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Press Conference of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 October 2017)

Friday, 27 October 2017

Press Conference of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 October 2017)N. KOTZIAS: We have so many things to talk about and I have so many requests – it’s very kind of you – for interviews with Greek and international outlets that I decided we should meet all together to avoid any issue of misapprehension.
We are in interesting negotiations with our neighbours. We had the long trip to the U.S., which had many aspects that have to do with foreign policy. As you know, in Washington, beyond the Prime Minister’s programme, I saw Mr. McMaster, and afterwards I also met with the new political directors.
I went to Turkey the day before yesterday. On Monday, we have the Conference on the protection of the Religious and Cultural Communities in the Middle East. Eight Ministers and Deputy Ministers are coming. Of course, they won’t stay throughout. The Hungarian Minister will come on Monday morning, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs will arrive on Monday evening. The Hungarian Minister will have left, but they are honouring us, because the Conference is more in the nature of our having a discussion with the religious and cultural leaders.
The conclusion I have drawn is that our foreign policy is upgraded – something that our diplomats have pointed out to me. In fact, our Ambassador in Ankara, Mr. Mavroidis, reminded me that three years ago we made requests to meet with a number of states at the UN, while in September of this year, at the UN General Assembly, we had three times the number of requests that we could satisfy during the five days we were there.
What’s more, in New York we had, for the first time, a number of meetings of international initiatives that we ourselves have put together, like the Ancient Civilizations Forum, with the participation of eight of the nine Ministers of the states participating in the Forum, including the Chinese, Iraqi and Iranian Ministers. We also had meetings in the context of the trilateral and quadrilateral cooperation schemes we have created in the Balkans.
In October, we held the second quadrilateral cross-border cooperation meeting. All in all, we have put together and put into operation 14 international institutional initiatives, which lend our country a firm and upgraded role.
These are all positive developments for our multilevel and multidimensional policy. I would say that our policy is one that takes initiatives, that is proactive. We let no opportunity pass. Of course, often we don’t publicise these. We don’t exercise foreign policy to fuel an image. We exercise foreign policy to promote our country’s interests and to ensure that they respect us and take us into account.
On the day I became Minister of Foreign Affairs, as you will remember, there was an internal document of the European Union, in which it was announced to me that a decision had been taken on a given issue about which they hadn’t even asked us.
Today we are one of the few countries that receive drafts of such documents well in advance, so that they know whether we are in basic disagreement or agreement, before it is sent, in accordance with the regular procedure, to most of the members of the Union.
In this context, we are talking on equal term with all of the countries, and in particular with the powerful ones. You know that we have developed economic and cultural relations with the People’s Republic of China. It was together with China that we took the Ancient Civilizations Forum initiative. Nine states are participating in the ACF. Seven more states have requested membership.
Our next meeting will be in Bolivia, in the first half of 2018, and it has been agreed that we will invite two or three states as observers, not as members. There are a number of issues that we will choose to discuss.
We also have our relations with the strong powers involved in the Security Council. You know about Macron’s visit and the very close relations we have with France. You know about our good relations with Russia. And of course with the USA. President Obama visited Athens at the end of his term, and we went and saw President Trump last week. We talked about the problems with the country’s Administration. There is recognition that Greece cannot be pressured. They have realized it and they are not putting pressure on us – because various things are being written. No one wants to put pressure on us any more, because, after all this time, they have come to know us. They know it won’t work and that it would be of no benefit in any case. Just as many know that there is no point in asking for political favours at the Ministry. There are none, at least on the level that I control things.
I also want to announce to you that I will invite you to a special press conference in we are preparing, so that I can present issues concerning the fight against corruption at the Ministry. We have sent dozens of cases to the prosecutor. There are many cases in the disciplinary organs. These cases have to do with funding for NGOs, Ministry employees who had the bad habit of selling visas, or other things. On this we are uncompromising. As are the Disciplinary Council, prosecutors and judges.
You know that a high-ranking diplomatic employee recently received a prison sentence. And also recently, a consul serving abroad was fired from the Ministry by the Disciplinary Council. So we’re not playing around. I don’t think this Ministry has more corruption than other ministries – so that there should be no misunderstanding – because we have examined so many cases.
But I do believe that the Service itself, with its high quality, is as relentless as the political leadership on this issue, because the corruption at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerns not only ethical and economic issues, but also has to do with the country’s security and capabilities. When someone ‘plays’ with visas, for instance in Istanbul, it is a very grave issue because it can be used by third parties. What I want to say is that, for us, corruption has an additional and very strong, different side. I will hold a separate briefing on these cases, which are of interest.
