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Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, at “Documento” newspaper (11.03.2018)
JOURNALIST: The Government does not want to turn the incident with the two Greek soldiers into a diplomatic incident. But the question remains; when can we expect them to be released?
N. KOTZIAS: Every day that goes by is one more day in the continuation of a provocative act on the part of Turkey. An act that currently represents an attempt at creating a low-intensity crisis. Greek diplomacy, without fanfare and declarations, is taking all the necessary steps to defend the national interest and the rights of the Greek officers. We are keeping track of Turkey’s provocative behaviour at our expense and at the expense of third parties, such as the intervention in Syria and Iraq, the shooting down of the Russian plane, the lengthy detentions of German nationals, the inclination towards conflict with the US. We call upon Turkey not to attempt to create a big political event and a drawn-out violation of international law out of such a situation.
JOURNALIST: How close or far is a solution to the naming dispute of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?
N. KOTZIAS: We still have a lot of work to do. The odds, though, of finding a solution are greater than in previous years. I would like to be cautious in my optimism. I am aware of the difficulties and the many twists and turns negotiations always go through. You don’t need excessive enthusiasm when everything looks easy, but neither do you need to drown in disappointment when difficulties arise. The job of everyone working in the field of diplomacy is to turn enthusiasm into positive energy and to tackle difficulties in order to overcome them.
JOURNALIST: Why is it that a solution may finally be found?
N. KOTZIAS: There are many factors. First of all, to the political principles we have adhered to this entire time. We did not meddle in the domestic issues of our neighbouring country. Even during its greatest crisis, we did not express our views, unlike other EU member states. We exhibited responsibility and self-control due to the special conditions of our relations. Most importantly, since 2015, we have initiated the Confidence-Building Measures, which greatly contributed to the creation of an improved climate. Important also, of course, is the role of the change in government that took place in our friendly neighbouring country.
JOURNALIST: What do the Confidence-Building Measures concern?
N. KOTZIAS: They pertain to multiple areas of social and economic action. From the creation of a new natural gas pipeline and the cleaning of the existing oil pipeline, to cooperation between universities, cultural associations, municipalities, and fire-fighting forces. All this constitutes living proof of how we can strengthen relationships between our two countries, as well as how much this will benefit them.
JOURNALIST: The neighbouring country’s leadership, at least in rhetoric, seems to not accept amendments to its Constitution. Do alternatives exist?
N. KOTZIAS: The amendment of the Constitution of our neighbour and friend means, first of all, the implementation of erga omnes; in other words, the use of the new name in all cases, internationally and domestically, as well as avoiding future friction that would have resulted barring this amendment. Secondly, it avoids, in the future, a different Government in our neighbouring country requesting answers for violation of the Constitution should the international agreement “deviate” from the constitution’s provisions.
JOURNALIST: Why should friction arise?
N. KOTZIAS: Because when, in this age of globalization, two different names are used, one for international/foreign use and another domestically, friction is to be expected. In this age of globalisation, domestic documents are also used internationally, and this will cause constant friction as regards breach or non-breach of the agreements. Today, for example, in dozens of countries, we travel with our identity card, a domestic document, and not necessarily with a passport, a document to be used internationally. The solution, therefore, does not lie in imposing one’s view on others, but in a package deal in which necessary reciprocal compromises will be made. Not for things to become seemingly easy, but to find a lasting and stable solution. In international politics, one must make good and creative compromises that withstand the test of time, and not rotten ones.
JOURNALIST: Will it be requested that the changes be made in one go and for the compromises to be implemented at once, or will there be timetables?
N. KOTZIAS: The agreement must be a package agreement. It must include issues that we are discussing with the UN, the elimination of irredentism, and the provision of measures and conditions to prevent its return, support of our neighbouring country's accession to international organisations, common actions. The latter, together with the existing Confidence-Building Measures, will be concentrated into an action plan which will include positive elements of our future cooperation in all areas of international politics, economic and social policy, such as culture and healthcare. All these things, of course, require timetables in order to be implemented. The world does not change in one day; even God needed six days to create it, according to Scripture. Of course, something like this does not constitute implementation of some abstract piecemeal approach, but an element of pragmatism, realism, determination, and a sense of responsibility.
JOURNALIST: Perhaps an international agreement between the two countries would suffice in order for fYROM not to be required to proceed with constitutional amendments?
N. KOTZIAS: Based on article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, the content of the latter supersedes national law. But this principle is increasingly not applied. We are familiar with the decisions of the national constitutional courts of EU Member States with regard to the subordination or non-subordination of national legislation to European legislation in issues that affect the hard core of the constitution, and the name issue is such. According to these, the Constitution supersedes any international agreement.
JOURNALIST: The opposition accuses you of “secret diplomacy.” What is your response?
