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Minister of Foreign Affairs N. Dendias’ interview on ‘THEMA 104.6 FM’ radio with journalists N. Felekis and B. Koutras (07 November 2019)
JOURNALIST: We welcome Minister Nikos Dendias. Good morning, Minister.
N. DENDIAS: Good morning to you and all your listeners.
JOURNALIST: Last night, I presume, you returned from a very interesting visit to Moscow, isn’t that so? Especially following the crisis in our relationship with Russia.
JOURNALIST: Has this issue been resolved?
N. DENDIAS: There is no issue. As you may well understand, I will absolutely not admit to there having been any crisis or pending issue.
N. DENDIAS: However, I think we came to an honest understanding. Let’s call it an honest and heartfelt ‘reboot’.
JOURNALIST: What would you say its key characteristics are?
N. DENDIAS: A three-year communication protocol with specific procedures and dates has already been signed. What is it that we want? We acknowledge that Russia has a role to play. We have steadfastly repeated, and this is our country’s policy, that Russia must be part of security in Europe.
So our talks must take place in this light. We have to speak to each other. There can be no gaps in dialogue, in the mutual exchange of information. However, this does not necessarily mean we have to agree 100% on everything. Nevertheless, we must keep talking in a context of geniality, in a context assured by the history of our relationship, which has persevered through the ages.
Therefore, this is an accomplishment, in my view. There was an honest exchange from both sides on issues of mutual interest, because Russia is a player in our broader region.
JOURNALIST: Did these issues include the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
N. DENDIAS: Indeed. The issue was raised by the Russian side. It could not but have been brought up. I think you saw it in our statements, where I provided a response.
JOURNALIST: That it will not hinder the expansion of Greek-Russian relations.
N. DENDIAS: Yes, but what I explained, and what I think the Russian side accepted, is that this cannot be the criterion for our relations. It cannot. It is a different matter. It certainly exists in the context of discussions. You cannot stop someone from raising an issue that they believe is of interest or concern to them. However, it is not an issue that the Greek government is going to negotiate.
JOURNALIST: How about Greek-Turkish relations? How about Syria?
N. DENDIAS: Russia was certainly briefed on the behaviour of Turkey. I must remind your listeners that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and has been voting on the Cyprus issue with consistency and in favour of international law.
Beyond that, we explained to them the situation around the Cyprus issue and in the Aegean. We explained what else we would like, as we would prefer Russian announcements and statements on the violation of the sovereign rights and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus to be clearer. However, this is Russia’s prerogative. We cannot impose our position.
We discussed Syria. I have already spoken with Mr Pedersen, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General. Greece wishes to be present. I communicated our desire to be present during the procedures to Mr Lavrov and I think he was pleased to accept.
I must note that this meeting lasted approximately 6 hours, that is, an hour and a half longer than initially scheduled. It consisted of a one-on-one meeting, a meeting of delegations and a luncheon.
JOURNALIST: What about energy issues?
N. DENDIAS: We also discussed energy issues, as well as the possible interest for participation in explorations in marine areas and matters concerning the pipelines in place. There is a pipeline. We are a very good customer purchasing natural gas from Russia.
JOURNALIST: Will Gazprom bid for DEPA?
N. DENDIAS: That is not for me to say...
JOURNALIST: Will they lend us the 5 billion dollars Mr Lafazanis had asked for?
N. DENDIAS: If I could secure funds that easily, I would show up with overflowing pockets. I don’t think that was ever actually likely. However, what is actually likely is a good relationship with Russia. And this relationship must be good and honest.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss drilling in Cyprus?
N. DENDIAS: That’s what I was saying. That we would like for Russian announcements to be clearer, that is, not trying to keep an equal distance. That is our view and we expressed it. We will see how Russia receives it. He explained why the statements were made. Mr Lavrov told me what these announcements used a specific vocabulary rather a different one. He explained the Russian opinion on the matter and how, in their view, it can be useful in the region.
JOURNALIST: What about the Balkans, Skopje?
JOURNALIST: With whom you will be meeting over the next few days, isn't that so, Minister?
N. DENDIAS: Yes, I am travelling to Geneva tomorrow.
JOURNALIST: You will be meeting with Mr Dimitrov and Mr Zaev.
N. DENDIAS: Historically speaking, the Balkan issue has been of interest to both Russia and Greece. It is an area where we have met throughout history, from the time of Ypsilanti and onwards. So it was only natural that we would discuss the matter. I explained to Mr Lavrov what happened with the European Union, where the obstacle arose, what is happening, why Greece is in favour of the European prospects of these countries. Greece wants European prospects for the Balkans, for the Western Balkans to achieve the same as the Eastern Balkans — and we succeeded in this.
I explained that these are not movements being made against Russia. We are not Russia’s enemy. On the contrary, Greece is a member of the European Union as well as a long-standing member of NATO. This could prove useful to Russia going forward in a spirit of mutual understanding with the European Union and NATO.
