussion between the two countries. But at this time I will not go into the subject of the contents of the exploratory contacts, which are under way at an intensive pace.
We will need to see results. That is what Greece is waiting for, and otherwise we will go to The Hague. It is a legal dispute between two countries – there is no room for threats of war, there is no room for this conduct on the part of Turkey. This has to be made clear to everyone.
Mr. Konstantakopoulos: But the way you put it, we can’t rule out 6 miles and Turkish fighters over our country.
Mr. Delavekouras: The issue of the breadth of Greece’s territorial waters is an issue of sovereignty, Greece’s sovereign right, and this is safeguarded by the Law of the Sea and the Customary Law of the Sea. Greece can extend its territorial waters up to 12 miles.
Mr. Konstantakopoulos: Mr. Spokesman, to come back a little to the Libya issue and the other countries. I wanted to ask you this: We have recently seen Greece choose a more active role in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. I remind you that the Arab countries, and the Maghreb countries in particular, are among our economic diplomacy goals for 2011.
At the same time, you have talked about a new era in our relations with Israel, which, among other things, is also covered by the joint ministerial council. Do the developments, the war we have in Libya right now, the developments in Yemen, the ones you referred to earlier in Morocco and the escalation of violence in Syria, which we have seen recently – are these developments that you see as changing the pursuits and planning of Greek diplomacy? Thank you.
Mr. Delavekouras: The developments we are seeing, these movements, mass movements, social, democratic, in an effort to change the face of the Middle East and North Africa, are in fact creating new states of affairs in our region, and it is a given that Greece should play a decisive role, through this process, in the final shape things will take. It is, first of all, a region of our immediate interests, our neighbourhood. Vital interests of Greece are at stake – not just economic, but security interests, illegal migration issues.
It is a region in which Greece has a longstanding presence, close ties, relations of trust with the peoples of the region. And that is why we want to see stability return within a framework that will be more democratic, more liberal, more open, through civil society; citizens taking their fortunes into their own hands. These developments are very, very important, and it goes without saying that they will impact our country’s foreign policy decisively.
Greece has already been playing a very active role throughout this time. We are having constant meetings with our partners, precisely in order to be able to help the course of these developments. But we are facing very difficult circumstances. What we are seeing in Libya right now is cause for great concern. If crimes have been committed, they cannot go unpunished. That is why the international community has taken decisions like Resolution 1970, which asks that this case be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Kapoutsis: The crimes, I imagine, include (off microphone)
Mr. Delavekouras: I am referring to Resolution 1970, which is very clear and says that the situation in Libya should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Resolution 1970 is absolutely clear.
Mr. Kapoutsis: One more question. You mentioned the crimes being perpetrated against the Libyan people. Is this with the exception of the alliance-of-the-willing fighter aircraft that are bombing the Libyan people.
Mr. Delavekouras: At this time, there is no data at NATO on civilian victims of these operations. Whatever the case, each case will have to be investigated, and this will be done. But what I am saying is that the Security Council has taken a clear decision – Resolution 1970 – that demands that the case of Libya be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Fourlis: Back to Greek-Turkish issues. Have the Foreign Minister or the Prime Minister raised these thoughts with their counterparts; thoughts concerning a short-range timeframe following the Turkish elections and the Greek expectation that there will be specific steps immediately afterwards, or otherwise we will go to The Hague? Have we explained this to the Turkish side, officially?
Mr. Delavekouras: First of all, I think it has been set down publicly in successive interviews the Foreign Minister has given to Greek and Turkish news media. It is clear that Greece wants to see results. We have made this absolutely clear to Turkey.
Mr. Fourlis: But has the Greek side explained this short-range timeframe?
Mr. Delavekouras: The timeframe will arise from real developments. You can see where we stand at this time: Turkey is a few months away from elections. These elections will be held, and from there on we expect results.
Mr. Fourlis: Do you have any reason to believe that there will or will not be a response, such results?
Mr. Delavekouras: It’s not a matter of expectations, it’s a matter of actual occurrence. Greece wants to see results; it is saying so and it is saying that if we can’t achieve results, then we will have to go to The Hague. We have to deal with this dispute.
Mr. Fourlis: Let me put it more directly: What response do you have from the Turkish side? Can you pass that on to us?
Mr. Delavekouras: But that’s what I’m saying: we are awaiting results from Turkey. This will be Turkey’s reaction: to confirm the credibility of its words, to act on its words, what it says; to make its words a reality so the two countries can move ahead in the direction of developing good neighbourly relations.
Mr. Fourlis: So you have reason to believe – or you have had it from Turkish lips – that they will proceed to gestures following the elections.
Mr. Delavekouras: Once more, Turkey will be having elections in a few months. This is a fact that we are bearing in mind. Beyond that, Greece is awaiting results and Turkey will have to bring these results. Turkey says that it wants to have good relations with Greece. We are waiting to see this in action, because right now we not only don’t see it, but we have provocations on the part of Turkey. This situation has to change.