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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview with AMNA and journalist D. Manolis (10/02/2019)
You accompanied the Prime Minister on his two-day visit to Turkey and participated in the expanded meetings at Ak Saray. What is your impression of the visit and its outcome?
The objective goals of the visit were completely successful, which included, first of all, reducing tensions in the Aegean and, second of all, for dialogue to recommence with systematic and substantive planning of the steps to follow. This will occur forthwith, in the coming week, on the margins of the NATO meeting of Ministers of Defence between two old friends, from the days when they were heads of the general staffs of their countries: Greek Minister of Defence Ev. Apostolakis and his Turkish counterpart, Mr. H. Akar. Contact will follow on the level of Secretary General of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Minister of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to fully document the situation with regard to the state of affairs and planning of the steps to come.
Can we truly look ahead to reduced tension and reduced Turkish provocativeness in the Aegean following the contact between Tsipras and Erdogan?
We can be cautiously optimistic. This past week, we had the lowest number of violations in many years. Indeed, on the two days that followed the meeting, we had zero violations of our national airspace. We hope that this situation will stabilise, on the condition that the intention for something like this by other sidewill be confirmed in the upcoming meeting of Ministers of Defence.
You visited the Theological School of Halki. The visit was deemed historic. What are your feelings about the issue of its reopening?
It was a historic meeting indeed, and all of us who participated in it felt that we were part of history. Reopening of the School is not an issue that is only of interest to Greece, or at least the Orthodox world, but it has a universal dimension. It will prove to the entire world that Islam and Christianity can peacefully coexist, bringing people together and not dividing them, and that Turkey is a democracy that defends religious freedoms and rights. Consequently, the very presence of the Prime Minister, and especially his speech, as well as that of the Ecumenical Patriarch, was of special significance and constitutes a significant guarantee for the School’s reopening in the future.
Was the issue of lifting the status of casus belli also discussed?
All the issues were not substantively discussed this time, because this was not the goal of the visit, which was re-planning and recommencement of dialogue. But as you also saw in the public interview with the two leaders, all issues raised by the other side were responded to on the basis of the long-standing positions of Greek diplomacy, and indeed with an emphasis on what constitutes for us the cornerstone of our relations, namely respect for International Law.
Mr Erdogan made special reference to economic agreements which will be concluded at the Cooperation Council of the two countries that will be held in Thessaloniki. When do you think that the High-Level Cooperation Council will take place, as well as the business forum between the two countries?
It was indeed agreed between the two leaders for the highest form of political dialogue between the two countries to be combined with the opportunity for their business communities to meet. The High-Level Cooperation Council and the Economic Forum will constitute the bottom line in the effort to restart dialogue. I believe that if the proper will exists by our side, and also by the other side, something like this will be able to occur in the near future, in other words in the first half of the year.
Based on the agreement between the Alternate Minister of Economy Stergios Pitsiorlas and the Turkish Minister of Commerce for the ferry service linking Thessaloniki and Izmir, does the possibility exist for ferry service linking Lavrio and Izmir to become a reality, as well as direct rail connection between Thessaloniki and Istanbul?
Of course. All these plans are being examined. Indeed, as regards ferry services, wherever investment in infrastructure is not required, this represents a realistic possibility for the first ship to be launched this summer, on the Thessaloniki-Izmir line.
Does Greece consent to the revision of the EU-Turkey Customs Union?
There was broad reference to EU-Turkish relations, as well as to the issue of revising the EU-Turkey Customs Union, for the benefit of all countries in the region. The Prime Minister repeated our long-standing national position in favour of the European prospects of Turkey, on the understood condition of respecting the European acquis and the interests of all sides involved. From this standpoint, we are amenable to the relevant discussions commencing.
Are you optimistic about the fact the talks on the Cyprus issue have recommenced? When do you foresee preliminary dialogue beginning, and what does this include?
Indeed, preliminary meetings are expected to begin soon between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, something that Greece has been requesting since 2016. We seek for the progress made at Crans-Montana to be built upon, especially as regard the area of security, abolition of guarantees, planning for the departure of occupying troops, so that the island can be reunified based on the decisions of the UN and International Law.
On Friday, Greece ratified the Protocol for the Northern neighbour’s accession to NATO. What are the next steps? When will Athens send the note verbale, and by when is the neighbouring country expected to notify the UN and the other international organisations, as well the other States, about its new constitutional name based on the Prespa Agreement?
On Monday, the note verbale will be sent, which will notify of ratification of the agreement and subsequently, North Macedonia will notify the UN, as well as all the Member States that had recognised it according to its constitutional name, so that recognition can take place according to its new constitutional name going forward. And naturally, starting Monday, its obligations also begin to change, in its interior, the names of streets, buildings, documents which bear the old name, as has been agreed upon.
Therefore, from the coming week, is the neighbouring country required to solely use its new name of North Macedonia?
Of course. The Prespa Agreement is explicit and clear in that regard. In all the international fora, in all the international organisations, in bilateral relations, as well as in the country’s interior, e.g. on all new documents, the neighbouring country will be referred to by its new constitutional name. And accordingly, systematic planning will take place on their part for replacing the old name with the new one on existing documents, and wherever additional special material actions are required, such as e.g. for naming of streets etc.
On 12 and 13 February, talks will be carried out in the Plenary for Revision of the Constitution. What do you hope for?
Despite the voices of the extremists in New Democracy calling for undermining of the revision process, there was agreement in the Revision Committee, which indeed led to six cases of proposals by SYRIZA as well as New Democracy being passed by a wide majority. Clearly, agreement cannot exist on all issues, where ideological differences, the manner in which we interpret conflicting political and social interests is fundamentally different. This is what Democracy means, to seek solutions where a difference of opinion may exist today, and for a juxtaposition of views to continue so that future solutions are prepared. I feel therefore that, in the coming week's vote, this positive momentum of the Committee will be confirmed, so that we have a revision that will be progressive and democratic, which will strengthen rights and popular sovereignty.