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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on ERA 1 Radio “105.8” with journalist Alfonsos Vitalis
A. VITALIS: On the other end of the line, we have Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos.
Good morning, Mr Katrougalos.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you, and to our listeners.
A. VITALIS: Let’s not go from the political situation to the claims made by the main opposition party, as well as by the previous speaker. I will get directly to the heart of your competencies because, though it may well be a pre-election period Mr Katrougalos, major issues of our foreign policy, others refer to them as national issues, in any case, we understand each other I believe, we have these before us, and they have their own momentum.
My question is this: Dialogue has already begun in Athens, following the meeting between the Prime Minister, Mr Tsipras, and Mr Erdoğan, and following your own meeting with your counterpart, Mr Çavuşoğlu, where you advanced some issues politically, a dialogue on confidence-building measures among military experts.
I am trying to understand, and I am asking for you to help us, what exactly can everything that Mr. Akar said yesterday mean, that military experts have orders to comprehensively discuss the issue of the Aegean also, as well as Cyprus and the Mediterranean. And whether we can draw any conclusions from these things, whether the confidence-building measures can truly proceed, Minister?
G. KATROUGALOS: I think that Mr Akar’s statements have been misunderstood. Mr Akar wished to appear open and wished to give the impression, precisely to counteract the impression made by the unilateral, provocative and illegal actions by Turkey in Cyprus, that supposedly they seek comprehensive dialogue.
He was not speaking about the specific negotiations which are taking place for no other reason than concerning the technical issues of the confidence-building measures. By definition, military officials cannot discuss other things than those related to their competencies. Therefore, so that I am clear, Mr Akar's statement pertained to an expression of intentions, in reality a propagandistic statement in my opinion, geared towards an audience abroad, which has nothing to do with the subject of the discussion between the teams, presently holding talks in Athens, which is none other than to find ways so that, without broaching the substance of the topics, this must be broached through negotiations and talks, which will take place when conditions for this exist, among politicians, not among military officials. At the moment, what the military officials are doing is examining the confidence-building measures that had been agreed to in the past.
A. VITALIS: The Yilmaz-Papoulias memorandum, right?
G. KATROUGALOS: Yilmaz-Papoulias and other interim ones, so that we can see if both sides understand things in the same way, and to look at why they aren’t being implemented, or how they are implemented.
A. VITALIS: Minister, are you at all optimistic that we will at least have a reduction of tensions in the Aegean, in light also of the summer period, because the flow of tourists; you realise very well that it affects us too, it affects our neighbours.
G. KATROUGALOS: At the moment, our neighbour has involved itself in an effort, precisely because it feels isolated in Cyprus as a result of its own actions, not due to anyone else, to create in the framework of its well known revisionist policy, those well known unilateral provocations.
I would like to hope at least that it will realise, and this is what I have come to understand from my discussions with my counterpart, that at the very least these actions must not create the conditions for an accident to occur in the Aegean, which neither side wants. And I don’t necessarily mean a heated episode-even one dead pilot is one dead person too many.
A. VITALIS: We have the tragic example of Iliakis, and it is certain Minister, that neither did the Turkish pilot take off to crash into the airplane of the late Iliakis, nor did Iliakis take off to crash into a Turkish airplane.
G. KATROUGALOS: That is exactly what I mean. Clearly nobody wants a war, nor a heated episode. But as tension mounts, no one can rule out the fact that such events are bound to occur. And these are dramatic events. In other words, it's not just a pilot. Human beings are not units. I believe therefore, at least on that level, that we can hold talks, and indeed not on new measures; what we essentially need is for measures to be implemented that have already been agreed to in the past.
A. VITALIS: Since 1988, if I remember correctly, since May 1988, the Papoulias-Yilmaz memorandum. The issue is, though, that we have a surge in Turkish provocations also in the Cypriot EEZ. We have, in addition to the research vessel and drill, one and yet another one which is making its way towards the Cypriot EEZ. The European Union, the American side, and others have condemned these moves on the part of Turkey and speak of Cyprus’ right within the marine zone it has set.
The issue is this: Can a unilateral act by Turkey be avoided there and for accomplished facts to be created there, some drilling perhaps in the Cypriot EEZ.? And secondly, when and under what conditions will the Europeans be able to impose sanctions on Turkey for its provocative behaviour?
G. KATROUGALOS: The issue of sanctions has already been brought before the European Union and indeed, if these actions on the part of Turkey continue, measures will need to be taken. But the main point lies elsewhere. This is the real question: Whether these actions by Turkey create legal accomplished facts to the detriment of the Republic of Cyprus.
Consequently, the answer I have for you is a very simple one: The Turkish side always has a revisionist strategy. It does not wish, as we do, for International Law to be implemented. It wishes to display its strength, precisely challenging what the Law of the Sea provides for. In short, it wishes to create grey zones.
But how are grey zones created? How is an accomplished fact which challenges International Law created? When the specific action, these efforts that it is making presently, for example, similar to the efforts that it made in the past, are approached by the International Community as if they are creating a dispute. In other words, they are not approached as illegal actions.
On the contrary, we see, with regard to the recent actions by Turkey, that there is general condemnation. It is universal. Therefore, from the moment that these actions are denounced as violations of National Law, under no circumstances do they create accomplished facts, which would be able to create a basis for legal claims by Turkey in the future.
On the contrary, they serve to further underscore its isolation, an isolation which we don’t want. We would like to hold talks with Turkey, but to hold talks when those illegal actions won’t exist, and to talk on the basis of the Law of the Sea and International Law.
A. VITALIS: Minister, you are very clear in this statement of yours, because very many legal experts and diplomats have been concerned recently, and they have said it over and over again, that if Turkey’s drill starts drilling somewhere, faits accomplis will be created. You explained it with absolute clarity, because you are a distinguished legal expert as well, you explained it with clarity, but there is an issue here. When you say that the entire International Community has condemned, has isolated Turkey, then the International Community considers any actions illegal in a legally delineated marine zone, in the Cypriot EEZ. So, the question is this: In the end, from the moment that a great power, which is also a guarantor power in Cyprus - Great Britain - challenges the sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus to the EEZ, it speaks of sovereignty being called into question, what exactly might happen? I am speaking about Mr Duncan’s statements.
G. KATROUGALOS: Those statements are particularly unfortunate. They were strongly condemned by the Republic of Cyprus, and by us. Corrective statements have been issued by the United Kingdom, which I have the impression were not sufficient, given that the United Kingdom was present, when the issue was discussed, in the European Union. As you know, it has not yet officially exited.
And it did not challenge the very clear position that was outlined there. You heard it from Mogherini, she repeated the position of 2018, calling upon Turkey to cease any illegal activity. I would like to believe that it is not essentially a difference, but rather an unfortunate, I repeat, and unacceptable statement which essentially the United Kingdom would like to abandon but for its own political reasons, perhaps, during a particularly strange period for them, since they did not proceed with BREXIT in the clear and transparent manner they should have.