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Home arrow Current Affairs arrow Top Story arrow Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias’ interview with Alexis Papachelas on SKAI TV’s “Istories” (Tuesday, 1 May 2018)

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias’ interview with Alexis Papachelas on SKAI TV’s “Istories” (Tuesday, 1 May 2018)

Wednesday, 02 May 2018

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias’ interview with Alexis Papachelas on SKAI TV’s “Istories” (Tuesday, 1 May 2018)A. PAPACHELAS: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Alexis Papahelas. Welcome to Istories. Tonight we have the pleasure and honour of having the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias with us here in our studio. Good evening, Mr. Kotzias.

N. KOTZIAS: Good evening to all of our viewers, and thank you for the invitation.

A. PAPACHELAS: Thank you. I would like to start with Greek-Turkish relations, because we have a large range of issues to discuss: we have Greek-Turkish issues, we have the Skopje issue, the Albania issue. But I would like to start with Greek-Turkish issues. And I’d like you to tell me where we stand. A few days ago, you saw the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs. You hadn’t seen him for some time. I assume you carried out an assessment. Where do we stand? Where does this relationship stand?

N. KOTZIAS: I met him five days ago. I think it was a good discussion. In Turkey, too, they realise that we have to keep some channels of communication open; that, beyond one practical problem or another, we have to be able to communicate and talk. And my opinion is that, in diplomacy, above all, you have to talk to the people with whom you have a problem. With others, you can go to a restaurant, go out in a group. I think we took a step towards bringing back the dialogue on certain issues with Turkey.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you think this relationship has taken a bad turn? Because in recent months we have seen new tension that we didn’t have in the past.

N. KOTZIAS: I think this is a difficult relationship. It has both its historic legacy and Turkey’s current conduct, which is full of contrasts and contradictions. I often say that Turkey is a country with national contradictions – it has the major Kurdish issue, religious issues, a major difference with the Alawites, the other Muslims. It has areas that are still feudal in nature, like the old Greek system under the land owners, but also a strong new technology sector – developed capitalism, I would say in my old terminology – and we have this big problem, this sense of insecurity on the one hand and arrogance on the other, fear and concern on the part of the Turkish leadership, which makes it restless. Some people think that the term restlessness somewhat plays down the problem. In fact, it is a term that originated in the analysis of how Bismarck’s Germany and the balance of power in Europe led to World War I. Restlessness shows the risks and how you have to deal with them.

A. PAPACHELAS: The truth is, for many years Mr. Erdogan somewhat set the Greek-Turkish agenda aside.

N. KOTZIAS: He never created a ‘hot incident’ and he has never ...

A. PAPACHELAS: But we have come very close to a ‘hot incident’ ...

N. KOTZIAS: He has expressed revisionist inclinations more strongly than in the past. And you also see these revisionist inclinations in the way Turkey is acting to its east. In other words, if one remembers what I said at the beginning of the Syrian war, I expressed a concern – and my Turkish counterpart didn’t like it – that, in Syria, Turkey might be repeating what it did in the Alexandretta region, which is the Afrin region. It seems to have such tendencies, to violate the Treaty of Lausanne, and what was initially worrying was that our partners the Europeans didn’t realise that this isn’t just a ‘simple’ problem – the simple in inverted commas – of chemical weapons or of how people are being killed and shouldn’t be killed, but that we have a power that is thinking in revisionist terms, and if one encourages it or just leaves it alone, you don’t know where this revisionist tendency will manifest itself. By revisionist I mean a country that feels the balance of power has changed, that it has more power today than it did during period a, b or c, when it made an agreement that it now wants to change.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you think this also applies to our issues?

N. KOTZIAS: Overall, it is showing this trend. But I think if you ask me how I see Erdogan at bottom, he is interested above all in the region’s energy resources, and he perhaps has another restlessness about him, having the sense that the exploitation of the region’s resources is moving ahead without Turkey.

A. PAPACHELAS: Are you talking about Cyprus?

N. KOTZIAS: Yes, not it the way that Turkey saw it. I’m not talking about just Cyprus. I’m also talking about the pipelines that will pass through Greece. I’m talking about the plan for an electricity cable from Israel, via Cyprus and Crete, to Europe. In general, he sees the development of projects that don’t fit in with his thinking regarding Turkey’s monopoly as a transporter of energy from the eastern side of the world to Europe.

A. PAPACHELAS: Because people have an image of tension in recent months, I would like you to explain to us how you see certain incidents. The first is the notorious ramming of the coast guard vessel at Imia. What was that? Was it a provocation? A chance event? What was it?

N. KOTZIAS: I’ll tell you how I read it, and then I will tell you – in responding to the next question, I imagine – my more general reading. Normally, in the relations between two states, it is the coast guard that patrols the maritime area between the two sides. And countries always look to avoid the involvement of the navy, because it could lead to a clash. Turkey has now made two interesting changes. The first is that the Coast Guard has been taken from the Defence Ministry, where it belonged, and has gone to the Ministry of Interior, where the current Minister of Interior is a little more aggressive than the other institutions.

A. PAPACHELAS: And closer to Erdogan?

N. KOTZIAS: Very close. And he has the gendarmerie up on the Evros border. So one can see a similarity in conduct, as it is from the same minister. That is the first thing. The second is that the Turks also made a second choice. They added relatively small Navy vessels to the Coast Guard, but these vessels are large for the Coast Guard and behave in a way, I would say, that is more akin to the second line and not to the Coast Guard. So we had an incident that I would say wasn’t planned, but resulted from the changes and the mindset behind these changes.

A. PAPACHELAS: Another case we are all very concerned about is that of the two Greek soldiers.

N. KOTZIAS: And in fact, as I explained at NATO the day before yesterday, it is unprecedented for two officers of a NATO army to be detained by another NATO army – with these two armies supposedly fighting for the same ideas, principles and values – because they went 20 meters across the border.

