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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, speaks on ERT1 TV’s “Politiki Epikairotita” with reporters N. Meletis and F. Papathanasiou (9 October 2019)
REPORTER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The dramatic developments in the region from Turkey's invasion in Syria and the behind-the-scenes diplomacy in Europe and the USA will be the main topics of discussion in today’s show. Furthermore, what does the Trump–Erdogan meeting in the White House on 13 November signal? Rapprochement? And how are these developments affecting our affairs?
REPORTER: Good afternoon from me too, ladies and gentlemen, during a week, five full days actually, packed with diplomatic events and developments. We had Yavuz reaching the Cypriot EEZ, US State Secretary Pompeo in Athens, a trilateral Greece-Cyprus-Egypt meeting in Cairo, confusion in the White House and Erdogan seizing the opportunity and invading Syria. I think we couldn't have picked a better time to host Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias at ERT’s studio, for a comprehensive discussion on all the developments we just mentioned.
Mr Minister, welcome.
N. DENDIAS: Good afternoon.
REPORTER: I believe it will be a useful discussion, newsworthy for people interested in developments that do not concern another world, but Greece and its neighbourhood.
N. DENDIAS: Our region.
REPORTER: Mr Minister, what’s your take on this latest development in Syria? You met with Mr Pompeo. Did he give you an idea that such a decision was imminent on the part of the US?
N. DENDIAS: We discussed the possibilities. Obviously, he did not mention President Trump’s decision; I’m not sure whether he was aware of it or whether President Trump had made the decision when Mr Pompeo was still here. However, there was discussion about a possible Turkish invasion in that zone in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, with the Greek government.
REPORTER: Are you concerned about today’s developments? Do you consider that Erdogan seizing the opportunity, either because of the confusion in the USA or because of Russia’s tolerance, and attempting this desperate act – an invasion in Syria, which essentially forecasts an occupation – demonstrates that Turkey has become audacious? Meaning Erdogan has the country’s tolerance to do whatever he wants?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll be honest. To start with, I do not consider it an opportunity; I believe Turkey is making a mistake. It has been making many mistakes, one after the other, of the same nature and form in the last few years. What is it attempting to do by invading Syria? To create a zone where they can move refugees from Syria and resettle them there? Possibly as a zone against the Kurdish elements, with whom Turkey has not managed to be in good terms.
What's happened is illegal. Because human migration is subject to some fundamental principles. It must be voluntary and it must be dignified. These do not apply in this case. So what Turkey is doing violates the human rights of the refugees located on Turkish land.
Secondly, it is opening up a front. Why is it doing this? What’s the benefit for Turkey at this stage? How can it believe that such moves can secure its future, the peaceful future of its society? Forget us, forget Syria, forget the Kurds, forget the refugees, we’re talking about the Turks themselves.
The Turks are making a huge mistake and I have said this time and again, I have said it with grief. Turkey is assessing the 21st century using an assessment manual from the late 19th - early 20th century. And it ends up making wrong conclusions and wrong moves.
REPORTER: At the same time, there’s the US stance. How do you view the contradicting messages we’ve been having in the last 48 hours on the part of the US?
N. DENDIAS: I should not, and am not entitled to, judge the USA’s policy – be it of the President, the administration or the legislative bodies – against Syria and Turkey. I’m interested, and very much so, in the USA’s stance against my homeland, Greece. As to this, I am attempting to forge an honest relationship and maximise the benefits for both sides, through mutual understanding. I believe we have a win-win relationship and this has been proven.
REPORTER: Are you referring to the defence deal?
N. DENDIAS: Presently, I am referring to the defence deal. However, I do not consider it the conclusion to our cooperation; I consider it as starting a new major chapter in the Greek-US relations.
REPORTER: Mr Minister, we will get a chance to discuss the defence deal extensively. However, in the last 48 hours, we’ve witnessed ambiguity on the part of the US, which has been interpreted in many ways by the international community. How did you assess it? Some, even here in Athens, are concerned that this may possibly happen with our issues as well.
N. DENDIAS: We have had no forewarning, no indication to date, which would lead us to assume that. As far as Greece is concerned. Because I want to be precise, on the one hand we have a very good deal, an excellent deal as far as we’re concerned, and I’ve heard no views to the contrary. Afterwards, we may discuss the specific gains for Greece; then we had a series of statements from the US State Secretary, similar to none we’ve seen, since 1974 at least, when they started being recorded. Never before have we had an explicit reference to Turkey and the condemnation of the Turkish actions, which Mr Pompeo did twice when he was in Athens.
REPORTER: Which part did you assess in this manner?
N. DENDIAS: I don’t think anyone has any doubts. There were two instances when he referred to Turkey and condemned it with regard to Cyprus and with regard to its broader tactics and efforts to create a not-so-smooth situation in the wider region. And let me tell you something, pay attention to this. Mr Pompeo did not visit Ankara. Usually, when the US State Secretary visits Athens, they then visit Turkey to even things out. He came here, made clear statements condemning Turkey and never went to Ankara. This means something for the Greek side, let’s not fool ourselves. In addition, let’s not kid ourselves, these things are not random. Mr Pompeo is a seasoned diplomat, he has graduated from West Point, he’s gone to Harvard, he is the longest-standing associate of President Trump, actually, he is his most powerful associate at the moment, and he stayed in Athens for three days. Last time Mr Kerry was here in his capacity as Secretary, he stayed for three hours.
REPORTER: There is a meaning here indeed.
N. DENDIAS: But it’s in our favour. Why shouldn’t Greece be satisfied with the US?
REPORTER: It is satisfied. But the question posed by public opinion, by the journalists and by quite a few politicians is whether these good and very positive statements can indeed be converted into actions when the time comes.
