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Joint statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, and his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian (Athens, 13 December 2017)
N. KOTZIAS: It is a pleasure to have with us my friend Edward and the Delegation of the Republic of Armenia.
Yesterday, here at the Ministry, we had an interesting discussion with hundreds of our staff, based on the positions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia. Today, we continued our talks, one-on-one and with the delegations. We underscored the steps we have taken since our last official meeting and since my official visit to Armenia. We already have the trilateral meetings between Greece, Cyprus and Armenia on diaspora issues. And this evening, Mr. Nalbandian will be departing with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Terens Quick, for another such meeting in Armenia.
We agreed to establish the trilateral relationship between Greece, Cyprus and Armenia on a permanent basis, similar to the other trilateral cooperation schemes we have in the eastern Mediterranean. Our next meeting will be a two-day meeting. On the second day, we will invite Iran to discuss the issues and the potential for cooperation in the wider region.
We agreed to step up our cooperation on all levels and in the key sectors associated with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Cooperation between our Directorates and the regions where we have shared interests.
Of particular importance is our cooperation regarding the European Union. Greece has expertise on this and can pass it on, transfer it to Armenia, via visits from Armenian officials competent for EU affairs and through visits of our experts to Armenia.
We will attach special importance to Greece’s support for Armenia, including with regard to visa liberalisation within the European Union.
We agreed to exchange visits next year. On our visit to Armenia, in the first half of the year, we will co-organize a business forum aimed at developing our economic relations, which are at a much lower level than our political relations.
We will look in particular at how we can collaborate in sectors of cutting-edge technology. We know that Armenia has a long tradition, dating back to the Soviet era, of being a pioneer in various technology sectors, in energy issues – especially renewable energy sources – health and tourism.
It is well known that Armenia always supports Cyprus-related issues firmly and in a spirit of friendship. We are always grateful for our friendly country’s positions. I also want to say that Greece supports the Minsk process, regarding the special problem of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a special case in the international scene and in international law.
We support the stances of the leaders of Europe, Russia, the U.S., who are participating in the Minsk process. We support the three principles, as expressed by them. The principle that the problem must be resolved by peaceful means and not through military force or the threat of use of force. The solution should be based on ensuring the territorial integrity of the region and the self-determination of the population living therein.
I found very interesting that, despite the complexity of the problem and the great tension surrounding it, in the past year there have been six meetings – if I’m not mistaken, Edward, there were six – between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is the reverse of the conduct we saw in Korea, where the leadership of Korea told us that their biggest problem with North Korea is that they lack the channels of communication through which to discuss their differences.
I say this because it is obvious that, even if you have disagreements – and disagreements of strategic importance, in fact, regarding the issue being discussed – you have to talk. There must always be channels of communication. Nothing could be more foolish in foreign policy than confronting your geographical neighbours, your neighbouring states, with the same stubbornness one might witness in a block of flats, if we aren’t on speaking terms with one of our neighbours.
We also very much believe in and support the reforms in the friendly state of Armenia. Our cooperation in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, of which Armenia will be holding, if I’m not mistaken, next year’s chairmanship. We support many of each other’s candidacies in international fora. In addition, we want to develop our cultural and educational relations.
Greek-Armenian relations are relations of friendship, appreciation and shared sorrows. In 1996 we recognized the Genocide perpetrated against the friendly Armenian people. The museum in the country’s capital is very moving. I was moved when I visited it.
May the friendly people of Armenia always experience development, growth and as much peace as possible, and may the role of this wonderful country – small in size but great in history – grow and gain in importance in the global and regional system.
I am always happy to meet with you, Edward. Our one-on-one talks on the course of regional affairs are always very deep, and we always learn from each other.
We thank you very much for being here, in Greece, yesterday and today, and we hope our meetings and collaboration intensify on every level.
Thank you very much.
E. NALBANDIAN: Dear Nikos, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to thank my dear friend and colleague Nikos Kotzias for the invitation and his warm welcome.
Armenia and Greece are brotherly peoples, bound by centuries old cordial relations and traditionally deep mutual sympathy, support and solidarity. We meet frequently with Minister Kotzias in different international fora. I recently hosted him in Yerevan and now I am glad to be in Athens to continue our discussions.
Earlier today I had the honour to meet with the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Pavlopoulos, and we changed views on the Armenia-Greece relations.
My visit started yesterday with a lecture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Foreign Minister Kotzias said, and I would like to thank once again for the opportunity he gave me to share our approach on regional issues and present Armenia’s foreign policy priorities.
At our meeting with my colleague we touched upon the implementation of the agreement reached during last year’s official visit of the Armenian President to Greece.
As Minister Kotzias mentioned, we have discussed a wide range of issues of bilateral and mutual agenda.
We touched upon ways of further deepening our political dialogue, strengthening economic cooperation, boosting bilateral trade and partnership in the areas of defence, education, science, technology, culture, tourism and many other fields.
