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Foreign Minister N. Kotzias' interview on ANT1 TV's prime time newscast, with journalist N. Hatzinikolaou
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: A good evening to the Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, and I'll start with my first question.
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, stated today that "the proposal of the Greek Cypriots for the occupation troops to leave Cyprus is foolish," and that "these are statements that are made by the other side," that is, by Cyprus and by Greece, "for domestic consumption." I want to ask you, sincerely, on what basis were the talks carried out in Switzerland, when the Turkish Minister, in this provocative manner, characterizes as "foolish" what I imagine all Greeks and Cypriots considered a precondition for this dialogue: the withdrawal of the occupation forces.
N. KOTZIAS: I am happy with your question, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, because it shows that you have a deep knowledge of the negotiations we carried out for eleven days.
On the third day of the negotiations, Mr. Cavusoglu started to ask for confirmation of Turkey's potential for intervening in Cyprus. I asked him very persistently and didn't allow the discussion to wander, as he usually did. In the end, he was cornered and had to answer. He said to me: "Yes, we want rights of intervention so that we can intervene militarily in Cyprus whenever we want to and whenever we deem it necessary."
This was obviously very revealing; that is, that they didn't simply want the legal potential for intervening in Cyprus, but that they had relevant planning in mind.
The second revelatory discussion was on the last day, Thursday into the early hours of Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the UN Secretary-General understood and announced to us that the Turks were relinquishing their rights of intervention from the Treaty of Guarantees and that they wanted to discuss only the Treaty of Alliance. I welcomed this and said that "we are prepared to continue our discussion."
In the evening, at dinner, which lasted over five hours, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Anastasiades, persistently asked Mr. Cavusoglu: "What are the concessions and compromises you mentioned to the Secretary-General?" In fact, he asked him to put them in writing, just as we requested and the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, had requested; that is, for a text along the lines of the ones the Republic of Cyprus and Greece had submitted. Turkey, along with Britain, avoided submitting such a text.
Subsequently, Mr. Cavusoglu said: "I am not in a position and do not want to provide written texts, but whatever I had to say, I told the Secretary-General." The UN Secretary-General, who is a very serious and highly respected person, and who, I must say, wanted to cut the Gordian knot of the Cyprus problem, said: "Okay, I will summarise all of the proposals in a single paragraph," and he accepted the Greek proposal, which was supported by the British and the Cypriots, for an implementation and monitoring mechanism for the withdrawal of the Turkish army, a non-military friendship pact, on issues of peace, culture, education, research, economic development, etc., as well as a process for the definitive withdrawal of the Turkish army, abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee, and so on.
It was an extremely good and beneficial summary for the Republic of Cyprus. That's where Mr. Cavusoglu intervened and said: "No, Mr. Secretary-General, I said no such thing. We want to maintain our right to intervene in Cyprus, maintain our forces and the Treaty of Guarantee -which gives us the right to intervene- for at least the next 15 years, and after 15 years we can carry out a review -we Turks, with our allies or the Cypriot government- as to whether we can leave or not." The Secretary-General said: "To put it as politely as I can, I have misunderstood you and we cannot continue this discussion."
During the course of the negotiations, I explained to Mr. Cavusoglu that his view of the excessive role and presence of the army in general in a society does not correspond to western culture. Because in western culture the army is subordinate to politics and there cannot be a foreign military force in Cyprus, which would control the political leadership, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot, on the island."
I also explained my surprise -rhetorical surprise, I must admit- at how persistent the Turkish leadership is in wanting to keep its forces in Cyprus, when it has characterized the Turkish army as an army of putschists, when the head of the Turkish forces along with ten of the fifteen highest ranking officers of the Turkish army in occupied Cyprus were arrested as Gülen supporters. How is it possible, in other words, for Turkey to tell us that an army, whose leadership was party to the coup, will be the guarantor of order, peace and security for the citizens of Cyprus?