A. PAPACHELAS: But was this planned? Did our soldiers fall into a trap? What happened there?

N. KOTZIAS: I’m not in a position to know whether they fell into a trap or if it was planned. But Turkey’s conduct shows a change in outlook. This isn’t the Turkey of old, with whom we exchanged the soldiers who crossed borders and were arrested – I have a whole file on my desk. Right now Turkey is using them in a different way. You may have noticed, Mr. Papachelas, that I initially avoided speaking on the issue because my study was that there comes a time when the Turks change their conduct, and this was the case where it happened. The second thing is that, in my opinion, we have to show greater composure in these cases, because I think about the differences between us and the Turkish establishment. The Turkish establishment lost 500 soldiers and officers in Afrin, and Ankara didn’t even bat an eye. If just one of our people is detained or harmed, our whole society is certainly upset. We have a different outlook on the role and importance of freedom and life. And sometimes I get the sense – to put it cynically, but we have to understand this – that some people in Ankara see our reactions and, rather than understanding how seriously we take the freedom and lives of our soldiers, our officers, every Greek citizen, every citizen of the world, perhaps they smile and say, “look how much we upset them over a single issue, while we are losing hundreds of soldiers and officers in Syria.” We have a different way of looking at such issues, and this has to do not only with policy, but also with culture, I would say.

A. PAPACHELAS: Are these two soldiers hostages?

N. KOTZIAS: I don't think they are in a position to use them for negotiations, regardless of what some people on both sides might think.

A. PAPACHELAS: And nor do you think they will ask for the eight Turkish military personnel at some point, as some people say.

N. KOTZIAS: Various key players have asked for them, but they understand the major difference. What is the major difference? That ‘the eight’ came to Greece to request asylum, while they detained our two officers. We didn’t detain ‘the eight’ so we might return them against their will. So the arrest of the two Greek officers is against their will and the will of the State they serve.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you see a scenario in which they come back soon? Because it is obvious from the latest images we saw that they are part of a psychological war, as you described it ...

N. KOTZIAS: We still don’t have an announcement of the accusations or the charges from the prosecutor. We have a problem of legal culture. If you are arrested in Greece, even in the act, the prosecutor or someone, the investigator, has to charge you. In Turkey, it has been almost two months now and charges have not been brought. They may not be in a position to bring charges against them, but their law doesn’t require them to do so. That is why I was very cautious from the outset and didn’t voice any opinions.

A. PAPACHELAS: So I understand that ...

N. KOTZIAS: I focused more on actions, and I must say that this was one of the rare times when all of our partners stood by Greece on this issue. And it is being raised by the Europeans and the Americans, and even the Russians, with whom Turkey is fighting on the same side in Syria.

A. PAPACHELAS: But I didn’t see any results from any of these interventions. Not from Mr. Putin’s or anyone else’s ...

N. KOTZIAS: It is clear that Mr. Erdogan has a specific policy regarding human life and detentions. Don’t forget that he is close to a major crisis in Turkish-U.S. relations because he is detaining American citizens or people connected with the American embassy and consulates in Turkey, and he is holding them without charges. This is unprecedented and it is an example of this insecurity on Erdogan’s part. On the one hand he is arrogant, and on the other he is secretly unsettled by the prospect of some accident or other happening at some point.

A. PAPACHELAS: A great deal has been written and said about the case where some of our people went and planted our flags, and Mr. Erdogan and his ministers claimed that their commandos took those flags down.

N. KOTZIAS: We haven’t seen any flags taken down, no video appeared. The Turkish authorities said they had sent us proof of the incidents, but there was no such issue. In general, my opinion is that any Greek should be able to make use of Greek territory, but he always has to think about the consequences of that use.

A. PAPACHELAS What does this mean, in practice? In other words, if I am a citizen and I decide to go plant a Greek flag on the Imia islets, or anywhere else...

N. KOTZIAS: You may very well do so, but you will need to protect it…

A. PAPACHELAS: Supposedly, the Greek State is responsible for protecting its symbols...

N. KOTZIAS: What if you do this secretly and the Greek State is not aware of it? Perhaps they went and put it in bushes, and no one is able to find it. I am not aware of such an incident. I know we had various ideas and efforts. We even had some by an employee at the Foreign Ministry who went to Kalymnos and wanted to go to the Imia islets etc. These are acts which, on the one hand, aim at solidifying the islets’ Greek status -and of course we support this- but, on the other hand, they do not do it in a way that is beneficial to the country. In other words, would I be able to take a bottle and hit any foreigner I happen to come across, at the same time claiming: “This is Greece and I have the right to do this.” Ok, we need to be responsible in everything we do.

A. PAPACHELAS: There is also this issue with the island of Ro, about which I saw that a difference of opinion exists, so to speak. You said that someone fired a sound – the way you put it surprised me. Some other ministers, as well as the Minister of Defence, said that this was a decisive moment, that the men there showed their determination. Which of the two is true?

N. KOTZIAS: I think when you shoot, you show determination. And what exactly you’re shooting at, I think - the object. You may be shooting at an object that is visible, or a sound you hear when weather conditions are such that you are unable to see.

A. PAPACHELAS: Was this notorious helicopter in Greek airspace? Was there any threat?

N. KOTZIAS: There is no verification as to what exactly, and the exact spot the helicopter was located.

A. PAPACHELAS: I am trying to understand. I remember the last time we sat for an interview. You had said to me that we've told the Turks what the "red line” is, they know what it is, and they have not violated it. Has it been violated since that time. Or have we come closer to a violation on their part than we were at that time?

N. KOTZIAS: In one or two cases, they have come closer. They did not violate it.


N. KOTZIAS: For example, there is the provocation that took place off the islets of Imia, with the ramming of the Greek Coast Guard vessel or craft. This ramming incident, were it not for the calmness and level-headedness on the part of Greece, who knows where it would have led. In general, with these types of incidents, you either go and “show your teeth” and continue them, or you try to pacify them. And I mean these incidents, as well as incidents involving strong rhetoric. My view of foreign policy is that if I want to take any game one step further, I must have made the decision as to the manner in which I plan to proceed, and just how far. The fact that Turkey decides to be provocative does not necessarily mean that I have to respond to its provocation. In other words, I do not consider it wise - Turkey is presently holding election campaigns - for me to have to respond daily, and to take them so seriously. Sometimes, through a lack of response on the part of the MFA, we want to demonstrate to them that these are not practices and choices that are to be taken seriously, and that they must get their act together. You know, diplomacy also has various types of messages. These don’t necessarily have to be the same ones as those that the average citizen would use when talking to their neighbour, with whom they may have quarrelled over a dirty balcony or the neighbour's cat running through their house. Foreign policy is different.

