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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Katrougalos’ Interview on Alpha Radio, with journalists S. Lamprou and D. Verykios
S. LABROU: Today is a special day and with us we have Mr Giorgos Katrougalos, the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs. Good morning Mr Katrougalos. Today takes place a meeting of the National Council on Foreign Policy and Turkish provocation has crossed the line.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you and your viewers. Yes, indeed. We have scheduled a meeting of the National Council on Foreign Policy for today. Though it is not an extraordinary one. It has been in the works. As you say, we are witnessing lately a relative resurgence of Turkish activities, but this is just part of the overall policy of the neighbouring country. In fact, 2018 is overall not different from previous years. Their air and sea movements remain more or less similar.
S. LABROU: In terms of quantity, you mean?
G. KATROUGALOS: Yes, exactly, in terms of quantity. I believe, though, that if we take a bird's-eye look at our geopolitical relationship with Turkey, and even at the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, we will not notice any strengthening of Turkey’s position. On the contrary, I would say. That is precisely why in my previous statements I have interpreted these actions as a manifestation of nervousness, triggered by the fact that the neighbouring country feels powerless to frustrate Cyprus’ attempts to exploit, as she has every right to do under international law, its abundant natural resources. And I think that its actions towards us should also be understood in the same way, as a nervous reaction to the strengthening of our own geostrategic importance in the region, which is confirmed by many things, most recently by the successful opening of a Strategic Dialogue with the USA.
D. VERYKIOS: Let's dwell on this a little longer, because if I am to trust my many years’ experience, I think that this Strategic Dialogue which has begun in Washington between you and Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis on the one hand, and the American side on the other, triggered many reactions by the representatives of the status quo in Ankara.
G. KATROUGALOS: The opening of US-Greece Strategic Dialogue is not aimed against Turkey or against any other country.
D. VERYKIOS: No, but they began putting anew on their agenda the Aegean. It is no coincidence, in my opinion.
G. KATROUGALOS: I would like to insist on this: what truly matters in the US-Greek Strategic Dialogue is the confirmation that Greece plays a special role as a stabilizing power in the region. I would like to draw your attention to the recent interview with the US Assistant Secretary of State, Mr W. Mitchell, who said two quite remarkable things, of which one must have obviously annoyed the neighbouring country. He said, and this reflects the American position, that the only country capable of having a stabilizing effect in the region between Israel and Poland is Greece. He also made another important observation on how Turkey’s positions are approached with regard to the continental shelf and the more general maritime affairs; namely that when it comes to these matters, Turkey is a minority of one. This, therefore, exemplifies the fundamental weakness of Turkish policy. To put it differently, it has absolutely no footing in International Law. And when a country follows such a revisionist policy, entirely divorced from international legality, it inevitably compromises its chances of ever making the necessary international alliances which in fact could confirm, not only its diplomatic prestige but its geopolitical power too. When we set out to approach the USA, therefore, our objective was neither to become the gendarme of the region nor to turn against any state. We did so because lately we are constantly emitting the signal that we are a pillar of stability, not only in the Balkans, as evidenced by the Prespa Agreement, but in the Eastern Mediterranean region too. And we have succeeded in doing so with a number of initiatives, such as the very regular trilateral cooperations Greece and Cyprus have developed.
D. VERYKIOS: Here in Greece people have yet to appreciate how important these cooperations are.
G. KATROUGALOS: Exactly.
D. VERYKIOS: What happened yesterday, for example, in Israel is not a small thing.
G. KATROUGALOS: That’s totally right. And the meeting with Cyprus and Israel is perhaps the most prominent example of these trilateral partnerships, although this week we had two more, at ministerial level. We also had one with Palestine, Jordan, and another one yet with Egypt and other countries in the region ...
D. VERYKIOS: According to European plans and the global system at large, Egypt has become an emerging economy.
G. KATROUGALOS: Necessary for the stabilization of the African continent, and as far as we are concerned, also important, as you correctly pointed out, for the economic sector in view of the future creation of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between our countries. So to sum up my own estimation of the situation, we do obviously need to approach Turkey’s actions with great vigilance, and yet with the sobriety deriving from the fact that Greece’s strategic position has been reinforced thanks precisely to these important, successful and well-coordinated diplomatic initiatives.
S. LABROU: Why does Turkey reach these heights of provocation at this particular time? The reason I am asking this is because it is perhaps the first time we hear Mr Apostolakis using such harsh language, or sending a message to the Turks, saying two things: The first about the rocky islet and the second on a matter I would like you to comment and expound upon..
