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Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias' statements to Greek correspondents following today’s meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Brussels, 22/01/2018)
N. KOTZIAS: Today we had a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. We talked about Libya and I underscored the need for a peace process that takes into account all sides within Libya, as well as neighbouring states. I informed the Council that, in the first half of 2018, we will be opening our Embassy in Libya, where we will also host other states, such as Cyprus.
We talked about developments in the Middle East, referring to issues that have to do with the meeting we had with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and how Europe can play the role of a honest mediator between the parties and help so that third countries can participate in a peace process and be helpful, rather than rendering the negotiations more difficult.
On the Middle East issues, I focused on Turkey’s intervention in Syria and underscored the need for everything to be done on the basis of international law and for us not to allow its violation.
I also briefed my counterparts on the three-day negotiations we had in Albania, following the four-day negotiations we held in Crete this past November. I informed them that the negotiations in Albania were successful, that we took major steps toward agreeing on points where there were disagreements or pending issues over the past 70 years, and that these will be confirmed in the meeting Prime Minister Tsipras will have with his Albanian counterpart, Eddi Rama, in Davos.
In Davos, Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of the country and the President of the Government, will also meet for the first time with the Prime Minister of fYROM, Mr. Zaev.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the turnout at the rally in Thessaloniki changes things with regard to the negotiations on the name issue?
N. KOTZIAS: The turnout at the rally was an illustration of the democratic functioning of the country’s political system. It was an expression of the concern felt by many Greeks who sometimes mistakenly associate the negotiations on the name with the fate of Greek Macedonia, and it was a rally that further develops forms of public debate – sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. But I don’t think it impacts the negotiations on the name issue and the issue of our neighbouring country’s irredentism. Regarding irredentism, it is clear that any condemnation of it has a positive effect. As for the name issue, we will resolve it based on the future prospects for stability and security in the region, the role of Greek diplomacy, and the need for our country to play a leading role in the region. And as I always say, I sympathise with those who are prisoners of history, however, history should be a school and not a prison.
JOURNALIST: Is there any time-frame for the completion of these talks, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: With the Albanian side – that we made significant progress – there is a time-frame. With fYROM there still needs to be elaboration for the time-frame. We are close on some solution issues. I think some of the issues that will be discussed in Davos on Wednesday, 24 January, will show what direction we are moving in.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, did your colleagues here show interest in the latest developments in the Skopje issue? I mean not just regarding the rally, but in general.
N. KOTZIAS: Our partners are always interested in the progress in the negotiation processes with Albania and fYROM. When I am asked, I brief them. Of course, I brief them to the extent that they have a say, in the general context of European interests, because I have to clarify something: that no one is pressuring us, and nor do we allow anyone to exert pressure on us. Greek diplomacy is certainly capitalizing on the pressure the other side is under to move forward on its European course. This puts no pressure on us.
JOURNALIST: Are you optimistic?
N. KOTZIAS: I got to be as old as I am and I am still smiling. I am the living expression of optimism.
JOURNALIST: Is the fact that Bulgaria, a Balkan country, holds the Presidency something you think could facilitate the negotiations or have the opposite ...
N. KOTZIAS: Bulgaria is not a party to the negotiations.
JOURNALIST: It is the Presidency.
N. KOTZIAS: Bulgaria is not a party to the negotiations. There are two countries in the negotiations, and I want to stress that the negotiations were facilitated by the fact that Europeans states realised that they shouldn’t get involved. The NATO Secretary-General stated clearly that if we don’t reach an agreement, he can’t open up the process for NATO. Negotiations were also facilitated by the fact that the United States of America are not getting involved either, because right now they are shaping their system and the structure within the State Department regarding regions of Europe.
JOURNALIST: May I ask follow-up question? Help me remember correctly. Are we still exercising a form of veto within NATO?
N. KOTZIAS: In NATO we have said that we will not allow fYROM to join the Alliance if it does not satisfy the conditions set by NATO itself and does not resolve its pending issues. We have not used a veto in NATO in the past. I read all the minutes recently, including the minutes of the luncheon and the dinner, and of the regular session. No veto was exercised. Need it be, at some point I will respond by referring to the minutes.
JOURNALIST: But there is a veto on enlargement issues.
N. KOTZIAS: Enlargement requires consensus. If our problems are resolved, this requirement will be met. What I want to say is, in the debate that took place in NATO at that time, the vast majority of the member states – 14 at the dinner, and 17 at the working session – aligned themselves with Greece’s positions. When you have the vast majority on your side, as we do today as well, there is no need to exercise a veto.
JOURNALIST: Are you referring to Bucharest, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: Yes, to Bucharest, in 2008. The minutes are very clear. In Bucharest, there was another country that exercised a veto, on another issue, during its discussion, a kind of veto.
JOURNALIST: Regarding the Turkish intervention in Syria, what messages did you get from your colleagues? How do they see it?
N. KOTZIAS: I had the feeling that my colleagues weren’t prepared to take a stance. We looked into the humanitarian issues. Mrs. Mogherini will make a statement at the press conference. From my part I stressed on how international law bears on everything that is happening. My general view is that, in the name of human rights, some parties carry out bombardments, interventions, and so on. And then human rights are not upheld, but violated. Because we have dead, millions of people displaced from their homes. And as refugees, these people certainly can’t exercise their human rights.
JOURNALIST: Is it right that the partners aren’t ready to take a position on Syria four days after the operations started?
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t know if it is exactly four days or how long it took them to realise what was happening. The operations started on Saturday. Essentially, 48 hours have passed. And I was in the negotiations with Albania.
And since that brings me to military affairs and Albania, once again I want to publicly express my satisfaction at the fact that, based on the agreements we reached in Crete, on the package of solutions to issues Greece and Albania are trying to fix, the Albanian government had the courage and political responsibility to pass two implementation laws regarding the agreement reached with the Greek government in 2009. Based on these implementation laws, the procedures have been initiated for searching for and disinterring the remains of our soldiers and officers. As the announcement Mr. Yennimatas issued says, “for their souls to find peace.”
I want to say that I very much appreciate the fact that the Albanian government is finally taking courageous steps forward in the implementation of the agreements we reached, as the Greek side needs to do as well. I also want to say that the remains of two soldiers were already found, while the Foreign Affairs Council was in session. Mr. Yennimatas has photographs. This is very moving for all of us and, I guess, for their relatives and for Hellenism in general, both in Greece and Albania.
I will talk further in Switzerland.