A. PAPACHELAS: But does everybody in the government share this approach? Because this isn’t what I see. There are many who do respond.

N. KOTZIAS: That is true. First of all, each person’s character is different. If I were not a Minister, let’s say, I wouldn’t stop talking about it. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I think I need to maintain some sort of balance. So it is a different point of view, the second is for other ministries. I remind you of the assessment by Allison on the Cuban missile crisis, where the US Department of Defense said "Let's go bomb Khrushchev, the Russian ships, all of Cuba,” and the State Department said "let's fend them off through diplomatic means." The combination of these two resulted in Khrushchev taking back the missiles he wanted to install in Cuba. There are different people, different ministries, but I think that, in the tough foreign policy that I implement and practice, I do what I have been told to do by the Prime Minister. I act within the framework of the government, and therefore I believe that I act appropriately.

A. PAPACHELAS: Which of our partners and allies supports us most on this issue with Turkey?

N. KOTZIAS: I think that countries that have greater interest with regard to Turkey for energy, I would say first of all, are France and Italy. With regard to the major international issues, there are other major powers as well. I think that the Americans have the same concerns as us, not only with similar interests, but they do have concerns. They are monitoring the direction in which Turkey is heading. There are numerous American officials, though not representing the official position of the US, who feel that Turkey has departed from the ways of Western civilization, and that it has become a country with a different civilisation, in the sense used by Samuel Huntington, that it has defected to the other side in this clash of civilizations. There are others who will say, "We must be patient.. Our problem is not the Turkey that has been lost, but Erdogan’s policy, so we need to wait for a domestic change and then welcome Turkey back with open arms,” and there are certain others who believe that these are fleeting events, in a moment of anger which, after the elections, will provide new opportunities for the development of relations between America and Turkey. I believe that the first and the third are the most widespread in the US and in Israel, I would say.

A. PAPACHELAS: In the past, in any case, a Greek Prime Minister was well aware that if it he were to call the White House in the event of an incident or a crisis, there would be an immediate reaction or some sort of envoy, and so on. Now, you had a good relationship with McMaster, the National Security Advisor. He is gone. Do we know who calls the shots in Washington and what type of reaction there would be in such a case?

N. KOTZIAS: I am pleased to have been invited by everyone; in other words, in May, I shall travel to the US, to meet also with the new leadership and the National Security Council and the State Department - so I am giving you some news. Then I go to Germany, at the end of May. In June, the Foreign Minister of France will be visiting. I have received an important invitation from China, to stay multiple days, either at the end of July or the end of August, in other words the choice is mine, and then I will be going to Russia. I think we are seeking better agreements and proposals, with all the strong players in the region, and of course we also have all these trilateral cooperation schemes, whose aim, I believe, will ultimately be to protect security and stability in the Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the energy corridors that will be coming from countries other than Russia and Turkey.

A. PAPACHELAS: You know, there is a great debate in America as to whether some of the military facilities the Americans have in Turkey, and some of the strategic missions that Turkey carries out for them, should at some point be relocated to Greece. Is this a scenario that you are looking at? Are you discussing it? Or is it too early yet for something like that?

N. KOTZIAS: Let the Americans make the request first, and then we will see how we shall respond.

A. PAPACHELAS: Have they made the request to date or not?

N. KOTZIAS: No. Not to any great extent, in other words. They may ask about some change or other. I think that, with the Americans, there is something much more interesting. This has to do with the three changes in Trump-era foreign policy. Trumps first statement was that alliances are not necessary. That alliance cost money. "America first." We shouldn’t be paying money, let them figure it out themselves. The second is that he changes "America first.” "America first" does not mean alone. And he draws the conclusion that he needs to look at the issue of alliances and cooperation, because it costs much more not to have alliances than to contribute to them in some way. And now their current stance is even more complex, I would say. This is that if you fail to safeguard your alliances, you risk losing them and having someone else take them, and the cost will not simply be huge – it will be double. So as far as the Americans, I believe that their first thought right now is how they will strengthen the West again, as well as the position of the US in the West and, by extension, how they will transform alliances. And if I am reading them correctly, what they are most afraid of are certain allied countries which they do not wish to “break up” with, but from which they maintain an increasing amount of autonomy, since they are cooperating with third countries. An example would be Turkey, which does not wish to “break up" with the Americans. They may complain about Erdogan or the status quo in Ankara, but they desire this cooperation while, at the same time, with regard to specific interests, they are dabbling in cooperation with Iran and Russia in Syria. Here, the great dilemma for the Americans is - and this has to do with what we said earlier - if they lose the Turks for good, then they will look elsewhere to move the bases, should they be in danger of losing them, so they will plan for them to be relocated elsewhere or, if it is temporary, they will have to make the Turks “break up” with the Russians and the Iranians. It was not random. Major significance lies in the way in which Turkey essentially welcomed the bombing of the "rebels," the supporters of Assad, by Britain, France, and the United States. There you see Turkey suddenly shifting, and appearing like an ally with common interests. Therefore, this is a game that is being played mainly between America, Turkey, if it will remain on the American horizon as an ally, or if it will act as a regional leader and therefore also engage with regional forces, particularly Iran - Russia, and it will be from this, I believe, that the Americans will draw the conclusion as to what they wish to do. Forces exist that have drawn a conclusion. There are forces that say they must leave Turkey. Then there are forces which consider something like this to be premature.

A. PAPACHELAS: Now, you also had a meeting with the Secretary General of NATO, who had said something that was a bit reminiscent of Luns, from the past, that alliances do not meddle in these issues and that this is an issue that needs to be resolved by Greece and Turkey. You had a discussion. What did you hear?

N. KOTZIAS: I did not hear. I told him something else. I am familiar with NATO policy. I am familiar with the policy from the days of Luns but, nevertheless, you have to have good ideas and share them with all sides in order to put an end to this situation. Ok, he wants to play Pontius Pilate, but you can’t be a passive Pontius Pilate. You need to create policy and come up with ideas.

A. PAPACHELAS: Passive, what does that mean?

N. KOTZIAS: They need to rethink their behaviour. That was the most polite way of putting it. And for them to accept it, also.

