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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on “24/7” Radio with journalist V. Skouris (06 May 2019)
JOURNALIST: Paying us a visit on the first day of the week is Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos. Minister, thank you for being with us today. Indeed, during a crucial period for foreign affairs on the whole, and the situation in the region, there is a great deal of activity.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning. Wishing you a wonderful week. Thank you for the invitation. There is activity, but the situation is completely under control, something which proves how well-planned Greek diplomacy was, as well as all the actions we have taken to date.
JOURNALIST: First question: What does Ankara seek by sending the “Fatih” within Cyprus’ continental shelf?
G. KATROUGALOS: We have two constants in Greek-Turkish relations in general, and more specifically with regard to the Law of the Sea. We are a power that supports International Law. Turkey is a revisionist power which sought to create grey zones through displays of power, which it continues to do. Turkey is attempting to react to the significant progress made in the Eastern Mediterranean with regard to the promotion, through the Law of the Sea, of the delineation of exclusive economic zones, of cooperation between countries, with the chief example being the EASTMED pipeline.
It is attempting, through these actions, to create distractions, and it is failing, and I believe that with these actions it is further accentuating its isolation. Something we are not happy about, because we want to have dialogue with Turkey.
JOURNALIST: We will get to that. What will happen if they proceed with drilling? Within the Cypriot EEZ?
G. KATROUGALOS: These actions are symbolic. They are not able to proceed with substantial drilling alone. Their efforts were intended to send the message that “we are here too.” They are saying, “We are not excluded from the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean.” And they chiefly want to challenge the legal acquis of the Republic of Cyprus, with the concession of its plots of land for economic development to large multinational companies. Why do I speak about symbolism? Just look at the “Barbaros.” It's a flag. It is a ship that has been painted bright red, which goes wherever it does, not for financial gain, but to add weight, as I told you, to this political message on the part of Turkey that International Law is not important; what is important is that we are here.
JOURNALIST: Yes, but the “Fatih” is also capable of drilling.
G. KATROUGALOS: It is capable of drilling, but again the goal is not for the “Fatih” to proceed with actual surveys, as the large multinational companies are doing, because quite simply the necessary technical know-how does not exist, and neither does the intention. Why do I say that this effort is failing? Because you create grey zones when you create various things, when you make the other side - in other words us and the Republic of Cyprus - come and talk with you. Either the others on the international stage accept it or, in any case, there is something there that must be discussed. But what did we see in this case? That the European Union speaks of illegal actions and calls upon Turkey to stop in the most absolute manner. Likewise, you have the recent statement by the Representative of the State Department, just like everyone else who has spoken, either countries in the region or large international players. This shows failure and isolation. Not only is a grey zone not created, but no question is raised as to the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign right. Rather, these actions are denounced as downright illegal or, as the State Department said in a recent statement, the United States Department of State, as extremely provocative.
JOURNALIST: It is often heard that Turkey would like co-exploitation of the Aegean. It was one of their goals. And indeed, certain times Athens was accused of leaving open channels for something like this.
G. KATROUGALOS: Never. None of the Greek parties, none of the Greek governments have set co-exploitation as a goal, without conditions having preceded for laying down the rights that each country possesses based on the Law of the Sea; in other words, for exclusive economic zones to be delineated, for the borders of the continental shelf to be defined.
Beyond that, when these things have been done, I reiterate, based on the Law of the Sea, not on the basis of displays of power, everything is possible. For example, Cyprus is discussing co-exploitation with Lebanon for the deposits that may exist within the two exclusive economic zones. But the problem with Turkey is different. It has to do with the fact that it does not accept the Law of the Sea as a basis for talks, which is the sole sphere in which one can hold talks, not because it protects our national interests, which it does protect, but because bilateral relations cannot exist which are not based on International Law.
JOURNALIST: There is also a feeling that challenging the fact that the continental shelves of Greece and Cyprus meet creates legal difficulties for Athens.
G. KATROUGALOS: This is one of the issues that we have consistently sought to resolve through dialogue, and on the basis of International Law. Turkey recently submitted a document to the United Nations of a note verbale whereby it claims, as it has always claimed, that it has exclusive rights east of the 28th meridian. We responded the way we should have, and it is precisely this well-planned diplomatic move on our part, which is not published in the newspapers, and rightly so, that led to us having this barrage of communications condemning Turkey's provocative actions. In other words, it has become clear, in the international community, as to who is right. The great upgrading of our country’s international position recently has also played its own role. Everyone sees us as a factor of stability, and Turkey as a factor of destabilisation. And all this contributes in all these moves on the part of Turkey truly amounting to nothing and having a boomerang effect in the end.