With the Americans, as with every strong power in the world, we want to have regular, good diplomatic relations. There are certainly those in Greece who allege that a Greek government or minister can be expected to plead special circumstances or that it or he is under special pressure when talking with a foreigner.
We have shown how we conduct ourselves on the international stage in all of the international negotiations we have participated in, as we defended what we saw as patriotically and socially right.
Regarding the USA, you should know that we have carried out our own analyses of the region’s problems. We have proposals that we have shared with interested parties in the Balkans; proposals on how certain problems can be resolved. We have proposals that we have shaped for two consecutive years in Rhodes; proposals on how a security structure can be created in South-east Europe, and so on.
We have a system of proposals that we make known to everyone. We set it out in previous meetings and in the latest meeting with the Americans.
In general, our proposals are of a positive agenda. That is, when a discussion opens in an international forum on the Middle East, the first thing you hear about is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A discussion of the Mediterranean starts with the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya. As you know, Greece, along with other countries, is paying for the choices of third countries. That is, we had the huge wave of refugees, which wasn’t created because it was us who overthrew Qaddafi or bombed Syria. The states that made those choices aren’t the ones being called upon to pay for them.
Consequently, one has to have one’s own political proposal for how the whole region should evolve. From this perspective, we have launched a discussion on the shaping of a security structure in the eastern Mediterranean, like the one created through the Helsinki accords in the 1970s. It may take a number of years. We are discussing this with twelve Arab states, seven South-east European states, and two major international organizations of the Arab world, and we are also shaping common actions for such a structure.
The trilateral cooperation configurations are part of this structure. The trilateral schemes, I remind you, are a collaborative initiative on the part of Cyprus and Greece, plus five other countries (Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan). We will be talking again with the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Malki, who is coming to Athens on Sunday. We also have the quadrilateral cooperation configurations in the Balkans. There is the quadrilateral cross-border cooperation with Bulgaria, our neighbouring country to the north, fYROM, and Albania. Participating in the other quadrilateral scheme are the four EU member states of South-east Europe: Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. We also have two new trilateral cooperation schemes with Armenia and Georgia.
Through this positive agenda, we are attempting to promote solutions to problems we have in our immediate neighbourhood. You know about the Cyprus negotiations – I won’t go into that. But I want to refer to three neighbouring countries: Turkey, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
You know that Turkey is going through a special period that led me to call it a “restless power”. This is a term that was used in the past – it isn’t mine. It was used mainly in the mid-19th century to describe the newly emerging powers.
With Turkey, following last summer, we had dialogues, the Turkish Prime Minister came to Greece, as you know, but these dialogues weren’t systematic enough. Our view – and I will put it to you as I put it in Turkey – is that God or Allah, or history in my book – It doesn’t matter to me what we call it – decided that these two states should coexist and be neighbours. What we need to do is find a way to regulate the relations between these two countries in a peaceful and creative way that benefits their peoples.
From this standpoint, we are working to start a new dialogue between the two countries on all levels and to reopen the channels of communication. To be clear, no one is doing this from a position of insecurity or because we are weak, as some people see the situation. On the contrary, we feel quite self-confident. The country has been strengthened again and it is our duty, especially in the Balkans, but also with regard to Turkey – precisely because we have this recovery of power – to conduct ourselves responsibly in order to develop these positive relations.
What did we do? First of all, on the trip to Turkey we agreed on solutions to a number of problems that were pending and that concerned the presence of the Christian element and the Greek element in our neighbouring country. For example, the proper functioning of the schools on Imbros. Moreover, that elections be held again at long last – because elections haven’t been held since 2013 – in the 69 Charitable Foundations of Istanbul, and that the Turkish side not hinder these elections. And for the Ecumenical Federation of the Greeks of Istanbul to be able to open an office in Istanbul – something it has been requesting since 2011. All of these, at least from the standpoint of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are individual issues, but I think they have their significance in determining the ‘atmosphere’ between the two states.
What we agreed upon was more important. We agreed for the President of Turkey to come to Greece and explained that they should avoid provocative actions that might make the trip more difficult. As it is the Ministries of Foreign Affairs that have to find the dates on which the meetings will take place, and mainly the meeting between the Presidents, of course, I estimate that the visit will take place some time in the last ten days of November, possible in December. So it will be happening soon.