A. PAPACHELAS: But do we have such examples now where they are Pontius Pilate, namely the Americans, who do not fly planes for example, over certain areas, for exercises, because they do not wish to offend Turkey?

N. KOTZIAS: This issue, we have had it for a very long time, as you are aware, since Greece's return to NATO with the terms under which this return took place, as well as the “conquests” that Turkey had made in the interim. I think that the Americans are going through a stage of reflection and are bound to draw certain conclusions in the near future. We shall see what these are. Nonetheless, our active foreign policy is that we need to explain and seek to influence, or to take all powers into consideration, and America certainly continues to be the world’s greatest power, but with a much reduced presence of course. Its GDP alone, if you notice, which from 50% after World War II has now dropped to 15%, demonstrates the limitation in its power and capabilities.

A. PAPACHELAS: Another issue which is often discussed, without the people discussing it necessarily being familiar with what they are talking about, to tell the truth, is the issue of the Greek EEZ. And whether there is a question of creating a common EEZ with Cyprus and Egypt. Is this something that exists on paper?

N. KOTZIAS: The ministry is doing a lot of significant work, and this will be seen in a few weeks, related to all issues connected with the Law of the Sea. Because these are issues of territorial waters, EEZ issues. In Greece, the discussion taking place is only about the EEZ. But I would like to remind you that the EEZ is not sovereignty. Our country has sovereignty over its territorial waters, and we must have a look at this. Calmly, in stages where necessary. We are also having talks about the EEZ. We are presently holding negotiations with three different countries. We are waiting for President Sisi’s government in Egypt to stabilise, now after the elections, meaning to stabilise in the sense of what shape it will take and what its directions will be. We are having a discussion on the EEZ with Albania. Our technical teams held a meeting again today. I hope we will have an agreement by the end of May and, if not by the end of May, then in early June. And we have the issue with Italy, where our choice is, once we have finished with Albania, to proceed with an agreement with them.

A. PAPACHELAS: But with regard to Turkey, can such an arrangement ever exist without a negotiation, a dialogue taking place?

N. KOTZIAS: Look, it did take place… with Turkey, we had two channels of communication on the Aegean. One is the confidence-building measures with regard to defence. These have not taken place in the last year and a half. Now, we will try to persuade the other side to do it. And the second was the exploratory talks. The exploratory talks concerning the continental shelf and the application, of course, of International Law with regard to the continental shelf in the Aegean. I believe we shall again hold discussions about these issues. Will they be productive this time? I don’t know, but I prefer for us to be talking, for our relations to be based on level-headedness and a debate on International Law as opposed to tension without discussion. Because if you have tension without discussion, you never know if you will be faced with an "accident" and, if you are unable to discuss at that moment, to explain that it was an “accident,” or for them to explain to you whether the reaction to this “accident” doesn’t lead to a “heated” incident. So our policy is to defend national interest, to take advantage of International Law, to establish the appropriate alliances, and to attempt to get Turkey to be “reasonable,” I would say, not that it is always unreasonable - God forbid. Turkey does have a certain aggressiveness due to fact that it is an emerging power in the Muslim world. It has a certain arrogance because it averted a strong military coup, went into Iraq and Syria, and it gets frustrated sometimes, it loses sight of things. That's why, if you notice, I do not frequently respond to Turkey's challenges, but two times when I gave them a specific answer, I said to them, "I respect and love Iraq and Syria, but do keep in mind that Greece is neither Syria or Iraq". In the sense that we are an organised state. We may have our problems - which we indeed do have - but Greece is a different type of state and state structure than those two countries, or others which Turkey may have in mind. We have strong defense compared to the rest of the region, I would say between Poland and Israel the strongest country is Greece, if we leave out Turkey. They know the cost for this is great, and I should tell you that I have reached the following conclusion about Turkey, also speaking with other professors, with our diplomats during the extensive brainstorming sessions we hold at the Ministry, we have reached - though a review of this is indeed required- but first of all we have concluded that Turkey never proceeds with an incident without being able to invoke legality or International Law or, for example, "soldiers violated the border,” or "a coup took place in Cyprus.” They invoke - I’m not saying they truly mean it. So one has to give them an 'excuse' to do what they do. Secondly, Turkey carefully weighs the costs and benefits of such an action, and they know that the cost with Greece will be exponentially greater - and perhaps too great for it to afford - than it would be with other countries, and they also take the chances of victory into consideration which - Greece is no Afrin - they understand that not only may it be costly, but that they may also lose. And I think this is also what makes them more reasonable. I do not believe that Turkey and its leadership are completely unreasonable. They may say this or that, but they weight things very carefully. And we must not leave them any space or opportunity to take actions that go against our interests.

A. PAPACHELAS: Nonetheless, I see the issue of “grey areas” coming up again with great intensity, for the first time after many years. And with a different tone, if you will. Do you, in other words, rule out the possibility that they may somehow be trying to establish a fait accompli.

N. KOTZIAS: I described the conditions to you under which they would try to establish a fait accompli. These conditions do not depend solely on them. Turkey wants formal legal standing for itself, wants cost-damage, for the cost and the damage to be very low, and for the profit to be very high, and to have relative certainty that they will be victorious. These things must not be ceded and given to them. But Turkey is a friendly country at the same time. Because, I always see a climate of great intensity in this country…

A. PAPACHELAS: No, but when I see Mr Erdogan saying these things about Izmir, his are strong words, in any case. He knows that he has an impact.

N. KOTZIAS: Quite right. But when I hear him, do you know how I read him? Let me tell you honestly, spontaneously. I read an Erdogan who is facing major problems in his election campaign. He has Izmir which voted against him in municipal elections, parliamentary elections, presidential elections. He was overwhelmingly defeated on the constitutional revision, and he goes to this Izmir to run his first electoral campaign by trying to win back the large cities, such as Istanbul, Izmir, and even Ankara, Antalya, and Turkey’s coastal region, the Aegean and the Mediterranean…

A. PAPACHELAS: The other face of Turkey...

N. KOTZIAS: The other face of Turkey... To win it over, straight into the arms of its policies. And in order to do this, he says something in the pre-election period which may have been written for him, which he may not have thought too much about. I mean that I interpret it more as anxiety on the part of Erdogan to say something to Izmir in the hope of gaining a couple of votes as opposed to a historical analysis which I now have to explain, as to what happened in Izmir. Moreover, a whole slew of State officials replied, as did the opposition. There is no need for anyone to further deal with this.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you believe that once the elections are over, this thing will settle down?