I also said to him: "Remembering what you said to me a week ago, Mr. Cavusoglu, I understand that you want to have the opportunity, at any time, to invade the whole of Cyprus, having hung on the gun of the first tank spearheading the invasion force the agreement you want the Cypriot and Greek leaderships to sign. This can't happen. It's foreign to western culture and incompatible with what we call a solution to the Cyprus problem. Because a solution to the Cyprus problem is for the occupation and presence of occupation troops to cease."
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: It's very surprising that Mr. Cavusoglu also argued that the United Nations and the European Union know who is responsible for the foundering of the talks, meaning that Athens and Nicosia are responsible, and he said, provocatively: "Let them find another excuse not to let us into the European Union."
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, Mr. Hatzinikolaou – and I thank you for the question – of all countries, Greece is, par excellence, the supporter of Turkey's European course.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: And maybe one of the few left..
N. KOTZIAS: Yes. For the very simple reason that God or Allah -as I say teasingly- wanted the Turks to be our neighbours, and there is no greater advantage for a country than to have a neighbour with a european mentality and a functional democracy.
So the european accession process will have these two 'goods'. But I stress, again, that the problem of Turkey's accession to the EU is not an issue for Europeans to decide. It is above all an issue of Mr. Erdogan's, Mr. Cavusoglu's and others', who need to decide whether they want to become Europeans, whether they want to act like Europeans, whether they want to put politics above the army.
With regard to the UN and the European Union, Mr. Cavusoglu, all Thursday night and into Friday morning -when we finished at 04:00- said that "the Secretary-General of the UN knows." But the UN Secretary-General said: "We are bound not to say what Turkey's proposals are." We responded: "What agreement will this be if Turkey announces its views to the UN, but prohibits the UN from telling us what these views are, while, whatever that agreement may be, it will have to be implemented or enjoyed or suffered by the citizens of Cyprus, who have to know what these views are?"
At this point, the UN Secretary-General intervened and said: "I understand that Turkey doesn't want to tell you what it told me, so I will tell you." As soon as the UN Secretary-General said what, in his opinion, Turkey had told him -or rather how Turkey had been deceiving him until then- Mr. Cavusoglu said: "No, what the Secretary-General is saying is not what we said." What was my conclusion? That they lied to him.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Did the UN play a good or a dubious role? I ask because you yourself raised the issue, I heard, in Switzerland, during the negotiations, regarding the role of the special adviser, Mr. Eide, about whom many comments have been made of late, to the effect that his role was strange, perhaps pro-Turkish.
N. KOTZIAS: I would say that it would be a great mistake for one to identify the UN with Mr. Eide. Mr. Eide is an adviser, special adviser on Cyprus. The Secretary-General speaks for the UN and, in my opinion, is the UN.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: The mediator fumbled, Minister.
N. KOTZIAS: The mediator didn't mediate. He often played the lobbyist or promoted one-sided interests. It got to the point where he would come to see us in Athens having already gone to Turkey, or before travelling to Turkey. Moreover, a few times he saw the Turkish ambassador in Athens before he saw us, and after seeing us he would go and see economic and political figures in Athens, and had meetings at homes in the northern suburbs with journalists with a well-known bent against our foreign policy. That's not what mediators do.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Right. I now come to the concern that exists regarding the initiation of drilling in the Cypriot EEZ and the possibility of Turkish provocations, tensions in the coming days. I want to ask whether you are concerned, and how concerned you are. Whether, in your opinion, this is just blustering, or could we see other developments, and how prepared are Athens and Nicosia for such an eventuality. Whether you have made some diplomatic preparation behind the scenes, to get ahead of this. That is, for there to be interventions from other European countries, to quell the other side's provocative and aggressive inclinations.
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Hatzinikolaou, as always, you raise key questions that I and the Greek and Cypriot governments are dealing with.
First of all, we are in coordination with the government of the Republic of Cyprus regarding what we need to do from here on in. And -as I announced in Parliament- next Monday, after the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, together with my colleague and exceptional diplomat and politician Mr. Kasoulides, we will return to Cyprus, where we will have extensive discussions on issues concerning the future prospects of Cyprus, and specifically, how we are to go about initiating a more effective negotiation process. Because what ended in Switzerland was, to me, but a phase. We mustn't close the Cyprus issue or allow certain other parties to close it there.