We could prove useful to the Russians precisely because of our role and precisely because we can enjoy good relations with them.
JOURNALIST: In other words, to be a channel between Russia and NATO?
N. DENDIAS: We could be a channel of understanding, serving as an “honest broker”, that is, someone who tells the truth plainly to both sides and helps resolve misunderstandings. We are not the ones who will compel a country as large as Russia. We are not the ones who will compel NATO.
However, due to our position and our history, we can help resolve misunderstandings. That is what we can do, and it would be useful to both them and us.
JOURNALIST: In what context will your meetings with Mr Dimitrov and Mr Zaev in Geneva take place? What will we be discussing with them, Mr Dendias?
N. DENDIAS: First of all, as you can understand, there is the issue of the European Union. The decision it made led to a policy gap.
JOURNALIST: Mr Macron.
N. DENDIAS: The European Union has caused a policy gap as regards these countries, both North Macedonia and Albania. It has left them “hanging”, so to speak. “Hang in there” is not politics. “Hang in there” is not even a position.
So, in this light, I would like to learn...
JOURNALIST: It is a manoeuvre, though, it constitutes management.
N. DENDIAS: It is precisely this “hang in there” that must be managed, and Greece plays a prominent role in the Balkans. We may be the most economically robust country in the Balkans. We have much to say and do.
JOURNALIST: What is the course we want to take, Minister? Where we would like to see things heading?
N. DENDIAS: Towards Europe.
JOURNALIST: Will we take an initiative to raise the issue once more?
N. DENDIAS: If I could tell you that Greece can change President Macron's mind...
JOURNALIST: Yes, but we see that Italy is taking an initiative to reintroduce the item before the Summit Meeting in March or May.
N. DENDIAS: We are also in discussions with the Italians, as well as the French and the Germans. It is a pressing issue for us. This is our neighbourhood. It is where the Greek economy can and must grow anew after the economic crisis.
So, it comes down to this: We are being exceptionally careful, as failure is not an option. You know, raising an issue before the Council, you can do that at any time, no one will stop you. The question is what will happen next. Because if you hear “no” after “no”, this won't take you back to the starting point of the discussion, but further back, to a much worse position.
So, I would like to talk to both, see what they see, what they are doing, what the domestic situation is, I would like to be briefed. I would like to see how our country stands after this “no” and, beyond that, to see where we will be heading.
JOURNALIST: Should we understand this as concern on your part, Minister, regarding the Prespa Agreement and its implementation?
N. DENDIAS: The issue is the proper application of the Agreement. I don't think either side would fathom, in the context of International Law, raising an issue of invalidity of the agreement. So, I cannot discuss a non-issue.
JOURNALIST: That is to your credit. Should we see a change in government during the upcoming elections in our neighbouring country, North Macedonia, won’t that be a problem for Greece, given the positions adopted?
N. DENDIAS: Look, every country on the international stage has a history, a past, a present and a future; it has continuity. There was a change in government in Greece as well. The present government does not fully share the previous government’s views on the Agreement. Nevertheless, we have honoured it.
JOURNALIST: If the government in Skopje were to change...
N. DENDIAS: That would be their right.
JOURNALIST: Yes, their right, certainly. Wouldn't they automatically be excluded from NATO? Because they have acceded as North Macedonia. If the name were to change, would that not cause a problem there?
N. DENDIAS: Your questions are always devious.
JOURNALIST: It’s not a devious question.
N. DENDIAS: Am I to answer a hypothetical question that the other side cannot answer? How could I answer your question? The answer is clear: The government of North Macedonia is not entitled to any such discussion, measure, thinking...
JOURNALIST: So I would say, since this is a devious question, that we have established “North Macedonia” and they cannot go back to “Macedonia”. That’s what I would say.
N. DENDIAS: Let me be honest: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence and Foreign Affairs met last week, on camera, in addition to its initial meeting. During that time, a discussion was held on certain legal matters concerning the agreement.
However, the position of the Greek government is clear: under no circumstance, none whatsoever, is there any issue concerning a change to the name of North Macedonia. Any allegation from any party in our neighbouring country would be disingenuous and inadmissible as grounds for discussion, let alone rebuttal.
JOURNALIST: That’s fair, but please tell that to a few of the lads in your party who refuse to call the country North Macedonia. Please tell them that.
JOURNALIST: Let’s change the subject, Minister. The intense activities on the part of Erdoğan recently, the situation in Syria, his visit to the USA in a couple of days, his meeting with President Trump, are all these matters of concern, do they change our plans at all?
N. DENDIAS: Greek foreign policy and our country, in general, is not “anti-Turkey”. We all have to do our part, implement our policy.
JOURNALIST: Yes, his activity is odd, I would call it unpredictable.
N. DENDIAS: In reality, many analysts share your view, that from 2016 onwards Turkey has become an unpredictable player.
JOURNALIST: Mr Karamanlis, the former Prime Minister, said as much yesterday in London.