D. VERYKIOS: In other words, to clarify Spyros’ intention, Minister, we are trying to suss out what pushed Mr Apostolakis to make such declaration.
G. KATROUGALOS: But, listen, diplomacy alone does not always suffice. The dissuasive power of the Armed Forces is also needed, and the statement of Mr Apostolakis is meant to make clear that the Armed Forces shall always be present and ready to repel any action that constitutes a frontal challenge to our sovereignty. We do not threaten anyone.
S. LABROU: Do you fear such action on the part of Turkey? Either by accident or calculation?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are not afraid of anything. Yet we must be prepared. And we take the indispensable preparatory steps by growing our Armed Forces, and by remembering that their protocols foresee any scenario. To be sure, we must always remind the other party that we are a pacifist power which does not stake any claim, and nor does it make any threat. But of course, if necessary, we are obviously ready to repel any challenge to our sovereignty.
S. LABROU: We have mentioned our alliances and our trilateral cooperations, but Mr Apostolakis said that in the event we have to fight, we will fight on our own.
D. VERYKIOS: That's how it is. Do you expect the others to fight for us?
S. LABROU: If they are our allies...
G. KATROUGALOS: Indeed, we need to know what the balance of power is and to always try to make the necessary alliances. But if a heated incident happens there we will be alone and that’s why we must prepared to fend off any aggression. On the other hand, however, we try to strengthen, as I have already said, our diplomatic alliances. Not only with the US, but with Europe too.
There is a serious debate, which is not widely known to the Greek public, about how to grow a more autonomous European defence. It is present in the Treaty of Lisbon after it was amended. Of course, I’m referring to the Treaty governing the European Union. There is a provision in Article 42, paragraph 7, which states that in the event a country of the European Union is under attack it has the right to demand and expect the solidarity and support of its allies.
The French President, Mr Macron, wants to turn this mere rhetorical phrase into a reality. So we are also moving towards this direction. Needless to say, our purpose is not to go to war with our allies, but to preserve peace.
D. VERYKIOS: I believe that Mr Apostolakis’ statement was designed to send this message. The festive season is upon us. Let us, we the two countries, rejoice in it with quiet and harmony. Because if you try any dangerous Tarzan-like action, be sure that we will retaliate with an immediate blitz-like response. And this has already been decided. Both the government and the Armed Forces in Athens are ready.
G. KATROUGALOS: That’s precisely what Mr Apostolakis’ statement meant. There is nothing new. We have the same firm policy: sobriety and vigilance. Obviously, the Chief of Staff felt compelled to respond in kind to the bellicose and blustering rhetoric of the other side.
D. VERYKIOS: Will Mr Apostolakis be present at the meeting of the Council?
G. KATROUGALOS: No, habitually the National Council on Foreign Policy (NCFP) does not invite the Chief of Staff.
D. VERYKIOS: What if he is needed at some point?
G. KATROUGALOS: If he is needed, he will be invited. Just as I said before, although we have noted a relative resurgence in Turkey's movements, it has not taken a new form to justify the invocation of a crisis situation and to require the presence of the Chief of Staff.
D. VERYKIOS: This is what I was also telling them. What we witnessed in the Aegean yesterday, with the intense presence there, has been happening for the last 45 years. It is not something new.
G. KATROUGALOS: That's how it is.
S. LABROU: Who will represent New Democracy today?
G. KATROUGALOS: I think Mr Koumoutsakos. I have not heard anything different.
S. LABROU: Let me ask you something else: How do you see the resignation of the US Defence Minister? Does it play a role? What does the removal of American troops from Syria mean? And whether this is really a removal, or perhaps simply a partial withdrawal?
G. KATROUGALOS: 2,000 US troops are due to leave from Syria. It was further announced that half of the US troops stationed in Afghanistan will also leave. As you know President Trump justified this decision by saying that Islamic terrorism had been defeated. Hence, the USA had no reason to retain there any military presence. As for the resignation of the US Defence Minister, it clearly states an opposition to this view.
S. LABROU: Not only. Personally I notice that the British, Germans, and French are not only disagreeing. They are shouting against it.
G. KATROUGALOS: All this, I think, highlights the need for a more coordinated European foreign policy. When a vacuum is created in the region, it must be filled. Nature dislikes emptiness, even in the realm of diplomacy. And I think that European foreign policy should become more active, more coordinated and above all more present.
