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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 22 November 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. Before I start with the programme, I would like to publicly thank two personnel who were recently transferred from the Information Department – Alexis Katsareas and Kypris Zerva – for the excellent work they did over these past few years in the Information Department.

I’ll start with the programmes of the political leadership. At 12:00 on Tuesday, 27 November, Foreign Minister Avramopoulos will meet at the Foreign Ministry with the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer.

On Wednesday, 28 November, Mr. Avramopoulos will be in Albania, at the Albanian Foreign Minister’s invitation, to participate in the events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence. He will take the opportunity of this visit to meet with the Albanian leadership.

At 12:00 on Thursday, 29 November, Mr. Avramopoulos will attend the accreditation ceremonies for the Ambassadors of Panama, Venezuela and Indonesia, at the Presidential Mansion.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas will carry out a visit to China from 26 November to 1 December, heading a Greek delegation that will be participating in the proceedings of the 11th Greek-Chinese Joint Interministerial Committee (JIC). Mr. Kourkoulas will be accompanied by the Secretary General for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mihalos. Mr. Kourkoulas’s itinerary starts in Beijing, where, on Monday, 26 November, he will meet with representatives of the local news media.

On Tuesday, 27 November, he will attend an investment seminar that “Invest in Greece” will be participating in.

On Wednesday, 28 November, Mr. Kourkoulas will participate as head of the Greek delegation in the proceedings of the 11th Greek-Chinese JIC, and he will also have bilateral meetings.

On Thursday, 29 November, Mr. Kourkoulas will visit a Business Forum for Greek products and continue his bilateral meetings, afterwards travelling on to Shanghai, where, on Friday and Saturday, 30 November and 1 December, he will attend an investment forum being hosted by the Greek Consulate General, with the participation of “Invest in Greece.” Naturally, while in Shanghai he will have bilateral meetings with local officials.

On Tuesday, 27 November, Deputy Foreign Minster Kostas Tsiaras will deliver a welcome speech at an “Energy Money Conference” on “Greece: a hub for European energy independence.” This conference is taking place under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry and the Environment, Energy and Climate Change Ministry.

On Wednesday, 28 November, the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General, Ambassador Kaskarelis, will have political consultations on bilateral and regional issues with German Deputy Foreign Minister Haber, within the framework of her visit to Greece.

Finally, the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation, Peter Mihalos, will meet at 12:30 today, 22 November, with the Chinese Ambassador to Athens.

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

K. FRYSSA: I want to ask about an item in a weekly that came out today, according to which the Germans are asking that citizenship be given back to 50,000 deported Muslims. The Foreign Ministry’s comment.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Foreign Ministry has no information confirming the reportage in question, and that is also the picture we have from the competent Ministries. In any case, there is the relevant legislation that covers citizenship issues, and that legislation is in force. But I want to take the opportunity of your question to note something very important. There is no issue of 50,000 deported Muslims. There never was such and issue, and Greece has never taken such measures. We all have to be very careful not to create issues where none exist.

M. KOURBELA: [Off microphone. Question concerning economic relations with China and the EU financial framework.]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, first we need to note the already tangible results of Greek-Chinese cooperation, and I am referring to the example of Cosco and the investment it has made in the Port of Piraeus.

This cooperation has broad potential for further expansion, so that it can become even more productive for both the Greek state and the Chinese side.

I think that this investment is a vote of confidence. It proves that Greece, with its geopolitical position, with its infrastructure and comparative advantages over the other countries in the region, can be a point of reference for the development of trade, of investments and of economic cooperation with all the countries of the region; it can be a gateway to the European market for foreign investors interested in investing in our region.

We are expecting very good preparations at the meetings Deputy Minister Kourkoulas is going to have, precisely within the framework of the JIC, which is the forum through which we are expanding all the potential for cooperation, seeking new areas of cooperation with the Chinese side.

Equally important is the Deputy Minister’s presence in Shanghai, where he will have the opportunity to present – together with “Invest in Greece” – the prospects opening up right now, with all the major developments we have in Greece, with the investment programme we have adopted and that is under way, so that we can attract investors and, in this way, create the conditions for growth that will help our country emerge from the crisis.

Regarding the second issue you raised, a very important and difficult negotiation process is beginning. As you know, there are major disagreements among the EU institutions, as well as among the EU member states themselves.