N. DENDIAS: What I have to say is that Greece must look towards its own interests, engage in an honest relationship with Turkey — not one of agreement, this is hard, we disagree on several matters — nevertheless a relationship where it clearly explains its policy. I have met with Mr Çavuşoğlu, I will be seeing him again, it is not a one-off, we are in discussions. We must open channels of communication and honest dialogue with Turkey. We must speak plainly. This does not mean we will agree. It absolutely does not mean that we will agree.
However, we must have dialogue, we must have channels of communication and, despite diverging views, we must always have mutual understanding. Mr Erdoğan will play his part as the President of Turkey, and Mr Mitsotakis, in turn, will play his part as the Prime Minister of Greece.
JOURNALIST: Here is the crux of the matter, Minister, in my view. In Cyprus, we supposedly adopted this policy, the strategy of deposits over there, on the basis of our cooperation with the USA, Israel and Egypt. If I understand the matter correctly, according to President Erdoğan’s management, he is now trying to split it and open it up. Does this recontextualise our relationship with the USA? Is it of concern, is it a problem? Should we be managing it in a different way?
N. DENDIAS: I will provide two answers to your question, as is appropriate. The first thing I must say, which you are well aware of but must be said, is that the Republic of Cyprus is an independent state, an EU Member State. Cyprus’ energy policy is determined by Cyprus, not Greece. How does Greece help Cyprus? By supporting International Law.
They are certainly our brethren, a country in which we have particular interest, but we are not doing them a favour in this instance; we are supporting International Law.
Now, as regards the USA, I am pleased, greatly pleased I should say, that we have consolidated our defence relationship with the USA in a legal sense. This relationship is exceptionally interesting and expands the security footprint in the region — not against Turkey, but in favour of security.
This is not being called into question. It is useful, it appeared that the US also perceives it as a relationship that safeguards broader security parameters in the region. You saw this in the case of the exercises, with the presence of ships, the presence of aircraft, our joint presence in the air, you saw all this, we do not need to advertise it, because it will be misjudged by the other side as actions against it. They are not. They are movements of stability.
That is what we want from the US. That is what we will continue to pursue. As regards finance, that is a different matter altogether. It is also being discussed, but, as I said, a different matter altogether.
JOURNALIST: As you referred to America and President Trump, and since the President of the China is visiting Greece in a few days, on Monday, do you see the trade war declared by Trump as impacting us? Mainly as regards investments, which are of interest to us.
N. DENDIAS: Let me be honest. Firstly, let us review the importance Greece places on President Xi Jinping: You need to understand that this will be the third time I have ever seen him.
JOURNALIST: I’ve only seen him once.
N. DENDIAS: Here’s what’s impressive: What is normal is seeing him once and once alone. The fact that I’ve seen him 3 or 4 times over the course of three years is noteworthy. This is an indication of how China prioritises its relations with Greece.
N. DENDIAS: Beyond that, any trade war will harm us. We are an open country, we want investments, we want exports. I remind you that we have the largest merchant navy in the world, and we want to keep these vessels busy. If there is no trade, what will the ships transport?
So, we’re in favour of an amicable resolution to all disputes. We believe that there is such a dispute resolution framework in place, namely the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and we hope that the US and China resolve their differences as soon as possible. This is the reality. Beyond that, let us not deceive ourselves, we will look out for the interests of our economy and our country.
What we care about is attracting investments in Greece in the sectors we have selected and indicated in advance, investments that will help our homeland grow.
JOURNALIST: I bring this up because I read an Article by Mr Giorgos Papandreou in ‘Kathimerini’, under the article concerning your meeting with Mr Lavrov, where Mr Papandreou stated the following: Certain people resent Chinese investments in Southern Europe. However, they must comprehend the consequences of the absence of investment proposals on their part in a country striving to leave the crisis behind. He makes a very good point.
N. DENDIAS: He is absolutely correct. The Chinese came to Greece and invested money at a time when others shied away, at a time when Greece was obligated, under the memoranda, to carry out privatisations where the others did not even show up. This was my response when I was asked questions by various sides, you understand which ones.
And I must also tell you this, which is not a well-known fact: I met with Mr Schäuble in Berlin very recently and told him this. I told him “at the time you were pressuring us, and now they are asking us why we proceeded with the privatisation over which you were pressuring us”, and he told me quite directly, “tell them it is our fault and if they want to, they can ask me as well”.
JOURNALIST: You met with Mr Schäuble? I must admit I did not notice.
N. DENDIAS: I met with him when I visited Berlin. I always meet with Mr Schäuble when I visit Berlin, you know. I believe you must have, as was the case with Russia and Mr Lavrov, as I said earlier, you must have a channel of communication with Mr Schäuble.
JOURNALIST: So you say he continues to exert influence...
N. DENDIAS: He exerts great influence within the Christian Democratic Union and in Parliament. Our country must always converse with individuals who are knowledgeable about and exert influence on affairs. Mr Schäuble is a man who proved and can once again prove extremely useful to us in regard to many issues.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for speaking with us.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you.