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Meeting of Foreign Minister Droutsas and his Turkish counterpart, Mr. Davutoglu
Mr. Droutsas: A warm welcome for the Turkish Foreign Minister and friend, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Athens. Ahmet, welcome.
Over the past year and a half, we have had frequent meetings. These are meetings that we pursue and prepare for systematically so that they can bring results. Because our common goal is to further promote Greek-Turkish cooperation.
So, today, as well, we had a very constructive meeting. We discussed issues of bilateral interest – I’ll refer to them shortly. But we also exchanged views on the international state of affairs, and particularly developments in our immediate neighbourhood; developments that, as you know, are unfortunately not good.
We share with Mr. Davutoglu the same concerns regarding everything happening in Libya and the wider Middle East region. And I remind you here that the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey – as well as Mr. Davutoglu and I – have been in close contact since the moment the crisis broke out. One thing is certain, and this is an observation we share with Mr. Davutoglu: The situation prevailing currently in Libya cannot and must not continue. And we agreed that today we will look at and discuss in further detail ways that Greece and Turkey can work together even more closely and effectively in this sector as well, and particularly on this important issue of humanitarian aid for this region.
Regarding bilateral relations, there was a brief appraisal of Greek-Turkish cooperation to date. This cooperation is being promoted via the main vehicle we put together: the Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council.
We are satisfied at the results we had from the first meeting last May, during Turkish Prime Ministers Erdogan’s visit to Athens. We believe in this mechanism, its practicality, its potential for further enhancing Greek-Turkish cooperation in very important sectors like trade, economy, culture, tourism, citizen and environmental protection.
We look forward to the second High-Level Cooperation Council this July, in Turkey. This is an issue that we will discuss in detail today, as we prepare for the next steps in this process.
Spearheading this effort is our cooperation in the economic sector. We observed with satisfaction that there has been an increase in Greek exports to Turkey over the past year. It is a fact that both sides have very active business communities. And we, as the government, want to facilitate and encourage all initiatives that broaden the economic cooperation between us.
Naturally, much remains to be done in our bilateral relations, which is unquestionably intertwined with the framework for Turkey’s relations with the EU.
The exploratory contacts, as we call them, are continuing. We remain devoted to this effort – a difficult effort. It is well known that our positions differ. That is why we are discussing things. But the framework is clear and well known: respect for international law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. There are practices on the part of Turkey that do not contribute towards this effort, and what is worse, if you will, is that they engender distrust in public opinion. And we have said that these practices need to stop.
Naturally, we also discussed the issue of illegal migration. Greece is under great pressure on its borders – Europe’s borders with Turkey – and has for that reason had recourse to the assistance of its partners in the EU. The Frontex mission is significant, but it does not suffice. It is equally important to improve cooperation between the EU and Turkey and between Greece and Turkey in this sector, and I think we both agree on this.
The completion of the negotiations on the EU-Turkey readmission agreement was an important step in this direction. We welcome it. I hope it goes into force soon. Just as I hope that the discussion moves ahead for taking measures that will facilitate the free movement of Turkish citizens in the European space – I am referring here, of course, to waiving the visa requirement for Turkish citizens to travel in the EU. The relaxation of the visa regime for green passports was, after all, positive for our tourism, with a significant increase in Turkish visitors to Greece, and particularly the Greek islands.
In closing, I would like to mention Turkey’s relations with the European Union. Our position is well known: we support Turkey’s full accession, without half-measures or special relationships. But this presupposes Turkey’s meeting its obligations to the European Union and it member states and making the necessary progress, which is already significant, on its reform efforts. This process – there is no point in mincing words – is coming to a critical turning point. The Cyprus issue remains an open wound and has obvious repercussions for Turkey’s accession course. We now have to work boldly and decisively for progress in the negotiations under the UN; substantial progress rather than PR progress.
