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Joint statements of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Kotzias and Nikos Christodoulides, following their meeting (Athens, 5 March 2018)
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning. Needless to say, I am very pleased to have with us the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides. A friend with whom I have been involved in many difficult negotiations, particularly in the past year, when we succeeded in re-tabling the issue of Security and Guarantees as the main problem in the international aspect of the Cyprus problem.
All of us here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are pleased and honoured that the Minister’s first trip is, as always, to Athens. He has been Minister for five days. Today is the fifth day. So I want to thank him for the visit.
I also want to underscore here, once again, the excellent collaboration Nikos and I had with the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Ioannis Kasoulides, who contributed a great deal to developing the relations between our two Ministries and our countries. I am certain that we will do even better and, as we have already discussed, intensify the relations between the two countries and between the two Ministries.
We agreed to have regular meetings and decided that our Political Directors and Secretaries General meet too. We also agreed to talk at the level of Directorates, on specific issues, and to capitalize on our experienced scientists, on both sides, on common problems we are dealing with in the region.
Of course, the main problem we are facing in the region is Turkey. At this time, Turkey is characterized by increased restlessness, by a sense that it can open fronts everywhere, that it can violate international law. But respect for international law is required by the UN Charter and by the European Union itself and its acquis. I would say, in our case, that it would be good for Turkey to respect not only international law, but the Law of the Sea in particular.
Turkey has conducted and continues to conduct itself provocatively towards Cyprus and towards smaller Greek islands. Obviously these issues will be raised jointly at the properinternational and regional fora.
Cyprus’s problem and the manner in which Turkey’s conduct within the Cypriot EEZ is developing confirm that we – the Republic of Cyprus and Greece – were both right when we underscored that the Cyprus problem is an issue of Guarantees and Security. And in spite of Turkey’s arguments to the contrary – in other words, that we should have surrendered Cyprus into its hands, for it to stop its provocations– I think that Turkey’s conduct explains the concern regarding what the situation would be in Cyprus today if Turkey had the right to intervene in the region and in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus.
So once again, and addressing the European Union itself directly, I want to say that, together with the Copenhagen criteria concerning rule of law, democracy and so forth, there should also be criteria concerning the international presence of the candidate country or the member state that wants special customs connections with the European Union. In other words, that such a state cannot pursue an aggressive foreign policy, not respecting international law and chosing to ignore or circumvent the Law of the Sea.
My friend Nikos and I talked about the region’s issues, we talked about the situation in Syria, about how we can better capitalize on the trilateral cooperation schemes we have developed jointly: the five that exist and the one with Armenia that we will promote in the coming time. We also talked about the developments in the European Union, about the Varna Summit and the invitation to Turkey, and about how the issue of violations of international law needs to be clearly raised with Turkey - if an invitation is extended.
I invitated my counterpart to Nafplio, on 11 May, where we will have the meeting between EU member states from the Balkan countries and the Visegrad group, with the subject of discussion being a follow-up to the talks we had in Budapest on the future of the European Union.
Nikos, once again I thank you very much for your assistance in developing the collaboration between our two states. I thank you for your friendship and for accepting my invitation.
N. CHRISTODOULIDES: It is a great pleasure and honour to be here in Greece today, on my first official visit as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus. A visit with symbolic and substantive importance. The symbolism is obvious: it points up the strong timeless ties of brotherhood between Cyprus and Greece, which is Cyprus’s supporter, firm ally and partner, not only in the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem, but also more generally on a regional, European and international level. Beyond the symbolism, it is a substantive visit for exchange of views, consultation and coordination on a number of key current issues of mutual interest, so that our next moves are even more synchronized and, as a result, more effective.
I would like to express my warm thanks to my friend the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs for his invitation, the meetings and the whole programme that has been so carefully arranged, as well as for the very warm hospitality.
The results of our talks so far reaffirm, of course, the excellent level of bilateral relations and the clear will to further develop the network of our cooperation. It is within this framework that we exchanged views on specific ways we can further enhance the existing cooperation framework.
As I am sure you can see, recent developments in the Cyprus problem, in combination with Turkish provocation, as manifested in the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, dominated our discussions. I briefed the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs on the clear position of the President of the Republic, as he has repeatedly conveyed it to the UN Secretary General, that if Turkey ceases its illegal actions and withdraws the unacceptable claims we have heard of late from the Turkish Cypriot side, we are prepared to enter into the dialogue concerning the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem, with parallel exploration of the prospects for reconvening the Conference on Cyprus, in the presence of the five permanent members of the Security Council and the EU.
It is a fact that we and the international community are concerned at the actions, statements and approaches of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot sides concerning their true intentions with regard to the Cyprus problem, the possibility of re-opening the talks.
I would like to make it clear that, with regard to the ways in which they might react, the Republic of Cyprus is dealing with the whole situation calmly and prudently. We will not be dragged into approaches that the Turkish side might like to push us into. Nor will we abandon our commitment to our main goal, which is the end of the occupation and the reunification of Cyprus. This is the manner in which we approach this difficult state of affairs, without omitting, in any case whatsoever, to do what is incumbent upon us via the diplomatic route, making every possible effort and, as the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs so rightly said, capitalizing on the European Union.