N. KOTZIAS: It’s possible, but I don't provide guarantees for third parties.

A. PAPACHELAS: But there is a great deal of literature about this. If you had to wager, what would you say? That this thing will continue, or that it will stop?

N. KOTZIAS: Look, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I must do two things: First, consider all the possibilities, and not, therefore, bet on any single one, and to prepare myself for these; and second, to see how I can influence this situation. I will give you an example. In the past, we always had the following tradition. Turkey would carry out a violation - we still do this now - we issue a verbal statement, we go and complain to Ankara, our embassy does. This complaint is accepted after 2-3 months in Ankara, at the Foreign Ministry when the issue has become obsolete. This is not productive, but we have to do it. The other tactic is to catch them while they are violating International Law, to take them to NATO, and to the NATO Military Committee. To the EU and the EU military committee and the External Action Service. To the UN and the Secretary-General. To talk with all the strong players involved in the region’s problems. My feeling is that if you don't abuse such an approach, it ends up being much more costly for Turkey. We did this in the recent cases, with the sub notes about the submarines. I think we have to be imaginative, influential, and to create an international atmosphere that will prevent Turkey from displaying its bad side more intensely. Because, it also has a good side. It is a society with which we communicate, with which we have strong economic relations - one million Turkish tourists come to Greece every year, common songs, common music. They adore the Greek composer by the name of Theodorakis. Turkey is more complex. It is not just Erdogan with his bitter words at any given moment. I always tell the EU that we should always remember the pro-European Turkey which, as you very correctly said in my opinion earlier, the other side of Turkey, the Turkey of beaches, the Turkey of large cities, of intellectuals. And I have great respect for those people, they are great. I have Turkish colleagues who are professors, esteemed scientists. You must surely know brave journalists, many of whom are now in jail.

A. PAPACHELAS: Most of them are in prison, of course ...

N. KOTZIAS: This, too, is the other Turkey. There isn’t just the Turkey we see and that really disturbs us and that we have to deal with.

A. PAPACHELAS: We’ll take a short commercial break and be right back with you.

Part B:

A. PAPACHELAS: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kotzias. Mr. Kotzias, I want to close out the chapter on Greek-Turkish relations. I want to ask you, first of all, whether you see a risk of a repetition of 2015 in the refugee/migration crisis. Because there have been some indications to this effect in recent weeks.

N. KOTZIAS: First of all, the risks that have to do with the refugee crisis are all objective. The war in Syria continues. Two years ago, I said that the problem with Syria is that, while in a normal civil war someone gets tired or their resources are exhausted, in this case we have a war in which nine other outside states are involved. There is a constant flow of military personnel and materiel, so it isn't easy for the war to end. And rather than things quieting down with the Turkish intervention in Afrin, we have new flows of hundreds of thousands of refugees. So the main thing is to convince Europe, and for Europe to convince the rest of the powers, to end this war. The second thing in this regard is that the EU continues to lack a well-designed policy on refugees and migrants. In other words, as the EU, we did not succeed in showing that we are different from all the others, the Americans in Mexico, the Australians in Asia with the large refugee flows that exist. We have traditional tools; we didn’t manage to find a way to deter the flows. I think that, as long as the war continues and we don’t find tools and move ahead on certain practical things, we will always have risks. But I don’t foresee such large flows right now, because, in spite of the problems I mentioned, there are certain deterrent measures. In other words, through our actions and persistence, money was again given to Jordan and Lebanon to build facilities/camps for the refugees to be close to Syria. This makes it possible now, in Jordan, for example, for them to build five industrial zones and to be funded by the EU. This is something that keeps the refugees there. Additionally, we have the EU-Turkey agreement – with all its problems – and I hope that, over time, the EU looks again at certain tools like its quotas and how they will be implemented. But I want to take this opportunity to say something: The Syrian government is making a big mistake in preparing a number of laws and decrees to -in a way- usurp the property of those Syrians who are refugees or who are in the country as internal refugees. Because within a month they will have to be at the Syrian administrative authorities to claim their property, because when the owner is in Sweden and can’t pass through any country – he has been granted asylum – it will lead to great disappointment and make it harder for refugees to return. Because the third thing, beyond their now leaving, beyond my having agreements on their not coming here, is that they should have a way to return. And thus, let’s say that the industrial zones in Jordan are a wonderful measure and I’m glad I took it up, even though we didn’t discuss it at all here in Athens, but the new legislation being written by the Syrian government is very worrying, and I have to stress this – this is the first opportunity I have had to express my opinion publicly.

A. PAPACHELAS: So you don’t see a risk. The flows are controlled to a great extent...

N. KOTZIAS: I don’t see the same level of risk.

A. PAPACHELAS: You don’t believe Erdogan ‘opens the tap’ depending on his mood?

N. KOTZIAS: Maybe, I don’t know that, but, you know, at that time many EU member states were inclined to welcome them to come, and they had the prospect of getting there by passing through Greece. This prospect does not exist now as it did then. And, you know, it is of great importance what an Afghan sees in his village on a mountain, or a Pakistani – there are 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran. If he sees that, through a great effort and even self-sacrifice, he can get somewhere where his family’s future is secured, he’ll do it. If he has the feeling he won’t get there, he may think again. If they ensure better living conditions for him where he is from, he won’t do it. I’ll give you an example. When I first became Minister of Foreign Affairs, the UN and the EU cut the payments they were making to refugee camps in Lebanon from, if I remember correctly, 140 dollars a month to 13 dollars. And I told them that 13 dollars, which is a few cents a day, is an investment in refugees’ leaving the camps. And when those refugees reach the countries that cut the funding, it will cost them a lot more than they were paying to subsidise the camps. The Syrians are a proud people. And I think that one of their characteristics is that they were never inclined to leave their country. They didn’t have a lot of economic migrants in the western world. This sense made it easier for the Syrians to be near their country and return at the first opportunity. Now I see mechanisms that make this more difficult in part. This is concerning.

