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Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias on ALPHA TV, with journalists Lora Ioannou and Giorgos Smyrnis (23 December 2019)
JOURNALIST: Our guest on Alpha news tonight, just a few hours after his return from a trip to Libya, Egypt and Cyprus, is Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias. Good evening, Mr. Dendias.
N. DENDIAS: Good evening. Good evening to your viewers, and many happy returns of the day!
JOURNALIST: Many happy returns to you, as well. This interview is taking place in two venues, in the news studio and in your office at the Ministry. There, with you, are Alpha’s head political reporter, Lora Ioannou, and our news director, Giorgos Smyrnis.
Allow me to start with the first question, Minister. Yesterday was an important day. Three extremely important trips in the framework of the diplomatic marathon against Turkey’s provocations took us a little by surprise – they were carried out under extreme secrecy. This was followed by the announcement on the signing of the EastMed Agreement, sealing an alliance on many levels, Mr. Dendias. A powerful alliance.
We would like you to explain to us, in plain language, so we can all understand, why this agreement is so important for all of us. In other words, in practice, how will the country benefit from this agreement and these meetings.
N. DENDIAS: First of all, regarding the Agreement. As you so rightly said, it is an extremely important Agreement. I want to make it clear that its importance does not lie in its being directed against anyone. It is important because it is an alternative route leading to energy autonomy for Europe and the European Union.
It is a clear case in which what is happening has to do with the search for alternative ways to supply the European Union with energy. So, this pipeline starts in Israel, passes through Cyprus and comes to Greece. Later, very soon, Italy will also sign this Agreement, because that’s the ultimate destination of this pipeline.
The Italian side isn’t signing right now because of some environmental issues that concern the south of Italy, and I think that will be resolved very soon. In any event, we have agreed on a technical approach – it remains to be completed.
JOURNALIST: Lora, I think you’re taking over now.
L. IOANNOU: We would like to ask you, Minister, what the real purpose of your meeting with Field Marshal Haftar was. Because we saw a strong reaction from the Sarraj regime in Libya, and naturally Turkey wasn’t pleased.
N. DENDIAS: Mr. Sarraj and Turkey are entitled to their views and can express their feelings as they see fit. The Greek side wanted to have clear communication with the commander of the LNA, the Libyan National Army. Through its commander, the Libyan National Army has expressed its complete opposition to the agreement between Turkey and the government in Tripoli. Opposition to the two agreements, actually – to the Agreement on delimitation of Economic Zones and to the Agreement that has to do with security issues, both of which were signed by Turkey and the government in Tripoli.
So I wanted to hear his views first hand so we could have a common outlook and perhaps, if necessary in the future, coordination of actions towards practical invalidation of these unacceptable null and void Memoranda.
G. SMYRNIS: But the EastMed agreement essentially voids an invalid Agreement between Libya and Turkey. It’s a strong negotiating card.
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to say this, Mr. Smyrnis, so we can be frank: We see the Agreement between Turkey and the government in Tripoli – allegedly representing Libya, but that isn't the case – as a non-existent Agreement. There is no such agreement.
I use an example to illustrate this. It is like France and Canada agreeing to divvy up the Atlantic, ignoring the fact that the United Kingdom, England and Ireland, are between them. This is the kind of situation we have.
So the EastMed is not a reaction to this. The EastMed is an effort towards energy autonomy for Europe, so that Europe can have alternative energy supply sources. It’s not directed against anyone. It's just that Turkey, with its reflexive insecurity, interprets every move in this way.
We are telling Turkey that we are open. Open to Turkey’s participation in any of our initiatives. But in what framework? In the framework of international law, security, peace and stability in the region.
L. IOANNOU: Mr. Dendias, I’m going to share with you something that everyone is asking – our friends, acquaintances – these days. There is strong concern among Greek citizens, and they say, “Yes, we are winning diplomatic battles. But how sure are we that Erdogan won’t make some move, won’t try to provoke a ‘heated incident’?”
And some analysts are even saying this might happen during the holidays, possibly before the signing of the EastMed Agreement on 2 January. Do you share this concern? Are we prepared for any eventuality? And mainly, are we alone?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll start with the last question. Of course we are prepared for any eventuality. And even though we can deal with things on our own, as I always say, we are not alone. But this doesn't mean I agree with the prediction of a ‘heated incident’.
“Can you rule it out, 100%?” you will ask. Of course I can’t rule it out 100%. No one can rule anything out in this life. But I believe that the Turkish side, too, has to justify what it does. There is a logic to the moves it makes. It sees the international environment and won’t make moves that will be damaging to Turkey itself. Because such moves would vindicate those who think Turkey is a rogue state.
I want to believe that Turkey is a country with which we can find channels of communication and understanding for the mutual benefit of our two societies, the mutual benefit of our region, the mutual benefit of all the countries and peoples of the wider region.