We are starting from a difficult departure point, not just because of the fiscal situation, but also because of the changes brought on by the last EU enlargement and the way that enlargement impacted funding for cohesion and the EU budget.

The Prime Minster is in Brussels, at the Summit Meeting that is under way. Greece’s positions are well known. What everyone needs to see is that the EU budget has to function, right now, as a development tool, because that is its role. We mustn’t enter into a mindset of cutbacks, because that would clash with the priorities set by the EU itself for growth, job creation, innovation, research and technology; all the issues that can strengthen the European market in the context of international competition at a difficult time that, all indication are, will become more and more difficult.

Μ. KOTOVSKA: During the press conference in *** Mathew Nimetz stressed the importance of how important is to respect the judgments of the International Court of Justice and, so what does this message mean to the Greek Government? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I want to take the opportunity of your question, first of all, to say that the Foreign Ministry will study, in the appropriate constructive spirit, the ideas presented by Mr. Nimetz at the recent meeting in New York. And in coordination with him, the next steps will be determined.

We believe that the Greek initiative for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two sides functions as a catalyst and has already imparted momentum to the UN process, which, after all, was our aim.

We will take a stance on the substance of Mr. Nimetz’s ideas when our analysis of those ideas has been completed. You know what Greece’s positions are. They are set out in absolute clarity in our proposal. And this is the framework within which we are participating in the process.

We hope that the leadership of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will not pass up this opportunity, but, rather, participate constructively in the dialogue so that we can reach a solution. A solution that frees up the great potential in our bilateral relations, which will contribute decisively to regional stability while also imparting fresh momentum to our neighbouring country’s European and Euroatlantic perspective. This is a course that Greece has supported consistently, with the self-evident prerequisite of our neighbour’s compliance with all the relevant conditions adopted unanimously by the member states of NATO and the EU.

Regarding the specific issue you raised, I would like to remind you that the Court’s decision refers expressly to the need for the two sides to focus their efforts on the negotiations within the framework of the UN process, so that we can achieve a settlement on the name issue. As I said a little earlier, this is the essence: the problem hinders the promotion, strengthening and deepening of relations between the two countries, and it is an obstacle to regional stability more generally. We have to confront this. This is what the Court said, and this is what we have to do. Consequently, the two sides need to sit at the negotiating table in a constructive spirit and reach a mutually acceptable solution. This is something that the whole international community wants, recognizing that it is an important international issue, and we hope that we will be able to see progress made.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, with regard to the memorandum Mr. Avramopoulos sent to Mr. Popovski. Mr. Avramopoulos, during a visit he made to Bulgaria, said that when they opened the response from Mr. Popovski, they essentially saw a letter, and not a response. I would like your comment on the memorandum; that is, the response, the letter from Mr. Popovski. And whether Mr. Avramopoulos will reply to that response.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I think the Foreign Minister set out very clearly how things stand. The reality of the situation is that Greece made a very specific proposal, and the purpose of this proposal was to give impetus to the process so that we can talk and agree on the specific framework, the specific parameters, for the settlement of the issue.

On that, essentially, we did not get a response. We got a letter that describes various things, but that avoids responding to the substantial part. We believe that this process has already gone on too long. It has been going on for many years without bringing results.

This obviously causes fatigue, disappointment, which hurts the overall prospects. We want to reverse this state of affairs. We want to change it. We have also taken tangible steps in the past. We have shown Greece’s constructive spirit at the negotiating table; our willingness to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

The proposal we made in Foreign Minister Avramopoulos’s letter moves in precisely this direction. That of imparting momentum to the UN process and bringing the two sides to a single point of reference that will very specifically set out the framework within which we will achieve a solution. We hope to see progress in the coming time. This is what Greece wants.

S. RISTOVSKA: A question concerning the EU. In December, Commissioner Füle is pressuring for us to get a date to start accession negotiations. What is Greece’s stance? About a month ago, I think, you said that the Commission issued a report, but that the Council has the last word. So, what will Greece’s stance be?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: First of all, I want to comment on something you said. Mr. Füle is a member of the European Commission. There is no issue of pressure from Mr. Füle – at least not on Greece.