JOURNALIST: Is the “Blue Homeland” a threat to Greece?
G. KATROUGALOS: As it is disseminated in certain circles nationalistically, in other words as a challenge to our sovereign rights, it clearly is. But, as you know, we do not seek anything, but neither are we ready to give anything up. We want Turkey as an interlocutor. We are the sole country - if not the sole, one of the last ones - that supports its European prospects. We are not pleased by its isolation. But I repeat, the framework within which we can hold talks with Turkey is the framework of International Law; and specifically as regards issues of marine exploitation of our economic resources, it is the Law of the Sea.
JOURNALIST: Grey zones in the Aegean?
G. KATROUGALOS: Precisely therein lies Turkey's great failure. It is trying to create grey zones, but it has not found at the moment...
JOURNALIST: In Imia, it succeeded.
G. KATROUGALOS: We need to differentiate the situation today with the situation in Imia. In March 2018, the European Union, at the highest level, at the level of Heads of State, spoke of illegal actions on the part of Turkey as regards the Aegean and warned it not to continue. If we compare this statement of March 2018 with the corresponding one by the European Union when the episode took place in Imia, which was just about a statement of equal distances, we can see the great progress that Greek diplomacy has made during this time. At the moment, any effort for new grey zones to be created in the Aegean, or the Eastern Mediterranean, fails, precisely because we have achieved a diplomatic victory against our neighbour.
JOURNALIST: Let me ask you, does a great deal of illegal activity exist at the same time that the challenges in Cyprus and the Aegean exist? The information shows it. The list that you gave to US Senator Menendez shows it. How will talks on the confidence-building measures continue at the same time? Are you optimistic?
G. KATROUGALOS: This illegal activity is part of the effort for what Turkey considers to be grey zones to be created or maintained. But I told you earlier that it fails altogether, to the extent that these actions are denounced as illegal and provocative. You do not create grey zones when the entire international community denounces these actions as illegal. On the other hand, these actions create tension, create costs for our war machine, for our armed forces and, for this reason, they must be approached as problems for the Aegean. This is the significance of the talks on confidence-building measures. Precisely because we consider political dialogue to be the sole method of resolving problems, we shall continue, even if the other side does not always respond in the same manner.
JOURNALIST: What can the confidence-building measures include, beyond what was decided by Papoulias-Yilmaz?
G. KATROUGALOS: Papoulias-Yilmaz had a moratorium, had agreed to a moratorium on exercises during vacation periods.
JOURNALIST: And holiday periods, I believe.
G. KATROUGALOS: And holiday periods. This is one of the first issues, to have a full record and for both sides to agree as to what has taken place in the past as well as how it is implemented, because it is often challenged by Turkey, also with regard to the existing confidence-building measures. Therefore, we shall not abandon the effort for political dialogue, or for the present-day confidence-building measures to be recorded and, if it appears that others exist, naturally we can agree.
JOURNALIST: For these to be added.
G. KATROUGALOS: To be added, but the significant thing is for the existing ones to be implemented.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any upcoming meetings with your Turkish counterpart?
G. KATROUGALOS: I have spoken, between the contacts, with Mr. Çavuşoğlu. He has stated....
JOURNALIST: You mean on the phone?
G. KATROUGALOS: On the phone. He has stated his intention to visit Athens, but this will have to take place at a time when his visit will promote Greek-Turkish relations. This clearly presupposes a lack of provocative actions.
JOURNALIST: You are saying that a lack of provocative actions is the condition for his visit to Athens to take place?
G. KATROUGALOS: In order for it to be a successful meeting, a positive climate must exist, and a well-founded expectation that we will further promote our relations.
JOURNALIST: The governing council...
G. KATROUGALOS: The National Council.
JOURNALIST: No. The High-Level Cooperation Council between Greece and Turkey with Tsipras-Erdogan, which was decided to take place after the meeting you had in Turkey, when do you see it happening? Can it take place in 2019?
G. KATROUGALOS: It remains among our goals to conduct this Council with Turkey, but on the condition that...
JOURNALIST: In Thessaloniki?
G. KATROUGALOS: The agreement was for it to be held in Thessaloniki. I reiterate, provided that there is a reduction in the provocative actions by the other side. Before that, we have an economic forum in Istanbul. We are considering, in other words, with soft policy measures, to be able to...
JOURNALIST: An economic forum during the summer? Or in the beginning of autumn?
G. KATROUGALOS: Everything depends on how the fronts develop that we have with Turkey. I reiterate that we always want Turkey to be a neighbour with whom we can have friendly relations. We don’t have anything more to split than what International Law can...
