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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, on SKAI TV, with journalists A. Mangiriadis and A. Antzoletos (7 August 2020)
JOURNALIST: We have the pleasure and honour of hosting Nikos Dendias, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who yesterday was essentially the man of the day. Minister, yesterday Antonis Antzoletos said, when we were informed in the newsroom about your visit, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked us to Cairo, we didn’t know you had gone there to sign. Please explain to us what the Greek side achieved. What is the significance of yesterday’s agreement on delimitation of the EEZ with Egypt?
N. DENDIAS: To tell you the truth, I didn’t know I was going there to sign either. I went in the hope of resolving the little differences that remained, and it became clear in the morning, at about 10:00, when I talked with Mr. Shoukry before departing for Egypt, that any differences that remained could easily be bridged. For your reportage, I’ll say that there were four conversations with Mr. Shoukry on the previous day, long phone conversations, and the last one was after midnight, at a quarter to one. And I can also say, even though this is really for the Prime Minister’s office to announce, that there was a meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis at 18:30. So, it was the conclusion of a long process that had recently been very intensive. I think it is a major Greek success.
JOURNALIST: The first and key question that arises, Mr. Dendias, is why partial delimitation was chosen.
N. DENDIAS: I’ll tell you: Because, in the current state of affairs, it serves the national interest. I think this fully serves what our country needs to pursue, given the conditions in the area, given the other states. And I’m referring to Cyprus and the likelihood of our proceeding to a delimitation with Cyprus in the future, the need for part of these islands to remain outside the delimitation – part of Rhodes, for example. Excuse me, but let me say this: This agreement is the product of a great deal of preparatory work: opinions from foreign experts, the Special Legal Department. It is an agreement that has a scenario for continuation with Egypt on further delimitation, a provision for – at some point – future negotiations with Libya and also provision for other countries. I am referring to Cyprus and, if it so desires at some point, if at some point it happens – I don’t think it will happen very soon, of course, judging by its reactions – with Turkey as well. So, it is an agreement that requires a complicated scientific reading. But it is an agreement that fully serves the national interest. And as such, the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was very right to call it a national success. But I think all of Greek society saw it as a success – the vast majority and the vast majority of the news media and, I think, practically all of the political parties. I’m not talking about parties that express the extremist views we’ve all heard.
JOURNALIST: What I want to ask for, Minister, is some more specific information on the agreement, because the opposition parties are asking too. In other words, what effect do the islands have? Crete and Rhodes ...
N. DENDIAS: The opposition will be fully informed. They’ll get the whole dossier. The major and minor opposition parties. We don’t have secret diplomacy. Of course, that doesn’t mean we make everything public immediately. To be clear on that.
JOURNALIST: Will you convene the Council on Foreign Policy to present the agreement?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll send the dossier with the documents to the political parties and then I’ll meet with the representatives of the parties, whom I know personally. Besides, as you and they well know, I brief them regularly. Kyriakos Mitsotakis also briefed the party leaders on how these negotiations were proceeding. The country’s outlook was well known to all of Greece’s key political players. And rightly so, because no one has an absolute claim on the truth. Moreover, I have full knowledge of the dossier of the previous rounds of negotiations. I won’t disclose that publicly, but I know what the parties supported, what they wanted – mainly the parties that have been in power – what their outlook was, as expressed in the minutes. I know what they were pursuing. So, the agreement we concluded is an agreement in the nation's interest. A major national success that reflects the efforts of Greek diplomacy over some 17 years. In that sense, I think it is a happy moment.
JOURNALIST: So, with regard to effect, which Mr. Katrougalos, who was here earlier, referred to, what does it include?
N. DENDIAS: “Effect” is a word that keeps coming up. I think if we ask most people, it would be difficult for them to say exactly what it means. This agreement gives maritime areas of 45-55% and is in accordance with international law. It is a just agreement. And that is what’s important. And it is a legal agreement. And that is what’s important. And it is an agreement that shows in the clearest possible way to the international community how illegal, unrealistic, outside International Law and outside the Law of the Sea the Turkey-Libya memorandum was.
JOURNALIST: Minister, since you mentioned the Turkey-Libya memorandum, the situation is now this: there is the Turkey-Libya memorandum, and there is the delimitation agreement between Athens and Cairo. The question this raises is: Are we now facing recourse to international arbitration? Was this what the Greek side was trying to achieve?