Regarding the visit to Turkey, as soon as we arrived I told the Minister of Foreign Affairs that we want to invite the Turkish President to Greece. When we met with the President the following afternoon, he said “I want to come soon, I want to come now, in November.” So he knew of the invitation of the President of the Republic, and he wanted to come.
We agreed on the meeting of the two delegations to the High-Level Cooperation Council in February, in Thessaloniki. One of this meeting’s main goals will be our further cooperation on the issue of transport, and probably, I would think, issues of cooperation in the sector of culture and cultural heritage, though we will also be looking at other issues.
We agreed that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs will be meeting every six months, alternating. Our initial plan, which we agreed on this past Tuesday, in Turkey, is for Mr. Çavuşoğlu to come to Greece in May. In fact, the invitation I extended to him was for Rhodes. Last time he came to Crete.
Our country is too beautiful for us to limit our international meetings to Athens, and we always try to promote a positive image of the place where the meeting is held, as this boosts our tourism a great deal, along with the country’s general image in international news coverage – because there isn't just the ‘natural beauty’ or social image, but also the security image.
A meeting in Rhodes with the participation of twelve Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the Arab world broadcasts the message that there is no problem with coming to Greece, as there perhaps is with other regions. When the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs is present in Crete, a month after a coup attempt, it shows he is in no danger and that our country is safe. The image speaks many, many languages as an element of international politics.
We agreed for the meetings between our Secretaries General to start again regularly, and we agreed to reopen the dialogue on defence-related confidence-building measures. I remind you that we made four proposals for CBMs to Turkey in 2015, and they accepted the one with nine points. Only a third of these points have been implemented; all of them need to be implemented. We are re-examining them, as we are doing with all of the agreements of the four previous High-Level Cooperation Councils.
Each side has yet to ratify five agreements: On the Turkish side, three from the first meeting and two from the second, while we have yet to ratify five from the second. Of course, we have ratified dozens of others, but we said we would take stock, with our Secretaries General, to see what is pending and what needs to be implemented.
We also decided that our Political Directors should meet – Turkey not being a member of the European Union, doesn’t have a Political Director, but it has a deputy Secretary General – so they can coordinate certain meetings between Directorates of the Ministries on areas we have differences of opinion. We have differing opinions on many, many matters, but we can exchange views, for instance, on the Middle East, where it is useful for us to hear our neighbour’s views and tell them ours.
We also said there would be meetings between other Ministers. Yesterday and today, Economy and Development Minister Papadimitriou is meeting with his Turkish counterpart, and there is also interest in a meeting between the Education Ministers – regarding issues of cooperation between universities – and the Culture Ministers, but we will look at that as things proceed.
We also want the exploratory talks to start again. The exploratory talks have not produced results, but they are a framework within which solutions are sought. There were times in the past when we were close to solutions.
In the context of the meetings between the Secretaries General, there can be a discussion of aeronautical issues and, in general, all of the problems related to the violations and flyovers.
We want a channel of regular and responsible discussion, because notes verbales, complaints to international fora or to the Turks themselves do not suffice.
Within the first two weeks of November, we will have a meeting with the leadership of the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specialists and experts. Our goal is to discuss all of the pending issues deriving either from history – the phrase “history as a school, not a prison” is now famous the world over – or current issues that have arisen. We want to resolve them. We want to resolve them because we don’t want them to come up in the process of Albania’s accession to the European Union. I have explained that, if these issues are not resolved, there will be difficulties in the negotiations.
Some of these issues are easy to resolve, some are difficult. In some cases they can be resolved quickly, other issues will take time. But the agreement is for them to be put forward in a package. In other words, we can agree that, here, we have found a solution "a "or "b ".
For some time now we have had a coordinating group to which all of these issues go, under the Secretary General, for the Greek side, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the Albanian side. This coordinating group consists of four teams and a fifth that is ad hoc and that looks at the difficult issues. We will work together to try to resolve the majority of the issues. If they are resolved, we will be able to have other types of meetings as well. We want the issues to be resolved.
The second issue concerns our dear northern neighbour, as I call it, fYROM. As you know, for two years now we have been promoting confidence-building measures between the two sides.
I want to remind you that these measures, when I first announced them, were met, both internationally and in Skopje, with very strong resistance and suspicion. Today, the European documents don’t even mention who it was who proposed them, which indicates that they are now generally accepted, and we don’t mind what their provenance was.
We are preparing a number of new CBMs like those. We are rebuilding the old railway line between Bitola and Florina. We have completed the work on our side, and they have done most of the work on theirs, though there was a financing problem with the Bulgarian company that undertook the project.
