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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Dendias, on the main newscast of ‘OPEN’ TV with journalist St. Gantona (7 August 2020)
S. GANTONA: We are joined this evening by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikos Dendias. Good evening, Minister, thank you very much.
N. DENDIAS: Ms Gantona, thank you for the opportunity to be here. Good evening to you and your viewers.
S. GANTONA: Minister, is the agreement ultimately the result of compromise? Do you believe it fully covers our national interests in the face of Erdoğan’s escalating expansionist policy?
N. DENDIAS: In my view, it is a fair agreement that fully covers our national interests, full stop. It is not an agreement aimed against any other party. It is a model agreement in accordance with International Law. Of course, once the agreement was signed, it clarified something the international community knows very well — I heard Mr Ignatiou say it earlier in the clearest way possible — that is, that the agreement between the Tripoli Administration and Turkey is a non-existent legal document that is entirely unfounded, that has no bearing on International Law and that is not recognised by any country in the world, save Turkey, of course. Turkey finds itself in a minority of one. We therefore have a legitimate agreement, in accordance with the principles of International Law and the Law of the Sea, which fully safeguards Greek interests, on one hand, and an example of a non-existent agreement between Turkey and Libya, on the other.
S. GANTONA: Minister, this morning, during your interview with SKAI, you referred to the inexplicable rage of Turkey and, in fact, expressed your hope that Turkey might change its position and ultimately join the dialogue.
However, this afternoon, the Turkish President spoke outside the Hagia Sophia and made new threats, announcing drilling expeditions.
N. DENDIAS: Let me say this: I understand that it always takes one time to grasp the reality of a situation and make a change, if one so wishes. I expressed my hope. The Greek Government always wishes for amicable relations with all countries, including Turkey. International Law and the Law of the Sea are clear. Maritime zones are designated and delimited in agreements — actual agreements, in fact, and not the Memorandum signed between Tripoli and Turkey, to reiterate. Therefore, we hope that Turkey realises this and works with all countries in the region, including Greece and Cyprus, in this direction. You are correct, President Erdoğan's statements were trenchant and are not helpful, but one cannot lose hope that this may change in the near or distant future.
S. GANTONA: Minister, if Turkey sends the Oruc Reis into the Greek EEZ, what will we do? Will our response include the military?
N. DENDIAS: Mrs Gantona, we will do our duty. We will defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights. And I don't mean we, the specific Mitsotakis government, but we Greeks, every Greek government throughout history, as is its obligation under our Constitution. And I believe that no one in the European Union, none of our partners and our friends would expect anything different from Greece.
S. GANTONA: I am asking this question, Minister, because on this very newscast, Mr Diakopoulos, the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, had said that “if they enter the Greek continental shelf, our response will include the military”. Is this true? Is this the case?
N. DENDIAS: You know, I do not distinguish, I do not exempt the Greek Armed Forces from the entirety of the country's legal order and its Government. The Greek Armed Forces have the duty entrusted to them by the Constitution, as do we all: to defend the sovereignty and sovereign rights of our homeland. We neither threaten anyone, nor engage in the grandiloquence and similar reactions or hysteria of other countries in the region. All we are saying is that as a sovereign country, it is our constitutional obligation to defend ourselves, and we will use any means conferred upon us to this end by our Constitution and our capabilities. And we are saying so calmly, so that everyone knows it from the outset, so that it is established and so that there are no misunderstandings.
S. GANTONA: I see. Let us circle back to what the Turkish President said today. I want to ask you whether you were aware that Mrs Merkel asked Erdoğan to freeze surveying expeditions, and that he promised to take a break, despite not trusting us, in his words. My question to you is why is the Turkish President insinuating that we had left the Chancellor exposed at the time. Had we informed the Chancellorship, Minister?
N. DENDIAS: Excuse me. First of all, I greatly appreciate the presence of the German Presidency and the Chancellor on matters concerning the Eastern Mediterranean. We have discerned a clear effort on the part of the German Presidency, as is its duty as the holder of the Presidency of the European Union, to play a positive role. Greece has noted this. Furthermore, Chancellor Merkel has repeatedly held talks with the Prime Minister, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and I am certain that she has played a constructive role in the effort to de-escalate tensions. Beyond that, if you are asking me what the German side was aware of, I cannot answer that. If you are asking me whether I had conversed with the German side prior to the signing, in truth, this agreement — as I have said clearly — was completed in Cairo just before it was signed. Consequently, there was no time to inform anyone. And it is natural that we would not inform every country and the Presidency of the EU (there was no time). Of course, upon my return, we sent the text and maps of this agreement to all our fellow countries in the European Union and, naturally, the German Presidency. That is the reality of the situation.
S. GANTONA: From now on, do you believe we are entering a new period of tension with Turkey?
N. DENDIAS: What can I say? I cannot easily predict Turkey's reaction, as I wish for different things for Turkey, and we here in Greece wish for different things for our region. We are working towards stability and security in the region, and would like to include Turkey in this effort. If Turkey wishes to act as a troublemaker, if it wishes to threaten the countries in the region, if it wishes to operate outside the framework of International Law and the Law of the Sea, then that is up to Turkey. We cannot predict Turkey's response and we cannot and will not follow it. We are a modern, European country, a country of the 21st century, removed from 19th-century standards, removed from the era of gunboat diplomacy, removed from the era of threats, the era of any claims. We are a modern, European country that defends its rights and exercises them in accordance with International Law. That is what we did with Egypt, and that is what we will continue to do.
S. GANTONA: Minister, should we be expecting any initiatives in the coming days or the near future before we ultimately reach a dialogue, or before we see dialogue recommence?
N. DENDIAS: I cannot say. We have been consistently declaring that we are open to dialogue, even at times when Turkey's behaviour towards us was reproachable. This is because we believe in dialogue — however, to be clear, not dialogue on everything under the sun. There is an actual dispute between Greece and Turkey: the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, and the maritime zones over it. Of course, we are always ready for talks with Turkey but, to be clear, not under threats or under extortion. We are not afraid, let us be clear on this. We are not afraid.
S. GANTONA: In closing, as there is much talk about the agreement leaving out part of the Eastern Mediterranean and Kastelorizo, should we expect to see this go forward at some stage, possibly sooner or even later?
N. DENDIAS: This is an agreement that serves Greek interests, it is an agreement at the limits we would like, that is, up to 27ο.59. Saying that “Kastelorizo is left out” does an injustice to the agreement. The agreement did not include the shores not only of Kastelorizo, but of the entire complex, i.e. Strongyli and Megisti, as well as part of the shores of Rhodes. This is because these shores will be used in a subsequent delimitation with Egypt and with Egypt and, if it so desires in the distant future (and it is my hope that it will so desire), with Turkey. However, one cannot say that anything was left out, that anything was abandoned. This also concerns a large part of the shores of Crete. One of the advantages of the agreement is that only a minuscule part of the shores of Crete was used for its conclusion. A large part of the shores of Crete, 85% to 90%, is not included in this agreement and will be used for a future delimitation with Libya or, perhaps, a small part with Egypt, once a strong government is established in Libya, a government that represents the Libyan people and society.
S. GANTONA: Minister, thank you very much for this discussion, be well.
N. DENDIAS: My warm thanks to you, Mrs Gantona, be well.
S. GANTONA: Goodnight.
N. DENDIAS: Goodnight.