One example of this is the recent decision at the informal European Council, as well as the fact that the whole issue of the Varna Summit will be discussed at the March European Council. And it is important for it to be understood in Brussels that Turkey’s conduct at this time does not threaten just the interests of the Republic of Cyprus, but is also to the detriment of the vital interests of the European Union itself, which is investing in making the Eastern Mediterranean an alternative energy corridor for Europe. At the same time – and this is also the message we are sending to neighbouring states – Turkey’s actions are aimed at dealing a blow to the successful policy for regional cooperation between the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, of which hydrocarbons are the epicentre and catalyst.
The Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs and I also had the opportunity to discuss critical European and regional issues of mutual interest, such as the general energy planning in our region, the European Union’s relations with Turkey, the migration crisis and the Brexit negotiations.
During the meeting we had, we also had the opportunity to exchange views regarding the regional initiatives of Cyrus and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean and the promotion of synergies with countries in the region. New trilateral meetings will be announced and held soon.
Minister, I am very pleased we will be working together. We have been linked, in recent years, by warm relations founded on our dealing together with political and diplomatic challenges, especially concerning the Cyprus problem. We will continue to work together just as closely, constructively and productively, and the common interest of the Cypriot and Greek peoples, of our countries and the region in general, will deepen even further.
I thank you for the invitation and your hospitality.
COORDINATOR: If there are questions, the Ministers will take a limited number of them, due to time constraints.
JOURNALIST: The question is for both Ministers. Would you like to comment on the international community’s stance – which could only be described as tepid – on the aggressiveness of Turkey? Will there be some Greece-Cyprus cooperation under the prism of joint challenges? Thank you very much.
N. CHRISTODOULIDES: There already is cooperation, and this cooperation is producing results. We have to be very cautious not to be driven to reactions that Turkey might like to see, or to reactions that favour the continuation of the crisis. A crisis that, as you can understand, derives from Turkey and is aimed exclusively at serving Turkey’s interests. Greece and Cyprus are pillars of stability in the region, and, in this context, via the diplomatic route, we are working to deal with this situation. A situation that is of special and direct interest to the European Union, especially some member states of the European Union, which, in collaboration with us, are working to deal with the situation that has taken shape.
N. KOTZIAS: I agree with my colleague from Cyprus. First of all, I think that the statement made by the European Union – and my colleague mentioned this in his opening remarks – is the best ever made by the European Union regarding issues of direct national interest to Greece and Cyprus. It is better, much better, even than the statement made in 1996 during the Imia crisis. To give things their due.
Second, it is absolutely clear that the international community is very, very cautious with Turkey, because it doesn’t always apply the same criteria with Turkey that it would with a third country. As I told the Council of EU Ministers, if what Turkey is doing in Cyprus was done by Russia in the Baltic states, we would have another situation in Northern Europe today. What we demand is that we be firm in the democratic orientation of the European and the international community, firm in the defence of international law, and firm in deterring manifestations of aggressive foreign policies that endanger the peaceful coexistence of peoples and states.
JOURNALIST: For both Ministers. Ahead of the Varna Summit, what would the Cypriot and Greek sides see as a ceasing of provocation ahead of the March European Council? For example, would the non-renewal of the NAVTEX be satisfactory for our side?
N. CHRISTODOULIDES: As I said earlier, there will be an assessment at the March European Council. The fact that the issue has been put on the agenda is a positive development in and of itself. A development that shows that our partners in the European Union see this need. Beyond that, Turkey’s non-renewal of the Navtex alone is not a satisfactory development. I said earlier that, beyond these illegal actions, we will also have to see an end to the statements being made; statements that do not create or that do not send positive messages for exploring the prospects for resolving the Cyprus problem.
You know, I want to make clear that, of all the member states of the European Union, the Republic of Cyprus and Greece are the ones who most want Turkey’s European perspective to move ahead. You can’t change geography. Turkey is a neighbouring state of Cyprus and Greece, and in this context we want Turkey’s European perspective to move ahead, but at the same time this perspective entails very specific obligations on the part of Turkey. So, how Turkey’s accession course moves ahead is exclusively up to Ankara.
COORDINATOR: Next question from ERT.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the first question is for you. Whether, in your assessment, the incident with the two soldiers in Evros was in any sense premeditated, and whether it exacerbates the climate in Greek-Turkish relations. And Mr. Christodoulides, you said that these actions on the part of Turkey will have to stop for the discussion to start again on the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem. I wanted to ask how you respond to the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish side, which sets the suspension of Cyprus’s energy planning as a condition for the re-opening of the talks, and I even heard Mr. Ozersai set the limiting of the talks to co-exploitation of natural resources as a condition.
N. KOTZIAS: Nikos, let me answer the first question. The second one is more interesting to me, but it is for you. Turkey needs to implement the provisions of international law and, in particular, customary international law, and not make a major political and legal problem out of a day-to-day procedure.
N. CHRISTODOULIDES: As I said in my introductory remarks, for the talks on the internal aspect of the Cyprus problem to start again, Turkey’s unacceptable actions will have to stop, and at the same time the Turkish Cypriots have to abandon these kinds of interventions. And I am referring very specifically to the hydrocarbons issue.
It is evident, and I want to reiterate this, that Turkey’s actions are not in any way aimed at serving the interests of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. The interests of the Turkish Cypriots are safeguarded within the framework of the convergences achieved to date in the talks, as well as by actions of the Cypriot government itself.
So, if they really want the negotiations to begin and to explore the prospects that exist for the settlement of the Cyprus problem, they need to distance themselves from these kinds of approaches.
COORDINATOR: Thank you very much.