Peace and mutual understanding are very much a part of the spirit of Christmas, and I think that Turkey, despite being a Muslim country, understands very well the spirit of these holidays.
G. SMYRNIS: Mr. Pyatt said there is a U.S. submarine south of Crete. And ahead of your visit to Washington and the meeting with Donald Trump, are you expecting such moves of practical support for Greece?
N. DENDIAS: What the American Ambassador said is true. We knew it. We didn't want to say it. There is a specific, large American submarine that is usually based in Souda and is moving in the wider region.
Beyond that, I want to be sincere and clear on this: The Hellenic Armed Forces guarantee Greek security and independence. Beyond that, of course, any presence that helps create stability and security in the region is completely welcomed by the Greek side.
We aren’t trying to take anything from anyone. We aren’t planning an aggressive action against anyone. Consequently, any friendly presence in the region can do only good, in our opinion.
L. IOANNOU: Minister, is the government, your government, planning to apply to the ICJ in The Hague? This has been under discussion of late. I’ve heard some politicians and some other political parties say they favour this option. I heard the government spokesperson say that “we are a number of steps away from that.” But I want to ask you, so citizens can know, whether you plan to do this and under what conditions we would lodge an application in The Hague.
N. DENDIAS: The Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, has taken a stance on this. Greece is not against resolving the dispute – because we essentially have one dispute with Turkey – through arbitration procedures or court procedures. But for this to happen, there has to be a framework that ensures this possibility.
I’m sorry to say that, right now, this framework is not in place. Would we like it to be in place? We would be very glad to see Turkey enter into a mindset of reaching understanding with Greece. If understanding with Greece means we enter into the process of creating a framework that might lead to an arbitrated resolution of our differences, this is something we’ll discuss.
What we aren’t discussing with Turkey is its blustering and threats against our country, or anything else directed against our sovereignty and our sovereign rights.
On the other hand, we are open to any proposal that leads to cooperation between our peoples and societies. Greece is not Turkey’s enemy. Under the right conditions, Greece can be Turkey’s best friend. But from what I see, Turkey is having great difficulty understanding this.
L. IOANNOU: Yes, that’s essentially what we’re talking about. Why does this difficulty exist? And I simply want to ask you whether you will take on the political cost of an application to The Hague, or if the consent of the other political parties is a condition for this.
N. DENDIAS: I’ll start with the last part, regarding the political parties. I must say that Greek politics, at least during the short time I have had the honour of being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has shown institutional seriousness. As many times as has been necessary, the statements from my colleagues from the other parties have been very serious. When the Council on Foreign Policy convened, everything said stayed in the room and there was a high degree of understanding and consensus on our major national choices.
So I have only gratitude to express for Greek politicians and their support for our country’s foreign policy efforts at this time.
Greek politics is not the problem right now. Turkey is. If together with Turkey we can ensure such a framework, which could lead to a possible solution of our differences through an arbitration or judicial procedure, we have no objection, as I said.
But we’ll have to agree on the framework. When Turkey is threatening us, signing null and void agreements, when its words and deeds are creating insecurity in Greek society, you can see that it's very difficult for me to imagine we can get to that framework any time soon.
Again, if Turkey does an about face and, perhaps in the holiday spirit of love and understanding, as I said earlier, pursues understanding with us, Greece is always open to understanding and gestures of friendship with Turkey.
G. SMYRNIS: Shall we wait and see what Turkey does following the EastMed? And I say this because you are going to Washington with what looks like a signed agreement.
N. DENDIAS: You’re jumping ahead. Before Washington we have something else: On 4 and 5 January, if this happens, we have the Egypt-Cyprus-Greece-France quadrilateral meeting in Cairo, which is also important, and then we have Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s visit to the White House, where I will accompany him.
G. SMYRNIS: You’ll be going there with a signed EastMed agreement. How important is this as a negotiating card? What moves will follow that?
N. DENDIAS: We don’t see it as a diplomatic game. We see it as steps towards consolidating peace and security in our region, understanding between our peoples.
And I repeat: We are not creating alliances against Turkey. We are not trying to exclude Turkey. We are trying to achieve the greatest possible understanding and agreement between peoples who see in this cooperation great opportunities for the development of their societies, and we invite Turkey to participate.
But at the same time, we won’t stop because Turkey doesn’t want to participate, seeing all this from a standpoint of insecurity or perhaps as moves aimed against it.
In any case, I think Greek diplomacy has found a very good pace. Our country’s standing is very high, and I think that, through this network of understandings with states in the region, we are building an excellent framework that will lead to the growth of our societies and economies.
L. IOANNOU: I left this for the end, Minister, and I’d like you to tell us how important Italy’s change of stance is, especially regarding Libya. Italy had a different stance on Libya, and we have been seeing a change in recent days.
