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Press Conference of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias, following the proceedings of the 3rd Rhodes Conference for Security and Stability (Rhodes, 22 June 2018)
MODERATOR: We welcome you to the press conference following the proceedings of the 3rd Rhodes Conference for Security and Stability. We will begin with an introductory statement from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias.
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you. I think Rhodes is a good place to do foreign policy. I remember three years ago, when we launched the ‘Spirit of Rhodes’, as we call it today. There were 20 participants and delegations last year, and we have 26 today. All of the Arab states are participating. Only Tunisia and Bahrain haven’t come yet. So we’ve grown in numbers.
Also here are the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who is essentially the coordinator and head of the six Gulf states, and the Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League, which represents all Arabs.
The characteristics we are pursuing for the Rhodes Conference remain the same: a positive agenda; how we can develop our cooperation and not our grumbling; how we can develop stability and security; security more in the sense associated with soft power, economic security, culture, transport, and not in the sense of hard power. And that on the basis of our region’s being a historical and geographical continuity.
I shared with my colleagues how the idea for this cooperation was strengthened when, at the new museum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I saw exhibits that were five and six thousand years old and came from Greece, proving the great trade and transport relations that existed between the countries that are today the Gulf countries, Egypt, the regions of Mesopotamia and Babylonia, and the Hellenic and other space of the region.
What do we propose to do? This year we prepared a new text that was studied in recent months by all sides, and we want to further institutionalize this Rhodes Conference. No, we are not dogmatic. We are learning from the form taken by the CSCE following Helsinki, or what is currently the OSCE. In other words, a platform – a forum with principles – that promotes diplomatic relations, diplomacy and dialogue.
This year, we also took a number of initiatives. The most important ones – important and new – were what we did the day before yesterday, when there was a meeting of young diplomats from all of our states, focused on developing cross-border cooperation and cooperation between diplomatic missions.
And today we had an initial discussion on cooperation between our agencies that deal with satellite technology and its use, along with digital technology. We agreed to create a point of contact, a network of contact points from all the countries. We agreed for there to be an initiative from states such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, which have satellite agencies, and we also agreed to develop our collaboration on digital technologies.
The principle governing us overall – and this was underscored many times yesterday – is that we must have the ownership of and responsibility for what happens in our region. That many outside powers come into our region with the intention of determining the ways of resolving “problems”– and, in actuality, problems are often created. This is not the way to solve them. And as I say as a rule in the European Union and in the context of Europe, the difficulty with our region is that third powers create problems that we end up paying for.
The most salient example is the powers that bombarded Libya, leading to the destabilisation of its region; the powers that first bombarded Syria, with the peoples of these countries and the states of first reception of refugees and migrants suffering the negative repercussions.
We agreed on joint actions and we decided on the agenda for our meeting next year, here in Rhodes. Our topic will be the institutional consolidation of the Rhodes Conference. We will also be looking at the topic of migration, as this system of countries is participated in by the countries from which a large portion of the migrants come and the countries that receive refugees and migrants.
And our third topic, on a separate day, will be digital technology and our effort to create some common infrastructure that will lend the countries participating here the potential for autonomy. We will also explore the potential for creating a fund for supporting our digital and satellite cooperation.
That is just an initial snapshot so we can begin. I have said you can ask me about the Rhodes Conference, but you can also ask me about current issues in foreign policy, since I rarely give interviews – even though I gave three interviews recently due to the tough foreign policy issues we are dealing with. I’m open to your questions. Do not hesitate to ask any question, even if it goes beyond the Rhodes Conference.
JOURNALIST: Good evening, Minister. The first obvious question is your assessment of how the nine points – the nine pillars, in a sense, for consolidating this Conference – were taken by the participants. But you also had some bilateral meetings on the margins of this Conference. Whether those went as well as the results of today’s Conference.
N. KOTZIAS: I had bilateral meetings. And I will be having one with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Palestine this afternoon. We are preparing for a Cyprus-Greece-Palestine trilateral meeting on the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and then on the level of heads of state. The bilateral meetings went well. Given that there was a good deal of discussion about my meeting with my Albanian colleague, I must say that, contrary to what is being said by the media, we didn't discuss the agreement we are working on. We looked more at how we can support Albanian positions in the European Union, because there are a number of objections from certain EU member states to opening the negotiations with ‘North Macedonia’ and Albania.