N. DENDIAS: You know, we have openly stated that we are prepared to defend our positions, following a preliminary dialogue, at any international court, such as the Court in The Hague. Why? Because we are right. So, we’re not afraid to defend our views. Here, however, you will allow me to say that it is difficult to juxtapose a legally valid, truly serious agreement with a null and void fabrication that Turkey created by exerting pressure on the government in Tripoli. Turkey may claim that the agreement it has with Tripoli is a real agreement, but that doesn’t stand up to any criticism. There is no country or international legal authority that supports what Turkey is saying. In this, Turkey is an absolute minority of one.
JOURNALIST: As you mentioned Turkey and it is, Minister, the major issue, does the effect given Crete and Rhodes by this particular EEZ constitute a precedent ...
N. DENDIAS: Excuse me, but how do you define effect? Because you keep asking me this question.
JOURNALIST: Because I asked you earlier and I wanted and answer.
N. DENDIAS: Right. Yes, but be kind enough to clarify to me what you mean by the word “effect,” and I will gladly answer.
JOURNALIST: Because there are reports that say, for example, 88% effect, and I’d like you to be more specific.
N. DENDIAS: 88% or 99% or 100% of what? How do you define effect?
JOURNALIST: I wanted to ask if this sets a precedent for possible negotiations with Turkey.
N. DENDIAS: First of all, this agreement is not a precedent for any other agreement – to be clear on that. Now, if you’re asking me whether Greece is prepared to negotiate with Turkey, the Prime Minister has said so repeatedly. But how? Under the terms of International Law. And International Law has been taken into account for this agreement. Consequently, if Turkey wants to talk to us on the same terms under which this agreement was concluded, we’ll be glad to.
We said the same thing to Turkey when we reached the agreement with Italy. But you saw Turkey’s rabid response. I think that any of the very few people who maintain that this agreement gives rights to Turkey can understand that Turkey wouldn’t have reacted as it did if this were true. Turkey would be thrilled. It would have congratulated us and said, “come and negotiate with us like you did with Egypt.” Instead, Turkey’s reaction was rabid.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you have any reports, precisely because Turkey has reacted strongly and called this agreement null and void ...
N. DENDIAS: Null and void?
N. DENDIAS: That’s a good one!
JOURNALIST: Yes, that’s what the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Have you heard reports that Turkey is going to pull out of the exploratory talks?
N. DENDIAS: I know that, while there was an initial agreement between us on resuming the exploratory talks, Turkey withdrew from that agreement. I express the hope that this is a temporary decision made in a state of inexplicable anger. And why do I say inexplicable? Because Greece proceeded to a completely legal action.
JOURNALIST: So, you’re saying there is currently uncertainty as to whether the exploratory talks will start?
N. DENDIAS: I’m saying what I’ve always said. That Greece is prepared to enter into dialogue with Turkey. On what issue? On the only actual issue, which is the continental shelf and the maritime zones over the continental shelf. I am surprised that Turkey – gripped by inexplicable anger at the fact that Greece reached an agreement based on International Law with another neighbouring country – would decide to withdraw from this understanding that the 61st round of exploratory talks would take place at some point. But I firmly believe that Turkey will see reason and return to a process for resuming the talks. This has always been the Greek position, and I think that this is in the interest of Turkey and the Turkish people.
JOURNALIST: Now, the next step, Minister, is ratification by Parliament.
N. DENDIAS: Right.
JOURNALIST: Because we had the negative precedent, years ago, with Albania, if you remember.
N. DENDIAS: Unfortunately.
JOURNALIST: And the question is whether Egypt, like Greece, will be quick to ratify the agreement.
N. DENDIAS: The situation in Egypt is particular right now, because they have Senate elections this weekend. I have a feeling Egypt will take a couple of months to ratify the agreement, because we discussed this matter with Mr. Shoukry. And the Hellenic Parliament – I’ll ask the President of Parliament, Mr. Tassoulas, to prioritize this agreement, like he did with our agreement with Italy. The difference, of course, is that in Italy we need a protocol from the technical Committees regarding issues of tenders we announced for some blocks in recent years, which has been annulled – but the Italians have to ascertain this as well. But you’re absolutely right. We have to prioritize the ratification of both of these agreements. But I must say that I am not the one who determines Parliament’s schedule. I would be interfering if I announced it as my own decision.
JOURNALIST: And the next step will be to have it posted at the UN.
N. DENDIAS: Yes, it will then be sent for submission to the United Nations. That’s exactly what will happen.
JOURNALIST: Minister, given that we saw escalation in recent weeks with Turkey, and given that Germany intervened to de-escalate the situation, and both sides, Greece and Turkey, had agreed to continue the exploratory talks, do you think this initiative, the signing of this agreement, might exacerbate tensions?