But what we need to focus on – and I have said this before – is that the Commission has a specific role in this process; a very important role. Beyond that, the member states, within the framework of the European Council, are responsible for taking decisions based on their assessments.

This discussion will obviously continue until December, when the Council is to take place. We want to see progress. I think that the whole EU wants to see progress and has clearly asked, in successive unanimous decisions from the Council of Ministers in recent years, to see progress. And it needs to be clear that for steps forward to be taken, there needs to be respect for the criteria that have been set, in a unanimous manner, by the Council. Naturally, meeting the criterion of good neighbourly relations is at the top.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, what does the day after the ceasefire in Gaza mean for Greek diplomacy in the Middle East? Will cooperation with Israel – political and military – continue unhindered? I remind you of the High Level Cooperation Council you announced in the past. On the other hand, within what framework will our relations with Arab countries – Qatar, for example – which maintain a channel of communication with Hamas, move from here on in? Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I want to start by saying that in recent weeks, during which we have seen a rapid deterioration of the security conditions in the Middle East region, Greece has taken a number of initiatives aimed at helping shape conditions for security in our region, which we believe is a top priority for maintaining international security.

Within this framework Foreign Minster Avramopoulos presented specific proposals for the development of the EU’s relations with the Arab League, which plays a catalytic role in handling the crisis, as well as for tightening the EU’s relations with Egypt.

We see Egypt as a strategic partner in the Middle East region; a very important country that, following the revolution, is taking on its role in the system of equilibrium in the wider region. This is a role that is very important for creating the conditions of stability that I mentioned earlier. For this reason, there are frequent meetings with the Egyptian side: there are the two visits the Foreign Minister has carried out to Egypt in the past two months, there is the visit of the President of the Republic and the meeting he had with Egyptian President Morsi, as well as the telephone talks the two Foreign Ministers had yesterday, right after the announcement of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza.

We are at a critical phase right now. The ceasefire was achieved after difficult negotiations, difficult talks, and we need to do everything in our power to safeguard the agreement. This naturally presupposes – first and foremost – that both the Israelis and the Palestinians show self-restraint and comply strictly with the rules set down in the ceasefire agreement.

Of course, we cannot ignore the threats that exist and that impact the whole region. The situation in Syria is very bad – we’re talking about a state of civil war, at a huge cost in human lives among the civilian population. The humanitarian crisis is vast, and there is a clear and present danger of the crisis’s spreading abroad, to Syria’s neighbouring countries.

That is why the international community – and the EU in particular, which is why Greece is working tirelessly – needs to give all the assistance it can to guide things on a course that will defuse the crisis and the tension. In this context, we want to have our Arab partners at our side, and therein lies the importance of the initiative I mentioned to you for strengthening the political consultations between the EU and the Arab League and Egypt, beyond the sectoral cooperation on issues of economy, which we are developing as the European Union.

As for Greece’s role in particular, Greece follows a policy of principles on the Middle East and other issues; a policy of respect for international law and the decisions of the UN Security Council. This is the basic axis on which we base our policy, and this is well known to all our partners, on both the Arab side – and specifically the Palestinians – and the Israeli side. That is why Greece is a trusted collocutor who can contribute constructively to the search for compromises and solutions, which at this time is absolutely vital.

With the initiatives we have taken, with the contacts we have – and I remind you here that two weeks ago we had a visit from the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister – the contacts we have with both Israel and our Arab partners, we are trying to help find a common point of reference, common ground, so that the necessary steps can be taken and peace and security in our region can be consolidated, but without ignoring the very difficult conditions prevailing at this time.

J. TASEVSKA: *** Natasha, from the State News Agency ***. There are two weeks until the European Council. I guess the Greek Government has a stand already on this issue. Can you tell me how Athens looks *** again for getting the date for starting negotiations with the EU? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I want to remind you that the European Union takes a stance on these issues – the EU Council of Ministers as a whole. The EU Council of Ministers has repeatedly stressed, in unanimous decisions, the need to resolve the name issue, and this is something Greece is working on systematically.

This is the framework that exists at this time, and, as I said earlier, Greece is working in a constructive spirit. Greece wants progress and a solution to the name issue so that we can achieve everything we can in our bilateral relations, in regional security and for the European perspective of the whole region.

This is the spirit within which Greek foreign policy is moving, and we have shown this on the level of the negotiations at the UN, as shown by our recent initiative for the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the two countries.

