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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on “News 24/7” radio’s Power Games with journalists V. Skouris and A. Spanou
A. SPANOU: Let’s welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you too, and to our listeners.
V. SKOURIS: Good morning.
A. SPANOU: You have just returned from Antalya, and what did you come face-to-face with? An attack on the Russian Consulate in Chalandri. What’s your take, Minister?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are a safe country but, unfortunately, isolated events such as this can happen in every country, and it is not possible to fully avert them. Obviously, I do not have to state that we condemn it as an unacceptable act. We have spoken to the Russian Embassy, and we will do everything in our power to arrest those who committed this utterly insane act; and we have obviously reconfirmed our excellent relations with the Russian Federation.
V. SKOURIS: Do you have any information from the Ministry of Citizen Protection, the Counter-terrorism Unit?
G. KATROUGALOS: Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.
V. SKOURIS: According to the information we broadcast just before, the evidence points towards the "Revolutionary Self-Defence Organisation."
G. KATROUGALOS: When the need arises for a public statement, one will be released by the competent Ministry.
V. SKOURIS: Indeed.
A. SPANOU: However, in the last year, there have been many attacks, in one way or another, against foreign diplomatic missions, each on a different scale. They are becoming somewhat of an epidemic in this country. Isn’t that right?
G. KATROUGALOS: Let’s not confuse tossing flyers with tossing grenades.
V. SKOURIS: Right, but going to a foreign Embassy and tossing flyers is a problem in itself.
G. KATROUGALOS: To avoid giving rise to doubts and misunderstandings: obviously, we condemn anything that violates the space occupied by each Embassy, which is sovereign territory. It has occurred even in milder ways, as I have already mentioned. Undoubtedly, since antiquity, foreign embassies have held everyone’s respect, and we do not tolerate anyone disrupting our good relations.
V. SKOURIS: You fully condemn it verbally, Minister. In practice, however, when this keeps happening, this shows that there’s a problem.
G. KATROUGALOS: Let’s get something straight. Grenade attacks do not keep happening.
V. SKOURIS: No, we did not mean grenades, for God’s sake.
G. KATROUGALOS: This is precisely the reason we should not group the two events together. Not because we do not condemn them, but because they are truly different in terms of quality. Being in a country where grenades are tossed at embassies is different to being in a country where flyers are tossed.
V. SKOURIS: Should patrolling outside embassies perhaps increase?
G. KATROUGALOS: We have already taken measures to this end, and we shall take more. But let me reiterate, and we see this from the incidents that unfortunately fill up our newspapers, it is not possible to fully avert such incidents in the world we live in.
A. SPANOU: Let’s move on to the other topics. Today, the turkish Press is praising the statements you made yesterday on the rights that Turkey also enjoys in the eastern Mediterranean, based on International Law. Were you expecting to make such an impression? Because New Democracy’s condemnation is on its way.
G. KATROUGALOS: Why should New Democracy’s condemnation be on its way - a condemnation of the International Law? It seems ludicrous to me.
Listen, what is Turkey’s fixed policy when it comes to issues that concern us? Turkey traditionally comes across as a revisionist power that needs to exhibit strength to get around obligations arising from International Law. We, along with the Republic of Cyprus, have handled Turkey’s practice quite effectively in the context of the diplomatic alliances we have forged.
It is in our interest to make Turkey talk in terms of International Law, and not in terms of strength. Therefore, when we make moves that have not been fully accepted by the other side -with the other side having other things at mind- obviously it is in the interest of our country to always talk in terms of International Law, as well as to acknowledge the rights of the other side, always in terms of the Law of the Sea, International Law.
When we refer to International Law, this does not mean that we want to claim single ownership where we believe our interests lie. We want the rules that stem from International Law to be followed to the letter.
V. SKOURIS: Mr Koumoutsakos, for example, criticised you with regard to the issue of Turkey having rights in the Mediterranean.
G. KATROUGALOS: There is no doubt that there have been narrow party interests in the announcements issued by New Democracy, which, as I pointed out, echo similar announcements of the Union of Centrists in this case.