N. DENDIAS: Knock on wood, Mr Meletis!
REPORTER: At least as far as Cyprus is concerned, the time has come. Will they also deter or, in any case, fix the situation?
N. DENDIAS: First of all, we very much want to be absolutely clear in this story with Cyprus. And Greece has clearly condemned it, while it is also striving for all the councils – the Council of Ministers at Coreper, the European Council – to take respective measures and adopt the same stance. What we are also pursuing is to have Turkey isolated as to its tactics. So, what are we saying? There’s no ground, there’s also no room, if you’d like, in the sea for the era of the gunboats. What Turkey’s doing is a joke. Honestly, what does it think it is achieving in the area where it’s digging, or it’s attempting to dig? Because it is possibly doubtful that it has the technical skills to do so; it’s spending the money on Yavuz, but whether Yavuz can actually dig is another major issue. In that area it’s almost certain that there’s absolutely nothing; we know this and the Americans know this and the Turks know this.
What are the Turks trying to do? To provoke? To make us overreact and, thus, lead the international community into thinking it is a Balkan dispute? Is that what they’re attempting to achieve? They will achieve nothing.
I’ve clearly said about Turkey that these things are a joke; they are foolish actions, contrary to the international law. There will be condemnation based on the international law. And on the international law chessboard, which is the only one that counts in the 21st century, Turkey keeps losing pieces. Constantly.
REPORTER: Why do you think Erdogan is doing this? Does he want to win points in view of the negotiations for the Cyprus issue?
N. DENDIAS: I cannot get a read on President Erdogan.
REPORTER: An estimation?
N. DENDIAS: I’m under the impression that he has analysed the strategy of tension. Because a policy of tension allows a government that is facing problems to survive in the internal fronts. And so you know, his take is wrong in that as well. Because if he wants to bring his society into the 21st century – and this is the measure of success – on a European course, which is what he should be aiming for, he is achieving nothing this way. He is training his electorate on an analysis from the 19th century, which is leading neither him nor Turkey nor the Turkish society anywhere.
And I’m not happy saying this. Because what would be the best for us? To have a rich, powerful, democratic, open, friendly neighbour. That’s what we want. To build commercial relations, friendly relations, educational relations.
REPORTER: And there’s also the challenge that lies ahead for you, Mr Minister, to build on low politics matters with Mr Çavuşoğlu. On your part, after your meeting with Mr Pompeo with regard to Turkey, did you get the feeling from the US side, Mr Pompeo and the other officials, that Turkey is disfavoured? Because the take on Mr Pompeo’s statements and the interview he gave to ERT is that there will be strategic dialogue and they are doing all they can to prevent Turkey's drift away from the West, and that’s what we’re seeing from his stance, but also from the meeting scheduled between the US President and the Turkish President on 13 November.
N. DENDIAS: For starters, I’ve seen Mr Pompeo three times. Consequently, as I told him jokingly, he must be tired of seeing me all the time. He said it himself at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation that he “keeps pressuring me.” I do not see our discussion with Mr Pompeo as a discussion aimed against some other country, if you’d like; this is not our concern. Greece is a country with self-confidence; a country exiting the crisis; a country that can assume a role. We do not feel insecure against the Turks.
What was the topic in the discussion with Mr Pompeo? We agree on one thing. That Turkey has to turn a new leaf. We want Turkey to come closer to the West; we don’t mean geographically. And the West is not just NATO, you know. The West is a whole system of ideas that developed after the Enlightenment and encompasses democracy, human rights, tolerance towards diversity, the concept of protection of citizens. All this. When we’re saying “we want Turkey to come closer to the West” this is precisely what we mean and we agree on this with the Europeans and the Americans, but the Turkish government is not helping.
We could help the Turks in this course. We’ve gone through this, Greece…
REPORTER: Besides, Greece has done it.
N. DENDIAS: Greece has done it. Greece went through all these stages and it is at the next stage. Turkey ought to copy us if it wants to achieve something better for its own citizens and, eventually, for the whole region. That was our discussion with the Americans. And that’s why I’m saying that Greece may serve as an example. Greece will not fall into the trap of the gunboats. You know, to be honest, bless us, we have frigates, we have many frigates, we could have sent a frigate there. Our frigate would strut around, the Turkish one would strut around, your channels would be all over it, the people would see, we’d bring out the inflatable boats, we’d show our uniforms. That’s not the point.
The Armed Forces are there to defend our independence, our territorial integrity, not to spark fights in the region.
REPORTER: Mr Minister, to get back to the issue with Syria, let me ask you this: We saw Mr Juncker today issuing a statement that they will not be funding the military camps Mr Erdogan is thinking and dreaming of. I imagine that this is also the stance of all the European countries.
N. DENDIAS: Pardon me, but the European Union will fund the mandatory resettlement of refugees from Turkey to an occupied zone in Syria? I told you that the European Union must certainly help Turkey handle the refugees. Not by giving money to the Turkish state, but by giving money to organisations that are helping people. Not by funding the attempts to resettle people. This is totally contrary to the community acquis.
REPORTER: And the experience from previous invasions of Turkey on Syrian soil and the camps it established there is that it is trying to make these areas Turkish through infrastructure and by changing the composition of the population.
N. DENDIAS: Is that possible? Honestly, does anyone believe that all this can achieve something? Nothing is going to happen. Turkey is wasting big money, it’s making fruitless efforts, it’s ruining its image. Because what’s Turkey’s image at the moment?
Let me remind you that Turkey started its course with zero problems at its borders and in one decade it has managed to not leave an inch of its borders without any problems. And it calls this foreign policy? Honestly, what is it that leads this government to such an analysis? It makes me wonder.