We are in the midst of the procedures for approving the cleaning of the oil pipeline that runs from Thessaloniki to Skopje, and, more importantly, building a natural gas pipeline. We have launched cooperation between three universities on each side. There is better cooperation on the borders, and I hope we promote other measures as well.
What we are promoting now – and I am taking a very personal interest in this – is that we want to open Prespes. There were some legal issues. I think we found a legal solution for cooperation between Albania, fYROM and us.
If we succeed, and I hope we will, there will be a ceremony for the signing of the agreement, a good cultural event – I say this as an idea I have, not something finalized – with brass instruments from the three countries. This cooperation will help the development of the region’s culture, tourism and economy a great deal. We can also get funding through the European Interreg policy for the region.
I am referring to examples of policies that benefit our citizens, improve the climate between societies, and benefit of the region’s economy. Of course, the main issue we are confronting with our northern neighbour concerns irredentism and the name issue.
We have a committee on school books with Albania. We have resolved issues with the school books of ten out of the twelve grades, but the two that remain are also the most difficult, particularly with regard to the Geography and History classes. I hope we finish by the end of next summer. I hope that we will form a similar committee with our northern neighbours, fYROM. We have no objection to their looking at our school books as well, and if there is something wrong, I have no objection to its being corrected.
But the main problem is their irredentism. I would say that there are two problems in our relations. The first is irredentism, and the second is their sense that we don’t want them to exist, about which I tease them – they don’t want to hear it very much now – that this country is a “gift of the gods, but they have a wrong godfather.” In other words, the dispute over the name does not mean that Greece doesn’t want this country to exist or that it is plotting to disrupt this state and break it up. Anything but! In my opinion, it is good that it exists. It is a country that, if we resolve our problems, is very connected to our social space, particularly that of Northern Greece, and we will see our relations develop very quickly.
I want to remind you that, if I’m not mistaken, our country is the top investor in Albania and the third – down from second – in fYROM. Thus, these are countries with which we have mutually beneficial relations that we must develop further.
The latest confidence-building measure is utilisation of the Fire Service’s new academy in Ptolemaida. Albania and fYROM do not have officer training schools for their Fire Services, and we have placed ours at their disposal. This summer, thanks to Mr. Toskas, there was excellent cooperation on fighting wildfires.
Fires know no geographical borders. When a fire comes to a border, it doesn’t say, “No, I don’t have a passport, I can’t cross.” So there needs to be a high level of cooperation on these issues as well.
Now regarding the name issue. Three or four weeks from today, Mr. Nimetz should be meeting with the negotiators. Mr. Vasilakis, who has a new assistant, is the negotiator for Greece. I imagine the other side will appoint their negotiator right after the second round of local elections.
I believe this issue must be resolved in the first half of 2018. If it isn’t resolved, there will be major difficulties. If it is resolved, there is a three- to four-month bureaucratic process at the UN. So it will go to the end of 2018. If we don’t manage within 2018, 2019 starts with presidential elections in our neighbouring country, and then, after the summer, we will be having elections. It isn’t a good year for us to raise such issues, because we’ll get caught up in the election campaigns, whereas these issues need to be addressed with composure.
As you know, I have been telling foreigners for many years that it was a bad idea for them to get involved in this issue. They got involved in a way that led Mr. Gruevski to think the matter didn’t need to be resolved. They trained him in a way not consistent with what I call “European culture of compromise and consensus.”
I think that this government has a greater willingness to compromise and seek consensus. These problems aren’t resolved through one or the other side’s imposing their point of view. Such things happen only in times of war and are very short term, because at some point the war ends and the winners also become losers, and there is an end to the balance of power that enables a side to impose their will simply because they can. We want a durable solution. A solution that insults no one. A solution that is acceptable to both populations and both sides.
I have talked to all of the experts I know in the country. With all the people who have been involved in the past, particularly in Northern Greece, or who are concerned about these issues. I think that there is a willingness in our country to have done with ‘history as a prison’ where this issue is concerned and to find a solution.
I want compromises, but I want correct compromises. I want creative, productive compromises, not "rotten compromises", as I call them. Because those aren’t compromises, they are disruption.
And of course I always remember the great poet – at least I do, as a leftist – Bertolt Brecht, who said that the problem isn’t just what the mouth says, but also what the ear hears.
