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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in the newspaper “PARAPOLITIKA” with journalist Kostas Papachlimintzos (05.06.2021)
JOURNALIST: How do you assess Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Athens? Are we in the process of normalizing relations between the two countries? Was the visit of the Turkish Foreign Minister a step towards strengthening the communication channels between the two countries?
N. DENDIAS: The Turkish Foreign Minister's visit was indeed a step towards strengthening the communication channels between the two countries. It is well known, after all, that the Mitsotakis government is pursuing a constructive dialogue with Turkey, always on the basis of international law. Before we get into the substance of the visit, allow me to comment on the climate: My Turkish counterpart and I have known each other for almost two decades, since the time we were both in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We have never made a secret of the fact that we entertain friendly relations and it was my pleasure to welcome him to Athens. We should not confuse professional matters with personal ones, nor have the illusion that a good personal relationship alone can help reduce tensions.
I had a straight talk with Mr. Çavuşoğlu. His visit has already produced some tangible results, such as the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates, which we expect will boost tourism in both countries. A list of economic cooperation programs was also approved. On the plus side, the Turkish side took notice of our concerns about the Akkuyu nuclear power plant being constructed in an earthquake prone zone, and agreed to provide relevant information through the Russian construction company. Beyond that, however, it was confirmed that we have diametrically opposed positions on particularly important issues. Once again, our side pointed out those Turkish actions that are a major obstacle in any attempt to de-escalate and in the distant future, if the conditions exist, to gradually normalize the situation.
I emphatically raised all the issues that negatively affect our relations with Turkey. I stressed that, as long as Turkey does not accept fundamental rules of international law, such as refraining from the threat of use of force or respecting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which reflects customary law, there is virtually no room for the normalization of our relations.
During the talks there were, among other things, clear references to the infamous "casus belli", to the illegal and non-existent "Turkish-Libyan memorandum", to the violations of our sovereignty and of our rights on sovereign airspace and territorial waters, as well as to Turkey's unfounded claims regarding the Muslim minority in Thrace. I also stressed, in the context of EU–Turkey relations, the issue of the instrumentalization of migrants and I made extensive reference to the delaying tactics and the non-constructive attitude of Turkey in the Cyprus issue.
Above all, however, it was confirmed that Greece remains firm in its positions which are based on international law, as I mentioned earlier. This is perhaps the major conclusion to be drawn from the visit of my Turkish counterpart: that it was demonstrated once again that in our neighbouring country they are very well aware, after my visit to Ankara, of our positions and of our red lines and that we send the proper messages to the other side in any case, so that there is no misunderstanding. After all, even if we can't agree, we have to be honest. I also believe that in Turkey they have realized that Greece, being confident and pursuing an active foreign policy, has undertaken an upgraded role in the wider region, as evidenced by our collaborations and alliances, a role that is not limited within the EU and NATO, but extends beyond them.
JOURNALIST: Has the discussion on certain bilateral issues matured so that they can be discussed and possibly resolved at the meeting of Mr. Mitsotakis with Mr. Erdogan in Brussels?
N. DENDIAS: During the meeting of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with the Turkish Foreign Minister, it was agreed that Mr. Mitsotakis will meet with Mr. Erdogan at the sidelines of the NATO Summit, to be held in about ten days. This meeting is part of the effort to keep communication channels open between the two sides. Let me emphasize, however, that there is only one bilateral issue between Greece and Turkey: the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, on the basis of international law. This issue is being considered in the framework of the exploratory contacts.
JOURNALIST: The next European Union Summit is to be held on June 24. What is the position of Greece on the possible imposition of sanctions against Turkey, but also on its accession process?