We have an obligation. We are not teaching anything to anyone, but I’m telling the Turks and the Foreign Minister, whom I’ve known for years, the truth. I’m telling them what I see for Turkey and what I believe, in my opinion, would be beneficial for our societies. Beyond that, if they want, they can listen, if they don’t, they don’t have to.
REPORTER: In the contacts you’ve had so far, will there be a common European Union reaction on the issue with Syria?
N. DENDIAS: Of course. A condemning announcement has already been made. It will certainly will be discussed at the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. There’s no chance that Europe will not be condemning this move. None. Because it is an illegal move, and that’s that. We don’t have much to say. There’s the announcement in the context of the trilateral meeting, which will be issued tonight. We looked at it very closely, we were extremely careful.
REPORTER: Hence the delay.
N. DENDIAS: The delay was between the Egyptians and us. We were extremely careful with the vocabulary. The vocabulary must be precise. We did not want to issue something and have the Turks saying, “You are condemning us before we’ve started.” And we waited for them to start, so as not to wrong them on this, gentlemen. Not even on this. But since they’ve started, we ought to condemn it as illegal. Clear and plain words.
REPORTER: However, Mr Minister, there’s another interpretation here in Greece, you’ve probably heard about it, but also in Europe and everywhere, that the Turks know how to negotiate well when it comes to the Americans, and that Erdogan has done so lately, and has also secured many funds from the Europeans for the migrant issue, and many are saying that this will happen again. On 13 November he will visit the White House and another negotiation will take place there; an eastern haggling.
N. DENDIAS: I’ve been hearing about the successful Turkish diplomacy ever since I was a kid. I still remember it, always! The Turks with their successful diplomacy and us Greeks, who did not have successful diplomacy and kept losing, etc. Do we truly believe this? Greece is a country that keeps growing ever since its establishment, since its Revolution, the 200-year anniversary of which we’ll be celebrating soon. Even in our defeats, we remained bigger than before. Secondly, let’s look at the last few years. Is there any greater success than Cyprus’s accession into the European Union? Tell me honestly. Who did that? Greece with its diplomacy, and the help of and cooperation with the diplomacy of the small Republic of Cyprus. We got Cyprus into the European Union without having resolved the Cyprus issue!
REPORTER: Against all odds.
N. DENDIAS: What has Turkey achieved in the last few years? And I’m not saying this maliciously. Let me repeat that I want to see a thriving Turkey, if Turkey manages to get to the next stage of development, and we are ready to help them. They are not helping themselves with their choices.
But have the Turks achieved anything when they don’t have a friend at their borders? A true and loyal friend? When Greece has managed to not just get Cyprus into the European Union, but also the eastern Balkans; we are pushing the western Balkans to become Europeanised, so that we can become a leading force in the Balkans. We already are the most powerful country in the Balkans financially. We ought to be self-confident; we are not a small and weak Balkan country without a future.
We are a serious country, with a European future. Geographically, we are in the Balkans, but we are now a part of the unified European Union, the most ambitious undertaking in the history of the planet, and we can exude power, real power.
REPORTER: With regard to the Greek-Turkish issues, however, Mr Minister, have you talked about rebooting the relations? Has the Prime Minister talked about rebooting the relations? Under these circumstances and in this climate, do you see any potential in rebooting the relations? Are the conditions right?
N. DENDIAS: With Turkey?
N. DENDIAS: If you’re asking me if it’s easy, I’ll say no, it’s not easy at all and it’s becoming harder. It’s becoming harder with everything Turkey is doing. Because it is broadcasting a wrong view overall. However, Greece ought to keep trying. It ought to always carry out – and allow me to say this without being misunderstood – an educational role. To show how things should be. That’s our role in the region.
To proudly say, as I did tell Mr Pompeo representing my country, “We have a stabilising role in the region; we’re a stability anchor in the region.” What did I mean? I meant that we do not get swayed, I meant that we can serve as an example, a model for the other countries; that we have good neighbourly relations with everyone, we talk to everyone, we help wherever we can. And we have always been broadcasting a language of understanding and reconciliation, even towards Turkey, extending our hand if Turkey wants to take up this proposal. But it also depends on them.
REPORTER: But couldn't this also be viewed as a sign of weakness with regard to Cyprus? There’s criticism that by not reacting, Greece and Nicosia have let Turkey place drilling rigs all around the island.
N. DENDIAS: We’ve let them? What’s happened is that Turkey is wasting the Turkish taxpayers’ money for absolutely no reason whatsoever. This is what’s happened. Can you tell me what Turkey has achieved with this policy? Can you tell me one thing it has achieved? It has achieved nothing at all. It has thrown a tonne of money out the window, it has ruined its image throughout the planet, it is at risk of breaking off its relations with the European Union and it keeps missing out on aid funds from the European Union, to gain what? Drilling in the mud. 40 miles west of the coast of Cyprus. And it calls this politics? And it wants us to follow this mess? Would I ever get my country to fight with all its neighbours for such things? And, of course, Turkey knows that we very much care about the Cyprus issue and, of course, resolving the Cyprus issue would be a huge determining factor in improving the Greek-Turkish relations, that’s why we’re making efforts in that direction. But, let me tell you again: Turkey must understand that we are playing on the chessboard of human rights, the international law and the law of the sea, not the chessboard of gunboats. That’s an old game; it’s out of circulation. It’s been out of circulation for 100 years now!
REPORTER: The international community, the American side, for example, Mr Pompeo in Athens, has on many occasions referred to the issue of the Turkish provocations in the eastern Mediterranean...