A. PAPACHELAS: And finally, Cyprus/EEZ. We had the posturing – I’ll put it that way – Turkey did in Cyprus. Is this something that will continue when Exxon gets there, and what do the Turks have in mind there?

N. KOTZIAS: I think the Turks are bothered by the fact that energy deposits are being found and aren’t under their control. It has piqued their appetite. Their appetite has to be curbed. Second, I think the Cypriot government wants to create a joint account for revenues that will be used throughout the island.

A. PAPACHELAS: You mean for the revenues to go from the joint account to the two communities.

N. KOTZIAS: In the future – I’m not saying now. But this is up to the Cypriot government. Moreover, I’ll be going to Cyprus in three days. And I think what’s most important are the purchases Turkey is making – not in arms, but in vessels for seeking and exploiting offshore energy resources. Some hotheads in Ankara may be thinking they’ll be able to create some incidents or show that they can control some of the fields in the Cypriot EEZ. What I think is – and we are doing serious work on this that can’t be discussed publicly – I hope when some Turkish hothead thinks about doing something, he will think again, because there will be conditions unfavourable to what he’s considering doing.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you mean that some major powers or local powers will be against it.

N. KOTZIAS: I don’t mean anything. Time will tell.

A. PAPACHELAS: Let’s go to the Skopje issue. Were you perhaps being a little hasty on this? First of all, I have the sense that you didn’t take into account the reaction from public opinion when you began to open this issue up.

N. KOTZIAS: : Quite the contrary. I think we started the issue with 7%, and now there is a majority.

A. PAPACHELAS: You think there is a majority in favour of a compromise on the name issue?

N. KOTZIAS: That’s what some opinion polls I’ve seen say. But time will tell on this issue as well. I believe that, in foreign policy, you have to take initiatives, you have to guide developments. Because otherwise developments overtake you and can overwhelm you. And I would say this was the most opportune time for us, because we could carry out and we are carrying out negotiations between the two sides, because, first, Germany didn’t have a government for many months, as you know, and the U.S. isn’t as interested in the western Balkans as it has been in the past. Consequently, we were the ones carrying out the negotiations. I think the negotiations went and are going well, but it is now up to them to decide whether they will accept the ‘erga omnes’. It is a bold decision. They are justified in saying, often, that they don’t have the majority of their people.

A. PAPACHELAS: Let’s explain it to people. What are they saying? That domestically they can’t ...

N. KOTZIAS: Have the same name as they do abroad. And this is a mistaken outlook. But I want to say that we were right in opening up the issue. We could guide the negotiations, and as a result we are close – this is the first time we have been so close to an agreement. But even if there isn’t an agreement, it won’t be our fault, and the universe knows this.

A. PAPACHELAS: Let’s explain it to people. The ‘erga omnes’ becomes binding only through a change in the Constitution, or is there another way?

N. KOTZIAS: Look, ‘erga omnes’ means that they use the name in their inter-state relations, in their international relations in general and in international organizations. There is no problem up to there. But for it to be truly ‘erga omnes’, it has to be used domestically as well. Can you make an international agreement that says all that? You can, and there are legal experts who believe this. But experience shows that if the government changes, the next one will send Zaev to prison, saying that he violated the Constitution by accepting an international name not provided for or allowed by the Constitution. In other words, even for their own protection, as I have told them, they need to amend the Constitution. Now I’ll explain why the name has to be ‘erga omnes’. There is always someone saying, “It doesn’t matter. They’ll have one name domestically, and what do I care how one municipality corresponds with another. I’ll check it, I’ll see, and they’ll also have a name for all the other things, a name that satisfies our own sentiments.” The problem is this: What name will documents be issued under? The domestic name or the international name? You will say that documents for international use will use the international name; passports, for example. Documents for domestic use with the domestic name. What about passports? Identity cards? But entering into a process of joining the European Union, the identity card becomes an international document. How do Greeks travel today? With their identity cards. So we will have an international document, the passport, with the international name. A domestic document, the identity card – which will be used, however, in the age of globalization, as an international document – will have the domestic name. I said to my interlocutor, I asked him very plainly, when state documents, e.g., the Constitution, are translated so you can send them to the UN or the EU, to educational seminars, universities, international libraries, how will the name be translated? They say the name for domestic use, the constitutional name will be plain “Macedonia”. The international name will be a compound name. Great, I say. You take the Constitution, you translate it for international use, and the people around the world, legal experts, the UN, read your Constitution. What name will it have? The domestic name, he says. It will be translated directly. And I say, this is exactly how an international document uses the domestic name in international public opinion. What do I mean by this, because I can give you numerous examples. For instance, a university student gets his degree, and he leaves the country with a degree that says “Republika Macedonia”. I’m saying there will be constant friction. If we have friction now over the use of the name in international meetings, later we will have friction on a daily basis. At foreign universities, at foreign hospitals there will be a Greek who says, “This is not the international name,” and he’ll say, “But I got it from my university.” Constant arguments. This is why, you may have seen, I always underscore that the solution should be firm, long-term and resolve rather than create problems. I could very easily agree with my counterpart and take the glory of having resolved the problem, but I will have invested in future problems. I don’t want that.

A. PAPACHELAS: Just so I understand, the matter of the international agreement is something you reject. In spite of the fact that the Skopjans say ...

N. KOTZIAS: No, we will make the international agreement. I don’t reject it, but it doesn’t suffice.

A. PAPACHELAS: They say that, there, their constitutional court often rules based on international agreements, not necessarily based on the Constitution. Right?

N. KOTZIAS: Yes, but how will Mr. Zaev be judged by the next government? Because it isn’t just a question of whether international law supersedes domestic law. The question is, how do you agree on the name change internationally, through what decision? Because he exceeds his constitutional powers. The Constitution has one name. He can’t use another.

A. PAPACHELAS: But right now he doesn’t have the majority he needs to amend the Constitution. Isn’t that right? No way.

N. KOTZIAS: Look, political leadership is a great responsibility. We started with 7% in favour of a solution with a compound name, because the majority of the Greek people have been convinced that there is no compound name today with the word “Macedonia”. But the agreement we made in 1993, which was also expressed in the Interim Accord of 1995, is fYROM, which consists of the “former”, chronological; “Yugoslavia” is spatial. Former Yugoslavia, which is a specific space and has “Macedonia” in it. It exists. With the difference that they have abolished the official name, “Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, internationally, and “Republic of Macedonia” is left, so we are adding to the actual fact.