But let’s hold on a minute, what do you mean? Doesn’t Turkey have a coastline? Doesn’t it, therefore, have rights according the Law of the Sea? Isn’t it in the interest of our country to talk on this level, based on the Law of the Sea? I don’t understand how there can be any doubt about something that is a fixed national policy line. There is no inconsistency between what I am saying and what we have always said.
A. SPANOU: Is any type of cooperation with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean possible? In terms of energy interests, for example.
G. KATROUGALOS: Hold on a minute. When Turkey decides that it will respect International Law, that it will not challenge it, and that it will not attempt to exceed the provisions of International Law, through shows of force, that prospect may indeed exist. However, the prospect does not exist at the moment.
What’s the issue at the moment? Will International Law be fully respected or not? If we start by accepting this framework of rules and discussion, we can move on.
V. SKOURIS: Mr Koumoutsakos accused you of opening up loopholes and connecting Greek-Turkish relations with the Prespa Agreement.
G. KATROUGALOS: What does that have to do with this? Nothing was said. What does Mr Koumoutsakos – whom I respect and who obviously is getting carried away by the general populist climate within his party – mean? If he means that we do not want the problems to drag on, but rather to resolve them, because that is the message from the Prespa Agreement, then that’s true. We want to resolve problems; we don’t want to keep kicking the can further down the road.
At the moment, though, the situation in the relations with Turkey has not matured enough for a breakthrough similar to the Prespa Agreement. The effort we are making is completely incomparable.
What we are doing with Turkey is to take many small steps, generally accepted steps, as they relate to soft politics and bilateral issues, mainly in the field of economy or the field of confidence-building measures, so as to advance the positive agenda a bit further, just a tad, each month. To de-escalate tensions and to create conditions for dialogue.
At the moment, there’s no chance of reaching a major solution for all our issues with Turkey. It would be unrealistic for someone to hope for this. However, we have to come up with the rules and a framework for dialogue, and I reiterate yet again that we have always wanted the dialogue to be determined by International Law and not by force.
V. SKOURIS: Let me ask you something else, on a political level. Due to your statement and due to the statement by Mr Nikos Pappas about "Famous Macedonia," which New Democracy also used to make a video, if I’m right, in principle, you are being accused of having diminished patriotic consciousness by a sector of the political world. I think you’ve seen the statements, you’ve seen the headlines.
G. KATROUGALOS: I have said before that foreign policy is not ideal ground for exploiting narrow party interests. Whoever goes further even than Rouvikonas and doubts the patriotism of their political opponent, they do not just undermine the exercise of foreign policy, they undermine democracy.
I want discussion to take place on the terms of political controversy, but a political controversy within the context of democracy and the rule of law. And never will I contribute to a further degeneration of the level of political dialogue.
Those doubting the patriotism of others must be very careful, because, in reality, they will not gain the electoral benefits they are expecting. They will be led to anti-democratic, semi-fascist forces that have fathered, have the copyright on roughnecks, on traitorous politicians, who are the only ones to benefit from this discussion.
V. SKOURIS: Yes, but we witness you granting them use of the hall at the Zappeion Megaron to present their European Parliament ballot paper, and I am referring to Golden Dawn on 25 March, on Greek Independence Day.
G. KATROUGALOS: We cannot forbid -I don’t know about the Zappeion Megaron- any party from running for elections, even if it is outside the context of the democratic spectrum.
V. SKOURIS: I didn’t say that …
G. KATROUGALOS: What did you mean then? How could we have done this?
V. SKOURIS: I talked about granting use of the hall at the Zappeion Megaron on that specific date.
G. KATROUGALOS: I know nothing about this, but in any case, the main issue is not forbidding Golden Dawn from running for elections, using policing measures. The issue is to convince the Greek people that this party does indeed have neo-fascist traits, which do not have room, cannot fit within the room afforded by our Constitution and the democratic context of political dialogue.
This -I repeat- does not mean that we must be led to banning any party. The policy should be condemnation and isolation.
A. SPANOU: The counter argument to what we were discussing before is that today, Mr Akar, the Turkish Minister of National Defence, has again made statements saying “the Aegean and Cyprus belong to us” or something to that effect, while you are talking about recognising Turkey’s rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, each side’s rhetoric is on an entirely different level.
G. KATROUGALOS: Quite the opposite is happening. When Turkey is making any kind of allegations, if the dialogue is based on International Law, then the answer will be: “Based on what could these allegations be substantiated?”
