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Home arrow Current Affairs arrow Top Story arrow Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, N. Dimitrov, following their meeting (Athens, 14 June 2017)

Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, N. Dimitrov, following their meeting (Athens, 14 June 2017)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, N. Dimitrov, following their meeting (Athens, 14 June 2017)N. KOTZIAS: If there is to be so much interest from the press, I will invite Nikola to Athens every day.

The most popular name in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is Nikolaos, and thus it is a pleasure for me to welcome Nikola Dimitrov to Athens, and I want to thank him for the invitation he extended to me to visit the beautiful city of Skopje once again, so that we can continue the talks we had today.

We are glad that our neighbour has found its way to stability and the sense that it can move ahead to a new future.

We are also pleased at the friendly intentions that have been shown on all levels, including by the Prime Minister. Good intentions are no substitute to negotiations, but they make them humanly easier.

We are pleased at the progress that our northern neighbour has made in a short time, and we agreed with the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for each side to promote the best possible measures for the development of our cooperation.

As you know, we have moved ahead with major confidence-building measures. The Thessaloniki pipeline that used to carry oil from Thessaloniki to Skopje has been cleaned, and today it will carry petroleum products.

We are talking about the creation of a vertical connector for transporting natural gas from our country to theirs. Also, the railway line between Florina and Bitola is under construction, and we hope it will be completed soon.

We have agreed on exchanges between our diplomatic academies. There are steadily developing relations between our universities, there is trade. We agreed to support the holding of a business forum in the second half of 2017, in Athens, and the Chamber of Commerce is moving that ahead.

In general, we are on a course not just of implementing the confidence-building measures, but also of developing new ones. The Minister proposed that we take measures for better exchanges, more systematic exchanges, between young people, a proposal that was certainly accepted. And we proposed a number of new measures to be added to the existing confidence-building measures; measures that will contribute to the development of trust between the two states, to better mutual understanding between the two peoples, to the promotion, in general, of stability and peace in the Balkans.

I addressed a number of proposals to Nikola Dimitrov for cooperation and participation in the international initiatives we have taken, like the one we will be having in the last week of October, for the protection of the religious and cultural communities of the Middle East. Starting next year, for the first time, we will also have the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in attendance at the Rhodes Conference.

I took the opportunity of this meeting to express to Mr. Dimitrov – and I want to express it once again, publicly – that Greece unwaveringly supports the territorial integrity of its neighbour, its stability and its clear sovereignty; the non-interference of third powers in its domestic affairs. And my advice to many sides is for them not to try to interfere in our relationship.

When it was needed, we were and came out against the imposition of European sanctions on our neighbour, and we have a clear policy – there is nothing ambiguous about it.

We believe that the development of the relations between our two states, the building of trust, will also facilitate the talks on the pending problems, and when we are ready, on both sides, we will have them.

We believe that insistence – ours and others' – on promoting a culture of consensus and understanding in the Balkans as a whole will also facilitate our relations with all of these states, along with the development of a more democratic, more European political culture in these states.

We know and clarify that our friendly neighbour wants to join a number of international regional organizations. We believe in and are open to supporting any effort they make, but after the name issue has been resolved. This is the condition, and I think that we can and must work for a good compromise, a win-win compromise. We need to make it understood to our citizens and societies that we have much more to gain from overcoming historical imprisonment than from persisting in fruitless disputes that have no result.

Greece wants and has proposed, in the past, specific solutions to these problems that still exist between the two countries. But at the same time, I want to underscore that, regardless of this, our relations must develop and the friendship between our populations must grow.

I want to give you an example. There was a big fire in London, and human lives and fortunes were lost. It was plain to see there, for example, how important the function and role of the firefighting service is. And you know that, on Saturday, for the first time since I became Minister, I travelled within Greece – outside of Athens and Thessaloniki – and had the honour of participating in the opening of the Firefighting Officers Academy in Kozani. Kozani is just a few kilometres from the border between the two states, and Ptolemaida, where the Academy is located, is only 60 kilometres away.

This Academy can and must – and I have proposed this to all of my colleagues in the region – be used for the training of Firefighting Officers of our neighbouring states, which do not yet have similar training systems.

There is a lot we can do, and we will not do it to serve someone's interests. I'll stay with the same example. What does the Firefighting Service do? Put out fires? It is one of those dangers that can easily take on an international aspect.