A. PAPACHELAS: But apart from that, there was no Greek government that accepted the term “Macedonia” in an effort towards compromise. Neither the Karamanlis government, as far as I know, nor the following governments.

N. KOTZIAS: I have said that the archives of history are very rich in ideas and there are governments that have accepted “Macedonia-(Skopje)”.

A. PAPACHELAS: Do you mean officially?

N. KOTZIAS: Officially in the negotiations. There is no agreement.

A. PAPACHELAS: So there are papers showing this?

N. KOTZIAS: Of course. And “Macedonia” as the domestic name, not “erga omnes”. Someone might say they were making some tactical manoeuvre for years, but I want to say that they shouldn’t be wagging their fingers, because I respect everyone’s history and I don’t want to make use of what I am reading – and I’m very well read, as you know. What we are giving, the package, is the best solution for our neighbours, and it is the best proposal a Greek government has ever made for our national interests. They shouldn’t come out and say things that aren’t true, because that isn’t good.

A. PAPACHELAS: Which government was this?

N. KOTZIAS: I won’t open up a public debate of that kind, because I am protecting the country.

A. PAPACHELAS: Right, now there is another...

N. KOTZIAS: You know it serves my purposes to tell you, but when I’ve said it, will the country’s negotiating position be better or worse? I would say it won’t be better.

A. PAPACHELAS: And I have to ask because that’s my job, as you know.

N. KOTZIAS: You’re right, but I, too, should explain my response.

A. PAPACHELAS: question is this: There is another approach that says Skopje could enter into a provisional agreement, become a provisional member of NATO, and Mr. Zaev could be given a year to persuade public opinion and Parliament to amend the Constitution.

N. KOTZIAS: That’s a good idea; to allow yourself some time to change the Constitution, but without coupling this with an early accession, since some people are telling me…

A. PAPACHELAS: A “preliminary accession”, does such a term exist?

N. KOTZIAS: No, we may agree for an invitation to be extended. NATO extends the invitation and then this invitation is ratified by the Parliaments. And then the parliaments send these decisions to the US, to Washington, which has been the depository of all NATO treaties since its establishment. What is the problem in this case? I shall openly explain. Let’s say that of the 29 member-states of ΝΑΤΟ, 28 ratify this, and we do not, because they haven’t made the changes they promised us. Who will get the stick? The 28 or us, who’ll be criticized and put under pressure? Which means that the problem will shift from…

A. PAPACHELAS: What if you came to an understanding with all the others, and they agree to such an approach?

N. KOTZIAS: I cannot guarantee that they will stay firm, any government can claim a change, a new minister of foreign affairs, a new viewpoint. They do not have the same need for an actual agreement, they understand Greece’s position, and I am pleased that this was made clear to the EU and ΝΑΤΟ and the UN. I believe this needs to be resolved with the deal we are proposing, which is a generous deal, and it includes an agreement you know, it includes a second element too, which is the view I hold on foreign policy and our government does too, which is that we are offering a positive agenda. What I mean is that the solution for the name will be framed by an agreement on how we will develop our collaboration on a governmental level, with technological parks, technology institutions, thus covering the whole spectrum: education, culture, security, the lot.

A. PAPACHELAS: I’d like to ask you at this point, have we agreed on a name? From what I see, there is an agreement on both sides for this “Upper Macedonia” in Slavic.

N. KOTZIAS: A proposal has been made by Nimetz for five names. The fifth name is also the proposal that Greece had made in the past, which is “Macedonia – (Skopje)”, with “Skopje” in parenthesis; of the other four, we’ve told them, they can choose what they want.

A. PAPACHELAS: And have they chosen one?

N. KOTZIAS: That’s not … they will choose one of them, that’s not our problem. We have agreed it will be a composite name, geographically …

A. PAPACHELAS: Has Mr Nimetz made a final proposal of his own?

N. KOTZIAS: I would say that Mr Nimetz made an assessment in the most recent negotiation, as regards which side has to accept the situation and agree.

A. PAPACHELAS: And were you satisfied with that?

N. KOTZIAS: I will be satisfied with an agreement.

A. PAPACHELAS: I mean, does he consider that Skopje should make the concession?

N. KOTZIAS: I told you that I will be satisfied when there is an agreement between Greece and our neighbor.

A. PAPACHELAS: Is Mr Nimetz an objective negotiator?

N. KOTZIAS: He is objective; we have made some complaints on occasion, and so has the other side. I think Mr Nimetz, who has been doing this job for 25 years, saw us nearing a solution, he sees there is good will on both sides, and he is trying to encourage us to bring this to an end.

A. PAPACHELAS: However, I have the impression that all these meetings you have had with Mr Dimitrov always end up at the same point. So, will there be an end to this?

N. KOTZIAS: We had the same problem at the end in the last two meetings.

A. PAPACHELAS: And what does this actually mean? Time is running out, there is a pressing deadline.

N. KOTZIAS: Look, there is no pressing deadline. This is not our issue, just to make things clear. It’s not that we want FYROM to enter ΝΑΤΟ or the EU – they do. And to do so, they must enter with a compound name, with a geographical qualifier. So, it’s not us that want to get them in, because then we would be asking for a compromise on their behalf.

A. PAPACHELAS: What about Messrs. Hahn, Tusk etc, who insist that there will be a solution in two weeks? Do they have a vision or something…

N. KOTZIAS: I believe the two weeks have passed. I think that we are fortunate enough, in this negotiation, to have Ms Mogherini as head of external affairs. May I remind you that Ms Mogherini is Vice-President of the Commission. Mr Hahn is an important member of the Commission, but not her superior; the reverse is the case I would say.

A. PAPACHELAS: Are the Americans as interested in this story as they used to be, or have they eased up on the matter?

N. KOTZIAS: The Americans are not pushing, as they reportedly did in the past. Our government and I personally have not been under any pressure from anyone. Perhaps they know I would react, and the result would be the opposite of what they wanted, but I don’t think they would be displeased if the problem of FYROM and its accession to NATO were to be resolved.

A. PAPACHELAS: Still, from your description of things, this issue is not going to be resolved in time.

N. KOTZIAS: In time you say – I repeat that it is not necessary to have a Summit Agreement to enter ΝΑΤΟ, as agreed in 2008.