N. DENDIAS: I’m glad you’ve noticed that.
REPORTER: Yes. However, at the same time, he talked about a fair financial result, insinuating the natural gas. Does this concern you? Is it troubling you?
N. DENDIAS: To start with, I don’t think he was referring to the Aegean.
REPORTER: No, to the eastern Mediterranean.
N. DENDIAS: He referred to the eastern Mediterranean, but what did he really mean? That the Turkish Cypriots must gain something from the discovery of hydrocarbons in the wider area. But President Anastasiades has said this first. We, Hellenism, how shall I put it, are not hustlers. Of course, the Turkish Cypriots are entitled to something and of course President Anastasiades said that the Turkish Cypriots will get something. But he is requesting certain conditions on the part of Turkey. Turkey is acting as if Cyprus does not exist, you know. It is acting as if there’s no Republic of Cyprus. It is shutting its eyes and saying, “There’s nothing here.” What the Turks are doing is a joke.
Of course, President Anastasiades has adopted a direct stance in favour of the Turkish Cypriot community and their rights over the hydrocarbons that have been found in the wider area, under certain conditions, though.
REPORTER: Let’s see how the behind-the-scene diplomacy and the diplomatic battles will be shaped in the near future.
N. DENDIAS: Don’t make me tell you everything!
REPORTER: Of course not, just a taste. You have coordinated with and visited Nicosia, where you met with your friend, Mr Christodoulides.
N. DENDIAS: Mr Christodoulides is excellent, very good.
REPORTER: Of course, he’s very good. You talked in view of the General Affairs Council...
N. DENDIAS: I also got to see my son, who’s in Cyprus.
REPORTER: I did not know that, Mr Minister.
N. DENDIAS: I’m telling you this so you know I’m not viewing Cyprus from afar.
REPORTER: Is he studying there?
N. DENDIAS: Yes.
REPORTER: Therefore, now you’ve also coordinated with the General Affairs Council and on Tuesday you...
N. DENDIAS: I think it’s been shifted to Monday. The enlargement has been set for Tuesday.
REPORTER: So you coordinated with the others and said that the issue of Turkey’s provocations will also be put before the Europeans, at a time when the topic of the day – other than the enlargement – will be the Turkish invasion in Syria. How will all this work? Let’s see how it will actually affect the Europeans; at a time when they will be presented with the big picture of the situation in the area, the Turkish invasion, the refugee crisis and possibly the Europeans’ stance, we will be putting forward our issues with regard to Turkey’s provocations.
N. DENDIAS: For starters, I can’t hide that proceedings are under way on many levels. At leadership level, the Prime Minister’s diplomatic advisors, the Prime Minister's advisor on European affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are talking to the European partners.
Europe is our family. We’re always talking. We are not waiting for the Council, as was the case in the past, when we had five folders to discuss in two hours, agree or disagree, write something together and leave. It’s a continuous process. There is a series of Councils on another level: Coreper, I’m not going bore you with that, up to next week’s Councils. So there will be understanding, at this stage there already is. I know that 14 countries – actually we’ve exchanged a load of messages with Mr Christodoulides today – are already willing to condemn the Turkish provocations in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone.
What’s the issue? Is the case with Syria misdirecting us? Not at all. On the contrary! It shows that Turkey has a modus operandi. It is a troublemaker by creed. It’s not only doing it against the Republic of Cyprus, it’s doing it against all of its neighbours. Wherever there’s trouble, Turkey’s there! Get it? This is not making it hard for us, it is making it hard for Turkey. Turkey ought to have behaved differently if it wanted to get the job done; isolate us and the Cypriots and demonstrate that it is a regional dispute. Just as Turkey tried to implicate us. Turkey wanted a Greek warship to be sent out so as to present the case as a Greek-Turkish dispute and as a territorial fight, and so force the Americans and the Europeans to say, “Both of you back down, de-escalation.” Now Turkey’s been caught red-handed violating the rights of the Republic of Cyprus. It’s become the old maid!
REPORTER: Mr Minister, as soon as you took office, you went on your first trip to Washington, without even having been sworn it.
N. DENDIAS: Yes, you remember well. You noticed! The Americans did not make an issue out of it; they talked to me even though I had not been sworn in yet.
REPORTER: There were intense rumours at the time that Turkey is looking to turn towards the Greek continental shelf, close to the area of Kastelorizo actually. Has there been information on this? And if there has, why do you believe it did not go ahead with this threat? Or was it just a part of the hybrid communication war it is waging...
N. DENDIAS: Allow me not to elaborate on this. However, there was information.
REPORTER: Let’s move on to the issue of Cyprus because I want to ask you something: Was there a course change on the part of Greece? Up to now, the previous government was saying that the international aspect of the Cyprus issue concerned Greece, the internal aspect concerned Cyprus. Now, is there a view that all these aspects must be addressed as a whole? Apart from the fact, of course, that Greece’s responsibility lies on the international aspect.
N. DENDIAS: Obviously Greece’s responsibility, outside the treaties, lies on the international aspect and not the internal affairs. Of course, on anything the Cypriot side wants our cooperation, our opinion, our support, we’re here. Let’s not kid ourselves, they’re our brothers, our family. Beyond that, there’s trilateral and quintilateral cooperation. Turkey wanted us to abandon the trilateral. Trilateral means – for your viewers, you know what it means – the two communities and the Secretary General. Quintilateral means Turkey and Greece as well, and we are saying the European Union as an observer too, by the way. Turkey wanted to forget about the trilateral part. The Secretary General is not doing them the favour; we’ll start with trilateral. I am hoping Turkey will join the quintilateral in a sombre manner, and most importantly, it must not affect the Turkish Cypriot side, Mr Akinci, so as to create problems with the trilateral.