And I understood this when I went to Ankara for the first time in my life and realised that a large portion of the city’s population saw Greece as the greatest threat to them. And why was this? Because we had reached as far as the foothills of Ankara’s plateau. We were the only army they’d seen, while I had the sense that only our border populations were concerned. This played a major role in my understanding of foreign policy.
As I said, it is up to us to reverse the feeling that exists in fYROM that we don’t want this country to exist, and that is what we are doing. I think it is good that it exists and that, for many, many strategic reasons, it helps the region. They, on the other hand, have to abandon irredentism.
It will be easy to resolve the name issue if they stop the public manifestations of irredentism. If there is someone who says that such-and-such a region belongs to such-and-such a state, I don’t care. What I care about is state policy and, in particular, the education of the younger generation, and I must say that, during Mr. Gruevski’s time, things were done that didn’t help. The name problem was shifted onto the younger generation, and it developed from a geographical and historical problem into a problem of national characteristics, heritage. That is, it became very "heavy", especially for the generation that finished school over the past twelve years.
As I study this issue, my sense is that the middle and older age groups understand the significance of the problem, and they also feel closer to our country.
I want to underscore here that our country makes no claim on our friendly neighbouring country. It has no demands. It is an open country, an open embrace. Provided we resolve the problem of irredentism and the name issue, we are a great embrace ready to welcome all of the people from this country.
And very briefly, the last issue: on Sunday we will have some luncheons, and on Monday we are having breakfast with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus and Hungary. On Monday and Tuesday of the coming week we are holding the International Conference for the support of Religious and Cultural Pluralism in the Middle East.
I want to underscore something that I firmly believe. There are many western societies that, due to the way they were built, fight for their multiculturalism. Or, like Canada, they define themselves as a multicultural country.
But despite the fact that many people have the impression that the Middle East is just merely violence, murders, terrorism, etc., multicultural societies existed in the Middle East – deeply, democratically and through the difficulties of time. The Middle East was a land and space that gave birth to powerful and great civilizations, as well as religions – at least the modern ones that exist in the West.
The cultures and religions coexisted in these countries for 2,000 years. It was a major achievement of humankind, and it perished through terrorism, the persecution of small religious groups, of Christianity in all its permutations, the collapse of the multicultural nature that existed in these countries, and particularly of the educated Islamic element that spread different cultures. This region became an agent and melting pot of these cultures, and this element does not exist in the current image we get from television or the radio.
This loss is not just the loss of human life – which is tragic in any case. It is not just the destruction of young people’s futures, which is tragic, but it is also a loss of wealth for all humanity, as different cultural traditions and religions coexisted for thousands of years in the region.
When we held the 1st International Conference, it was very well received internationally. Many, many initiatives have been undertaken and many events have been held, in at least 80 countries throughout the world, on this subject. And I think it is good that an issue that we raised first on this scale proved to be an issue that moves people very deeply, with a sense of responsibility to humanity, which we want to believe is a civilized humanity. And I’m not saying they took these initiatives because we did – they may have decided to do so on their own – but it was an issue that we raised.
The inauguration of the proceedings will be open. The President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, will be speaking first. A luncheon has been scheduled for the afternoon, hosted by the President of Parliament – whom I thank very much – for our guests, apart from the church leaders.
The Archbishop is hosting a luncheon for the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, the Rabbis, the Muftis – a number of important Muftis are coming, including the Mufti of Cairo – the Deputy Secretary of State of the Vatican, and other Catholic leaders. So there will be two parallel luncheons, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will address the evening’s dinner.
So the state has attached maximum importance to this event. The opening of the Conference, at 09:30 on Monday, will be open to the public. Also, when the Conference concludes, like the the last time, I will hold a brief press conference on what was said at this two-day International Conference. But I will be open to questions on other current issues that may arise.
I think I’ve said enough. There have been many important recent developments. Turkey and the two negotiations are the most important things we are currently dealing with in this building.
JOURNALIST: Good morning. Given your recent trip to Turkey and your meetings with Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Cavusoglu, I would like to ask whether the Cyprus issue was discussed during this trip – it obviously isn’t a Greek-Turkish issue, but there is the aspect of the Guarantees. And a second question: Whether Turkey’s constant “exhortations” regarding the supposedly large number of Gülen supporters who have come to Greece are overloading an already unwieldy agenda. Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: The talks began shortly after I landed, and the Turks initially wanted to talk about the Cyprus issue. I had no desire to go into the Cyprus problem, because we had 11 days of arguments in Switzerland, and I always try to start with a positive agenda.