Let me repeat, it is in the interest of our country for the controversy not to be based on verbalism and rhetoric, but on International Law. Because in that case, everything is clear and the winner is not the one who screams the loudest; the winner is the one who can prove one’s case, based not only on legal arguments, but mainly through diplomatic cooperation, based on International Law and also on the acceptance of multilateralism, as the foundation of diplomacy.
It’s what we do. To state it clearly: we must have a strong foreign policy, which can be secured through our diplomatic initiatives. We must rebuff the other side’s display of strength. We have achieved this through our trilateral cooperation schemes. There is no better proof than the success of this aspect of our policy, of the recent 3+1 Summit, where in reality, the USA confirmed our role as an exporter of stability in the region.
V. SKOURIS: We are going to ask you about that...
G. KATROUGALOS: Hold on a minute. I referred to two things. The second is to avert and curb the other side’s policy, when it seeks a show of strength.
The positive flipside of this policy is making Turkey talk in our terms, not in our national terms, but in the terms of International Law. If we can achieve this, we will be creating the conditions for truly resolving the issues. If we cannot achieve it, the only thing we will end up doing every time we receive a verbal assault from the other side is to counter it with another verbal assault. But differences between countries are not won or resolved with verbal assaults.
V. SKOURIS: Minister, I was reading yesterday in the announcement by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs that in your meeting with Mr Çavuşoğlu you discussed issues concerning bilateral relations, especially the issue of the Turkish Muslim minority in Greece, in a frank and honest manner. As a matter of fact, he is bringing up the issue of the Turkish minority with you yet again.
G. KATROUGALOS: This is a fixed policy line by Turkey, which is always met with our own fixed national policy. This is a religious minority in Thrace, not only because it is recognised as such by the Treaty of Lausanne, but because, in reality, President Erdoğan himself admitted so during his visit to Athens, when he talked about ethnic differences, the well-known ethnic differences existing in the minority between groups of Turkish origin, Pomaks and Roma. All three components of this religious minority are Greek citizens. And we have an obligation, according to our Constitution, to treat them in terms of equality before the State and the Law, and I pointed this out during our joint interview with Mr Çavuşoğlu.
And actually, what I said in response to his opposing allegations, was that I was glad to hear them, because the problems are real, they go back decades, and we must not sweep them under the rug. We must we resolve them. I reiterate this, yet again, because it must become our mantra and we must keep repeating it: “based on the provisions of International Law”.
V. SKOURIS: On the same topic, you told Mr Çavuşoğlu yesterday that talks on confidence-building measures would begin on 12 April. Would you like to give us an idea about what is being discussed?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is not just about the confidence-building measures; there’s also the so-called positive agenda we have initiated.
V. SKOURIS: And this positive agenda? I was going to ask you that next.
G. KATROUGALOS: I will tell you about the positive agenda later, as part of a second question. We have also begun unofficial preliminary talks on the international dimension of the Cyprus issue, where we mainly expect Turkey to lay out its cards. Because, what we said at Crans-Montana, was precisely...
V. SKOURIS: Let’s take the issues one by one, Mr Minister, starting from the confidence-building measures.
G. KATROUGALOS: In the confidence-building measures, the first thing we will do is a recap of where we find ourselves. Because we have had important confidence measures that had been decided in the past, chiefly the Papoulias-Yilmaz Memorandum, which imposes an abstention from military exercises in the Aegean Sea during summer, but also during religious holidays, which is not clear whether it is understood by both sides in the same manner.
The same applies for other confidence-building measures. So, an effort is being made to see what’s there, so that it can be enforced. Discussions are being held between the Ministries of National Defence, in which one of our own teams is participating, to see whether we can complement these measures with others. The objective is again obvious: to de-escalate tensions and to avoid a heated incident.
It is an agenda of measures that do not resolve the situation, but prevent it from deteriorating.
V. SKOURIS: And the positive agenda? Is the Izmir-Thessaloniki line opening this summer?
G. KATROUGALOS: We have already secured the first connection between Lavrio-Izmir as of 2 June, and we are truly trying to push this positive agenda, so as to have even more connections, by air and by sea.