REPORTER: What conditions are we laying down, Mr Minister, so as to attend the quintilateral?
N. DENDIAS: For starters, we are not laying down initial conditions. But there’s a framework. The framework is there. What’s the framework? The one described by the United Nations resolutions. The international legality, gentlemen. Greece has got international legality by the hand. It’s the only thing you can carry along that provides a benefit at this place and time. We do not veer towards imaginary analyses beyond the framework of the international law. The international law describes the Security Council resolutions. They’re there. They’ve been there for years. Turkey knows them, the communities know them, the Turkish Cypriots know them; they cannot pretend they do not know them. So it’s on this level we’ll talk about resolving the Cyprus issue. This is the given; it’s on these grounds that we’ll negotiate. We are not veering from the grounds of international legality to fruitless and futile quests, which offer us no security from that point onwards.
REPORTER: What about what Mr Çavuşoğlu has said, to look for and hold quintilateral meetings to discuss the solution we want?
N. DENDIAS: Excuse me, but how will we do that? Let me get this straight, who gives us the right to do that? The Security Council resolutions. Who gives me, the person the Prime Minister entrusted for the position of Foreign Minister, the right to toss everything out the window and meet with Mr Çavuşoğlu to discuss nonsense? These things cannot happen.
REPORTER: However, are the Turks, like Mr Çavuşoğlu, offering other forms of solution in the meetings you hold?
N. DENDIAS: Look, as to offering, they don’t. As to mentioning them, to be honest, they do. So, the discussion continues, they say it and we leave at that point, because we know what we’ll hear. I’ve told him what I’m telling you. I’ve seen Mr Çavuşoğlu in New York; I know him well, let’s not kid ourselves, I’ve known him for years. I was his Vice-Chairman in Greece and I was his successor for the chairmanship of the Migration Committee of the Council of Europe. I know him very well.
Let’s be frank; there’s no point in misleading him, nor I am trying to do such a thing. As a matter of fact, I don’t play poker in real life, so I don’t know how to bluff. When I say something, I mean it. That’s that. Greece has always done so. It’s a country that negotiates with honour; it tables its views and its views are on the side of the international law. And it calls upon Turkey to negotiate on this stable foundation, the international law.
REPORTER: However, Turkey, Mr Minister, as you are well aware and we are also seeing in Syria, prevails based on its show of force and places the international law in second place.
REPORTER: It tries to.
N. DENDIAS: Yes, it tries to. I’m telling you honestly, and you’ll see it, this policy does not have a leg to stand on. If it had, the international law would never have prevailed as a resolution manner, the European Union would never have been established, there would be no United Nations. Humanity has turned over a new leaf. Of course, there’s always room for force, but it has a very brief future. And if you want a real analysis, Turkey is at a pre-economic crisis phase. It is struggling to keep the growth rates, to restrain its society, which is developing rapidly in terms of population and needs huge resources, it needs continuous foreign exchange inflow, be it in the short-term. Turkey is on the razor's edge. What they’re doing may destroy the Turkish economy and it’s a shame. I don’t want that.
REPORTER: To get back to the gist of our affairs, the Greek-Turkish, let’s see what the Pompeo visit has produced in terms of the defence deal. Essentially, do you believe that it creates a veil of security? Meaning does this deal provide certainty, better stability in terms of our defence?
N. DENDIAS: Of course. Let’s be clear. This deal – which in essence concerns one, two, three, four new bases; Marathi, which is the pier, is not the same as Souda, it’s something different, it’s not the same as Souda legally – is in the context of a Greek military base, where there is a Greek Commander; there are agreed rules of operation. For any operations not included, there is a committee that decides; there’s a Greek flag. We understand each other on matters of national sovereignty.
Other than that, however, how does the fact that the Americans mention in an agreement their presence in Alexandroupoli, which they will go ahead with, sound? Doesn’t it sound like they are expanding their footprint in the region? Doesn’t it sound like a stability factor in the region? Let me put it this way: Are the Turks happy with this deal?
REPORTER: On the other hand, many are wondering, Mr Minister, whether the USA will intervene in the case of a new Imia incident.
N. DENDIAS: But the issue, if you allow me, is not whether they will intervene. The answer to this question has a mistake. A sombre and powerful country will not find itself in an Imia situation.
REPORTER: Mediation was not the most pleasant experience for Greek diplomacy.
N. DENDIAS: Imia was not a political choice, but a series of mistakes. Let’s be honest and not fool ourselves. I’m not saying that the intentions were bad nor that anyone was a traitor, but it was a mistake. No, we will not lead the country into a new Imia situation. And we’re on another page now. Greece is more powerful these days. More powerful with a broader footprint in the region. Greece is a leading force in the Balkans. The strongest economy in the area, a stable European country; it has overcome the crisis, it has a homogeneous society and it has its sights set ahead. Did you know that the Greek bond has a negative interest rate today? What does this mean when Turkey’s is at 20%? Who is strong and who is weak?
REPORTER: Mr Minister, the government is focused on the economy. However, the issue is – and no one can prevent it – what will happen in the event of an aerial accident.
N. DENDIAS: Let me give you an historic example, which I don’t like saying. I had read a whole series of books, many of which by a highly intelligent individual. Former President Nixon’s on the Soviet Union, which mentioned their huge military force, their potential. Remember, we all talked about it. Where has Russia ended up? The Soviet Union! Russia, thank God, is fine and we wish them all the best.