N. DENDIAS: I can’t speak for Turkey. The Turkish leadership will speak for their country. What I have to say is that I don't understand how a legal agreement, an agreement that contributes to stability and security in the region, an exemplary agreement, can cause reactions like the ones we’ve seen. I think we’ve seen these reactions because Turkey is in a state of shock. I can’t understand why. And I repeat: If Turkey wants to talk to us on the same terms this agreement was reached, on the same terms our agreement with Italy was reached, it is welcome to do so. We don’t want Turkey to be a pariah. We want Turkey to be present as a factor for stability in our region, like other countries are. Turkey has chosen the role of a trouble maker and is unfortunately showing this through various inexplicable actions and the language of the statements it is making against us, against Egypt, following yesterday’s agreement. However, I would advise Turkey to read the State Department’s announcement, for example, because it doesn’t need to listen to us or the Egyptians. And I’d like to say that the U.S. Secretary of State called while I was conversing with Mr. Shoukry.
JOURNALIST: That was the next question: Whether the U.S. and Germany were aware of what was happening.
N. DENDIAS: I expected the question. And the German side, the Chancellor, was informed that we were in negotiations with the Egyptians. Regarding the U.S., I assume it was no coincidence that Mr. Pompeo called while I was with Mr. Shoukry – in other words, I don’t think he was just scrolling through his contacts and said, “Who should I call, who should I call? I’ll call those two because they’re together!”
JOURNALIST: So, he had obviously been informed that you were talking.
N. DENDIAS: No, I didn’t tell Mr. Pompeo, because I was the guest. It was the host, Mr. Shoukry, who informed him. But I think the statement the State Department issued the next day answers your question, to the extent that I can respond.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think the partial delimitation that leaves out Kastelorizo make the prospect of delimitation with Cyprus more difficult?
N. DENDIAS: Not at all. First of all, excuse me, but unfortunately, I’m not a professor of the Law of the Sea. But I have read and learned quite a lot over the past year. Partial delimitation doesn’t leave anything out. Partial delimitation solves a problem in an area, and the discussion is continued for completion in the future. That’s the case here. Both Kastelorizo and part of the coast of Rhodes remain to be used. I’m talking about our eastern islands and not just Kastelorizo: all of the coasts of the Kastelorizo group of islands – in other words, those of Megisti and Stroggili and so forth. These are elements that remain to be “exploited” as we continue our negotiations with Egypt and, of course, with other countries in the region, and first and foremost with Cyprus. And, on the other hand, we have left almost all of Crete’s coast. Only a very small part of the Crete’s coast was taken into account for this agreement, so that at some point, when conditions allow, when there is a legal government in Libya – a government that represents the country’s society and people – we can also resolve the issue with Libya, which we didn’t resolve in the rounds of negotiations in 2009 and 2010. With all the coastal elements left, we are optimistic that, with the exemplary agreements we reached with both Italy and Egypt, we can continue to our east and our west.
JOURNALIST: Given precisely this, that we have concluded agreements with Italy and Egypt, is it perhaps Albania’s turn, so we can essentially complete this set of agreements?
N. DENDIAS: Things are a little tricky there, because Albania initially agreed, and then took the matter to its Constitutional Court. There are some domestic legal issues – their issues: The President’s giving authorization to the government, which he may not be prepared to give. But it is a matter that Greek foreign policy will handle. There is no question about that. Albania is a neighbouring country, a country Greece wants to have friendly relations with, resolving any problems there might be. This is one of these problems. Of course, there are other issues: the issue of protecting the human rights of the Greek minority, which will be resolved in the course of Albania’s accession process, because this is part of the European acquis. We’re not saying this as Greece. We’re saying it as a European country, and this is our friendly advice to all countries starting this long journey to join our family, the European Union. The protection of human rights is a sovereign matter, and in this sense Albania has to see the Greek minority as a factor for the country’s development, a bridge of friendship between Albania and Greece.
JOURNALIST: A question about something the main opposition party is rebuking you for.
N. DENDIAS: Rebuking me? That’s a strong word.
JOURNALIST: They say it constantly. In the statement they issued yesterday, they said we have to extend our territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian.
N. DENDIAS: I’ve found preparatory work at the Ministry. As I said, I have all the minutes of the previous meetings. You know, no one just starts from scratch. There’s no parthenogenesis. The state is a long continuum. And you have to respect the legacy you are handling. I’ve found preparatory work on the extension of territorial waters, and it is something that the government is looking at. It requires preparatory work – in other words, closing inlets, etc. – but it is something the government is dealing with in a timely manner, and I’ll brief the other parties and we will proceed to the corresponding actions.
