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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 13 September 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the programme. At 18:00 on Tuesday, 18 September, Foreign Minister Avramopoulos will brief the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs regarding Foreign Ministry issues.

On Wednesday, 19 September, Mr. Avramopoulos will start a visit to the U.S., with the first stop in Chicago, where he will have meeting with Greek American organizations, the Metropolitan, and the political leadership of the state and city, and he will then go to Boston, where he will meet with the Governor of Massachusetts, representatives of the Greek American community there, and the Metropolitan.

Foreign Minister Avramopoulos will arrive in New York City on 23 September to participate in the Ministerial Week of the 67th UN General Assembly, and he will address a plenary session of the Assembly on Thursday, 27 September. On the margins of the General Assembly, Mr. Avramopoulos will participate in a number of important multilateral and regional meetings, including the working dinner on the situation in the Middle East, which is being hosted by the International Institute for Peace, together with the Foreign Ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Luxembourg, and the EU’s political dialogue meeting with the U.S., the transatlantic dialogue meeting, the meeting of BSEC Foreign Ministers, and other meetings. Mr. Avramopoulos is also to participate in a working breakfast on the issue of mediation in the Mediterranean region, which is being hosted by the Foreign Ministers of Spain and Morocco.

The Minister’s itinerary also includes a number of bilateral meetings, including with the UN secretary General, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy Matthew Nimetz, and a number of his counterparts. The schedule of these meetings has not yet been finalized, so we will announce it at a later date. But I can tell you that these meetings will take place as part of the coordinated efforts to rehabilitate Greece’s image and brief Greece’s important global partners on the resolve of the Greek government and the Greek people to successfully confront the crisis.

In his meetings with his counterparts from Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Arab world, the Caucasus, and important emerging powers in the international system, Mr. Avramopoulos will underscore Greece stabilizing role in the fluid environment of our region, and he will look at areas where cooperation can be enhanced on the political and economic levels.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas will be in Brussels on Monday, 24 September, to participate in the General Affairs Council, which will be looking at the new multiannual financial framework.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tsiaras will be in San Francisco from Saturday to Monday, 15 to 17 September, for meetings with representatives of the Greek community and the Greek Orthodox Community, and he will also meet with city officials.

On Tuesday, 18 September, Mr. Tsiaras will travel to Los Angeles, where he will meet with the Mayor of the city and the heads of the Greek American organizations. And as of Wednesday, 19 September, Mr. Tsiaras will be accompanying the Foreign Minister on his visits to Chicago and Boston.

M. KOTOVSKA: [Question on the ICJ ruling and its implementation by Greece.]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I would appreciate it if you were to use the internationally recognized name of your country, as it is very clearly described in relevant Security Council Resolutions, in all international organizations, and according to which our two countries have established relations. I will speak in Greek, but somebody could translate for you afterwards.
Greece has repeatedly shown that it wants to achieve a solution on the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; a solution, as provided for, via the UN process, as described in the UN Security Council resolutions, and as recognized by all the international organizations. In spite of this, for 20 years now, successive leaderships in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have persisted in a stance that does not allow for any progress whatsoever. Quite the contrary, in fact. They have constantly made provocations, and in recent years in particular we have seen a constant backsliding towards extremist statements that worsen the climate, make it difficult to move towards a solution and, unfortunately, inspire no optimism in us that we will see progress. Greece has said repeatedly that its wants to have a credible collocutor with whom it can achieve real progress at the negotiating table, and this is the message Foreign Minister Avramopoulos will reiterate to the Secretary General’s envoy, Mr. Nimetz, at their meeting in New York City.
We are also monitoring domestic developments in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia very closely. We are monitoring the fact that there are serious shortfalls in the functioning of the state; shortfalls that have been observed by many reports from international organizations monitoring the country’s progress, and we hope that there will be a change in course: that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will start to implement the reforms necessary for its approaching Euroatlantic standards, so that it can follow the European and Euroatlantic path. Greece stands by its side. Greece is the closest ally this country will have in the process of integration into these institutions, but a prerequisite for this is respect for the rules of good neighbourly relations, and that is why we are waiting to see a change in conduct and stance from the other side.

M. KOSTOVSKA: [Question on the FYROM Prime Minister’s invitation to the Greek Prime Minister for a meeting.] G. DELAVEKOURAS: What is not constructive is the P-R ploys, the harsh rhetoric, the insults and the lack of respect for your neighbour. Good neighbourliness means first of all that you respect your neighbour, and this is the way we always approach our neighbouring country, and this should be how the other side approaches us.