Where did the Soviet Union go? All this superiority in arms and military divisions, where did it go? If you don’t have a stable society, a stable economy, good neighbourly relations and the potential to exert influence through what we call soft power, you don’t stand a chance in the modern world. That’s the truth. And the Greeks should walk proudly. They are living in a country with amazing opportunities. If the society believes in its potential. We have made mistakes, we have made many, we have flaws, but we also have amazing advantages; we can get very far ahead and we’re not afraid of anyone. And no one can lead us to a chessboard they want us to battle on. We will battle where we choose, at the time we choose and under the circumstances we choose. We will not crawl behind anyone.
REPORTER: Mr Minister, does it seem realistic to you to convene a Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council in December?
N. DENDIAS: Under the current circumstances, I can’t tell you it's the best of times. On the other hand, Greece always keeps its options open. I told you, we are not expelling Turkey from the West. We try to act like a magnet to bring it this way, to serve as an example, which could convince the Turkish government that this is the best future for the Turkish society.
Have you seen how many Turks are buying houses in Athens? Do you want to tell me how many Greeks are buying houses in Turkey? How many Europeans are buying houses in Turkey?
REPORTER: So has this effort with Mr Çavuşoğlu to discuss low politics, economic and trade issues started? Will it be of essence under these circumstances?
N. DENDIAS: To tell you the truth, given the whole story with Cyprus, it may not be a great idea to meet, because we might even exchange bitter words. Beyond that, we’ll try it at some point. Firstly, that ship there is costing them a load of money. It can’t stay there forever; they’ll collect some mud and they’ll go on their excursion.
REPORTER: They’ll get another one, Erdogan said.
N. DENDIAS: Excuse me, but if they manage to sink the Turkish economy digging in the sea all around that area, I don’t think that’s a great achievement. They’re telling me, and I don’t know this, that the technical capabilities of these ships are quite...
REPORTER: The deterrent policy of the Republic of Cyprus with the arrest warrants also worked.
N. DENDIAS: And good on them. Cyprus will do more. But notice what Cyprus is doing: it is taking advantage of the international legality, on level of illegality. Imagine if Cyprus did the other thing. If it had fallen into the trap and sent two patrol boats there, the ones it has. What would it gain? The Europeans would cry de-escalation, everyone get out of there, etc. With the warrants?
REPORTER: However, it will be a strange situation. For example, TOTAL has announced it will start drilling in plot 7 at the beginning of the year. TOTAL will be drilling in one corner and the Turkish drillship will be in the other.
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to say this: TOTAL is investigating in an area where there’s natural gas. The Turks have gone further up, so they’re farther, at a safe distance, and they’re searching there, where we all know there’s nothing. The Turks are trying to create, to challenge, in essence, a legal precedent in the naivest manner. They are wrong, because they are violating the international law and they will achieve nothing. These moves concern Turkey’s internal public opinion and internal political life. I’m honestly telling you that if there is an honest friend of Turkey out there, they should advise them to pack up, calm down, de-escalate the tension and try to patch things up with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.
REPORTER: Now let’s see if there are any material benefits for the Greek Armed Forces from the defence deal on infrastructure.
N. DENDIAS: Of course. Look what’s happening: The Greek Armed Forces must move on to the mid-21st century, to become upgraded. That’s the truth. Technology is rapidly advancing the Armed Forces of all the countries. Even if the Americans gave us some weapons systems for free – to be honest – we don’t have the money to build support facilities. So, what’s happening at the moment is that these support facilities for advanced weapons systems are being built by the Americans. Our staff can be trained on this technology to be able to receive next-generation weapons.
REPORTER: And use them when the Americans are using them, I think.
N. DENDIAS: Get images and use them in the context of the deal. To be honest, there are limits. The Americans will not give us access to the credentials rooms. We are not expecting it, we know it. On the other hand, the fact that all this is happening in Greece and not somewhere else is of immense importance, honestly.
REPORTER: Have the foundations been laid for the upgrade of the Greek defence industry?
N. DENDIAS: We have discussed it and will be discussing it further. To start with, it's very important for us that it’s there and can be developed. It’s not all about buying the cheapest one from abroad; we ought to have our own production. It’s a sensitive field, with technical know-how. The Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) is excellent, with excellent human resources. I got to know them when we were the opposition party.
REPORTER: Yes, but what’s your take on the fact that the HAI, which is the core of the country’s defence industry, is part of the Ministry of Economy? Shouldn’t it belong to the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Development?
N. DENDIAS: In reality, it is close to the Ministry of Defence. It will participate in the upgrade of the F-16s to Vipers. If Greece goes ahead with the F-35s, the HAI will be there. I think the HAI has a bright future ahead; its future is proportionate to the future of the country. The country is in a strategic region; we have a €340-million market surrounding us. We could very well pass on the technical know-how; sell our services, if you’d like, to the Balkan states, the Middle East and the Gulf.
Greece has made a comeback as a player. We will make a comeback as a player in Libya, to help with stability. We will make a comeback as a player in Syria, to help with stability. We will make a comeback as a player in the Gulf, to help these countries. We have close relations with Egypt; the trilateral meetings are working excellently. We are the closest allies of Israel. We are friends with almost all of the countries in the region, with an exception that, as it seems, has decided to not seek our friendship. So we have created a very big market and the HAI has access to this market.
REPORTER: At this point, Mr Minister, let’s cross over to the newsroom to talk to Leda Papadopoulou, because the Turkish invasion has expanded with land forces.
[Link to the newsroom]
REPORTER: The migrant issue is one of the developments. There are signs that the invasion in Syria may possibly increase the flows.