Europe – the European endeavor – is the best guarantee of peace, prosperity and security for the citizens of our countries. When Turkey really believes this, I am sure that it will make strides in its reform process. And Greece always stands by Turkey and will assist in any way it can in this process. Our vision is to see Turkey a full member of the EU; to see Greece, Turkey and Cyprus cooperating in Brussels for their common interests within the framework of an enlarged Europe. Ahmet, I think we share this vision, and I promise that I will continue, Greece will continue, to work closely with you until we achieve this goal, our common vision.
Once again, to you and your associates who are accompanying you, welcome to Athens.
Mr. Davutoglu: Thank you very much, my dear friend Dimitris, for your very kind words and the excellent hospitality you have shown us.
I met with Prime Minister Papandreou today, and together we had very, very important talks. As you know, during my first visit to Athens, right after the elections last year, I conveyed a letter from Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to the Greek Prime Minister. I would like to express again that our very close cooperation has led to a new phase and has lent a new dimension to Greek-Turkish talks and Greek-Turkish cooperation.
In the space of 15 months, we have met seven times, and at international fora we have met dozens of times, and we of course had the opportunity for excellent and detailed assessments of our current situation. Bilateral relations, relations within the framework of the EU, relations, thirdly, with the wider region, and, fourthly, our position on the global map.
As you know, the High-Level Cooperation Council was established during the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit in May. I think that the 35 agreements signed during the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit to Athens are an unprecedented event – the first time so many agreements have been signed on the Greek-Turkish level. And now, of course, our talks are preparatory in nature, for the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council, which will be taking place in Turkey. We also met in Erzurum, of course, and had the opportunity to talk about this.
I would like to talk about an issue that is very important to Turkey. As you know, there is a visa waiver for Turkish citizens who have green passports, and this has led to an increase in the number of Turkish tourists visiting Greece.
I would like to take this opportunity to underscore the very positive development in our economic relations as well. The volume of our bilateral trade has surpassed $3 billion, and I think that we have room to try to increase this volume of trade transactions even further. The exploratory contacts and all of the types of contacts between Greece and Turkey are seen by us within the framework of good neighbourly relations, and I think that we have been able to gain very good momentum in these relations and very good opportunities in developments.
We recognize Greece’s efforts on the issue of Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union. I want to thank my friend Dimitris for the way in which he handled the visa issue. Our first collocutors on this issue are Greece and Bulgaria, and Greece has always expressed its clear support for our country in its accession efforts, on its accession course. But I believe that the free movement of citizens at this phase between Greece and Turkey is very, very important, and from this podium I address the Greek people: Come to Turkey, visit our country. The two peoples have to get acquainted, they have to develop good neighbourly relations, and they have to build even firmer foundations for good neighbourly relations. And the visa waiver issue is very important, and we want to visit our Greek neighbours, as well, and get to know the Greek people.
Economic cooperation is very important, of course, but we believe that there are many issues that will help these relations. We are talking about various political issues, of course, including the Cyprus issue. We have to have and see the Eastern Mediterranean as a basin where we can live together in peace, and we really do believe that the obstacles in front of Turkey due to the Cyprus issue are an important issue. We believe that Cyprus must become an island of peace, and the problems we are facing within the EU framework due to Cyprus will continue to make our relations in the wider region awkward in general.
We – Greece and Turkey – are two important countries in the northern section of the Mediterranean. We have very major relations with the southern section of the Mediterranean, where very serious issues are being faced – particularly in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. As you know, the visits I carried out to these countries – to Tunisia and Egypt – enabled me to have some direct views on the issues I briefed my counterpart on. We have every reason to collaborate in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea, and in the final analysis, I would like to say this: I want to invite, I have officially invited Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Droutsas to attend the Conference to be held this May with 192 developing countries – a meeting under the aegis of the UN – and we would like to see our next-door neighbour and friend Greece at this summit meeting.
As such, distinguished representatives of the news media, the message we have to convey is friendship, good neighbourly relations and the common future we share, and we hope that everyone will be able to see with their own eyes, in the very near future, the excellent cooperation between Greece and Turkey.
Thank you very much, my friend Dimitris, for your very warm welcome. Thank you very much.