We have agreed for a business forum to take place in Istanbul, before the big one that has already been decided in the context of the Erdogan-Tsipras meeting, which will accompany the High-Level Cooperation Council, when that takes place.
V. SKOURIS: By the way, when is it being scheduled for? You had mentioned Thessaloniki.
G. KATROUGALOS: The discussion must continue to see whether our neighbours will respond in practice to what we have agreed on, in other words to slowly start building a cooperation framework.
V. SKOURIS: Can it take place this year, for example?
G. KATROUGALOS: It can take place this year, but I don’t think there’s a chance it will take place before autumn. And there are also other symbolic measures: for example, one could say that the Mass at Panagia Soumela Monastery, which will take place on 15 August is not a major political event, but it does carry a certain symbolism.
A. SPANOU: In terms of the Cyprus issue, should we expect an initiative soon?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are not talking about initiatives. What do we want to do? To prepare for restarting negotiations in a very systematic manner. How can this be achieved? By having cleared up the technical aspects in advance, and mainly by knowing what the other side is saying.
Let me remind you that our responsibility – because this must be our country’s only role during the negotiations – concerns the international dimension of the Cyprus issue. It pertains to the in depth discussion on the issue of withdrawal of the occupation forces, where, obviously there’s no agreement. We have not yet heard other side’s ideas with regard to the new mechanism for implementing the agreement, which will follow the abolishment of the colonial nature of the guarantees.
V. SKOURIS: Did you mention an international conference?
G. KATROUGALOS: Dimension.
V. SKOURIS: Pardon me.
A. SPANOU: The impact of the Prespa Agreement seems to be quite strong in Northern Greece. In reality, government officials cannot go anywhere without being met with disapproval.
G. KATROUGALOS: Hold on. Before moving to the political part of your question, I have to challenge the factual part. In the last few instances, there has indeed been a small group of people -under no circumstances more than ten- who gather and jeer in an organised manner. It is not some type of spontaneous reaction. On the contrary, I think that the small number and premeditated planning of such cheap provocations – obviously – demonstrate that there is no general opposition on the same level.
I do accept, because this is the reality, that a large portion of our fellow citizens have an emotional reaction against the agreement. But to equate an emotional reaction with the bullying, the anti-democratic, semi-fascist way these few choose to show their disapproval towards our officials is a major leap we should not take. It is like saying that whoever opposes the Prespa Agreement is a bully and I do not wish to use harsher terms to describe them.
A. SPANOU: Despite all this, isn’t the emotional reaction you are referring to, which is healthy as you said, more marked in Northern Greece?
G. KATROUGALOS: There is an explanation for this. Where is it stemming from? It is stemming from the fact that due to our bruised national pride from the years of the memoranda, it is easy to view a positive agreement through a lens that distorts it.
It is my personal view that, as time goes by, Northern Greece will be the first to reap the financial benefits from the Agreement. It will actually become the heart, the economic hub of a single Balkan economic area of 50 million. Then they will be able to calmly review the significant gains for Greece that resulted from the Prespa Agreement.
In my opinion, that’s where the integrity of the Prime Minister as a person became evident, who placed the country’s interests before any expectations for ephemeral political gain. I believe this will be appreciated. It is an investment in Greece’s national interest, but I believe, also in the integrity of the Prime Minister as a politician of a European calibre.
V. SKOURIS: Has Mr Tsipras’ trip to Skopje on 2 April been finalised?
G. KATROUGALOS: It seems so. He will be visiting there on the first week in April.
A. SPANOU: What will happen with the statues? With the exchange?
V. SKOURIS: Will we be making new ones, to quote Angeliki?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is their decision. They might decide to collect them, to make a...
G. KATROUGALOS: What will we give them? In exchange, I mean, after the fiasco with The Runner.
G. KATROUGALOS: There was no fiasco with The Runner. There have been indeed attempts to spin negatively our attempts to build good relations, which you, being a fine journalist, should not serve.
V. SKOURIS: Of course not, Minister. Angeliki serving such things?
A. SPANOU: So, are you going to tell us? Will we be sending them a statue?
G. KATROUGALOS: She’s a friend. I said the exact opposite. Let me reiterate, we are trying to find ways, with people to whom we had never even exchanged a word previously, to jointly schedule the promotion of our common interests and to stabilise the region.