And in my opinion this is proof of how wrong these ill-intentioned commentators – or those who know little; they aren’t all the same – are in believing that there was some sort of ‘trade-off’ involving European economic issues with the European Union and foreign policy issues. This shows a certain degree of ignorance, I think, of what is happening, because, as you will know, there is a letter from Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, France and the Netherlands, in which they were questioning the accession of these states including ‘North Macedonia’ and the opening of the accession negotiations. And some of these countries also see a problem regarding NATO, and as a result, countries that aren’t particularly inclined to open the negotiations with these countries won’t necessarily do us some favour in return of supporting them on this course. In other words, I think all this shows ignorance of what is happening in the world and in Europe. I must inform you that, in the meantime, three of the five countries – Luxembourg, Denmark and France – have withdrawn from this group. They no longer have strong objections. But the Netherlands and France remain, and we are certainly looking at this. You should know that, on Monday morning in Luxembourg, we have the breakfast at which, with Albania, the member states will openly, unofficially and supportively discuss European relations with Albania. I would say that all of the countries that initially had objections will be participating there, but not on the same level.
Of those who initially had objections, there is Mr. Maas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, who stated yesterday evening that he will be participating on Monday. So this front of five countries is not there anymore. Two remain. That is what we talked about in our bilateral meeting. In the other bilateral meetings, we talked about joint actions and joint plans we have between Greece and the Arab states, and we will talk about the same things with Palestine.
Regarding our proposals, I must say that Greece and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs have very good standing with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in our northern neighbourhood and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf, because the Arab countries are from these three regions, and I have the sense that all of our proposals were accepted without hesitation.
There were some thoughts on the joint communiqué. We will include their thoughts. The presidium will announce them at some point in the next hour, I assume.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, since you are in Rhodes, we have elections in Turkey on Sunday. I would like you to give us your assessment of the policy we’ll be seeing following the elections in our neighbouring country. To date we have seen lots of pressure, violations in the Aegean and elsewhere. Do you think we will see a continuation of this policy? Will the tensions subside? What is the Greek Foreign Ministry’s assessment?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, I must say – and I say this on a personal level – that I don’t bank on things changing if the opposition comes to power. If you are having problems with a given government, you usually say, “I hope the opposition wins, and we’ll get past these problems.” I would say that the opposition in Turkey – the way it handles Greek-Turkish relations, at least as the opposition – tends to be worse than Mr. Erdogan.
Regarding Mr. Erdogan, I think his conduct, this restlessness and revisionism on his part, is strategic. The big question is whether, following the elections, the tone will be more strident or more ‘polite’, as it were. This is linked to many, many factors regarding the election results. It will be linked to the manner in which, and the degree to which, Mr. Erdogan wins, both in his run for the Presidency and whether he gains control of Parliament.
Because if he doesn’t have Parliament with him, there may be competition as to the tone taken – more or less strident. I don’t want to comment further. We’ll wait for the results. We have talked to all of the international players dealing with Turkey. We have exchanged views. Our analysis is very cool-headed and they listen to us carefully because they see how responsibly we conduct our foreign policy – taking the long view, as we do.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, following the signing of the agreement by you and your counterpart in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or North Macedonia, Mr. Dimitrov, you sent a letter, last Thursday, if I am not mistaken, to the Secretary General of NATO, and are you now going to send letters to the European Union and NATO, or have you already done so? Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: I sent the letter last Friday; a week ago. And that is why I submitted it to Parliament on Saturday. There was no commitment in the agreement with fYROM, ‘North Macedonia’, to my writing this letter, but it was a letter they knew I would send. So this first letter sets out the conditions that should be linked to the invitation that is to be extended.
And these conditions are foreseen by the agreement:
First, that there be a positive vote in the Parliament of ‘North Macedonia’, which happened.
Second, that, provided this country so chooses, because we aren’t requesting it, there will have to be a positive result in the referendum.
Third, the constitutional amendments will have to be made to the Preamble, to Article 3 and to Article 49, along with a switch to the new name throughout the Constitution; 154 instances, if I remember correctly. And when these changes have been made, Greece will move ahead to confirming the invitation to fYROM; that is, it will move ahead to ratifying the invitation and the agreement.
As regards the three actions, the first was carried out: The agreement itself was passed by a vote of 69 to 0 (69 to 20, procedurally) in the Parliament of ‘North Macedonia’. In accordance with the agreement, they wrote a letter to me informing me that this had been done and that I should move ahead. As of the day before yesterday, we have prepared the letters in my diplomatic cabinet. I chose to sign them myself in Brussels, on Sunday, and to deliver them on Monday morning to the European Union and NATO. These are letters saying that I have been informed by the other side of the ratification of the agreement by their Parliament, and that, based on the commitments and conditions I have set, they can move ahead. But for them to move ahead, first of all there needs to be a positive agreement in the EU General Affairs Council – i.e. of Ministers of Foreign Affairs or Ministers of European Affairs, depending on who attends each time. That is where the difficulties I mentioned reside. The countries that were supposedly “pressuring us economically to reach the agreement”, these countries, and with respect to a date’s being given for the opening of negotiations with the European Union, currently have objections. It won’t be good if this happen.
