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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on “Radio 9.84” (Crete), with journalist Giorgos Sachinis – Excerpts on foreign policy
G. SACHINIS: Our guest here on 98.4, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, MP and candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections – but this time in the North District of Athens, not in Messinia, Mr. Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to our listeners.
G. SACHINIS: A battle at the polls in Athens, right?
G. KATROUGALOS: The election battle is important, not so much for individual candidates. Individual candidates matter, too, but these elections are important because they will determine the direction the country takes.
G. SACHINIS: Before we get to your take on the elections, I want to ask you about your institutional stance – whether you’re concerned about the rapid escalation centred on the developments in the Strait of Hormuz, and whether you’re concerned in the sense that the crisis might be felt as far away as the Mediterranean, Cyprus, the Aegean.
G. KATROUGALOS: We are obviously keeping a close eye on the developments in the Strait of Hormuz. In fact, I was there until yesterday, in Bahrain, on a scheduled visit. Our talks were mainly about economic issues, but I obviously talked about these issues, too, with my counterpart the Foreign Minister and with the King, who did me the honour of receiving me.
As you know, we are a maritime nation and base our foreign policy on international law. So we see it as crucial that ships be able to navigate freely everywhere, and it is also important to us that a culture of political dialogue prevail everywhere, so that disputes can be resolved based on international law and the Law of the Sea. The Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, isn't far from us, and we are keeping as close an eye as possible on it.
G. SACHINIS: My question also has to do with the stance the powers are taking. Saudi Arabia against Iran and vice versa. Iran has good relations with Turkey. Saudi Arabia has better relations with the U.S. than Iran does with the Russians and Turks. Does this have implications for the Mediterranean?
G. KATROUGALOS: Mr. Sachinis, I’m glad you put it that way, so I can set out the substance of our policy: That we always promote diplomatic cooperation in such a way that, ideally, we aren’t facing opponents, but, as much as we can, are enhancing the positive agenda of our cooperation.
For example, let’s take the case of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. Here, it is obvious that we have a neighbour, Turkey, who is pursuing a strategy of revisionism of international treaties and is trying to dispute international law, projecting power.
As I said earlier, our policy is exactly the opposite. We use international law to assert our national rights. We promote diplomatic collaboration – the trilateral cooperation schemes we have with Cyprus – in order to set an example of respect for international legality, but without these cooperation platforms being based on opposition to Turkey.
The opposite is the case: we are establishing conditions of respect for legality, and thus rendering the other side’s efforts unacceptable, by definition, to the
international community. This is the first time the international community as a whole, from the EU to the U.S., has universally condemned Turkey’s provocative acts in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean as unlawful.
If, for example, you compare the March 2018 announcement from the European Council – because the diplomatic effort is ongoing, it isn't just happening now – with the announcement issued following the Imia incident, it’s night and day.
With Imia, they essentially said, “show self-restraint,” as if both sides had violated international law. The March 2018 Council conclusions make clear reference to Turkey’s provocative and illegal actions, calling on it to desist. And this is of very great importance, because Turkey can no longer create grey areas, create disputes, when its actions are being condemned as clearly illegal.
G. SACHINIS: Are you concerned about the message from the former prime
minister, who basically said we should expect a heated incident and urged the
country’s political leaders to come together on this, even if it means a painful
compromise with our neighbour, before things get worse?
G. KATROUGALOS: I don’t know why Mr. Simitis wrote that article. As a former prime minister, he obviously has the right to express an opinion on what’s happening, but I don’t know what message he wanted to send. The essence of the situation in the Aegean is that we have to be vigilant. And we are: at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the Defence Ministry, the whole government. And I can tell you and all of our politicians, this is one of the issues on which we have to strive for consensus. We need to be united as a nation on this issue. This isn’t something on which we can be divided by petty political disagreements.
But vigilance is one thing, fear is another. We must never allow ourselves to be fearful. That’s the other side’s strategy. And I can assure you that, as far as the prospect of a heated incident is concerned, neither we nor the other side intends to provoke a heated incident.
Turkey creates tensions. It has this policy of constant provocations, disputing
international agreements. But it knows that a heated incident in the Aegean would be disastrous for itself, especially at a time when its economy is in crisis or in recession. Inflation is at 20%, the Turkish lira is down by almost 30% against the dollar.
So the policy we are implementing is a policy of principles and a policy that gets results. Turkey isn't gaining anything from these actions. It is isolating itself even further.
G. SACHINIS: How do you respond to people who say, “Mr. Kotzias said Turkey has the right to exploit the hydrocarbons, Mr. Katrougalos put it a little differently, then Mr. Simitis comes along. Are we working on a deal that will compromise our rights?”
G. KATROUGALOS: Just a minute! What I and Mr. Kotzias said – but I’ll clarify what I said, because I think I can interpret my statements better than anyone else. What I said is that Turkey has rights in the Aegean, but these are the rights it derives from the Law of the Sea and international law. This is precisely the difference between our policy and Turkey’s.
Turkey wants to have rights that it thinks it deserves, because of the new power it has gained as a regional power. We, on the other hand, say that each country’s rights derive from international law and, as concerns the rights to exploit maritime economic zones, the Law of the Sea.
That’s the right line. Also incorrect is the line taken by an extreme nationalist, who would say they have no rights at all. Because that would undo our fundamental argument: that we base our policy on international law. If we eliminate the core and foundation of our foreign policy – that we base our policy on international law – we are essentially depriving our foreign policy of all the weapons we have had up until now.
G. SACHINIS: Which means, because you know this better than I do – if we say, yes, Turkey has rights deriving from international law, and in this specific case, ...
G. KATROUGALOS: The rights deriving from the Law of the Sea.
G. SACHINIS: Yes. All of those rights. In practical terms, right now Turkey is
perpetrating piracy in the Cypriot EEZ, and I want you to tell me: If Turkey tries the same thing in Kastelorizo, based on the Law of the Sea, which Turkey itself does not recognize, what's going to happen?
G. KATROUGALOS: Turkey’s violations of the Law of the Sea in Cyprus do not differ qualitatively from hypothetical similar moves on the part of Turkey in the Aegean, and I am certain Turkey won’t attempt these moves in the Aegean. But do you know what the key difference is? That we have Armed Forces that have clear deterrent force. And Turkey is aware of precisely this. We have sent the necessary messages, and that’s why I don’t think Turkey would dare try anything in our waters.