N. DENDIAS: We'll see. Turkey has an obligation against the international community to not allow economic migrants to pass through its soil to get to Europe. Does it honour this obligation? Partly. Even President Erdogan’s statement was: “I’ll turn on the taps.” For starters, the statement in itself is derogatory for people, the nature of people and their rights. What’s a person? A liquid you can get rid of any time you like? Anyway, though, we ought to have a steady system to handle the migrant flows. A system that safeguards the borders of our homeland and, at the same time, safeguards human rights. I think the Ministry of Citizen Protection, Mr Chrisochoidis and Mr Koumoutsakos, are working swiftly. I think that if we take advantage of the winter months ahead of us, what we’re seeing will recede in a month, due to the weather. By spring, Greece will be fully prepared to handle the situation.
REPORTER: Let’s cross over to another topic, Mr Minister, the issue with North Macedonia. Is it possible that you may have delayed in getting involved as a Ministry of Foreign Affairs both in the process of honouring the agreement and in the process of developing the relevant agenda that included the agreement? I read an article by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, who accuses, not you personally, but the entire Ministry of letting the other side violate the agreement.
N. DENDIAS: Firstly, this is an agreement that we had opposed and we had said so. Kyriakos Mitsotakis has clearly said it. He had also said something else, honestly and clearly: “If this agreement is ratified, I will honour it.” So, we’ll honour this agreement. I have explained it to Mr Dimitrov, who is the Foreign Minister, and Mr Mitsotakis has said it to Mr Zaev when they met in New York. We will honour the agreement. Of course, there are issues; issues pertaining to books, issues pertaining to brand names, issues pertaining to goods. That’s the issue or the creation of an artificial antiquity, as Gruevski had done there. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia is on a street called “Philip II of Macedon”. And this is not a compliment to the Greek side. Because if it were, all would be well, great, we’d thank them, etc.
Naturally, we are monitoring them. There’s an action plan in place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an expert will be placed in charge, the competent Directorate Director, who will be responsible for monitoring its implementation. Our delegation, the Embassy in North Macedonia, is on it; scores of démarches and scores of consultations have taken place. But I’ll be honest as to North Macedonia. I’m not saying that they’re happy to do all this, but, in view of the Enlargement Council actually, I see an effort to do as much as possible. Of course, they are also being – if you allow the expression – sneaky. They try to cut corners and try to get out of some things. They won’t get out of them. And there are two issues: the implementation of the agreement and the interpretation of the agreement. Every legal document has an interpretation, right? We must agree on this. They can’t interpret it any way they like; they must interpret it as it should be. We are viewing North Macedonia with friendliness, its people with friendliness. It’s a very small country and we can help them a lot. We can invest, we can pull them towards a common European future; but they too must respect the sensitivities of the Greek people and the Greek society.
REPORTER: However, are we able to monitor them? We are focused on the other side, on the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey. Do we allocate the necessary importance so that it may be implemented?
N. DENDIAS: I want to be frank. It would certainly be better if the issue was not there. It would be much better, but what can we do? It’s there and we have to look into it; it’s a national issue, you know. For example, the issue with the brand names of the products, the Macedonian products, is significant. They are Greek products. No one can usurp this just because they created a made-up name.
REPORTER: However, the agreement is creating difficult conditions, because Article 1 and mainly Article 7 allow the use of “Macedonian” for all issues other than the official institutions.
N. DENDIAS: You’re right.
REPORTER: I mean, sometimes I read texts from viewers and readers who are saying, “But they said Macedonia.” However, the agreement allows the use of “Macedonia” and “Macedonian” for certain things.
N. DENDIAS: Those pointing fingers and saying that we are not working hard for its implementation should see this. Although, I honestly tell you, we are doing everything we can, being aware of the circumstances, and also being aware of the need to tie this small country to the common European endeavour. Because we’re also interested in that. We want to have a North Macedonia on our northern borders which is friendly towards Greece, which is on the same page. We do not want yet another enemy. We want a friend; a nation that is indebted to Greece. But, of course, we must also safeguard the significant Greek and Macedonian rights. So, what weapon do we use to untangle this, through an agreement that cannot be easily interpreted and you have to convince the other side of its interpretation? The accession process, let’s not kid ourselves. That’s the dangling carrot. And I’m not saying this in a negative way. So, all this is extremely complicated, extremely hard. There’s work carried out at the Ministry. The Alternate Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, has been charged with many items from this package and is working on this. Nothing is simple.
REPORTER: Will the Committee for the books get to work? Because that gap has resulted in the deadline for changing the books expiring without anything having happened, and there’s criticism that the government is not doing it because it doesn’t want to make changes to the Greek books, given that the agreement specified mutual changes actually.
N. DENDIAS: To tell you the honest truth. Changes to the Greek books now? We all have children; we have read what is being taught. Have we seen any books now that constitute irredentism to the detriment of North Macedonia? These people, our Balkan neighbours – and I’m repeating what I said about the Turks – are living in the era of 1907, 1908. OK, we’ve been through this as a society, of course. The Secrets of the Swamp were an actual era for Greece, a heroic era, an era of heroic battles. But that has passed. We have no rivalry against North Macedonia or Albania or anyone as to the borders. We want our people and our countries to prosper, with solemnity, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the European acquis, the human rights. All this has to happen. But it has to happen with solemnity and decency.
REPORTER: As things stand today, Mr Minister, would Athens give North Macedonia the green light to open chapters for accession negotiations?
N. DENDIAS: There’s still some things to be done, as we’ve clarified. We’ll certainly help them, provided they help us. This is the phrase I said to Dimitrov. They very well know that they have to try a bit harder. They still have a few days left, that would be the right thing to do.
REPORTER: Because they have a few days left, this does not just concern North Macedonia, but also Albania, to get to that.