We exchanged views on the potential for enhancement of our economic relations that could be explored further on the level of the intergovernmental commission and through the organisation of business forums. The possibilities for engagement of the Greek companies in the free trade zones in Armenia, the use of the potential provided within the framework of EU-Armenia relations, prospects of development of cooperation between Greece and the Eurasian Economic Union were among the issues also discussed.
We highlighted the solid legal framework between our two countries that could serve as a basis for further enhancement of our ties.
In this regard, during our meeting in Yerevan, we agreed with Minister Kotzias to create a special working group between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Greece to take into consideration what has been done and explore new avenues.
I am glad that this group has already been established and even held its first meeting this October here in Athens, headed by Secretary General of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, who also discussed in Yerevan with my colleague the possibilities of cooperation between sizeable Armenian and Greek diasporas.
We continue the exchange of views on this issue till today and I am glad that our two Ministries are actively engaged in exploring the full potential of such ties and interaction.
The cooperation between our parliaments is also very important. We believe that bilateral visits of parliamentary delegations could enhance the dialogue between our parliamentarians as well as strengthen our cooperation in the framework of international parliamentary assemblies.
All talks were focused on the intensification of our interactions within international organizations, notably the UN or ECEE, the Council of Europe and others.
As you probably know, next year Armenia will host the summit of international organization of La Francophonie, which units 84 countries, Greece among them, so I presented to my colleague the preparations ahead of the summit.
In a few days Armenia will assume chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation. So we have touched upon the upcoming ministerial meeting in Kiev.
Within the context of Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement we have exchanged views on prospects of developing cooperation between Armenia and the European Union.
We also discussed regional and international issues. We touched upon the Cyprus issue. Mr. Kotzias presented the recent developments with this regard. Armenia supports the Greek and Cypriot efforts in this regard.
I briefed my colleague on the Nagorno Karabakh settlement process, the efforts exerted by Armenian and the OEC ministerial group of co-chair countries to advance the peaceful settlement of the issue. We highly appreciate the balanced position of Greece in support of these efforts and the fact that it agrees with the approaches of the three co-chairs of the ministerial group of the OEC.
And, of course, we had an exchange of views on a number of other regional and international issues.
Dear Nikos, thank you very much for the warm hospitality and very interesting, meaningful and fruitful discussion.
COORDINATOR: Questions from the media.
JOURNALIST: A question for Mr. Nalbandian.
Minister, would you like to tell us more about the prospects for cooperation between Armenia and the European Union, and how Greece could best contribute to this cooperation.
E. NALBANDIAN: We had a comprehensive discussion with my colleague, the Foreign Minister, about the possibilities of our cooperation, also taking into consideration the context of a new CEPA agreement between Armenia and the European Union.
This is a very comprehensive agreement. The name itself, CEPA, means that this is a very important and serious document. CEPA means Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement.
So, we have many fields of sectoral cooperation according to this agreement. We have an economic part, and we have a political part and we are looking forward to work closely with one of our closest friendly countries in the European Union, first of all, to pass the ratification process as quick as possible and then to start the implementation of the paragraphs of this agreement.
The dimensions in this agreement are very different, very multi-ranged.
COORDINATOR: Next question, please.
JOURNALIST: Minister, your relations with Turkey – I am addressing His Excellency Mr. Nalbandian – are not very good. While - from what the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs said - you have met six times with Azerbaijan. How much has the dialogue moved forward in your relations with Turkey? Have you asked for Greece’s collaboration in this sector, as there are open channels of communication between Greece and Turkey.
And, Mr. Kotzias, could you give us an assessment of the Turkish President’s visit to Greece?
E. NALBANDIAN: Concerning our meeting with the Azerbaijani neighbours, yes, I informed my colleague about the last 6 meetings between Foreign Ministers of Armenia and of Azerbaijan that were held only during this year. But we had also a Summit in Geneva, in October of this year. In general, the meeting of the Summit in Geneva passed in a positive mode. But immediately after this meeting, Azerbaijan returned back to the warmongering statements and false accusations.
The last meeting between Foreign Ministers we had in Vienna was a very long one, about a four hours meeting, a very detailed discussion. And, in general, it also passed in a positive mode. But immediately after the meeting, I said we have to wait and see the developments. Why? Because, as I mentioned, the Summit in Geneva was also in a positive mode, but then, the Azeris continued their warmongering statements and accusations, which we now all see.
The important point from the Vienna meeting was that we agreed to continue our meetings and discussions. We are planning to have the next meeting in the second part of January.
Concerning our relations with Turkey and all that, this is an initiative of the President of Armenia. For the normalisation of our relations, we not only started, but also concluded negotiations with Turkey, by signing two protocols in Zurich on the establishment of the diplomatic relations, the opening of borders and the development of our relations. We signed these agreements.
But since then, Turkey refused to ratify and implement these agreements. These agreements couldn’t remain hostage of this very strange situation, where the Turkish side is not able to ratify and respect the agreements reached and also implement them.
So, as said the President of Armenia, we will consider these agreements as invalid in spring of next year if, till then, there is no other development from the Turkish side.
N. KOTZIAS: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will give its assessment tomorrow in front of the Parliament. I will say only this: According to the opposition, Mr Erdogan's visit failed before it began. In my assessment, made after the visit took place, it was a success.