And in particular we will be discussing the European Union's relations with Turkey, because we have ahead of us a debate on the Customs Union, which will have a total value of 50 to 60 billion euros for the Turkish economy, which is facing great difficulties. And we will also be discussing how to consolidate international law, so that no one can dispute the Republic of Cyprus's rights in its EEZ, or the exercising of rights emanating from international law.
It is obvious that the Turks are displaying bluster. They may chose to take practical steps, but those will come at a high cost for the Turks themselves.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: I think that last phrase of yours suffices. I won't ask for further details. It is clear from your response, and tell me whether I understand correctly, that Athens will support Nicosia in any case.
N. KOTZIAS: Athens, as well, will support Nicosia, and I believe that there will be other European countries that will support international law and the rights of a European country.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Right. That's clear. Tell me please, Minister, is there a chance of some other phase beginning -relatively soon- in the negotiations on the Cyprus problem, or do you believe that the foundering of the talks in Switzerland has 'burnt' this prospect? I ask you because, I remind you, we have the Cypriot elections and we have the presidential elections in Turkey in 2019, with Erdogan again running for highest office. Do you think that the Cyprus issue can be jump-started by then, with all sides returning to the table?
N. KOTZIAΣ: The Cyprus issue, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, continues to exist, because there continues to be the occupation of territory of a UN and EU member state, because there continue to be illegal occupation troops and illegal 'exploitation' of the Treaty of Guarantee, which was written in London and Zurich in 1959-1960. So the Cyprus issue is here.
Second, there is a very helpful statement from the UN Secretary-General, which is also set out in the draft recommendation he made this morning to the Security Council. In paragraph 4 and paragraph 42 of the draft, it says that the UN is prepared to help and contribute to the initiation of a new discussion.
I have to say that I don't consider the case of Switzerland to be a failure, as some like to say. I believe that in Switzerland, at long last -as it says in the UN Secretary-General's recommendation- the issue of guarantees and security was raised in the negotiation process. This is the first time that this fundamental and key issue was raised in negotiations.
What I underscored at the closing of the talks in the morning hours of Friday, in Switzerland, was that we have to sustain our vision for a Cyprus will be a normal state. This is wording that I used and that was adopted, to my great satisfaction, by the UN Secretary-General, which means that Cyprus will be a state with the sovereignty and independence of a member of the European Union and the UN.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Mr. Minister, do you know why I persist on this point?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me say something further. I argued that the next negotiations have to start from the difficult issue; that is, from the guarantees and from security, and that the handling of the whole case was deeply flawed on the part of Mr. Eide, who for two and a half years said: "We'll look at security and guarantees at the end." I told him that "this is the most difficult issue, and if we don't discuss it and it doesn't mature, we will never reach the end." But they put it at the end, so that one side or the other would have to back down in the space of three days.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Mr. Minister, I insist on this question, because many people in Turkey, the really hard core, are writing and saying that "the Turkish leadership's plan B is to annex occupied Cyprus" and this is a very dangerous, a very dire prospect.
N. KOTZIAS: The theory that Turkey might annex occupied Cyprus did not appear after the Switzerland conference.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: In occupied Cyprus, it existed before that.
N. KOTZIAS: It didn't appear after the negotiations in Switzerland. For two years now, the pseudo-foreign minister and the pseudo-prime minister of occupied Cyprus have been saying constantly that the occupied northern portion of Cyprus will be annexed by Turkey.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Maybe they'll find the opportunity now. That's why I ask.
N. KOTZIAS: When the discussion took place with Mr. Eide and the Cypriot government regarding the resolution on the history book in Cyprus – which, if you remember, said that the referendum of '50, on the union of Cyprus and Greece, which was an historical event, was to go into the Cypriot book – I asked Mr. Eide why he didn't react as strongly when the pseudo-government of occupied Cyprus asks for and seeks annexation.