Fire doesn't start with the wind and then, after a few kilometres, stop and say, 'I've reached the border.' Wherever there is passport control. The fire will cross the border and burn it. And it is therefore in the interests of the Greek people and the people of our neighbouring countries – I am also referring to Albania and Montenegro and so on – for there to be the best possible training and coordination, so that one can fight and overcome these problems.

As a result, the relations between the two countries are relations whose development will ensure the resolution of many current problems that are of a supranational or international nature.

I would like once again to welcome Nikola Dimitrov, and say to him: welcome to Athens, which knows you and which you know. He has extensive experience of the relations between our two countries. In 2007-2008 he was his country's negotiator on our difficult issue.

I hope that we develop our relations creatively and that, in the future, we can talk about the name issue in a way that finds a solution, so that everything can happen to prove what a strategic dynamic relationship we can have.

Nikola, welcome and thank you for accepting my invitation to carry out your first official visit to this country, to this Ministry. I thank you again for this choice.

N. DIMITROV: Mister Minister, dear Nikos, I will state immediately that I do not agree with you about the popularity of the name Nikola. I will have to work very hard to make the name Nikola even more popular in my country.

At the outset, I would like to most sincerely thank you. It is an honour for me to receive an invitation from you to visit Greece, and secondly I am honoured by your very cordial welcome. We have had a very open meeting, a tête–à–tête meeting, but also a very good plenary meeting between our delegations.

I have informed the Minister about the priorities of the new government. We have put behind us very difficult years and we are firmly determined and committed for the future. Regardless of whether our goal to join the EU will be achieved or not, we are determined to build strong bonds in our country, to enhance rule of law in order to build a society that will serve the interest of citizens and not the interest of politicians.

As regards foreign policy, the foreign policy priorities will be to revive the process of the integration of our country into the EU and NATO, but we will also work to be a better neighbour to all our immediate neighbours.

I believe that the task of diplomacy is to resolve problems, to open doors, to build bridges, and therefore my first visit is to Greece. I was in the Netherlands before, but we don’t count that.

By undertaking specific steps, I want us to build a positive image in the region. We will do our homework and look to the future. I think we in the Balkans can do much better than what we are doing now, and I will continue offering arguments and concrete proposals. I will continue undertaking specific steps that will prove that it is in the interest of our bigger southern neighbour, to the interest of all, that we start EU accession negotiations. And I am convinced that you have the leverage in your hands and that this leverage can help open the way towards closing the one open issue.

Of course, I am not naïve. This is only our first meeting and the road ahead of us will not be an easy one. I have the feeling that we are walking along a very difficult path of problems that have been piling up, and we need to do much more to resolve them.

I am here to ask for your support. I care less about who will be the winner or who will not be the winner. My message is that I ask for the support of the Greek government. What we need now is an impetus, an encouragement to go along the way, to continue walking the road we wish to move along and that for some time we have not been walking. We want to have friendly relations with your country.

I have prepared myself well. I saw the very useful confidence-building measures that have been already implemented. At today’s meeting we have added to those confidence-building measures and I am confident that step by step we will continue on this course. We also spoke about border-crossings. I hope that at some time in the future there will be no border in the classical sense of the word, if we become part of the EU.

I will stop here and I hope that your questions will not be too hard or too complicated.

FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: We will take two questions.

JOURNALIST: Hello Mr. Dimitrov. Welcome to Athens. I would like to ask you this: Although in recent years the good climate between the two countries has improved and the confidence-building measures, which were good from both sides, contributed to this, nevertheless, the sense remains within Greek society that, in recent years, you have been cultivating, or at least you cultivated – and intensely, in fact – an irredentist ideology. This is a huge issue for Greek society, with statues, with schoolbooks, with monuments, etc.

I have accompanied Mr. Kotzias to Skopje, and these things are very stark indeed. Right now, as the new government, you express the willingness to change this. Can you tell us what you intend to do specifically? There are names of roads, names of airports, the books ... How do you intend to move ahead? Some changes can be made at no financial cost. Thank you very much.

N. DIMITROV: Thank you for your question. For us, speaking sincerely, who are not exposed every day to this debate that obviously is going on in Greece, this constant repetition of the word “irredentism” is very strange, because irredentism means that you aspire to take something which does not belong to you.