I can’t tell you the whole conversation, about which I have briefed the President of the Republic, Mr. Anastasiades, but what they said that I can repeat is that, if we continue the negotiations on the Cyprus problem, they would like to first discuss the difficult issues with us.
And I think that is a positive step. I remind you that I persistently asked the Turkish side to talk to us about the issues of security and Guarantees before we went to Geneva and Crans-Montana. And in Beijing we had agreed with Mr. Erdogan on a series of meetings between the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs, so that there could be better preparation.
But, Mr. Eide though that, in general, the issue should wait till the end. In other words, he believed that if there was consensus on all of the other issues, those who see the security/Guarantees issue as very important would be forced to back down. This proved not to be the case.
In my perception, as I understand from ‘Geneva I’ and Crans-Montana – which I sometimes refer to as ‘Geneva II’ – there were those who thought, I don’t know from what historical tradition, that we, as the government, say some things publicly just to take them back when we go to the negotiations. That is not our habit. And everyone now knows that we mean what we say.
I also remind you that I will soon be reaching 30 vetoes in international organizations, and I haven’t taken a single one back if I haven’t got what I wanted. That is, I don’t say something just to take it back in half an hour, as I have seen happen in the past, as an old employee of the Ministry.
As regards the Gülen supporters, there was no chance of this matter’s not being raised, not at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but urgently by President Erdogan. I think we are very clear in our responses. Our responses are, to put it very simply:
First, while President Erdogan has spent time in prison, so have many members of the current Greek government; they have been tried in military courts, etc. Why do I say this? I say it to explain to them that our country has no inclination “to love putschists”. That is, we didn’t love the putschists because they were against Erdogan, and we don’t want to cover for them.
Second, because we experienced the lawlessness of the junta and other putschists during our history. One historian has counted 140 attempted coups and coups in modern Greek history.
We support the Rule of Law, and we mean it. They should realize what Rule of Law means to us. And Rule of Law also means the fact that the Greek government itself has lost important cases in the Greek Courts; e.g., at the Council of State.
Consequently, we show respect for Justice and we cannot influence the Judiciary.
And the third is that the two countries have no need for irritability with one another. They have to accept each other in terms of their political and legal cultures, and set a positive agenda. That is, an agenda like the one that will be introduced at the next High-Level Cooperation Council and that is in the interest of the populations of the two sides.
The strong tourist flow that exists between the two sides is a good thing. It is a good thing that we found a solution on the wooden vessels, an issue that disrupted the economic relations between the Turkish coast and the Greek islands.
By its nature, foreign policy has one tool: diplomacy. Even a conservative scholar of theoretical systems would say that each sector has its means. For us it is negotiation. And as I stated in Turkey, it is good for diplomacy and negotiation to come before any other conduct or reaction.
I also want to say, and this may be stretching things, but it is my philosophy of life, that a surgeon may kill a person. So might a driver, one or two people. If you make mistakes in foreign policy, you don’t see them immediately. They become apparent in the long term, but the repercussions affect millions of people.
That is why foreign policy requires great sobriety and composure. It can’t just express the activist leanings of one person or another. We went to Turkey to open the channels of communication, of understanding, to develop relations and calm the atmosphere.
I don’t know how Turkey will conduct itself. Good diplomatic moves are no guarantee that there won’t be tensions. They are just a prerequisite for less tension. And yesterday, if I’m not mistaken, it may be a coincidence, there wasn’t a single violation, after many, many years. If only for these two days, it was good for me to go to Ankara.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you said that the dialogue with Turkey will now be taking place on all levels, and that aeronautical issues will also be discussed. Until now, we knew that Greece’s firm position is that our only dispute is the continental shelf. And we accept this as our dispute with Turkey. Has anything changed?
N. KOTZIAS: That's how it is. The same holds true today. What are the aeronautical issues the Secretaries General will be looking at during their meetings? The violations. When the Turks violate our airspace or fly over Greek islands, the classic procedure was for us to summon the Turkish Ambassador and conduct a demarche. And our Ambassador or our Minister Counsellor or the Chargé d'affaires, went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and protested, as all countries do. They did the same thing when they thought we had made violations. Don’t think that they don’t think we too make violations – I’m not saying we do, I’m saying what they think.
When I became Minister, of course, I followed the same line. First I notified the International Organizations and reported the violations, and then I notified the Turks that I had reported them.