In my personal opinion, annexation is the worst solution Turkey has before it, because it would come at a terrible international diplomatic cost and contravenes international law. That's my opinion.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: I come to my last question. Today in Parliament, the Minister of National Defence and the head of the main opposition party crossed swords over the Skopje name issue and the national policy. My question is simple: Which of the two lines is in effect? Which is the national position? Is it what Panos Kammenos said, the decision of the meeting of party leaders under the then President of the Republic, the late Konstantinos Karamanlis, regarding the non-use of the term "Macedonia", even with a geographical qualifier, or is it the position that Greek governments later followed, accepting the term "Macedonia" if it is preceded by a geographical qualifier?
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Hatzinikolaou, I made a statement in Parliament. I don't know if you saw it ...
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: I didn't see it, I admit.
N. KOTZIAS: I made the following requests: First, at the moment when we were discussing, in a spirit of unity, a common position of the Hellenic Parliament on Cyprus – on which there was a consensus and mutual understanding, and I, personally, in my speech, as well as yesterday at the meeting of the National Council on Foreign Policy, thanked all of the opposition parties that supported our delegation, our negotiating team in Switzerland, and I thanked them for that spirit – it was a shame that this discussion was opened by an observation from the head of the main opposition party. So I asked that the issue be closed, so that we could send a unifying climate of support and strength to the Cypriot people.
The second thing I told them was that we are beginning another round of negotiations on the name issue. On Sunday or Monday, in Brussels, I will be seeing Mr. Nimetz, who visited our region recently, but because I was in Switzerland, I couldn't take part in the meeting that had been scheduled in Athens.
So I said that it would not be good for us to open a front and a debate on a subject under negotiation. And it was with great satisfaction that I heard, in the Prime Minister’s second remarks, the phrase that "with the same care, the same national responsibility, the same scientific approach, we will negotiate the name issue, as we did the Cyprus issue," and everyone accepted that we had carried out a very good, exceptional negotiation, setting a new agenda and placing the Cyprus problem within its real context.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: But the essential question remains. And the essential question has nothing to do with Mr. Kammenos or Mr. Mitsotakis.
N. KOTZIAS: But it has to do with the negotiations, and I don't go to negotiations having announced what I will say.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Essentially, the question is, what is our red line on the name issue? That is the question, in essence.
N. KOTZIAS: You are absolutely right, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, but on Monday I'm going to a negotiation, and it would be big mistake on my part to take a stance, for P-R reasons, just a few days before, through a public statement.
But I note that a year ago, as Chair of the National Council on Foreign Policy, I sent a letter to the political parties asking them to give me their positions so that we could then have a meeting of the NCFP for a special debate on this issue, the name issue.
Unfortunately, that letter, as you will remember, came out in Parliament, despite its being confidential. A debate took place that was not creative, and that is why I am very careful about what I say publicly regarding the issue.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Right, I will not insist.
N. KOTZIAS: What I can tell you is this: I went to Skopje twice, as you know. I discussed the issue. They were unprepared. They came to Greece, again unprepared. They have been spoiled by the international community. I had a four-hour press conference in Skopje, during which I explained the following to them, if you will allow me to give these two examples.
I told them that I had been in Alexandria, Egypt, a few days earlier, and the Egyptians were proud that Alexandria is a legacy of Alexander the Great. I had no problem with that fact – that they wanted it to be an element of the heritage of Hellenistic culture, because no one in Egypt every thought of Alexandroupoli as an Egyptian city. In other words, there was no irredentism, but rather respect for Hellenic culture.
Also, at one point we were in Pakistan, where many, many people say they are descended from Alexander the Great, and that's fine, because they never said that Thessaloniki or Greek Macedonia belongs to them because they are the descendants of Alexander the Great.
But here we have to do with irredentism, which we cannot allow to spread in the Balkans or in general. We mustn't allow nationalism in the region. These issues require a great deal of caution, a great deal of seriousness, and that is why I think this is the first newscast I have been on as Foreign Minister, and I'm in my third year as Minister. Because it would be easy for me to want to respond and to tell you what I'm thinking, but afterwards it would be difficult for me to negotiate in the way that I want.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: My warm thanks, Mr. Minister, for the interview.
N. KOTZIAS: And I thank you, Mr. Hatzinikolaou. It was a great pleasure and privilege.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: For us, too. Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: Have a good evening.