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Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in the “Sunday Vima” with journalist Angelos Athanasopoulos (1 December 2019)
JOURNALIST: According to what we’ve heard, Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Jurisdictions with the internationally recognized government of Libya. This is essentially the first step towards delimitation of maritime zones. What steps is the government taking to avert this possibility? Should you perhaps be taking specific initiatives on the European level, where some member states support the internationally recognized government of president Sarraj?
N. DENDIAS: Greece is exercising its sovereignty and its sovereign rights in its maritime zones, which are also European maritime zones, in accordance with International Law, as set down in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The delimitation of maritime zones is carried out between neighbouring states. This is not the case in the example you raised. Turkey and Libya are not neighbouring states. So any agreement between them would constitute a violation of the rules of International Law and more specifically the Law of the Sea. We have made this clear to all our interlocutors, as well as to Turkey and the government in Tripoli. Any such attempt is a flagrant violation of International Law and produces no legal effect. With regard to our initiatives, since July we have taken action on many levels, within and beyond the EU. I have raised the issue repeatedly with a number of my colleagues from states with influence in the region, with the Foreign Ministers of France, Italy and Egypt, and with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus. Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also raised it with the prime minister of Italy. It is an issue we are handling both seriously and methodically. Illegal initiatives like this cannot damage Greece, but they will have unfavourable consequences for the involved countries’ relations with the EU.
JOURNALIST: On 13 November, the Turkish Permanent Representative to the UN submitted a letter in which he claimed rights to a continental shelf west of the 28th meridian and Rhodes. In a recent radio interview you said that Greece will not give up on the efforts towards dialogue. Can there be dialogue in this climate?
N. DENDIAS: From the outset, the Greek government clearly stated its desire for open channels of communication with Turkey. Our effort to relaunch our bilateral relations with Turkey is sincere, and we intend to work in this direction. It was to this end that the Greek prime minister met with the Turkish president in New York, and I met with my Turkish counterpart in New York and Geneva. The Turkish side, too, has expressed a will to improve the climate, and we are waiting for this to translate into actions in this direction. But as the saying goes, Mr. Athanasopoulos, it takes two to tango. The most important thing is for our neighbouring country to show in practice that it, too, wants to jump-start Greek-Turkish relations. So far, it has been making moves in the opposite direction. Greece does not suffer from phobias. It doesn’t make threats, but nor does it accept threats. It has strong armed forces, its economy is re-emerging, it is a member of the EU and NATO, it has developed bilateral and trilateral relations with powerful states in the region and, as shown by the Defence Cooperation Agreement and Strategic Dialogue, it has strong ties with the U.S. We are not a weak regional power on which other countries can impose their will.
JOURNALIST: The government and the Prime Minister, personally, accuse Ankara of failing to fulfil its obligations in the context of the EU-Turkey Statement on the Migration issue. I would like to ask you straight out if the government believes Ankara is intentionally “turning a blind eye” and allowing migrants to reach Greek islands and whether it is trying to make the Migration issue part of the bilateral agenda.
N. DENDIAS: Migration is not a bilateral issue. It is a broader issue on the European level, and we are not discussing it bilaterally with the Turkish side. Greece has repeatedly acknowledged the fact that Turkey is hosting 3.5 million refugees and migrants and has firmly supported that all sides need to meet the commitments deriving from the EU-Turkey Statement. But at the same time it is clear that we are awaiting a greater mobilisation of the Turkish state apparatus to crack down on trafficking networks and collaborate more effectively with the competent Greek authorities. Statements about “opening the floodgates” don’t help, and nor does Turkey’s use of the Migration issue for its own ends.
JOURNALIST: Following the trilateral meeting last Monday in Berlin, do you think it’s likely we’ll see a five-sided conference on the Cyprus issue?
N. DENDIAS: The Berlin meeting is a positive step in the direction of re-launching the talks on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. We saw affirmation of the commitment to resolve the Cyprus issue in accordance with the Resolutions of the UN Security Council. Also confirmed was the Secretary-General’s interest in continuing the efforts. The possible convening of an informal five-sided meeting is part of this framework. But when such a meeting might be held does not depend on us. However, Turkey’s escalating violations in the Cypriot EEZ, in Cyprus’s territorial waters and in Cypriot territory in no way contribute to creating the right climate.
JOURNALIST: You were in Skopje last Tuesday, in another link in the chain of meetings with the leadership of North Macedonia. What was the exact purpose of your visit?
N. DENDIAS: The key parameters of my visit to Skopje were enhancement and deepening of bilateral relations in a wide range of sectors, and promotion of the full and timely implementation of the Prespa Agreement, which is a necessary condition for cooperation between the two states in all sectors. At the same time, it was aimed at confirming Greece’s active support, through specific initiatives, of the European perspective of North Macedonia, with compliance with the existing conditionality a given, and based on the principle of own performance.
JOURNALIST: France recently put forward some ideas for a change in the enlargement methodology. Does Greece agree or disagree with these views? Do we have our own proposals to submit? Are you worried that the nationalist VMRO-DPNME party in North Macedonia might win the upcoming elections if the country’s European path is blocked?
N. DENDIAS: Greece has a long-term policy for Southeast Europe, and in particular for the Western Balkans. We laid the foundations for the European course of the Western Balkans with the 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda. We have an interest in this region’s becoming part of the European family. This will contribute towards the consolidation of stability, security, growth, democracy, rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, and good neighbourly relations. We support France’s position that we need to reconsider and improve the methodology of the accession process. But the relevant debate should not delay decisions on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Regarding the contingency of a VMRO-DPMNE victory in the elections, I reiterate that our country does not meddle in the internal affairs of other states. We expect our neighbour and soon-to-be NATO ally North Macedonia, regardless of which government is in power, to implement the Prespa Agreement fully and in a timely manner.
JOURNALIST: There is a sense that there are delays in promotion of specific parameters of the Prespa Agreement. One characteristic example is the activation of the committees provided for by the Agreement and by the Action Plan that has been signed. Can you clarify what has happened with these committees?
N. DENDIAS: The committees are continuing their work and will meet again in the coming time. The Joint Interdisciplinary Committee of Experts on historical, archaeological and educational issues has already met four times and made decisions that need to be implemented. The International Group of Experts on trade names, trademarks and brand names has already met once and is to hold its second meeting in the coming time. Some necessary changes to the Greek side of the Joint Interdisciplinary Committee of Experts and the International Group of Experts are already being made.
JOURNALIST: On 2 December you were to visit Tirana, but in the end this visit was postponed temporarily due to the earthquake in Albania, to which you travelled directly from Skopje to express your solidarity. But it is clear that the Albanian case differs from that of North Macedonia. What are Athens’ priorities with regard to Albania? Is Greek considering a possible de-coupling of Albania’s accession perspective from that of North Macedonia?
N. DENDIAS: I went to Albania to express to our neighbouring people and their government and state leadership the deepest sentiments of support from the Greek people. We helped and will help them as much as we can. With regard to the safeguarding of the minority and property rights of the Greek National Minority in Albania, this is not a priority just for us. It is one of the conditions that has been set by the EU for our neighbouring country’s European perspective. What we are asking of Albania is nothing more than the implementation of the recommendations the competent international organizations, such as the Council of Europe, have made to Albania: Carrying out of a census in 2020 without the threat of fines against the members of the Greek National Minority for what the Albanian authorities term “erroneous” responses, recognition of their rights, including outside the “minority zones”, and safeguarding of their property based on international and European standards. We want Albania and North Macedonia to move ahead together on their European path, provided they meet the conditions. This will create an incentive for them to continue implementing the reforms, and it is vital for regional stability and prosperity.