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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, on Alpha Radio 98.9, with journalist K. Makri (2 September 2019)
JOURNALIST: We will now be talking to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, who is already on the line. Good afternoon, Minister.
N. DENDIAS: Good afternoon to you and your listeners. And I wish you a good start to the season, since fall starts today. I think we’re now at that time of the year.
JOURNALIST: We are. First of all, thank you, because I know you don’t do a lot of interviews. Thank you for being with us at such a critical time.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: On Friday you summoned the Turkish Ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked him to explain the increase in refugee flows. You obviously don’t think it is a coincidence that Erdogan opened the floodgates again to exert pressure on us.
N. DENDIAS: I want to be frank. We can’t be absolutely sure about what is happening in these types of situations. On the other hand, however, Turkey has a contractual obligation, provided for in its 2016 agreement with the European Union, not to become a transit space for irregular migrants.
As a result, regardless of the other side’s motives, the fact alone that we have returned to the situation we had in 2012, with 500 people arriving in Mytilini – almost 700 in total – is a violation by Turkey, and the Greek government’s assessment, carried out on the instructions of the Prime Minister, decided that the situation is very serious and that a clear demarche needed to be made to the Turkish side so that it understands that this isn’t being taken as ‘business as usual’, as a normal day.
JOURNALIST: One of the measures you decided on in the Government Council on Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA), on Saturday, is the Navy’s involvement in patrols of our maritime borders. And this surprised me. Does this mean a tougher stance? Is the order now pushback?
N. DENDIAS: Pushback is not a part of international law and has never been a measure Greece implements. The presence of the Navy has the following meaning: the deployment of all the country’s forces in dealing with the migration phenomenon and in the humanitarian effort, so that we can control the situation.
I think the Navy is part of the overall mechanism of the Hellenic Republic. As a result – and having served as Defence Minister – I say there is no reason the Navy shouldn’t participate in this comprehensive and collective effort.
JOURNALIST: I want to go to Greek-Turkish issues, Minister, where we are seeing an escalation ...
N. DENDIAS: You found an “easy subject” for us to start with.
JOURNALIST: Yes, I started with the easy issue and now I’m moving on to an easier issue.
We are seeing an escalation. A major escalation of the tension in the Aegean, with constant violations and engagements. With everything that’s happening in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and with Erdogan being photographed with a map showing he has sovereignty over half the Aegean.
What is all of this? Are you worried that the next step is Kastelorizo – or even southern Crete?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll tell you. Let’s start with the Cyprus issue. Cyprus is an independent member state of the European Union. It is clear that Turkey is violating the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.
And the European Union has taken measures, and we hope that Turkey will fall into line so that we don’t have to take tougher measures against Turkey.
The borders of the states and the borders of the maritime zones – I’m referring to the map you mentioned – of the regions in which the countries exercise sovereign rights and jurisdictions are not determined by any old map someone draws at some ministry or other. They are determined by international law. And I don’t think communication campaigns of this kind – let alone photographs – can alter international legality.
I think they are an attempt to create a sensation, and I would like to say that Turkey’s violations are simply consolidating Turkey’s image as a violator. They produce no legal effects.
Turkey’s views on these issues are the views of a minority of one in the international community. Turkey is isolating itself, and we, on the other hand, believe that a prerequisite for stability is the implementation of the international Law of the Sea – as it applies, not as it might be interpreted by someone drawing freehand, as if it’s a surreal art project.
And speaking frankly to the Turkish side – because the Turks are our neighbours, and we want there to be understanding between us – I say that we are not prepared to go along with them into a re-Balkanisation of the region, and nor are we prepared to join them in the mindset of regional provincialism they are following. The things they did weren't serious.
They need to get serious and return to the framework of international law so that we can have a serious conversation with them. We’re neighbours. Right now, Turkey is the region’s troublemaker. This isn’t helping Turkey itself. And we are not prepared to join them on that downhill path.
JOURNALIST: I note what you said about a serious conversation, because that’s my next question, but I would like to stay on this subject a little, because, in spite of everything you’re saying softly and seriously, Erdogan is continuing his provocations. Are you worried about Kastelorizo, for instance – that he might make that provocation?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll answer you candidly. Seriously, yes. Softly, not at all. Because no one has the right to encroach on the sovereignty or sovereign rights of the Hellenic Republic. No one. Ever.
So we are always serious, but this shouldn’t be misinterpreted. The fact that we aren’t acting like a Balkan troublemaker doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to defend our national rights.
And I say again, that photograph makes me sad. It’s not a serious picture.
JOURNALIST: You still haven’t answered me regarding Kastelorizo and southern Crete. I understand the reasons. I think that ...