The issue isn’t how many meetings we have. The issue is whether there is the political will for there to be progress, and so far we haven’t seen the requisite political will at the table. That is why – and I repeat what I said earlier – we are waiting to see a change in conduct, a change in stance, and, at long last, a willingness to reach a solution. Again I say, Greece has shown at the negotiating table that it wants a solution, but we need a collocutor that has the requisite political will.
N. MELETIS: Whether there is any change in stance on the issue of the name of Kosovo, and, second, whether some Greek-Turkish cultural agreement provides for the opening and operation of kindergartens in Thrace without a permit.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, you are aware of the Greek position. The Greek position is firm. Greece’s position is that in our region and in the world in general we need to seek and achieve diplomatic solutions to the problems that exist. In Southeast Europe in particular, it is very important that we reach viable solutions, that there is dialogue first, that there are preceding agreements that ensure that the solutions found will be firm. Greece believes in the European future of the whole region of Southeast Europe and, naturally, the Western Balkans. We have worked towards this end and play a leading role within the framework of the European Union, so that we can see our whole region move towards the European Union. And we continue to work towards that end.

Regarding your second question, this issue is, as you can see, within the purview of the Education Ministry. Beyond that, it is obvious that the law must be implemented in Greece, and we consider that to be the case.

N. MELETIS: It’s not an issue within the responsibilities of the Education Ministry. It is an issue within the responsibilities of the Foreign Ministry. Minority education issues are issues that concern the Foreign Ministry, the implementation of the agreement. And does the implementation of the law mean that these illegal kindergartens will be closed?
G. DELAVEKOURAS: The issue of the operation of educational institutions in Greece is the responsibility of the Education Ministry. You asked me whether there is an agreement between Greece and Turkey providing for the operation of schools, and I said that there is no agreement other that what is provided for in the Treaty of Lausanne, which is not a bilateral agreement. That is the framework that exists. Beyond that, as I said, the functioning of educational institutions in Greece is within the responsibility of the Education Ministry, and we, as the Foreign Ministry, consider that the law in Greece is being implemented.

M. POPOVIC: Are we expecting any developments in New York on the name issue? And whether there is some room for discussion on the highest political level. And second, because lately we have been hearing there is a chance we will get a date in December for the opening of negotiations with the European Union. What is Greece’s reaction to such a case? Thank you. G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, Greece always wants there to be progress, and we state this at every opportunity. Unfortunately, however, we don’t appear to have the requisite conditions when we have constant statements from our neighbouring country reiterating its intransigence. The message we are sending to all our partners is also consistent, and we will convey this to Mr. Nimetz, as I said earlier.

No meeting has been scheduled – we will see when we are there, of course – but what interests us is substance. Substance means that the two sides sitting at the negotiating table and showing, in practice, that there is political will to resolve the issue. This will free up the dynamic in our bilateral relationship and will help the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s European and Euroatlantic perspective. The leadership of our neighbouring country needs to realize this: that it holds in its hands the European future of its people.
Because we unfortunately see that in many sectors there is backsliding rather than progress, we see new shortfalls and new problems – for this reason we think it is very important that the leadership of the neighbouring country speak sincerely, at long last, and look at what the problems are and work to solve them. Regarding the second question you raised, as you know, the Council of the European Union, which is responsible for decision-making on enlargement issues, has made specific decisions that it repeated successively in 2009, 2010 and 2011; decisions that underscore the need for respecting the rules of good neighbourly relations. This is the Council’s position. It remains so, and it must be clear that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is assessed, as a candidate country, on all of its conduct; it is evaluated as to its relations with its neighbours, and these relations are unfortunately not going well, from what we see. This should clearly cause concern.
Doesn’t it seem strange to you that we essentially see problems in the relations of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with most of its neighbours? I hope we see a change in course and that we will be able, in the end, to reach cooperation and solutions, because that is what Southeast Europe needs. Greece has worked throughout these years towards this end, and with significant results. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has a European perspective thanks to the Thessaloniki Agenda – thanks, in other words, to the efforts of the Greek EU Presidency at the time to help integrate our neighbourhood and move it toward European institutions. And what is the response we see? Persistent intransigence, constant hostile rhetoric, constant attacks, constant distortions. This is leading us nowhere. The two peoples will benefit from cooperation. Their political leaderships must show in practice that they want a solution, and that is why we are waiting for a change in stance from the government in Skopje.

D. ANTONIOU: I would like your comment on an item in today’s Turkish press: that the perpetrator of the bombing attack the day before yesterday in Istanbul was trained – and relatively recently, in 2010 – at a terrorist camp in Greece.
G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is a false claim that resurfaces frequently in the Turkish press. There is no training center of any terrorist in Greece, and so we think that there needs to be a stop this constant rehashing of such false news reports, which misinform and certainly hurt the climate in the relations between the two countries.

Thank you very much.