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Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in Ta Nea, with journalist Alexandra Fotaki (20 March 2021)
JOURNALIST: Minister, the announcement of your visit to Ankara came suddenly, and though we are in the process of talks, Turkey is continuing its inflammatory rhetoric and ‘blame game’.
N. DENDIAS: Ms. Fotaki, the announcement of my visit – which, if the right conditions prevail, will take place a month from now – may have come as a surprise, given that we do not usually announce meetings so early before they are to take place.But we want to be transparent about our intentions. Moreover, the timing of the announcement, at a time when the Turkish delegation was in Athens, had its symbolism.
Greece is not afraid of dialogue. In fact, it is in favour of constructive dialogue based on fundamental principles, including International Law. We have firm positions that we support. We believe we are right on our side and that we have nothing to fear. Dialogue is not giving in. When you talk, you promote your positions and draw your red lines, but you don’t give in.
I remind you that I have repeatedly highlighted that I was open to a meeting with my Turkish counterpart, my friend Mevlut Cavusoglu, provided the climate is proper. I had also underscored that there is no chance of dialogue in the context of threats and violations of international legality. These conditions continue to exist. But it is true that the climate has improved, if only partially, enabling us to resume high-level talks. It is clear, of course, from what I have said that if the provocations are repeated, this climate could be reversed.
JOURNALIST: Next week is critical for EU-Turkey relations. What does Greece expect from Europe?
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to remind you that EU-Turkey relations started six decades ago. Specifically, in 1963, with the signing of the EEC-Turkey association agreement.
Since then, there have been many critical weeks in EU-Turkey relations. In some of those, positive steps were taken – in others, not. In this sense, next week is neither the beginning nor the end of these relations. The issue of Turkey will remain on the table.
And let me add something else. The level of EU-Turkey relations depends on Turkey's stance.
In this context, we anxiously await the report that is to be submitted to the European Council by the High Representative and the European Commission. We have emphasised key elements that, in our opinion, should be contained in this report. But we are not the ones drawing it up.
Our firm position is that the EU should have a two-fold approach to Turkey: A positive agenda, but also proposals for specific repercussions for Turkey, depending on its behaviour.
We will be prepared to consider the elements of a positive agenda – such as the customs union, the migration issue or even the visa waiver issue – but under one strict condition: Turkey’s full compliance with the obligations it has undertaken. For example, Turkey cannot ask for the customs union to be upgraded when it has been proven that it is flagrantly violating it. The same is true for the migration issue and the obligations it has undertaken in the framework of the implementation of the joint statement of 2016. Turkey cannot be given carte blanche, just as no country is given carte blanche.
In tandem with a positive agenda, however, the EU need to make it clear that Turkey’s conduct is under ongoing observation and that there will be restrictive measures if it backslides into violations. The prospect of measures will continue to exist after March. As I have said in the past, we aren’t ‘absolving’ Turkey of its ‘sins’. Of course, we must always bear in mind that decisions in the EU are taken unanimously. In other words, the 27 member states have to agree.
JOURNALIST: You will be at the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs next week, with the new U.S. Secretary of state, Antony Blinken, in attendance. What do you expect from that meeting?
N. DENDIAS: I’ve already had a friendly talk with Tony Blinken – a few weeks ago. Bearing in mind his recent statement in the U.S. House of Representatives, regarding the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Cyprus issue, as well as the statements made by the previous U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, at the NATO Ministerial Meeting last December, we see a clear reaction to Turkey’s actions from the other side of the Atlantic. Both before and after the U.S. elections. Whether and how this will translate into action remains to be seen. But this change in comparison to the not-too-distant past is extremely important for the vindication of Greece’s positions.
At this point, I would also like to note a development that took place a few days ago. In a joint statement issued after the videoconference of Quad heads of state and government (Australia, the U.S., Japan and India), there is express and clear reference to the primary role these countries attribute to International Law, and especially as it is set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I think this is a very interesting and important development, as four major naval powers recognise, at the highest level, the importance of the UNCLOS.
In any case, we are anxious to see the stance taken by the new U.S. Secretary of State at the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs. At that meeting, I will stress our country’s role as a pillar of stability and security in the region, as well as the need to avoid actions that jeopardise the cohesion of the Alliance.
Finally, on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, I intend to travel to Düsseldorf to meet with the new president of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, who may be his party’s candidate for federal chancellor in October’s parliamentary elections. This meeting is important on both a symbolic and a substantive level. I always believe that effective foreign policy must be based on firm diplomatic foundations, with parallel development of interpersonal relationships.