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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview for the newspaper “Real News” with journalist Phoebus Klavdianos (10/02/2019)
JOURNALIST: What is your view on Alexis Tsipras’ visit to Turkey? Has there been a “jump start” in the relationship between the two countries, or are we simply keeping a channel of communication open?
G. KATROUGALOS: It was a particularly successful visit, which was carefully prepared and met the goals we had set, to reduce tensions and to begin talking again, systematically and in a planned manner. The other side, too, seemed to also desire reopening of dialogue. It should be noted that the tête-à-tête meeting between the Prime Minister and President Erdogan, which was planned to last one hour, ended up lasting two and a half hours and, furthermore, following the discussion, violations of our airspace in the Aegean were reduced to zero. I don’t recall anything of the sort taking place in recent years. Therefore, the conditions seem to exist, after a very long time, for dialogue to recommence between the two countries.
JOURNALIST: What is included in the Confidence Building Measures between the Ministries of Defence of the two countries? Do you feel that Evangelos Apostolakis and Hulusi Akar being present in these is important? Is there a meeting planned between the two?
G. KATROUGALOS: There is a series of Confidence Building Measures that have been agreed to in recent decades which, though they don’t resolve the differences that exist between us, are nonetheless useful for reducing tensions in the Aegean and restoring a positive climate. But detailed planning was agreed to during the meeting for recommencing substantive dialogue. The first step will be for the Ministers of Defence to meet in the immediate future, Mr. Apostolakis and Mr. Akar, old friends from their previous tenures as Chiefs of Staff. During this meeting, which will take place on 13 or 14 February, in the context of the NATO Summit, discussion will take place on how we shall proceed with implementation of the confidence building measures already taken. Similar steps will be taken also between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is due to soon meet his counterpart, Turkey's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, to record the issues and begin the systematic planning in our diplomatic work. This will be followed by a meeting on the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, with the last phase being to convene the High-Level Cooperation Council and recommencing exploratory talks on issues pertaining to the continental shelf.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister expressed the hope that the tension will be reduced, and that we will proceed with reopening the exploratory contacts. Based on everything the Turkish Ambassador said during his interview on AMNA a few days ago, was the possibility of recourse to the Hague discussed at all in Ankara?
G. KATROUGALOS: Negotiations have not yet matured to this extent. The exploratory contacts have practically been discontinued for a long period of time, and any assessment prior to their recommencing is premature.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said that the organisation of a business forum was agreed upon, and Erdogan said that he will attend this, along with businessmen. When is this scheduled to take place? Will it perhaps be held at the same time as the High-Level Cooperation Council?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is indeed our intention that at the same time as the High-Level Cooperation Council, for a business forum to be held in Thessaloniki, in which representatives of large companies from both countries will participate. In general, we promote economic cooperation, both as regards collaborations between Greek and Turkish businesses in third country markets as well as the necessary regulatory measures. For example, both sides agreed on the need for immediate opening of the Thessaloniki-Izmir ferry connection, and potentially Izmir-Lavrio as well.
JOURNALIST: The issue of reopening the School of Halki is not a bilateral one. How do you interpret the fact that Erdogan insists on linking it to the request for directly electing the muftis in Thrace? Do you believe that prospects exist for reopening the school?
G. KATROUGALOS: Indeed, reopening of the Theological School of Halki is in no way related to the election of Muftis, which is an internal issue for the Hellenic Republic. And the Prime Minister has made this completely clear. During his historic speech at Halki, he highlighted the special symbolism that the Theological School possesses, not only for Greece and Orthodoxy, but for Turkey itself. Its reopening will send a global message about co-existence and dialogue between Christianity and Islam, the message that Turkey is a modern state which protects religious rights and freedoms. For this reason, the Prime Minister stated his wish that the next time he visits Halki, it will be together with President Erdogan, to announce the school's reopening.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said that we must agree with Turkey to carry out preliminary meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs on the crucial issue of security with regard to the Cyprus issue. Was the Turkish reaction a positive one? When will the first meeting take place?
G. KATROUGALOS: The reaction was generally a positive one for dialogue to recommence. As I mentioned earlier, it was agreed for the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries to again hold systematic talks on all levels. With regard to the Cyprus issue, for us, the primary issue is one of security, of ending the unacceptable system of guarantees and departure of the occupying troops. For this reason, it is necessary to know Turkey's present stances. For our country, it is clearly a given, our will for a solution that is in line with UN decisions, which will reunify the Island, building upon the progress and the acquis of Crans-Montana and the related Guterres framework. At the same time, a relevant initiative is under way by the Secretary General of the United Nations with his special envoy, Ms. Lute, on the views of whom we must adopt a stance. The Prime Minister, during his meeting with Mr Erdogan, stressed the need for respecting International Law in the Eastern Mediterranean, and underscored the right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit its wealth-producing resources. He referred to the extremely significant decision of the Republic of Cyprus to establish a State fund for the distribution of revenue resulting from the exploitation of natural resources among all Cypriots following resolution of the Cyprus issue.