What I want to underline is that we are focused on our own borders. We want to preserve our country. We have been for too long in the waiting room, being part of a region which is not in a very good condition. I am not someone that would attach importance to sculptures and names, although I think that it has damaged our relations, and it has helped those who do not wish for there to be good relations between our two countries; they have taken advantage of them as arguments.

You asked me what specifically we are going to undertake. This, let me remind you, this is a first meeting. You don’t go dancing with someone right after you meet him. Therefore, I believe that we need to do our job, we need to have more meetings, but we will find a way to deal with distractions from our main focus, which is developing our relations.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Kotzias, you spoke beautifully of the need to develop the friendship between the two countries. On the other hand, the veto in Bucharest, in 2008, was something we experienced as a hostile act. Moreover, this act caused a very serious domestic crisis that threatened the security of the whole region.

If Greece is truly interested in the stability of the region, and if Greece is truly interested in having a stable northern neighbour, then can we expect you to support us? And will you accept our country's becoming a member of NATO under its provisional name? So we can continue our talks and resolve the last open issue between our two countries? Thank you very much.

N. KOTZIAS: Thank you for the question. First of all – because I forgot to do this at the outset – I would like to thank the interpreter, as I do every time, because all of these things would not be if we didn't have the help of the people who translate what we say. Sometimes their translation is better than what we actually say. So, thank you very much.

Second, let me say this: Greece wants the whole region of the Western Balkans to become part of the Euroatlantic system – but because these countries want this, not because we do. The question is how much they want it. Because they cannot expect us to want it more than they do.

So, they ask us to back down from our views, but without making a move themselves, regarding something that ostensibly interests them more than it does us.  We are interested, but we believe these countries are interested too.  So when both sides are interested, we have to find the path of understanding and compromise.

In February 2015, I told my friends the European partners, "don't wheedle the friendly northern neighbour, FYROM, in a way that teaches them not to compromise and reach consensus, because this will have domestic repercussions for them," as well as that the then government would transfer this attitude from international relations into the country's domestic affairs. 

So the crisis in our neighbouring country did not result from the Bucharest decision, because then the crisis would have to have erupted in 2008. Conversely, from our perspective, one reason that led to the crisis was that the government – the previous one, and I said this previously, at that time – had been taught not to compromise, not to seek consensus, and to make the big mistake of turning the name problem from a geographical problem into a problem of identity.

We want FYROM to become a member – provided it wants to – of both the European Union and NATO, and as I have said from the outset, this can happen very simply through our finding a compromise solution on the name issue, and immediately afterwards we can go to the UN and sign our new agreement, go to Brussels and announce it to the International Organizations based there.

But I want to say something by way of clarification: My opinion is that, from the official side of my country, and from the official side of Nikola Dimitrov's country, no moves were made that one could call hostile. Officially, I say – organized and planned. Now, the conduct of one individual or another is another matter.

There were no hostile moves. There were moves through which each side defended, in its own way, what it considered to be right or an element of its foreign policy.  I do not take the views or moves of the other side, of my friends in the neighbouring country, as being hostile. And I ask you not to perceive our moves as hostile.

We have common interests, common outlooks, and we have to build on this community of interests. Greece needs to and must help the neighbouring country a great deal. Because Greece, despite the crisis it went through, is clearly the most powerful country in the Balkans.

Power, in my opinion – and I have said this concerning another country – does not give us more rights. It gives us more obligations. The more powerful country is the one that has to nurture good relations more than any other country.

I hope we find a path, and I shall spare no effort– I, personally, and the government – for a just and mutually beneficial compromise and to enable us to develop and nurture our relations even further.

That is why I think it is very important that, today, Nikola and I picked up the thread again. With more planning, we will continue this in the last week of August, in Skopje, and I express my thanks once again for the invitation. The dialogue and the democratic will both sides have is the best guarantee that we will find a solution.

Today's discussion did not resolve any matter concerning this issue, but the atmosphere was positive, and so we have the best possible framework for discussing the difficult issue.

I thank Nikola again for this good atmosphere and good will. But, you know, good will is not enough, but it creates good conditions for a problem to be solved.  Thank you very much. I thank the interpreters who once again did this difficult job. Thank you.

N. DIMITROV: Only two sentences. I think in this region, and I think it takes some time to realize it, we rise or fall together. And as we are on our way up, we need help. And I am sure that at some point there will be an overwhelming realization that that’s a good thing for your country, our big friendly southern neighbour, and that’s a good thing for the region and that’s a good thing for Europe. So it is a very good start today. Thank you.