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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond following their meeting (Athens, 14 January 2016)
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning. It was a great pleasure to receive the visit from the British Foreign Secretary, who has a Greek name, Philip.
We agreed that we have need of a vision for Europe; a vision that cannot be limited to just certain tools of diplomacy. And that is also why the thoughts Britain is having with regard to UK-EU relations, beyond the assessment of one proposal or another, contain the positive element of reopening the discussion on how we see the future of Europe, how Europe will be useful to its citizens, and what we think the EU’s role will be in the world, globally, in the 21st century.
We listened very attentively to the thoughts, which we are also aware of from the letters of British Prime Minister Cameron, and the thoughts of the UK regarding the future of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. And I want to underscore once again that, for us, Britain’s presence in the European Union is very, very important and lends special weight to the European Union as a whole.
We understand Britain’s demands. We believe in the cohesion of the European Union, and we will work for, and we believe that there will be, an agreement that benefits both Britain and the European Union.
These are hard times. I want to express here, once again, officially, what our Ministry stated in its announcements: our abhorrence of the heinous crimes of terrorism in Jakarta, in Baghdad, and recently in our neighbour, Turkey, in Istanbul, and in other areas of Turkey.
Our region is unstable in any case, and this is why we very much appreciate the efforts being made on many sides to bring the Syrian war to an end.
We welcome the international conference the British Government has called to find donors for the reconstruction of Syria, and I think it is a courageous move on the part of London.
We support the negotiations in Geneva, in Vienna, in Minsk, and the agreements that exist under the names of these cities.
We are living in a difficult era. Greece, in particular, feels this, because we are part of the Eastern Mediterranean. Crisis, war, chaos in people’s lives and major currents of economic migrants and refugees.
Philip and I agreed to a deepening of our cooperation overall as Foreign Ministers, and particularly the setting up of a working committee, a working group that will enable us to draw on the experiences and capabilities of the UK with regard to problems of economic migration, implementation of international agreements, and the return of illegally trafficked persons.
We imagine and are certain that their experience will be very, very useful. My colleague and I also discussed issues of the Western Balkans, where we have may coinciding interests. And naturally we discussed the Cyprus issue, since we are both guarantor powers under the international agreements.
We both want a just solution that is based on the UN resolutions and meets the needs of the population of Cyprus and the special needs of the communities.
As you know, we, and I personally, believe that the system of guarantees is anachronistic. It has been violated on multiple occasions. In essence, it is illegal from many perspectives of international law, and what we hope for – and what others hope for, as well – is for a solution to be found in Cyprus that will contribute to the wider stabilization of the region.
The British Foreign Secretary’s visit was a great pleasure for us. I extended a proposal to the Secretary – and I was helped by the beautiful day we are having – for him to come for a longer visit.
I also accepted his proposals for a visit and cooperation, and I think this is a departure point for the deepening of our relations, which is in the interest of Britain, Greece, the region, and all of Europe.
Philip, I thank you very much, once again, for the very creative and helpful visit, which will contribute to the further friendship between the two states, which are linked historically by the first rebirth of the modern Greek state.
Thank you very much.
P. HAMMOND: Thank you, it’s a great pleasure, Nikos, to be here in Athens today. Thank you for your welcome and for hosting my delegation. And let me start where you finished.
We’ve discussed the historic relations between modern Greece and Britain and the role that Britain has played in the history of modern Greece. I hope a positive role, and we’ve resolved, that we should in the future closer working relationships between our two countries. And we will take the necessary steps to insure that that commitment becomes a reality.
Because, as Foreign Minister Kotzias has said, we do live in difficult and challenging times. Just in the last few hours, we’ve seen a terrorist attack in Jakarta, we’re hearing reports of a terrorist attack in progress now, in Southeastern Turkey. And I’d like to send my sympathies and condolences to all those who‘ve been killed and injured in both of those attacks and indeed in the many terrorist attacks that have taken place around the world, over recent weeks.
We stand with all countries, all governments and all peoples who are under attack from terrorism. We will only defeat terrorism by working together and standing together to resist it.
We’ve talked this morning firstly about Britain’s agenda of reform of the European Union. And I’ve explained Britain’s position, the reforms we’re seeking to achieve. We firmly and genuinely believe that these reforms will benefit all the people of the European Union, because what we are seeking is a European Union that is fit for the 21st century. A European Union that can deliver the priorities of its citizen. And I believe that those priorities are economic growth and the creation of jobs.
We have to have a European Union that acts as a turbo charger on the economies of its Member-States, not a European Union that acts as a break to their ambition. We are faced by the competition of a Global Economy. Nobody owes us, Europeans, a living. We have to earn our living in this global economy and we have to earn it by being competitive and by being efficient. And that’s what we need the European Union to help us achieve.