N. DENDIAS: Regarding EU-Turkey relations, Greece’s position is clear: we are in favour of a dual approach. On the one hand, we are in favor of a positive agenda, which should be gradual, proportionate and reversible, as long as Turkey avoids tension and escalation. On the other hand, if Turkey repeats its provocative behaviour, as it did until last December, then the possibility of restrictive measures should remain on the table. On this occasion, I would like to emphasize that Greece is now one of the few countries that are openly in favour of Turkey's accession process, based on the well-known conditionality, of course. I should add that Greece has never objected to the funding of aid programs for refugees in Turkey, always emphasizing that it should be extended to neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon.
JOURNALIST: Four months have passed since the resumption of the exploratory talks with Turkey. Has any progress been made? Do you think that they will continue for a long time?
N. DENDIAS: The Turkish minister made the commitment - he also made it publicly - that he would propose dates for the convening of the 63rd round of exploratory contacts, which will take place in Turkey. As for the essence of these contacts, which are made at staff level and are informal, neither side enters into the substance of what is being discussed, as is well known. Finally, regarding their duration let me point out that they started 19 years ago and are still ongoing. The problem is that Turkey has yet to accept the framework for resolving our bilateral dispute, namely the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
JOURNALIST: The armament and modernization of the Turkish Armed Forces are progressing as planned. Is the Greek government concerned about this issue? Are there any contacts made on a political or other level with the countries of our broader neighborhood?
N. DENDIAS: Turkey's procurement of weapon systems that could be used in offensive actions and could upset the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean is a source of concern for both Greece and all the other countries in the region. In this context, Greece is strengthening its cooperation with most countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, countries that express the same concerns about Turkey's destabilizing role. But I want to be clear: Greece is not building alliances against anyone. On the contrary, we are open to cooperating with all countries which respect the fundamental rules of good neighbourliness.
In the context of strengthening these relations, I have visited many countries in the region and in a few days I will visit the United Arab Emirates, for the fourth time since taking office, in order to exchange views on developments in the Middle East, but also to strengthen bilateral strategic cooperation. Given the shifts in the power correlations in the region, and the development of Greece's relations with Israel and a significant number of Arab states in the last two years, any crisis in the region now has a direct impact on Greece. That is why I was the first Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, even before a ceasefire was achieved. This visit was very warmly received by the countries of the region and by the European countries. Greece is no longer just a bystander. It is a player that shapes developments, without seeking to impose them or have ambitions against other countries. Instead, our goal is to be a bridge of friendship and cooperation between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf and Europe.
JOURNALIST: Will you proceed to the extension of the territorial waters in the Aegean and the Cretan Sea to 12 nautical miles? Is this in your design and at what depth of time?
N. DENDIAS: Greece has the inalienable right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in areas other than the Ionian Sea - where it did so last February - whenever it deems appropriate to promote its interests. As announced, the relevant technical work for some of these areas has already begun.
JOURNALIST: Have talks with Albania on signing an agreement to have recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague progressed? How close are we to an agreement now?
N. DENDIAS: The political agreement to have recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone between Greece and Albania has been reached since last October. As for the technical part, a special agreement needs to be submitted. The competent services of the two countries are in direct consultation for the drafting of this text.
JOURNALIST: When will the MDCA agreement with the US be updated and what are its key provisions? Are you planning to visit Washington in the near future?
N. DENDIAS: We hope the updated Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement between Greece and the USA will be signed at the end of the summer, depending on the course of the negotiations. Ideally, it could be combined with a visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Athens. The signing of the agreement will be the culmination of the already excellent relationship that had developed between the two countries under the previous US administration and which continues under the current one. Let me remind you of the long telephone conversation that the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had with the American President, Joe Biden, as well as the contacts I had with my counterpart, Mr. Blinken. I look forward to a visit to Washington when conditions allow.
JOURNALIST: When will the agreements with North Macedonia be ratified by the Parliament? What is the reason for the delay?
N. DENDIAS: These agreements were submitted to Parliament last September. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has concluded all the necessary work. It is up to Parliament to set a date for the introduction of the ratification law. Let me remind you that, due to the pandemic, specific preventive measures concerning the parliamentary process have been put into effect.