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Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias' interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram (9 October 2018)
JOURNALIST: The impending trilateral Summit Meeting between Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus, which will take place in a few days in Crete, is the 6th Summit Meeting between the three countries. Can you comment on this?
N. KOTZIAS: In the context of Greece’s multidimensional and proactive foreign policy in recent years, Greece and Cyprus have shaped six trilateral cooperation schemes in the Eastern Mediterranean: with Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Armenia, while we are discussing the shaping of a new one with Bahrain. The trilateral cooperation with Egypt is the most promoted one, and follows the one with Israel.
You know that in our wider region, conditions of instability have developed for some years now.
Greece, Cyprus and Egypt are countries whose work and cooperation with each other represent a "bulwark" against the growing volatility, while they are trying to generate the conditions for the creation and spread of conditions of stability in the region.
In addition, we are systematically promoting the implementation of the required terms and conditions for the positive development of EU-Egypt relations, towards which Greece plays the role of constructive mediator and defender of the interests of all parties.
JOURNALIST: What are the most important topics on this Summit's agenda?
N. KOTZIAS: To put it in general terms, we can say that this Summit will mean a further stepping up of our cooperation. Beyond that, the emphasis should be on sectors of common interest, such as regional developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, energy, telecommunications issues, dealing with irregular migration, but also cooperation in the sectors of education and culture.
JOURNALIST: Egypt and Greece have maintained a long-standing relationship since Antiquity. How do you envisage this relationship today, and in what areas do you see a potential for future cooperation between the two countries?
N. KOTZIAS: Indeed, Greek-Egyptian interactions hark back to ancient times, when both civilizations thrived on the opposite shores of the Mediterranean. Ancient Greeks had a profound respect towards Egyptian culture. In Egypt, during its Hellenistic period, the Greek and Egyptian spirit were able to blend together in creative ways. Let us also remember the Arab contribution in preserving ancient Greek letters and the fact that Cavafy, the leading figure of Greek modern poetry, came from Egypt, the most prominent poet of Alexandria according to Durrell.
With such historical background, it is only logical that culture should be one of the most favourable sectors of cooperation, as is also evident from Greek and Egyptian participation in the Ancient Civilizations Forum, since this forum offers a platform for dialogue and highlights the importance of our ancient civilizations for our contemporary world while promoting the values and principles of the great civilizations we have bequeathed. Because these cultures continue to resonate in the day-to-day lives of peoples and institutions, and in the way a state functions.
We live in a period of instability. At this time, culture, and ancient civilizations in particular, provide continuity and stability. With the wisdom they bequeathed to us, they give us standards with which to solve contemporary problems.
In addition, there is significant room for economic cooperation, first and foremost between Greek and Egyptian companies.
JOURNALIST: The Egyptian people particularly appreciate Greece’s attitude as well as its support against terrorism in Egypt. How can we cooperate in this area at the level of bilateral relations?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece stands unflinchingly by Egypt in its efforts to combat terrorism, which, apart from Egypt, directly affects our larger "neighbourhood" and the European Union too. Terrorism is condemnable in all its manifestations, and we shall spare no effort to combat it, whatever its source.
JOURNALIST: Some European countries still underestimate and misinterpret the political situation in Egypt. Greece could play an important role as a European gateway between Northern and Southern Europe and therefore help to correct these erroneous perceptions by purveying the real situation in Egypt, especially when it comes to the fight against terrorism?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece is a loyal and close friend of Egypt, and it fully supports the latter's interests within the EU. It has proved this, in practical ways, through its successive pronouncements.
We systematically explain to our European partners the gigantic work that the Egyptian Government has undertaken in order to create conditions of security and stability in a country of over 100 million people - to protect all those lives, give them access to food and education, and ultimately better prospects for the future.
We also explain that, in our region Western European conditions don’t prevail. On the contrary, three to four wars break out every five or ten years, hundreds of thousands of lives are lost, and we are faced with millions of refugees and economic migrants. Therefore, the two countries attach paramount importance to security and stability in the region as well as to the safeguarding of human life. These goals determine everything else.
As we often stress, everyone must realize that Egypt’s stability is inextricably linked, also, with the stability of Europe itself.
JOURNALIST: Geographically, Greece is the European country which is closest to Egypt. How can we take advantage of this geographical confluence, on the level of large national projects, particularly those relating to the Mediterranean sea ports, such as the new Suez Canal project and the East Port of Port Said?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece and Egypt are very important energy and transportation hubs, from East to West. I think there is no need to emphasize the importance of the Suez Canal for international trade and international connectivity. Today, Greece and Egypt are upgrading their infrastructures, as both energy and transport hubs, and I am sure that the reciprocal possibilities that our two countries offer will further highlight the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean for world trade and global energy security.
JOURNALIST: What is the cooperation between Greece and Egypt in exploring sources of oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean? What shape do you think this cooperation may take, especially given the challenges by Turkey, which prevents Cyprus from exploring for gas and oil in its territorial waters?
N. KOTZIAS: The recent discovery of significant energy reserves in Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus underscores the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean for energy security in Europe. There is great interest on the part of the international “giants” in the field of energy. Despite the continuing challenges and obstacles set by third countries, I am sure that reserves will be exploited in such a way so as to guarantee the sovereign rights of the region’s States over their natural resources, as well as international legitimacy.