JOURNALIST: Every time, at the High-Level Cooperation Councils, the Izmir-Thessaloniki link is decided upon. And we see that there is a delay.
G. KATROUGALOS: Those things are progressing. For example, we may really have new ferry links this summer.
JOURNALIST: A question which I think is very serious, because it is strategic: will Turkey remain in the West, in your opinion?
G. KATROUGALOS: That is one of the great questions of our time. And one of the reasons that the international role of our country in the region has been upgraded. But it is one of the reasons, not the main one; the main reason for the upgrade is the general acknowledgement of the stabilising role that our country plays in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Prespa Agreement, in the Balkans, is one of these examples. Our stance with regard to the issue of immigration is a second example. Otherwise, how could the Pope say the things he said, acknowledging the great contribution of the Prime Minister and of the country?
JOURNALIST: He is going to Skopje.
G. KATROUGALOS: He is going to Skopje. But the trilateral cooperation schemes we developed in the Aegean are also an example of the upgrading of our role.
JOURNALIST: I shall ask you about this, because there are those who say that you have made Greece an outpost of the United States - the Communist Party of Greece mainly says it - and that this is why the country’s role was upgraded.
G. KATROUGALOS: But the trilateral relations we have developed are not solely with Israel; they are also with Egypt, with Jordan, with Lebanon, and with Palestine. We expect President Abbas to visit Athens in the coming weeks. Consequently, these are the characteristics of the balance in our policy.
JOURNALIST: Thus, your opinion is that Turkey will remain in the West? Does Greece want this?
G. KATROUGALOS: Greece does not want Turkey to abandon its international alliances and to become even more hostile and provocative towards us. It is precisely for this reason that we favour Turkey's European prospects. Therefore, we seek to stress our own stabilising role in response to Turkey's wavering. Under no circumstances, though, would we want to push Turkey into a role that is hostile towards the European Union or Greece.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with what Weber says, that the Turkey's prospects for accession are over? That there is no issue of accession and that a new customs union must simply be discussed? Here, Mr. George Kyrtsos adopted this as well.
G. KATROUGALOS: Yes, I had not doubt. This is the Right's extreme view of Europe - I am not saying the Far Right, the deep Right's extreme view of Europe - which does not take into consideration the geostrategic stakes, and not only does it not reflect the views of this deep Right on European-Turkish relations, but also its more general stance on issues of globalization, this return to a golden nationalistic past that never truly existed. But all the responsible European powers, and all the Greek political powers generally support Turkey's European prospects. I would like to hope that Mr. Georgiadis has not managed to change New Democracy in this regard also. This is precisely the national political line.
JOURNALIST: What can our country lay out with regard to a new customs Agreement if one is made between the European Union and Turkey?
G. KATROUGALOS: For us, the main issues, as for all European powers, are respect of human rights, the Rule of Law, as well as issues of good neighbourliness. It is obvious that a customs Union cannot be implemented between a country and the European Union when that country is hostile towards members of the Union. This will clearly have to be ensured in the future customs Union, and we wish for it to proceed, provided of course that these provocative actions by the other side cease.
JOURNALIST: Does the potential installation of S-400s in Turkey disturb the balance in the Aegean?
G. KATROUGALOS: But this is clearly the cornerstone, as the United States themselves have observed, of Turkey's relations with the United States and NATO. We see an effort being made towards a policy of direct communication between President Erdoğan and President Trump, but...
JOURNALIST: And through their sons-in-law, son-in-law diplomacy.
G. KATROUGALOS: But it seems very difficult for this to overcome the true strategic dilemma that Turkey finds itself in presently; in other words whether it will continue to strengthen its relationship with Russia, in a way entering into a sort of de-westernization which is difficult to reverse, or whether it will again try to find a balance.
JOURNALIST: To repeat the question, if it is tending towards a collaboration with Russia, if the S-400s are installed, will this upset the balance in the Aegean?
G. KATROUGALOS: On a military level?
JOURNALIST: Yes, above all on a military level.
G. KATROUGALOS: On a military level, what would disrupt the balance in the Aegean would be the S-400s together with the F-35s. From the moment that this is something that is not going to be actualised, as it seems, the balance of military power in the Aegean will continue to be within the operational capabilities of our side because, you know, we have qualitative advantages over the other side.
JOURNALIST: Are we talking about F-35’s? I know they are very expensive but...
G. KATROUGALOS: There are talks, but clearly they aren’t apropos.
JOURNALIST: There are also talks with France for frigates, Minister, as far as the information goes.