JOURNALIST: When is this going to be discussed, Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: We have the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, and on Tuesday the General Affairs Council. The enlargement concerning fYROM and Albania will be the first item on the agenda. It was to happen at 09:30. They moved it forward to 09:00 because apparently other Ministers of Foreign Affairs want to be present as well. Usually, the 2nd Council, Tuesday’s, is held with the European Affairs Ministers – in our case, Mr. Katrougalos. But because the opening or non-opening of the negotiations is a fundamental issue, I will be there myself, and that is why I won’t be going to Spain on Tuesday. We just informed our Spanish Friends.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I would like to add a follow-up to the question I asked. Does the fact that Mr. Ivanov will not now sign the agreement that was passed in Parliament and will send it back create problems?
N. KOTZIAS: No. There will be a second vote in the Parliament of ‘North Macedonia’. Naturally, based on their Constitution, Ivanov must ratify it. I suspect he will do what he did in the case of the Albanian language, where, illegally, he didn’t ratify it the second time, either. I suspect he will follow the same practice and not leave ‘North Macedonia’, because if he does leave, the Speaker of Parliament steps in and serves as his alternate, which means the Speaker can sign it.
I imagine this whole story will come to an end with the referendum. If the referendum produces a positive result, and it will, Ivanov will have to put this conduct behind him.
JOURNALIST: Coming back to Turkey, I wanted to ask whether the Rhodes Conference looked at all at the way Ankara is conducting itself in Foreign policy or the role Ankara wants to play in the Balkans and the Arab world.
N. KOTZIAS: No, we did not discuss Turkey at this Conference. It was not among the countries invited.
JOURNALIST: But initiatives like the Rhodes Conference are a way for Greece to buttress its position abroad and create alliances, because the challenges are ongoing ...
N. KOTZIAS: The Rhodes Conference helps towards developing positive cooperation with the Arab world.
JOURNALIST: Given the presence of Egypt and Cyprus, did you touch on the subject of the EEZ – Cyprus’s EEZ and the synergy between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece – and the incidents we had with Turkey? Or with regard to Italy?
N. KOTZIAS: We don’t discuss matters of such tensions between states. We talk about our cooperation. Mr. Pappas made special reference to Egypt because there is cooperation on new technology issues between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, which, together with Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Italy, are the core of the states that have experience with the third topic we discussed. But we don’t go into EEZ issues. This forum isn’t interested in those issues.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Rhodes Conference puts special emphasis – and you said this earlier – on the Arab world. Was there any discussion of the ever-closer relations between Greece and Israel of late?
N. KOTZIAS: No, that isn’t discussed, because Turkey and Israel are two countries we didn’t invite, precisely because we don’t want to get involved in a discussion that has to do with differences we or others have with these countries. Because the condition we have set with everyone is that we have a positive discussion. What we discussed were thoughts and proposals that can help resolve the Palestinian problem and the recognition of two states in that region.
We talked about how we can contribute, how we can help Jordan and Lebanon, which have millions of refugees, and there was some discussion of the Syria issue.
The matter that we discussed but that you didn’t see on the agenda was – at yesterday’s luncheon; two hours – what we, the EU member states that are members of this forum, can do to benefit the Arab countries within the European Union.
In other words, we always have in mind how we can facilitate a better connection and better understanding between the two sides.
Included in the framework of this effort is a slogan that I often use: that “the Europeans have to see that the discussion of human rights presupposes the survival of human souls and life.”
I say this because I always make the critical observation that 480,000 people have been lost in Syria, 12 to 14 million lost their homes. And if the war is being fought for “human rights”, it is having anything but the desired effect. These issues are oriented towards how we can help the needs of the Arab world to be better understood in Europe; how we can develop our cooperation – the cooperation between the European participants and the Arab world – and how we can contribute towards the resolution of the region’s problems through a positive agenda.
As you know, there are many, many fora for discussing the other issues – e.g., the Israel-Palestine issue, EEZ issues – and there is no need for another one. What makes the Rhodes Conference useful is its positive orientation towards creating new institutional foundations and building positive cooperation.
Thank you very much.
GREEK CHAIRMANSHIP COMMUNIQUÉ