We are also thinking of moves that will show our people that the climate has indeed improved. These moves must be carefully carried out.
A. SPANOU: Since you are not answering this, give us some answers on the European Parliament elections. How high is the bar for SYRIZA?
G. KATROUGALOS: A very good result, similar to the one we had in the previous elections.
V. SKOURIS: First question, and a key one for the issue. Yesterday, through Pratto, Mr Kotzias accused you of settling with Turkey on the issue with the Muslim minority of Thrace. I would like an answer to this and to whether your collaboration with Pratto is actually in jeopardy.
G. KATROUGALOS: Nikos Kotzias would never correlate our government with serving Turkish interests. That’s not what Pratto’s announcement is saying. I think it should be read carefully.
I made an announcement about the issues I thought I ought to have addressed, and which concerned the resignation of Pratto members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I made the clarifications I think should have been made.
My relationship with Nikos Kotzias goes back 30 years. I speak with him in private about things I believe should not be said publicly.
A. SPANOU: Therefore, do you believe there is no issue of the relationship between Pratto and SYRIZA breaking down?
G. KATROUGALOS: In my statement, I too referred to Pratto as an allied party working with SYRIZA, and if you had read Pratto’s announcement carefully, you would have noticed that in its last paragraph it is stated that Pratto will remain within the larger group of democratic political partiew.
V. SKOURIS: The issue is whether it will continue to work with SYRIZA as a party. That’s what we are asking.
G. KATROUGALOS: At the moment, SYRIZA is at the core of this group of democratic political parties in Greece. There can be such group in Greece, without the key political body that embodies it.
A. SPANOU: Will the Greek stance against Turkey's accession course be reviewed?
G. KATROUGALOS: No. It is one of the firm positions in Greece’s policies and all the parties essentially agree on it. It is telling that during a recent voting session in the European Parliament concerning a possible freeze on accession talks, the majority of Greek MEPs, including members from both New Democracy and SYRIZA, voted against it.
V. SKOURIS: Mr Georgiadis or Mr Syrigos – who is a candidate with New Democracy and, therefore, a political figure – essentially told us that the accession prospects of Turkey are over, and they are partially correct. None of the countries will accept Turkey.
G. KATROUGALOS: It is one thing for one to predict that the environment is radically different, and something else to change the national policy line. That is again something hugely irresponsible.
How is the national policy line determined? Based on our interests. It is not left to chance. Otherwise, the national policy line would change every time the state of affairs changed. That is extremely frivolous. I hope Mr Syrigos, and I don’t recall who else you mentioned, didn’t say that.
V. SKOURIS: Mr Georgiadis, and they did.
G. KATROUGALOS: If they did, it is a sign of frivolity. I hope they didn’t say it.
V. SKOURIS: Angeliki, you said something about the bar. Should we insist? I mean about the bar in the European Parliament elections.
A. SPANOU: Let’s insist, because he is talking about the best possible result, but what loss would you consider manageable? Three points? Four? Five?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are not going for a loss. That's all we needed…
A. SPANOU: I am talking about a hypothetical scenario. You are going for a win. We know this. Is being the first party the bar?
G. KATROUGALOS: Should I give an answer to a scenario that considers that our goal is to lose, and for you to ask me what we would consider a dignified loss?
At every election you go for the win. Isn’t it obvious?
A. SPANOU: And if you don’t win?
G. KATROUGALOS: That’s democracy. If you don’t win, you lose. But you go for the win. And in any case, we believe that, both in these elections and the crucial ones in October, we will carry the vote, for the simple reason that we believe the Greek people will find themselves facing a dilemma that is similar to the corresponding major dilemma in Europe: to move forward or to regress? Open societies or nationalism? In Greece, our memories are still vivid in terms of what a New Democracy government means for rights, job security and the way in which a party – which does not have the interests of many but the interests of a few in mind – addresses our day-to-day issues.
Faced with such a dilemma, I don’t think the Greek people will demonstrate again that they have the memory of a goldfish, or suicidal tendencies.
V. SKOURIS: Thank you very much.
G. KATROUGALOS: You're welcome. Have a good day.
V. SKOURIS: All the best.