But – and we mustn’t forget this – all the criteria, prerequisites, conditions set unanimously by the EU must be respected. This is a fundamental principle in the enlargement process, and it is naturally being implemented in this case.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: I wanted to ask, Mr. Spokesman, with the issue of … There are reports that the Greek government has been approached by the representatives of Christian churches of Syria. As you will know better than I, the Christian populations, the Kurdish populations, the Armenian populations are very concerned at the developments and the possibility of the Asad regime’s falling. The reports I have are that they did not receive practical assistance from the Greek government. I hope these reports are completely unfounded, but I want to know what Athens is considering doing, what specific initiatives Athens will take to defend the Christians and other populations who may have a reasonable interest – and it is, in any case, a general humanitarian interest – in being protected.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you yourself said, these claims are totally unfounded. Indicatively, I refer to the fact that the Foreign Ministry, and Mr. Avramopoulos personally, are in direct contact with the Patriarch of Antioch. I also note that, for Greece, the protection of the rights of the minorities is a basic parameter and priority within the framework of any effort to resolve the Syrian crisis. The situation is bad right now, and it is obvious that the Christian communities, like all the communities of Syria, are very concerned, because they are in the middle of a civil war that, as I said, is taking a huge humanitarian toll.

For this reason, in all the fora in which Greece participates, in all the organizations in which Greece participates, we have always set as a top priority the protection of the rights of minorities, and specifically the Christian communities in Syria.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: I would like to ask you something else now, about Syria. If tomorrow – because a few weeks ago you expressed, on the part of the Foreign Ministry, solidarity with Turkey regarding the incident that took place – Ankara requests the activation of article 5 or 6, I can’t remember which, of the self-defence charter, will Greece ignore the fact that Turkey is an occupying force in Cyprus and is threatening Greece itself with war? Because, of course, it is understandable that under certain circumstances we may have solidarity, but we can’t deny all the other realities.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Both the ongoing threat of war on the part of Turkey and the occupation of territory of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkish armed forces are unacceptable, and we have repeatedly called on Turkey to withdraw its troops and revoke this threat, and, at long last, see our relations through a different prism, where joint cooperation and progress could be the main characteristics of relations. But until that time, it is obvious that Greece will take all the necessary measures to ensure the integrity of its sovereignty.

As for the specific incident to which you referred, where shells hit regions in Turkey, it is clear – and this was a stance from NATO as a whole – that the Alliance expressed its solidarity with Turkey after this attack. Beyond that, There has been no discussion of activating article 5. The discussions taking place are based on article 4, and we hope – and Greece is working in this direction – to achieve a defusing of the crisis. This is our main aim, because otherwise the whole Middle East risks a very dangerous escalation that threatens stability and peace in the region.

M. KOURBELA: Our relations with Latin America have not produced very significant results. Yesterday, Mr. Avramopoulos inaugurated a new initiative, mainly in the economic sector. What can we expect? What are Greece’s priorities in the region? Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Foreign Minister wants our foreign policy to open new paths of cooperation, particularly in regions and with countries where this cooperation has not been developed to its potential or to the level of the relations we have with the people of those countries.

In the case of Latin America, as you know, we are talking about a region where there are active Greek communities. There are genuine feelings of friendship that go back decades and centuries, and these are a very good foundation for our seeking areas of broader cooperation. For example, from last year to this year, Greek exports to Argentina – which we happen to be talking about right now because of Mr. Avramopoulos’s meeting yesterday – have grown fivefold.

So we are talking about really major potential, as long as we create the framework and conditions for further development of these economic relations. And on the political level, of course, we have to acknowledge that Greece has very good relations with these countries; very good coordination and cooperation in the framework of the international organizations we participate in.

Another indication of how important Mr. Avramopoulos considers the development of relations with the countries of Latin America to be is his intention to participate in the EU-Latin America summit set to take place in Chile, in 2013.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, the recent law 4093/2012 requires 20 years of residence in Greece before one can receive a pension. As you have been informed, this has imacted the Greek minorities of Northern Epirus, who receive pensions via special status under the agricultural social insurance organization (OGA). As the Foreign Ministry, do you intend to take any initiative on this sensitive issue? Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is a issue that we are aware of and to which the right approach is being sought.

Thank you very much.