A. PAPACHELAS: Nevertheless, the Summit is a symbolic date.

N. KOTZIAS: No, they can’t be in time for that, let me explain. As the decision of 2008 stands, the Assembly of Permanent Representatives, meaning our NATO Ambassadors, can also decide on this, and then there can be a Summit that will turn this into a major event. There is no obligation I mean, through the NATO process, there is no obligation to do this through a Summit. It may be a more publicized event, with a symbolic meaning, but it can’t happen because of the time frame. What time frame? Our neighbor, our dear neighbor as far as I’m concerned, must or rather wants to hold a referendum. So be it, that is none of my concern. But a referendum requires two months, from the day it is prepared and announced. After winning the referendum, which is what I am hoping for, then this will need to be ratified by Parliament, which will take another whole month, making that four months. And then it needs to go to the UN for the international agreements. Which means that there is not enough time until June, which is less than two months away. What I mean is that they need two clear months just for the referendum, from the day it is announced to the day it is held.

A. PAPACHELAS: Now, there is a question here; there is a government that seems to be more friendly towards us, and certainly more friendly towards the West etc.

N. KOTZIAS: That’s true.

A. PAPACHELAS: And then there is Mr Zaev, who I hear is afraid that he will be murdered, afraid of the Russians, afraid of the opposition, afraid of various people. What will happen if they don’t get what they are expecting, what Mr Zaev promised. Will we go back to a solution like Gruevski’s? And what will that mean for Greece’s interests?

N. KOTZIAS: Look, during the negotiation, the other side has often talked to me of their fears and difficulties. There are indeed difficulties, but as I told you before, we started with 7%. The political leaders of any country are not there to follow referendums. A person who is good at referendums would then be enough for politics; you have to fight to change the balance. We neither had the people’s majority, nor was the Parliamentary majority a fact. In fact, I would say there were objections even within the government structure. Therefore, what they did not do, according to my personal opinion, was to fight, until now, and I hope they do. I hope they fight to convince the majority, let’s say, of the “erga omnes”. If, however, you claim from morning to night that there is no ”erga omnes”, who will then change the views of the majority? Somebody has to, and it won’t be the opposition. I also believe that part of the opposition do understand that this is a good agreement for their country, since it includes the NATO-EU package they want, I think they could support a solution. In fact, I made the comment the other day that when the government was in a life or death situation, with the vote of no-confidence, the opposition got 1/3 of the votes. Which means that 2/3, the constitutional majority, were on the other side, they either did not vote or they did vote. So, when a “burning” issue came up, they found a way to restrict the opposition.

A. PAPACHELAS: Since you and Mr Kammenos are both, one might say, low-profile politicians, how do you handle this matter? After all, there is an intense disagreement between you. One of you has taken on the matter personally and wants to resolve it, and the other says that this matter will not be resolved.

N. KOTZIAS: I believe that this issue has come up thanks to the capacity and potential of our upgraded foreign policy. Mr Kammenos is the leader of a party, which has a different policy line on this issue. It is a disagreement, that’s what I always say, and I will give you some examples. Look at the United Kingdom, where there is the governing party: the Conservatives. And see what major differences exist between the country’s Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, surrounding Brexit. Major differences. And let me tell you something extraordinary I saw last week: I was abroad and I was watching television, on Saturday, and the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, the new Minister, Mr Maas, was giving an interview, relativising the Gabriel-Steinmeier policy on Russia. On Sunday, the president gave an interview expressing a different view to the newspaper “Βild”, the largest popular newspaper in Germany, and on Sunday night, Maas answered on the Das Erste with his own viewpoint. This is normal. These are major issues, and it is normal for us to disagree on issues relating to our neighbor. It is a major issue, a remnant of the past. What I want to make clear is this: that although I understand and can explain this in various ways, the main issue that most people have is with fYROM having the name “Macedonia”. I understand that it is a question of identity, a matter of the soul, of cultural heritage. Firstly, this country has borne this name with our consent for 25 years – not my consent, but that of former governments, as I explained. Secondly, these issues relating to cultural heritage are extremely important for any person, for his identity, even being a supporter of AEK, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, sometimes is very important to your identity. The name “Macedonia” is of course a more objective problem, but what I mean to say is that a person’s identity is defined by numerous factors. And what signifies a major problem for a nation and a country is something totally different. Our country has no issue, geopolitically or geostrategically, with either Albania, or our neighbours to the north, but mainly with our neighbours to the East. And I think that is where we need to focus our attention and diplomacy. And to make sure we are not constantly held prisoners, as I say, by history. You know, what I say is that history should not be a prison, it should be a school. In the sense that we should look to the future. I am a person who is always looking to the future and to what our positive agenda will be. For example, you see, we have the quadrilateral meeting of the Balkans in two days, then 5 days later there is the two-day meeting of the Balkan countries with Viségrad and all the candidate countries on the future of Europe. The future. Next, a month later, we have the large conference in Rhodes, with all the Arab countries and those of Southeast Europe present, where we have agreed not to discuss the war in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or the Palestinian issue; we will talk about the positive agenda, which has existed in our region for 5,000 years.

A. PAPACHELAS: We only have a couple of minutes left, one final question put to me by many people. How concerned are you about a ‘heated incident’ with Turkey during these one and a half or two months prior to the elections?

N. KOTZIAS: You asked me earlier as well, I told you that Turkey does not create ‘hot incidents’, and Erdogan would not do so without three conditions being in place, which is not the case these days.

A. PAPACHELAS: And as you said, the main thing is for us not to provide an excuse.

N. KOTZIAS: A legitimate pretext, not an excuse, that’s something different. They must not be given a legitimate pretext, nor have the sense that they can cruise around at no cost, or that they can win so easily. They must have in mind that they could lose. And I think that is what is holding them back, they are clever people, it is a great, important and civilized country, and I think we need to insist on an effort to calm the waters and bring them round to our own policy, a policy of peace, friendship, and building on common interests.

A. PAPACHELAS: Minister, thank you very much for this talk.

N. KOTZIAS: I thank you for the opportunity.

A. PAPACHELAS: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve come to the end of tonight’s show. Have a good evening and a good rest.