N. DENDIAS: I think I answered your question.
N. DENDIAS: I think I answered you in the way a Minister of Foreign Affairs can and should express his thoughts. We won’t fall into the other side’s trap, Ms. Makri. We aren’t the same. We are a serious, solid, democratic, European country. And we hope Turkey will follow this example. It would be good for Turkey as well.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned a serious conversation. I think that's exactly what Erdogan wants. To get us to the negotiating table and share out the possible mineral deposits. Is there any chance we will do that, Minister?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll be honest. I don’t think Turkey wants a serious conversation, because we have been talking for many, many years. It isn’t just under our government – and we haven’t even begun talking yet, in the framework of dozens of dialogue platforms, confidence-building measures, etc.
What is the frame of reference in which Turkey would like to talk? If the frame of reference is international law and the Law of the Sea, certainly. But in that framework. Not in the framework of surreal claims expressed as a map and photographed to be sent as an indirect message to Greece. That is not a framework for discussion.
JOURNALIST: And you still haven’t met with your Turkish colleague.
N. DENDIAS: Even though I know him very well and have known him for many years.
JOURNALIST: Exactly – very well and for many years. Will this meeting take place on the margins of the UN General Assembly?
N. DENDIAS: We’ll see, Ms. Makri. But for a meeting to take place and be beneficial, there has to be a serious framework. Turkey has to help this framework. It has to understand it.
We won’t be dragged into talks under pressure. That can’t happen. We are a serious European country. Of course, every minister here – and these are also the instructions of the Prime Minister – wants good neighbourly relations with everyone.
Of course I would like to meet with Mr. Cavusoglu. As I said, we’re also friends, but there has to be a framework. If Turkey constantly creates problems, what framework can we create for dialogue?
JOURNALIST: Did we get frigates from Macron, as I read in news reports during the weekend?
N. DENDIAS: There was a discussion on this. The Belharra is an excellent weapon. An anti-aircraft frigate. It is one of the weapons systems the Greek armed forces would like to have. Beyond that, we’ll see how a collaboration like that, with our French allies and friends, might be implemented.
JOURNALIST: Now, on to the other matter, Prespes. The Prespa Agreement, because you also met with Dimitrov a few days ago, in Finland, and you asked him for faithful compliance with the Prespa Agreement.
Isn’t this a change in stance on your part? Because before the elections you said it was a very bad agreement. How did we get to faithful compliance?
N. DENDIAS: If you will allow me to describe our full stance – remind you and Greek society of what it is. In other words, the stance Kyriakos Mitsotakis repeatedly expressed: He said that if it was signed, it would have to be implemented. The state has continuity. That was the stance taken by the head of New Democracy. And it was based on this stance that he was elected.
He didn’t say that he would overturn everything as soon as he was elected, because he can’t do that, even if we wanted that. We are a serious party. We warned everyone before it was passed. We warned everyone before it was signed. Right now, Skopje, North Macedonia, has to comply with its commitment to implement the agreement.
JOURNALIST: Is it implementing the agreement?
N. DENDIAS: I see an effort to implement it. I also see resistance from some parts of the state mechanism in North Macedonia. We will not allow them to diverge from the agreement. I made this clear to Mr. Dimitrov. He assured me, I must say, that the government of North Macedonia intends to comply with the agreement precisely. There was no disagreement.
We agreed on that. But this is something we are monitoring and that we want to see. We won’t be lenient in our interpretation of the agreement. We will monitor things closely.
JOURNALIST: If, for instance, the matter of a date for the launching of negotiations with Skopje is tabled again at the General Affairs Council, will you give the green light?
N. DENDIAS: If, if, if. I say if three times ...
JOURNALIST: And my one if makes four.
N. DENDIAS: If they have complied with a strict interpretation of the agreement.
JOURNALIST: Neither side has been sending out invitations for meetings.
N. DENDIAS: In the current state of affairs, there were no invitations. Let’s be honest with ourselves: We went through a very long period with Skopje -North Macedonia, so we get used to the new name– of suspicion, disputes, etc. Of course, we should try to build a new relationship, but the other side has to come up with the capital – we have to see capital in the form of good will and credibility.
Greece is here to help. I say again, we are a European country in the Balkans. We aren’t a Balkan country in Europe. We will export this European mindset to our neighbouring countries, but they have to share this mindset too. After all, North Macedonia and Albania want to join the European Union.
This is a good opportunity for them to see the European model and to apply it, and not get held back by efforts to get out of agreements they’ve made.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for our talk. I wish you a good afternoon.
N. DENDIAS: And I thank you very much.
Thank you. Goodbye.