Our discussing the aeronautical issues means our telling them: “You made a violation here, you violated this international law. What do you say? Didn't you violate it? Why do you think you didn’t violate it? Will you continue the violations? This is what we will do to you if you continue to make violations. Because these violations have repercussions.”
In other words, we are creating a channel, beyond the formal diplomatic channels, international or bilateral, through which we will examine and record the violations. This won’t happen in the exploratory talks, but at the meetings of senior officials.
JOURNALIST: The two sides’ positions are well known. This is the first time there is a dialogue.
N. KOTZIAS: There was always a dialogue.
JOURNALIST: On violations?
N. KOTZIAS: There is always a dialogue on the violations.
JOURNALIST: These are common positions, long-standing positions, well-known positions.
N. KOTZIAS: That’s right, but is good for more detailed explanations to be made. You can tell him, “you fly over Greek islands and violate the following agreements.”
JOURNALIST: And he’ll say that “the Treaty of Lausanne does not provide for these islands, doesn’t consider them to be Greek.” The usual.
N. KOTZIAS: We will explain it to him. Do you know what the worst thing is? At some point it may go to the International Court. Do you know what the International Court will ask first? Not about the law – it knows the law. It will ask: “Did you make protestations? Did you explain it to him?”
I remind you of fYROM’s application to the International Court in the Hague, a case we lost. Do you know what question played the most decisive role? I sat and read through all the minutes again. The crucial question was: “Did you tell fYROM about all of the violations it made? Did you notify the UN? Did Nimetz, the mediator, know about them?” And what did we say? “No, we brought them here.” And the court said to us: “So you didn’t protest. Thus, you accepted them.”
JOURNALIST: We have frequently made protestations to the UN and the International Organizations and to Ankara regarding the violations. Many, many times, but we haven’t sat at the same table to tell them, “You are making violations, I am not.” I’m just asking if anything has changed.
JOURNALIST: I mean, nothing like this has happened before.
N. KOTZIAS: No, we always told them these things in past meetings. At the meetings we simply recorded the violations with documentation.
That is, you explain to the other side why what they have done is a violation. You don’t just say, “you made a violation and I am reporting you.” You make it clear to him that “you have made a violation for these reasons.” We now submit detailed documents to the UN regarding all the countries with which we have problems. I have told everyone that I will not go to a court that is going to rule against me. I will have ensured that everything will go as planned. Am I clear? We lost the court case for this reason, beyond anything else. And because we prattled on more than we acted. I’m prattling on little.
JOURNALIST: Regarding the Cyprus issue: You said there are many parties who don’t see the issue of the reopening of the negotiations in the same way we do. Who are these people? How do they see it? What picture do you have of the situation? In other words, when, realistically, could the negotiations reopen? After the presidential elections in Cyprus? And another, related issue: Did you discuss the matter of possible tensions within the Cypriot EEZ with Mr. McMaster? Does Washington have concerns about this issue?
N. KOTZIAS: I don’t discuss issues concerning an independent sovereign state with Mr. McMaster. The Cypriots have their own channel of communication with the Americans, as they do with all of the member states of the UN Security Council.
What I explained to Mr. McMaster is which states are destabilising the region and in what manner, as I do to all the members of the Security Council. I explained it to the Russians, I explained it to the Chinese, to the French, the British, the European Union, the U.S., the Germans. All of these are usually the first parties we address. The Germans aren’t members of the Security Council, but they have a special role in the European Union.
Regarding how and between whom a discussion will take place, you know that there was a very extensive discussion between the Turkish Cypriots and the Turks as to whether or not they accept the parameters of the UN.
Initially, following Crans-Montana, it appeared that the prevalent opinion between them was that we can’t negotiate in the UN again, that we can’t negotiate again on these parameters, because there is no point. I think that the players in these two spaces have now become more realistic. They simply say: “Does the other side – the Greek Cypriots, that is – want a solution?” They do this to have an alibi in a future blame game.
International politics requires composure. After Crans-Montana, the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots came out and said “we aren’t going back to talks.” Public opinion and opinion-makers latched onto this and said, “the talks are over, there are no talks.” These are transient phenomena. That’s why I said that foreign policy requires great sobriety, deep breaths and a plan.
It’s alright for the press, for activists. But you can’t react in the same way they do. In fact, I would say that the press and the activists who react differently sometimes help foreign policy to cite them. But the way you handle foreign policy requires deep knowledge.
There are journalists with very deep knowledge of foreign policy, and for them – and I say this as a Minister and as a teacher of international relations – I have immense respect. I may not ask their opinion enough, though I do want and intend to. But as Minister of Foreign Affairs I have to react soberly.