It is a difference of timing. They assessed the visit before it took place. We assessed the facts. Secondly, it was a visit that adhered to its programme and itinerary, as opposed to what happened in 2004, when Mr. Erdogan -as some of you may remember- made four speeches in Thrace that had not been agreed upon, and went four hours over schedule, because he spontaneously visited various areas and villages where the majority of the population was Muslim.
The visit was a success because our President and our Prime Minister had frank and open talks with the Turkish President. They touched upon issues that each of us knows exist, and I think that the other side spoke more realistically as the talks progressed.
I believe that President Erdogan gained a better understanding of Greece’s positions, and, to a great degree, he appeared as if he took them into account. The visit also succeeded because we reactivated the channels of communication, which was vital, because these channels closed following the attempted coup in Turkey. It also succeeded because we prepared for a number of meetings. We are already discussing a visit by the Migration Minister, Mr. Mouzalas, to Turkey.
And we had the preparations for G2G meetings in February. As I said earlier, we must not keep things bottled up in our relations with a neighbour. We should focus on how to influence him and how we can prompt him towards a positive agenda and in the direction we want. In order to recreate better conditions for resolving the problems that exist.
When problems exist, they have to be discussed and resolved. They don’t exist so that you can look at them, be dismayed and complain about them. Journalists can do that, but politicians cannot.
COORDINATOR: Next question, please.
JOURNALIST: Though I think you have already partially answered this... I wanted to refer more to the speech the Turkish Prime Minister made in the Turkish Parliament yesterday, where we heard that he raised the issue of the Aegean, islands, etc. What is your assessment of this development, given that an effort is being made, as you said, to reopen the channels of communication?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, we made it absolutely clear –and I also talked to the Turkish leadership– that international law exists to be implemented and to be understood. On the other hand, it is good for certain parties to be careful about how they raise certain issues.
For a very long time now, the Kemalist opposition in Turkey has been critical of the Turkish government because, they say, it has allowed Greece to seize 18 Turkish islands in recent years. The Turkish Prime Minister didn’t raise an “Aegean issue”. He responded to the opposition, saying that his government hasn’t allowed a single rock, or island to be seized.
There is a saying: “Much ado about nothing.” They talked about seizure of islands –the opposition asked, and the government responded that it hadn't allowed any seizure– that have never been seized, because, based on international law, they have always belonged, at least in the 20th century, to the Greek polity.
But a clarification needs to be made, and I ask you to pay attention to this: when the opposition in Turkey said, “they have seized islands from you”, the Turkish Prime Minister responded that “they haven’t seized any islands.”
In my opinion, the problem isn’t what the Turkish Prime Minister said. Rather, it is this deeply flawed view that the Turkish opposition has put on the agenda of the Turkish Parliament. Greece hasn’t seized any islands. Greece is a very pacifist power. I know that some people dispute territory, and for decades now they have been talking about “grey zones,” and I say this publicly, for the first time: if their criteria are implemented, we will probably find “grey zones” in Turkey.
JOURNALIST: (off microphone)
N. KOTZIAS: According to the criteria some people use –not the Turkish government, but some people- to determine "grey zones", I’m arguing that some rocky islets that belong to Turkey will be included in this category. I am saying this publicly for the first time.
JOURNALIST: To the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs: I wanted to ask you, following the latest rapprochement we have seen between Turkey and Russia, whether you have seen a change in Moscow’s stance on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ε. NALBANDIAN: On Nagorno-Karabakh, there is a common position of three co-chair countries of the OSCE Group, expressed in five statements. And this position has not changed. It is expressed regularly and last time in Vienna, a few days ago, in the framework of the OSCE meeting. The Foreign Minister of Russia, the State Secretary of the United States and the Head of the French Delegation were also there.
In other words, the conflict has to be resolved on the basis of three principles of International Law, i.e. non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity and equal rights and self-determination.
And the three co-chairs expressed, at the same time, the necessity to implement the agreement reached. And, in particular, the agreements reached in Vienna, Saint Petersburg and Geneva Summits.
That means, first of all, respect of trilateral cease fire agreement, the creation of a mechanism of investigation of the violations of the cease fire agreement on the line of contact and on the border. And expansion of the team of the personal representative of the Chairman in Office of the OSCE.
All these agreements were reached during the last three Summits, as well as many times before. Many times Armenia declared and reconfirmed its commitment to fully respect and implement these agreements. But, unfortunately, Azerbaijan is trying to take a step back.
And the last statement of the three co-chair countries in Vienna, and before that in Hamburg, were a vivid demonstration that the international community will not tolerate no respect of the agreements reached in the level of the Presidents. And with the support of the Three Co-Chair countries, which have a mandate for mediation and support for the peaceful solution of this conflict.
N. KOTZIAS: I would like to thank our interpreters. Without their efforts we would be unable to do a lot of our work here at the Ministry, at least in the way we do it. I thank you for the trouble you go to, what you do for us. I have to say this every time. The same goes for the technicians who helped make this press conference possible.