As for us, as I said earlier, we do everything we can, and not only within the limits of our trilateral contacts. There is the multilateral and combined effort of the Rhodes Conference, which is already attended by 24 European and Arab States, and whose goal is to transform the Conference into a regional system for security. And naturally we are also trying to do something similar in the European Union.
In February, a Euro-Arab Summit will be held during which many important problems will be discussed. Among them, Palestine is undoubtedly one of the most pivotal questions if peace is to emerge in the region.
Greece, therefore, and I believe this is the most salient characteristic of recent years, is not just seeking stability in the region to cope with its bilateral problems there. Rather it seeks to become a veritable yardstick for peace. And this is precisely why its diplomatic prestige has been so upgraded.
D. VERYKIOS: Minister, the Prespa Agreement is in the home stretch. The Constitutional Affairs Commission of the Parliament in Skopje has signed the amendments on citizenship, ethnicity and borders. Therefore, it seems that on 15 January, the hot Prespa potato will fall into the hands of the Greek side. It will come before the Greek Parliament for ratification, here in Athens. Tell us, please, how you plan to proceed?
G. KATROUGALOS: That’s right. We will proceed as we have agreed, precisely because we believe that the Prespa Agreement is mutually beneficial to both countries, and good for the greatest purpose we have and which I mentioned earlier, that is, the stabilization of the wider region. Indeed, now that the discussion has come to an end, it is fully being proved that all the accusations levelled against the Agreement, especially with regard to its alleged recognition of a "Macedonian nation", were unfounded.
After all, it could not be otherwise, for as it turned out most of the amendments which were tabled, were done so by Albanian parties. The Prespa Agreement could not recognize anything other than citizenship ...
D. VERYKIOS: Nonetheless, the official Opposition here in Greece, but also the other parties, do not perceive this as a substantive matter, and persist in their view that the Prespa Agreement is detrimental to national interests.
G. KATROUGALOS: Maybe, but their argument is weak. Until recently, their argument was that the Agreement conceded the existence of a ‘Macedonian nation’. From the beginning, we have been explaining that one cannot determine the right to self-determination because its underpinnings stem from International Law. The agreement had to clarify the legal relations between the two states, and that’s why, what it determined, was the citizenship. What is citizenship? It is the legal relationship between the citizen and the state. It is not related to ethnic perceptions and self-determination. And this is what the recent Constitutional Revision solemnly stated, when it confirmed that the notion of citizenship, as recognized in the Prespa Agreement, does not in any way prejudge or define ethnicity.
D. VERYKIOS: The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, denounced the death threats he has again received. First of all, could you clarify if these threats have also reached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Have been subject to similar threats? What do you make of these incidents, knowing that the Prime Minister felt personally obliged to intervene on them yesterday?
G. KATROUGALOS: The Prime Minister had to intervene, even in order to state the obvious; and that is that Nikos Kotzias was absolutely instrumental in shaping the entire foreign policy we have been assessing, all these trilateral and multilateral endeavours and the Prespa Agreement.
And needless to say, a threat on the life of a politician is an assault on the very idea of democracy. I have also received anonymous phone calls. Bullies can be found everywhere, you know. Nevertheless I want to repeat this: our democracy is safe. These threats will be dealt with, and Nikos Kotzias’ important and indubitable contribution cannot be challenged by anyone.
D. VERYKIOS: Are you confident that the Prespa Agreement will be approved by the present government?
G. KATROUGALOS: I do not have the slightest doubt about this. Besides, the number of MPs who have already voiced their favourable position on the Agreement is greater than what is necessary in order to get a majority of 151. I have explained on other occasions that on the basis of constitutional requirements it could, theoretically, pass even with a smaller majority. However, this major political proposition cannot fail to secure more than an absolute majority. And I repeat, I harbour no doubt that the necessary limit will be exceeded.
D. VERYKIOS: of 151.
G. KATROUGALOS: Exactly.
S. LABROU: You’re confident then that you will also secure the votes of ANEL?
G. KATROUGALOS: This is a matter of conscience.
S. LABROU: Is your hypothetical majority of 151 minus ANEL’s support?
G. KATROUGALOS: I repeat once more that I trust that deputies will not be divided on this Agreement because it is, I believe, a question that supersedes mere party discipline. It is a matter of individual conscience. Precisely because on major national issues, as well as on other major issues, pertaining to Constitutional Revision, party discipline considerations must take a back seat and each deputy must be free to act according to what he feels is right for the nation.
D. VERYKIOS: I wish you every success today.
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you very much. Thank you.