Journalist: (Mr. Servet, from the newspaper Zaman) I want to ask Mr. Droutsas the following. Turkey made important strides on the issue of human rights, on the religious foundations, and after 50 years, a representative of the Greek minority in Turkey visited the Turkish Prime Minister’s office, but I want to ask what is happening in Thrace. What is Greece doing on this issue? Why isn’t it implementing the European Convention on Human Rights?
Mr. Droutsas: It is a fact – and I recognize, of course – that Turkey’s current government has made positive moves of a symbolic nature, if you will, and I hope that in the future this course will gain even greater momentum and right the wrongs of the past, which Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan himself has courageously castigated. With regard to Greece, I believe that Greece is a model of harmonious coexistence of different religions. It follows an affirmative action policy in support of the members of the minority and their active participation in the economic, social and political life of the country. I think it is clear to everyone that Greece is an open, European democracy that respects the religious freedoms of all its citizens. I dare say that it is a model for its region, but allow me to say that Greece is doing its duty before every Greek citizen. The Greek state has an obligation to every Greek citizen, regardless of creed, and allow me to say that Greece cannot accept any thinking of mutuality on human rights issues, nor the involvement of third parties in its domestic affairs.
Journalist: (Nikos Meletis, from the Athens daily “Ethnos”) My question is for Mr. Davutoglu. Mr. Minister, from your interview in “Kathimerini” and from other statements you have made, I want to ask the following: How can the maritime zones between the two countries be delimited when Turkey continues to question the territorial status of Greek islands and islets? That is, I want to ask: Does the fact that we are discussing the delimitation of maritime zones mean that Turkey has abandoned these claims?
And a second observation. Turkey and you personally have criticized the European Union for changing the rules of the game. One of the rules of the game is respect for freedom of the press. Do you believe you meet this obligation, when Turkish colleagues of ours have been going in and out of prison in recent days?
Mr. Davutoglu: First of all, thank you for raising the issue. From what I have understood, my interview in yesterday’s “Kathimerini” was important, and I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the following: Kastelorizo is a Greek island, naturally. Kastelorizo’s status is not being challenged. However, I think that in this interview I sent some very clear messages. Turkey has a very positive approach on issues concerning the resolution of problems in the Aegean. When the Kastelorizo issue was raised, I said that as to its geographical position, Kastelorizo is in the Mediterranean. That is what I said. That has nothing to do with what we are thinking or with any legal position we support with regard to Kastelorizo or any other island. I just want to underscore again that my statement was purely geographical, and I also want to underscore that we are open to any discussion on all of the issues, including Kastelorizo. We will discuss it fully and openly. that is our position on Kastelorizo. Greece has some of its own positions, of course, and we are meeting and discussing – and we need to discuss – the issues openly and clearly. The official talks between us are carried out in the same manner.
I would like to add the following: We have moved beyond psychological negativism. I think that this is very important, and that is why I think that every negotiation and every set of talks will be characterized by clarity from both sides. As an academic, I would like to add that the primary freedom that I recognize is freedom of expression. As an academic, I have every reason to put it first, and that is why it is among the freedoms that I have adopted and support; that I support to the end. However, there is another principle: the principle of the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary branch is independent on these issues in Turkey, and the actions that led the specific persons to jail were not in their journalistic capacity, but certain other views they held, and we hoped that there would be no ambiguity on these issues. However, a judicial investigation is being carried out in Turkey on specific issues. This investigation has not been completed and we are waiting patiently and with tolerance for the results of this specific investigation. I would like to say that the Turkish government of course shows every respect on the issue of the independence of the judicial branch.
Mr. Droutsas: The first part of the question. The Greek position is well known: For us, the exploratory contacts are aimed at the delimitation of the continental shelf, and we have said this from the outset and it is self-evident, from Thrace, from Evros, if you will, to Kastelorizo. But I would like to focus more on what Mr. Davutoglu said: that it is a sincere effort, a serious effort that is being made. We feel that it is our duty to try. It is a real opportunity for both of our countries. It is on this that we are focusing our attention and our efforts. As I said, we feel that it is our duty to try, and I believe that this effort is worthwhile and that it is a real opportunity for all of us.