So, I hope that we will be able to come to a good solution, which introduces measures of reform that will make the European Union more effective and allow the British people to vote in a referendum to decisively make Britain’s future inside a reformed European Union.
And I believe that Britain is good for Europe, and Europe, if we can get the right reforms, is good for Britain.
We talked, as well, about the situation in Cyprus, where both Britain and Greece have a vital interest in resolving this very longstanding problem.
I’ve made several visits to Cyprus over the last few months, meeting members of both communities, and I am optimistic that we may be on the brink of a breakthrough in resolving this dispute.
On the question of guarantees, which Nikos mentioned, we are looking for innovative solutions, we are ready to consider any proposal which has the approval of both communities in Cyprus.
Britain has no interest of its own that it is seeking to pursue in this discussion. Our only interest is to see an enduring solution that works for both communities within Cyprus.
On the topic of the moment, migration, we’ve also had an important discussion. Britain is not part of the Schengen Agreement and we are not affected in the same way as many other European countries by the current wave of migration into Europe, but we do want to play our part in trying to deal with this challenge to the European Union.
In particular we believe that the problem is not to be solved by arguments in Brussels about who takes what share of the migrants who arrive.
We believe that the problem must be solved by trying to stem the flow of irregular migration, by trying to reduce the pressure in the countries of origin and improve controls in the countries of transit.
And we are perfectly prepared to do our share in helping to reinforce the common borders of the European Union. We have a coast guard vessel here in the Aegean at the moment with the British crew and we are working with the Greek Government to ensure that that arrangement is affective.
We’ve provided 5 million pounds of humanitarian support to Greece to help with managing migration, migrants on the Greek islands. We are also funding a voluntary repatriation program through the International Organisation for Migration.
And we’ve agreed this morning that we will increase our cooperation on crisis management and logistics and on returns of economic migrants, an area where Britain has a long and relatively successful experience.
I think I am right in saying that over the last few years Britain has succeeded in returning more irregular migrants to their country of origin than the rest of the European Union put together.
So, we have an experience that we are willing and able to share, and we have agreed this morning that we will put together a working group to develop the best ways in which we can share that experience together.
So, we want to be a part of the solution to Europe’s problems. We want to be an important player in the European Union. And if we can get this package of reform agreed and convince the British people that its best interest is in making Britain’s future in Europe, I believe that that will be good for Britain, good for Greece, good for Europe, and good for the wider international community.
Mr. KOTZIAS: We only have time to take two questions. Just two questions.
Mr. MELETIS: Nikos Meletis, from Public TV. Minister, you said that you are not very concerned about the issue of the guarantees and you would agree to a solution agreed by both parties.
If both parties don’t agree is Britain willing to move away from the system of guarantees, and if it does agree, when two guarantor powers, Greece and Britain, are not interested in maintaining the system, can Turkey maintain it on its own?
P. HAMMOND: Well, the system we have at the moment is of tripartite guarantees, between Greece, Turkey and Britain, and we have, what I said was, Britain has no self interest in maintaining this system, no self interest in any specific system for the future. Our only interest is try to support a settlement.
And if the two communities in Cyprus agree a model for the security of Cyprus in the future, and that model requires Britain to play no role, we will be quite happy to play no role. If the model they develop requires Britain to play a role, then we are happy to consider playing any role the two communities ask us to play.
So, we are entirely at the disposal of a sustainable settlement in Cyprus and I think my Greek and Turkish colleagues are in the same position. What we want to do is to see a sustainable solution in Cyprus and we will do everything in our power to bring that about.
JOURNALIST: Thank you. From the Athens News Agency. Mr Hammond, you’re leaving Athens to go to Ankara. My question is, do you intend to discuss the issue of the refugees? Because, as you know, it is from the Turkish coast that refugees and migrants are channelled to Athens.
You are also going to visit Southern Turkey. How do you see the issue of Syria evolving? Thank you.
P. HAMMOND: My visit to Turkey will be to do a number of things, and one of them is to discuss the migration crisis. And with that, I go as a member of the European Union, keen to see the agreement that the European Union has made with Turkey, to control migration through Turkey, implemented in full and effectively. I look forward to that discussion later on today.
I will also be discussing the situation in Cyprus, with my Turkish counterpart and with President Erdogan. And, probably, most importantly, a discussion around the situation in Syria, where Britain and Turkey are both members of the International Syria Support Group. Both are working towards a transition from the Assad regime, that will enable the Syrian Civil War to be settled, the refugees to return to their homeland and rebuilt it, and the international community to focus on the fight against Daesh, Islamic State, in a way it has not been able to do, because of the distraction of the Syrian Civil War.
We believe that Daesh is the real threat to the international community and the sooner we can resolve by political means the Syrian Civil War and turn the attention of everyone – international forces, including the Russians, Syrian regime and Syrian opposition fighters – turn their attention to fighting the evil of Daesh, the better for all of us.