N. KOTZIAS: I replied ten days ago, in Parliament. I tried to explain what even first-semester International Relations students know; namely, that secret diplomacy is not diplomacy as such, which we must protect. Secret diplomacy is when two or more States come to secret agreements at the expense of a third, agreements that will be immediately revealed during a particular situation, as occurred among the various camps during World War I. It is not secret diplomacy when a negotiation is carried out with the goal of having an agreement result, which will come to Parliament itself for approval; or a negotiation where the competent institution, the UN, is aware of all the aspects and details of the said negotiation. When the negotiation takes place under the instructions of the political leadership, and with the exclusive participation of the competent official agents. During the course of which the country’s Prime Minister has already responsibly informed the leaders of all parties. In contrast, secret diplomacy is a negotiation that is carried out by non-official agents, outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, even by members of the secret services, as had repeatedly been done in the past by political parties that are pointing fingers at us today.
JOURNALIST: Has a request for an update been submitted to you by the opposition?
N. KOTZIAS: All requests are dealt with appropriately. Just at the beginning of last week, we updated the competent Parliamentary committee on developments in the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations. Moreover, just ten days ago, I answered a question on the part of New Democracy on the course of negotiations with Albania.
JOURNALIST: Will a meeting of the Council of Political Leaders be convened?
N. KOTZIAS: This goes beyond my area of competence. What I can certainly assure you of is that all competent bodies will be informed, when the time comes, regarding this negotiation as well as any other. Of course, some people will need to stop the leaks of everything that is said in these updates. They need to get serious.
JOURNALIST: Why does the Government consider, at the present time, that conditions have matured so as to open two large national issues, those of Albania and fYROM?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, from the first day of the salvation government in January 2015, we sought to find solutions on all open fronts. Discussions with Albania have been taking place for two years now. At this point, the solution of these issues has matured. The same is the case for fYROM. We have sought a fair compromise with our neighbour for three years. Now it seems that a window of opportunity is opening. We are taking advantage of this. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly understood by Greek society that our differences with the two neighbouring countries to the North/North-West pertain to historical and cultural issues of heritage, and so on. In contrast, with our neighbour to the east, the issues that have arisen are more difficult. They are directly related to our geopolitical and geostrategic interests. Our decision, therefore, is to solve whatever issues are pending and can be solved, and to focus our attention on the truly difficult problems. Difficult not because of us, but because of the abrasive nature of third parties.
JOURNALIST: Do you say these things just for those abroad?
N. KOTZIAS: I say this also with regard to third parties here in Greece. Who were ready to make bad compromises when they were in power, but point their finger at us every morning for the good compromises that we seek to make, while they like to add new issues every so often, which they had never raised as a Government. I suspect they do not want a solution to the problem. This is deeply irresponsible.
JOURNALIST: Is this perhaps not the best time, due to our seeking a clean exit from the memoranda, for one to try to solve the major national issues?
N. KOTZIAS: On the contrary, now that we are coming out of the financial crisis, we need to develop our partnerships for maximum growth in the wider region, something that will have positive benefits for all the country’s workers. Eliminating the barriers that exist to the development of these partnerships will have a positive impact on the country’s prospects and will strengthen its role in the region’s stability and growth.
JOURNALIST: Recently, the American Ambassador in Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, did not hide his concern over the possibility of conflict between Greece and Turkey. Do you share his concern?
N. KOTZIAS: For three years now, I have been stressing to all sides that Turkey’s behaviour may lead to an accident and/or a mistake. And, additionally, that one must have open channels of communication in order for this mistake not to turn into a heated incident. As I have explained, Turkey’s restlessness is very great and can create situations that are anything but peaceful and rational. When your next-door neighbour is going through a period with strong feelings of “arrogance and the sense that they can do whatever they want” in conjunction “with fear and feelings of insecurity,” you have to be very cautious. This is not weakness, but rather a stance of great responsibility.
JOURNALIST: But was it a good choice on the part of the Greek Government and the Foreign Ministry to keep the channels of communication open with Turkey’s leadership, a choice on which the recent visit on the part of the Turkish President to Athens was also based?
N. KOTZIAS: In foreign policy, you must do what is right and rational, and not just what your emotions prompt you to do. When you decide, as an individual, whom you will go out with in the evening, you decide to do it with your friends. When you exercise foreign policy, however, you don’t speak only with whomever it pleases you to speak with, but rather with anyone you must speak with. In foreign policy, you don’t act based on your preferences, but based on what is necessary, and what is in the interest of the country. You do many things that you don’t necessarily like, but which are necessary for the country, peace in the region, and stability. The country does not need a Minister of Foreign Affairs who meets only with those he likes. Foreign policy requires responsibility, moderation, patience, temperance, sufficient knowledge, and experience. You also need to know when to speak and why.
JOURNALIST: What conclusions did you draw from Turkey’s behaviour related to the drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, and how do you intend to proceed from now on in order to assist the Republic of Cyprus in exploiting its resources?
N. KOTZIAS: I think the main conclusion is (something that we fully agree on with the Government of the Republic of Cyprus) that we correctly broached the issue, in Crans-Montana, of the Turkish guarantees and intervention rights. Can you imagine what would happen today if Turkey enjoyed such rights, and indeed legitimately, from Greece and the Republic of Cyprus? The reverse conclusion is what Turkish ultra-nationalism and authoritarianism represent.