Journalist: (From Turkish TV, Kiuliu Haver) Prime Minister Papandreou said in Erzurum that Turkey cannot become a full member of the EU if the Cyprus issue is not resolved, while you say that among your visions is a vision of a Cyprus, a Turkey and a Greece talking together in Brussels. How can we reconcile these two positions?
Mr. Droutsas: I don’t think these are two different positions. In the same way that the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Papandreou, said sincerely in Erzurum how we, as Greece, see things, where we stand in our relations, what the positive and good things are, but also where the problems are, where the less positive/negative things are, and I think that that is precisely the point we need to stress. It is important that we have taken our relations to the level where we talk openly. This, too, is an important achievement. We can tell it like it is, because that’s is the only way we have any hope of finding common approaches and, I hope, common solutions. I didn’t say anything different. This is clear here, too, and we don’t need to mince words. The resolution of the Cyprus issue is a prerequisite for our having true normalcy in our relations and for our moving ahead throughout our region in the best possible manner. Our vision really is a European Union with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey as member states, where we can discuss our common future together, shape it together. And I think that it is a realistic vision that is worth fighting for, struggling for, working for. And that is what we are doing in this effort – this sincere effort.
Journalist: (Fanis Papathanasiou, from Greek Public Television ERT). The question concerns your visit to Thrace. What is the purpose of your visit to Thrace? And from Mr. Droutsas, how does the Greek government see Mr. Davutoglu’s visit to Thrace?
Mr. Davutoglu: First of all, let’s say that I could answer you as a scientist who knows this area well and is trying to get to know it better. I think that Thrace is an indivisible part of a specific state, and it is no different from Crete, the Dodecanese, Rhodes or anywhere else. I want to visit this part of Greece, see its beauty, get to know it better. My visit is not just to Thrace, but also to Thessaloniki and Kavala, so that I can visit and become better acquainted with this region of your territory. Because I believe that these regions, which neighbours directly on Turkey, and its population, of course, the minority population that is part of a bridge of peace that can be built between the two countries. On my next visit, I very much want to visit Sparta, to see what this city of such historic import is like today. As Foreign Minister, I can say, come visit Turkey. There are places where you might have roots – come to visit them; there are no limits. Thus, in Thessaloniki, in Izmir, in Adrianoupoli, in Crete, there are communities that created a common cultural heritage.
This evening, I will be speaking at ELIAMEP, where I will say that we have turned the page, changed eras. We have changed the old model we had for the way we see one another. If you visit, if you get to know us better, let’s say, Mr. Papandreou’s and Mr. Droutsas’s visit to Erzurum was very important for us, for them to see a region that is usually not visited by Greek Ministers and Prime Ministers. And when they come to Istanbul, we will visit the Patriarchate at Fener, and we are very satisfied by these visits that are carried out during every official visit of a high-ranking Greek official to Turkey. All of Turkey and every corner of Turkey is open to you, and we will be glad to have you visit. I was recently in Bodrum, in Alikarnassos, and I said, let’s see each other if you are close to Rhodes, and from there we sent a very good message, and I think every such meeting is an opportunity for messages of this kind.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Droutsas: Greece is a free and hospitable country, and Mr. Davutoglu, like every visitor to our country, is welcome everywhere, and I had the opportunity earlier to answer to your Turkish colleague – but I will repeat it once more – that Greece is a model for the harmonious coexistence of different faiths. It is an open European democracy that respects the religious freedoms of all its citizens. And, once again, I believe that Greece is a model for its region. We respect all the rights of all Greek citizens. Whatever duty the Greek state has to its citizens and to its Muslim citizens, it fulfils it. The Greek state honors all of its obligations, and of course there is no question of there being mutuality on matters of human rights, nor of the involvement of third parties in our domestic affairs.