N. DENDIAS: Italy had an understanding with the government in Tripoli. But it is obvious that Mr. Sarraj was not honest with Italy. I say this because the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Conte, and the previous Minister, Mr. Milanesi – before Mr. Di Maio – had mediated with the government in Tripoli and Mr. Sarraj and told him such an agreement with Turkey was completely absurd.
Nevertheless, not only did Mr. Sarraj ignore Italy, but he also signed these agreements with Turkey without informing the Italian side.
And don’t forget that Italy has a tradition of relations with Libya – it is a country that has been dealing with Libya for years. Italy was a colonial power, but in any case, it is a country that has repeatedly helped Libya. In that sense, the – how shall I put it? – anger or annoyance of the government in Rome is completely understandable considering how it was treated by Mr. Sarraj.
But the main thing is that Italy and Greece are friends and Italy has a very good understanding of the European dilemmas and questions. And I am absolutely convinced that we will reach a friendly understanding with Italy in the context of delimiting the exclusive economic zones.
L. IOANNOU: When do you see the delimitation of maritime zones moving ahead?
N. DENDIAS: I think the first meeting with the Italians ...
L. IOANNOU: I’ll jump in here. You’re sending a technical team on 30 December.
N. DENDIAS: The meeting with the Italians is on the 30th of this month, December.
L. IOANNOU: And on 8 January in Cairo, I think.
N. DENDIAS: Then it’s around the 8th of January. Excuse me, but there are so many developments, I confuse the dates. But it’s at this stage. In other words, the meeting with the Egyptians is in the first week of January.
Our priority, and that of our interlocutors I hope, is to complete this fairly quickly. We're talking about friendly countries, and if there are any disagreements, we can resolve them through mutual understanding of each other’s positions.
L. IOANNOU: With Albania?
N. DENDIAS: We haven’t started dealing with Albania yet. I saw Mr. Rama on the very sad occasion ...
L. IOANNOU: The earthquake.
N. DENDIAS: On the day of the earthquake. You can see that the climate didn’t allow for us to discuss this issue. Greece has the best of feelings towards Albania. Of course, the Albanian government must also fully respect the rights of the Greek National Minority.
L. IOANNOU: What do you mean by ‘a short period of time’ in relation to the delimitation of maritime zones?
N. DENDIAS: First of all, it isn't very smart to give yourself deadlines. But I might be able to specify the duration of the process with greater accuracy when I have seen the first meeting and any divergences between the two sides’ positions.
I am confident that we will bridge any differences, but I want to see where we’re starting from.
L. IOANNOU: And if I may, Giorgos and I were saying before we got here – we wonder what we’re expecting from Donald Trump when he has so often expressed his “love” for Tayyip Erdogan.
N. DENDIAS: I don’t know if there is a personal understanding between the two. I think there is. Because when we were in London, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and we were leaving the dinner he hosted for us, the Prime Minister said, “We’re going to see Erdogan,” and President Trump said, “Give him my regards and tell him you were with me.” So there is obviously something between them, some sort of chemistry, but, you know, the President of the United States operates within a frame of mind. And it is obvious what this frame of mind is for the U.S. Administration and the State Department.
I’m not happy about it, but Turkey isn't very popular in Washington right now.
G. SMYRNIS: Speaking of love, do you think there will be ...
N. DENDIAS: Love! You've taken things a bit far. I talked about understanding, maybe fondness. You’re way ahead of yourself.
G. SMYRNIS: Do you see a rift in the Erdogan-Putin relationship over the conflict in Libya? Do you think this might be the beginning of a small rift in Putin-Erdogan relations, given that they are supporting opposing camps in Libya.
N. DENDIAS: I don’t think the Putin-Erdogan relationship is one of love or marriage. I think their paths just happen to converge on certain issues. And history shows that it is highly improbable for these two countries to share the same path.
And again, I’m not saying I’m happy about this. I’m always pleased when there is harmony and understanding in the region. But I think there is an opportunistic convergence here. How they will resolve their completely different stances on the Libya issue remains to be seen.
L. IOANNOU: Let's close by asking whether you’ll be celebrating the holidays, Christmas, whether you’ll celebrate the new year or stay here at the Ministry – whether you’ll bring in the new year at the Ministry.
N. DENDIAS: I won’t stay here. I’m not going to put down roots. I’m going to do something very interesting. I’ll take the opportunity to visit Istanbul, to go to the Phanar and celebrate Christmas with the Ecumenical Patriarch.
L. IOANNOU: So you’ll be close to Erdogan.
N. DENDIAS: I’ll be with the Patriarch and I’ll be in Turkey.
L. IOANNOU: Thank you very much.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you, and many happy returns to everyone.
G. SMYRNIS: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Thank you, Minister. I wish you good and peaceful holidays.