N. DENDIAS: Harder. Honest words.
REPORTER: Because we still have a few days left until these decisions, Kyriakos Mitsotakis set specific terms. He said that everything that should be done for the Greek minority must be done. These are, more or less, the property issue, the right to self-identification during the census that will take place, etc. I have not seen something happening in Albania on an institutional level.
REPORTER: This means that we’re heading towards an approval, commencement of accession negotiations?
N. DENDIAS: Let me tell you. We would like for the two countries to proceed, that’s the truth; it’s in their interest, and in the interest of Greece and Europe. But they must fulfil the terms. We’ve talked about North Macedonia, let’s move on to Albania. Mr Mitsotakis met with Mr Rama in New York. I was there as well. He clearly told him: “Self-identification of the Greek minority.” Forgive me, but that’s not a demand of Greece against Albania, it is a basic human right. How can it be possible to believe you belong in the Greek minority and say it, and then have them tell you don’t? Mr Mitsotakis was explaining the self-evident to Mr Rama. As for the property: How can it be possible to try and usurp the property of your own citizens, actually, on the Himarë coast? These have nothing to do with Greek-Albanian disputes; they have to do with basic human rights and the European acquis. And we keep trying to also lead the Albanians towards this direction.
REPORTER: What exactly did the Albanian side have to say about Himarë, Mr Dendias?
N. DENDIAS: The Albanians are always trying to put forward huge difficulties. If they’re having difficulties, the Greek side is prepared to offer assistance and technical know-how and the European Union is prepared to offer assistance and technical know-how. So, all the excuses – if you allow me to say so good naturedly – are probably lame excuses.
REPORTER: However, essentially without the abolition of the statutes we’ve seen in the last one-and-a-half to two years about the coastal properties, it would be difficult for Albania’s accession process to go ahead without Greece’s consent.
N. DENDIAS: It is a crystal-clear conditionality for us. The Albanian side has offered us a compromise. It’s inadequate. It must delve deeper. And let me say it again: not because we want to impose it. I’m saying it so the Albanians will not think that Greece is creating obstacles; it’s for the good of the Albanian society. The Greek minority participates in the Albanian affairs and can become the best link between Greece and Albania. But, Albania, the government must embrace the minority; at the end of the day, they’re its own citizens.
REPORTER: And since you’re referring to this issue, I’m seeing a few incoming messages. In a few days, it’s the one-year anniversary since the unfortunate incident in Vouliarates with the death of a minority Greek, Konstantinos Katsifas. I remember that when we followed the story back then, we were waiting from one day to the next and from one week to the next for the report on the conditions surrounding his death to be issued.
N. DENDIAS: From one month to the next and now we’re at the point of one year to the next.
REPORTER: Has this report been submitted to the Albanian authorities?
N. DENDIAS: Well, we don’t have it. They’ve also issued a relevant announcement, if I remember correctly. Beating about the bush.
REPORTER: I think that our Albanian neighbours have an issue with legality. Is Mr Rama somehow related to Corfu?
N. DENDIAS: I’m not going to elaborate because I know the issue well, as I am from Corfu, and Mr Rama does not want to remember it. OK, I’ll respect his self-identification right, even though they tell me that it’s not as precise as he makes it appear.
REPORTER: With regard to Albania, as we all know, a freeze has been put on the maritime zone agreement after Mr Rama’s application to the Constitutional Court. Have there been any talks since? Actually, Mr Kotzias talked with Bushati and a freeze was put on that. Have there been any further developments since?
N. DENDIAS: No, nothing. We can start from the basics, create a good climate, so the Albanians may manage to start an accession course with a level of solemnity. We’ll get to the rest later. This story started in 2009. The Karamanlis government had agreed, Mrs Bakoyannis had agreed. The Albanians managed to blow it to pieces. It was not proper conduct on their part.
We’ll start slowly. Take the Egyptians – to give you a positive example – we’re starting again, we’ve set up technical committees, to commence discussions following Mr Mitsotakis’ visit. Mr Shoukry, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, and I have developed a very good relationship; we’ve met four times and are starting a course because the conditions are there. The conditions have not been created with Albania, although we are keeping our hopes up. We are their friends; they just need to realise it.
REPORTER: What about Libya?
N. DENDIAS: Libya is not a country at this point. It has two governments. The Turks tried their shenanigans once again to create an EEZ agreement, ignoring the existence of Crete. It was most interesting when I was talking to the French Foreign Minister, Mr Le Drian, and he said, “Exotique”, unbelievable. Anyhow, I met with the Libyan Foreign Minister of the Tripoli government and he understood that it was not possible. We’ve also talked with the Egyptians and the Italians and the French; I think they will all come to their senses and will not attempt any of these legal acrobatics. Not that it will have any serious impact if it happens, but it will simply force us to take some legal measures. I don’t think there’s any reason for such ridiculousness.
REPORTER: Since we’ve mentioned the EEZ and the maritime zones, I’ll get back to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Kotzias, who had announced, just a day before leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a plan to expand the Greek territorial waters in the Ionian Sea. Naturally after his departure and resignation, the government put a freeze on the plan and shelved it. Is that plan a part of the Foreign Ministry’s planning?
N. DENDIAS: Is it part of the planning or does it exist as a plan? It’s two different things.
REPORTER: In the planning.
N. DENDIAS: Allow me not to elaborate on this. It exists as a plan. As for the planning, that’s entirely different.
I think you’ve utterly exhausted me. It’s the first time I’ve talked in the three months I’ve been in office. I have not been on any shows at all. Thank you for the honour of inviting me. I thought that some things had to be said, in view of the times and the conditions, the deal with the USA and the major successes out of the deal, but I think you may have led me to reveal too much.
REPORTER: Thank you very much. All the best and carry on strong.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you very much.