Nobody can behave as a State that is not bound by international law, undermining the interests of the peoples in the region.
JOURNALIST: Greece has had a painful experience with the economic crisis, but it has overcome this crisis. How do you see the country’s economic future?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece is emerging from its economic crisis. It has already achieved positive growth rates, while unemployment is on the decline. In our efforts to bolster the economy, we must not forget the sacrifices made by the Greek people, thanks to which we have arrived at the desired result. Emerging from the crisis, Greece wishes to influence the surrounding area in a trajectory for joint development, for the benefit of all.
JOURNALIST: Let us continue with the unstable situation in the Southern Mediterranean. What do you think about the developments in the region, particularly in Syria?
N. KOTZIAS: In Syria, we support a political solution which must be viable and will ensure the return of refugees to their homes. We will spare no effort to strengthen and actively support the political process; however, the situation there remains complicated because of the mingling of numerous third players.
A solution to the crisis in Syria is imperative for stability and security in the region. For this reason, we urge all those involved to contribute constructively to this end.
JOURNALIST: Greece's stance is always supportive of the national rights of the Palestinian people, and it supports peace in the Middle East in every case. How would you comment on that? What do you think is the appropriate solution to put an end to the problem in the Middle East?
N. KOTZIAS: The best solution, in our view, as well as in the view of the overwhelming majority of the members of the international community, is a two-state solution, which will offer security guarantees to Israel and, on the other hand, viability guarantees of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
We believe that all sides must work towards creating the conditions that will permit the resumption of negotiations to achieve this objective. A catalyst for resolving problems in the Middle East is development, with everything this implies for young people’s prospects in the region.
We particularly appreciate all the initiatives undertaken by Egypt in this context, which contribute to raising awareness of and rationally approaching the issue of Palestine. These actions are always to the benefit of the Palestinian people and peace in the region. It is a resounding example of a positive agenda, such as the one towards which our country is steadily working through the Rhodes Conference. An initiative for which we appreciate the continuing presence of my Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, who has been actively involved in the work of the Conference.
JOURNALIST: How are relations with Turkey, in view of the growing challenges and violations against Greece?
N. KOTZIAS: Turkey continues its revisionist policy, which translates into continuous violations of Greek airspace and Greek territorial waters. However, as a responsible power, we insist on maintaining open channels of communication and continuing dialogue. It is only through peaceful means that these differences can be resolved. The continuous violations on the part of Turkey do not constitute a constructive attitude.
The problem with Turkey is that it often ignores the fact that our friendly foreign policy, as well as our intention to work to reduce tensions, are not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, this is a sober and responsible stance dictated by the sense of responsibility and self-confidence that is characteristic of Greek foreign policy. It is an expression of power.
JOURNALIST: With regard to the reunification of Cyprus, in your opinion, what is the best way to solve the problem?
N. KOTZIAS: As we have emphasised with great success at the Crans-Montana conference, the Cyprus issue is, above all, a matter of illegal invasion and occupation. The continuing presence of the occupying troops and the anachronistic system of guarantees to the detriment of the Republic of Cyprus must finally be terminated. Any solution for the benefit of all Cypriots, without exception, must settle these two very critical parameters in order to be sustainable, Cyprus must become a “normal state,” like the rest of the members of the EU and the UN. These things go without saying, as the UN Secretary General acknowledged moreover, by adopting the condition of a 'normal' State as I outlined it in Crans-Montana.
As far as the domestic aspects of the Cyprus issue, the best way to find a solution is through direct negotiations between the two communities, without any intervention on the part of third parties.
JOURNALIST: How do you assess the role of both Greece and Egypt in the international political scene?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece and Egypt continue to gain increasing importance in the international political landscape, due to their geographical position, the possibilities they possess, as well as the policy to which they adhere. A policy of responsibility which promotes cooperation and dialogue to resolve the region’s problems. A policy which demonstrates leadership and is not complacent with fatalistic and idle thinking.
These are states with developed institutions, where stability reigns. In addition, they are reliable allies and partners in the international community and are consistently in favour of international legitimacy. I think this has been recognized by the international community, which invests more and more in collaborating with our two countries for stability and security in the region.
JOURNALIST: One of Greece's problems today is irregular migration and refugees, especially those from the Middle East. What measures is Greece taking in this regard?
N. KOTZIAS: The migration and refugee issue is not a problem that concerns only Greece, but primarily all of Europe. Let me stress that Greece, as you know, along with other countries, is paying for the choices of third countries (bombing of Syria etc.) The states that made those choices are not the ones being called upon to pay for them.
In cooperation with our partners in the EU and Egypt, which has undertaken many commendable initiatives, we are trying to manage these mass flows as best as possible. However, the only solution is to eliminate the underlying causes of these flows and, in particular, to end the wars, particularly in the Middle East, and especially in Syria. If peace and growth do not exist there, this region will never be at peace and will continue to send waves of refugees and migrants towards Europe.
Beyond that, within the framework of the EU, everyone must show the necessary solidarity and not close their borders. Today, we cannot speak of a “Fortress Europe”, nor can the countries of first reception be asked to shoulder a disproportionate burden.