JOURNALIST: If we extended our territorial waters only in the Ionian, would that create a negative precedent for the Aegean, if Greece extended its territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles only in the Ionian Sea?
N. DENDIAS: We can see it in a more positive light: that Greece is extending its territorial waters where it has resolved the issue of delimitation of maritime zones.
JOURNALIST: With neighbouring countries, essentially.
N. DENDIAS: Right. There are opinions on every issue, and I respect every opinion. I repeat that we have a great deal of international experience, which we have gained through our advisors. We talk about these things with the political parties. These are national issues. No one has a monopoly on the truth. And I think that on this, too, we can have a new national approach and another national success. I want to be frank. Yesterday’s agreement was fostered by and is a political achievement of the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis. But we concluded this agreement after many years of efforts – efforts made by many people, many Ministers, many governments. Consequently, the Mitsotakis government feels secure in the belief that it represents the outlook of the Greek political system as a whole on the matter of safeguarding the country’s interests. And I think it was clear from the political parties’ statements – even from the more awkward statements, when a party, perhaps for its own reasons, felt the need to express some minor differences of opinion regarding the agreement. I consider this agreement to be a major national success and a major national achievement.
JOURNALIST: Minister, regarding the provocative conduct we’ve seen on the part of Turkey throughout recent months, a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council is scheduled for the end of the month. And one of the items on the agenda is the package of sanctions that has been requested from the European Union, from the High Representative, Mr. Borrell. What can the Greek side expect from this list of sanctions?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll tell you. Things are a little particular right now. What we requested from the High Representative – and what the Council gave him a mandate to draw up – was a list of sanctions. Not sanctions on persons, but serious sanctions on the Turkish economy. And we will have this list at the ready, so that Turkey has a sense of what it has to gain and what it has to lose from confrontation with the European Union. Not to threaten Turkey. We don’t threaten anyone. But mainly to show Turkey that it is in its interest to comply with International Law and become a factor for stability in the region – that this is in the interest of Turkish society, the Turkish people, the Turkish leadership. In fact, it would have made our job a lot easier if Turkey had continued towards launching a dialogue with Greece, with the resumption of the exploratory talks at the end of August. Turkey isn't making our lives easier with its announcements and the way it works. But we will continue, with our European partners, to work in the direction of creating this list of sanctions, which, I repeat, are not necessarily to be imposed. That’s not the current climate, but they have to be there so that Turkey gets a clear sense of what it means to violate the sovereignty and sovereign rights of a member of the European Union. I truly hope there will be no need to impose these sanctions. I want Turkey to be a prosperous country with which we can cooperate. We always have a hand of friendship extended to Turkey. But at the same time, we always defend our sovereignty and our sovereign rights. Absolutely. And if you’ll allow me to say one last thing, I would like to ask all of the opposition parties to maintain a responsible stance on national issues. We are in the midst of an extremely dangerous state of affairs. In the pursuit of slight political gains – political gains that might not even materialise in the end – there is absolutely no point in a political party’s creating controversy over issues that it knows are in the national interest and serve the nation’s future. I would also like to ask that we not pretend, in public, that we don’t know things when in fact we are well aware of them. I’m not referring to anything specific, because I must say, the parties’ stances were serious and responsible.
JOURNALIST: Is there a possibility the Council of Party Leaders will be convened, Minister?
N. DENDIAS: Excuse me, but that’s outside my portfolio. It concerns the Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, but I would like to express my personal opinion. Mr. Mitsotakis briefed the heads of the political parties individually over the past week. And I know, because the Prime Minister told me this, that he briefed the leaders of the political parties on this issue. On how the government was handing it and on the government’s choice to proceed with partial delimitation. And why this is in the country’s interest. Why do we keep them informed? We don’t exercise diplomacy with the sense that only we have the right to determine the fate of the Greek people. We keep them informed. And we listen to the advice and comments of the other political parties. It goes without saying.
JOURNALIST: In closing, Minister: How will Greece react if Turkey moves a drill ship south of Crete?
N. DENDIAS: I don't want to get into a process of threats and confrontation with Turkey, even though Turkey’s rhetoric often provokes one to do so. And I’m referring to the latest statements. Greece has a duty. Every Greek government has a constitutional duty to defend the country’s sovereignty and its sovereign rights. And no government has the right to make concessions on this. No government. Just so we all understand each other. So, the Mitsotakis government, like every other Greek government, will do what it has to do to defend Greece’s sovereignty and sovereign rights. And I think we will have the universal support of Greek society and the Greek people on this. No one will recommend or suggest anything different.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for talking to us.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you very much.