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Alternate Foreign Minister G. Katrougalos’ Interview on ANT1 TV's prime time newscast with N. Hatzinikolaou
JOURNALIST: I welcome now the Alternate Foreign Minister, Mr Giorgos Katrougalos. Good evening Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good evening.
JOURNALIST: I would like a brief comment on the latest Turkish provocations. They have declared - and they did so in a truly shocking manner - that they intend to be present - as they put it - wherever there is energy work, or to put this simply, either in the Aegean or in the Eastern Mediterranean. By which they probably mean that they will force their way in, to secure their own share, even in areas that do not belong to them. How does the Greek side react to this?
G. KATROUGALOS: The difference between us and the other side does not reside in the fact that we have diverging interests. It is in the way we choose to deal with these international disputes. Our way of resolving them is indeed completely different.
We are insisting on the implementation of International Law, and on diplomacy. In this way, not only do we rely on the international Convention on the Law of the Sea, but we have developed, in a systematic way, trilateral cooperation with other countries, with the Republic of Cyprus first and foremost, but also with Israel and Egypt.
We have supported the Republic of Cyprus in its effort to entrust the exploitation of its wealth to large multinational corporations. As you can see, they also have the support of the states they come from. On the other side, we are confronted with a revisionist and verbalistic policy, which clearly shows that it is not paying off. For our part, we shall steadfastly continue to defend not only our national interests, but also the implementation of international law, and a manner of settling disputes that remains respectful of International Treaties and diplomacy.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you worried about the possibility that Turkey might provoke a "heated incident", either in the Aegean or the Cypriot EEZ, with the aim of dragging us to the table, forcing us into a conversation we have no reason to get involved in?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are always vigilant so that we are prepared to face any eventuality. Personally, I do not believe that the other side will make such a choice precisely because it is a time when it is trying to overcome its difficulties on its domestic front by healing its economy. And it seems to be trying to effect a rapprochement with both the West and Europe. It is obvious that the normalization of relations with Europe passes through Greece. I believe that, at this stage, it would amount to suicide if the Turkish side pursued any rash adventurism, of the kind you mentioned.
JOURNALIST: Now, to broach the other important issue, the question of the Prespa Agreement, a short time ago, Bujar Osmani stated that by the end of the year, Skopje will have completed the ratification of the agreement, and then will come our turn. The question is: Timewise, what does this mean for the Parliamentary assembly which will ratify the agreement in Greece, and what does this imply in terms of political developments?
G. KATROUGALOS: To be accurate, what he said is that the most optimistic scenario is towards the end of the year or the beginning of the new year.
JOURNALIST: Yes, that's what he said.
G. KATROUGALOS: We are still holding on to our prediction that, around January, the other side will have fulfilled its respective obligations. Thus, from then on, it will be our turn. There will be no delays in meeting our obligations under the Prespa Agreement. From this point onwards, we can reasonably expect that the parliamentary procedures in Greece will be set in motion.
JOURNALIST: March? Early March?
G. KATROUGALOS: March is the deadline. So we have in front of us a chronological scope that cannot accurately be determined at this moment, because we do not know precisely when it will begin, since it depends on the other side.
JOURNALIST: Ratification of the agreement and then elections in May?
G. KATROUGALOS: Under no circumstances. Precisely because, for our part, we do indeed want to ratify the agreement, we are certain that we have the parliamentary majority for it, and we are also certain that we have the confidence of Parliament.
And about the other important front, the economic front, since there are other open fronts beside the national ones, it is in the interest of our country not to interrupt this upward course. And after all, Mr Hatzinikolaou, it is time for Greeks to see a difference in their pockets, and for them to stop hearing that only the financial indicators are improving.
JOURNALIST: Minister, one last brief comment to conclude this interview, please. The affair of the death of the Greek national in Northern Epirus. It would seem that, in Albania, the authorities do not wish to shed light on this case. And I say this because, as we saw, his wounds were stitched. My colleague, Panos Sobolos, who has been a police reporter for over forty years, was telling me that he has never seen such a practice before. We may see delays, as they may try to wash the corpse, obviously to wipe away any traces of gunshots, so that it becomes impossible to measure the distance of the shots, or who knows what else. We may expect a delay in the return of the body to the family. I want to ask how the Greek Government intends to protect the family's right to learn the truth about what happened to their son? Whoever he was, whatever his behaviour was, the family has a right to learn why they killed him instead of following the civilized practice of arresting him.
G. KATROUGALOS: We are in constant contact with the diplomatic authorities of the neighbouring country, and our priorities are, as we said from the beginning, to shed abundant light on this case. To protect the rights of our Greek brothers there, and, of course, while respecting the first two priorities, to safeguard relations between the two countries. Because, Mr Hatzinikolaou, whereas on October 28th we had planned a big celebration, to honour our dead soldiers who fell on the Albanian front, who found peace for the first time with their burial, while a celebration was organised to truly honour their memory, and in the presence of hundreds of Greeks as well as that of the Greek Minister of Culture, in a village decorated with flags, alas instead of leaving us with the joyous memory of two countries reconciling and honouring their dead, we tasted the bitter death of one of our nationals.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how is the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responding to your request for an in-depth investigation to find out what truly happened?
G. KATROUGALOS: They too have affirmed the need to shed abundant light on this affair, because they too are interested in preserving the good level that our bilateral relations have reached. They have raised the question of the independence of the Judiciary, and of course we have retorted to them that we are well aware of the proper functioning of the rule of law, but we have pointed out to them that they should...
JOURNALIST: Of course, Minister, we can’t ignore the fact that Edi Rama, their Prime Minister, was quick to condemn the deceased, calling him crazy and an extremist.
G. KATROUGALOS: As you have seen, I have referred carefully to the need for both sides -for reciprocity is needed here- to maintain the good level of our relations. This is done while respecting the principle of the rule of law and the principle of good neighbourliness. We have begun also with this country -as we did with the neighbouring former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia- an effort to resolve our differences. That said, obviously, we also want to render justice to everyone and shed abundant light on the death of one of our nationals. However, we also need to look at these matters from a bigger perspective, and that is the need to protect the rights of our expatriates and the good relations with the neighbouring country.
JOURNALIST: Yes, though the Albanian side and the Albanian Prime Minister must see it that way too.
G. KATROUGALOS: To date, Mr Hatzinikolaou, we had made good progress in our diplomatic negotiation. The way in which this story develops is indeed a test. Personally, I do not want to prejudge. I hope that things will progress the way we are all expecting and hoping for.
JOURNALIST: Indeed. Thank you very much, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you.