And let me say something else. I don’t talk often, because in my opinion the more often I talk, the more someone can study what I have deep in mind. I don’t want to go to negotiations with their having studied me well, just as I try to study them.
Surprise and the unexpected are crucial in a negotiation. That’s what I think. I may be wrong.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I wanted to ask you whether you discussed the refugee issue at all, through the prism of EU-Turkish relations, which are in a very bad state. Just a few days ago we had the restatement, in the European Council, of the view, mainly of the German side, that the accession negotiations need to be suspended, etc. I want you to tell us a few things about this following your meetings in Ankara.
N. KOTZIAS: We agreed to reactivate, or rather to intensify the activities of, the joint group we have on migration policy and that met last in February, not by our fault.
Such a group must discuss the migration issues, because we don’t even agree on the numbers – how many left, how many crossed, how many returned, etc. Each bureaucracy has its own way of counting and recording. In general, I am a fan of the pending issues’ being discussed. We have to talk about the migration issue with the Turks and explain to them that, beyond the agreements they have with the European Union, they have protocols with us. That even if they didn’t have the European Union, they have commitments from our bilateral relations.
Regarding their European future, we have a position. What country’s interests would benefit most from a European Turkey? That is, from Turkey’s being, by the western standard, democratized and Europeanised, modernized in its institutional system? It is my profound belief that Greece would benefit most.
I’m not saying it’s going to happen. Let’s not confuse the two things. I am referring to who would benefit. So Greece is the last country that would like to see these talks suspended. Allow me to share – I shared this with the Turks – an experience I had as an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when I was tasked with the planning and programming of the Ministry’s foreign policy in the 1990s.
Do you remember the Helsinki agreement of 1999? Before the 1999 Helsinki agreement there was the Tampere agreement. If I remember correctly, that was in October 1999, in Finland again. It was the first or second year of the informal European Councils. There were the informal Gymnich meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, but there hadn’t been informal summit meetings. That’s when they started.
At that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister, of course, had taken the decision to withdraw the veto on Turkey that we had used in Luxembourg. And after almost 20 years, I insist that this was the correct decision.
What had happened? Between 1997 and 1999 – when we exercised our veto – all of our partners and friends went and told the Turks: “Put pressure on Greece, because if Greece withdraws the veto, in six months you will be a member state of the European Union.”
They were using us as a shield against Turkey, with the hypocrisy and doublespeak that we often see in international relations. Then Turkey exerted unbearable pressure regarding something that, as it turned out, was not our fault.
When we withdrew the veto, I undertook to notify certain Deputy Ministers of member states. The first two grabbed me by the tie, the “professional uniform” as I call it, and asked me: “What are you doing to us?” These were the same people who had been telling the Turks that “in six months we will resolve all the issues.”
Thirty-four semesters have passed since then, and it has been shown that they burdened us with a conflict and with tension that we had no reason to be burdened with. I don’t forget that lesson.
If we came out now and, instead of saying, “we believe that we have to fight for Turkey to become a European country,” we said, in the European Council, “Greece exercises its veto, the negotiations should be called off,” do you think anyone else would say anything? They would hide behind us and go to Ankara every day, saying: “It’s those Greeks ... We want you ...” I’ve seen this scenario play out, and I will never allow Greece to do it again as long as I am Minister. I have a historical memory, and that’s what some people don’t like.
JOURNALIST: Minister, two questions: First, in recent months there have been a lot of news reports about the storage of nuclear weapons in Greece.
N. KOTZIAS: There is no such issue. “Surprising” news reports come out in Greece. The Prime Minister will talk about Souda tomorrow. We told the Americans to “forget about the Souda issue.” When their team for preparing the trip came here, at the end I said, laughing, “Did you forget about Souda?”. And they said: “We know we can’t put pressure on you. This issue is closed.” That happened two weeks before we went to the U.S.
For two weeks, colleagues of yours, journalists, wrote special articles, and some with urgency – “They are giving Souda,” “Souda for five years,” “Souda for ten years.” “Five years wasn’t enough, they wanted ten, ten wasn’t enough ...” I read the articles. And I told anyone I saw, because I don’t see many journalists, that there is no such issue. We went to the U.S. There was no negotiation on Souda, because it wasn’t discussed. We left, and I read in the newspapers that “they gave up Souda.” And look where this got us.
A political party asks, in Parliament: “Did you get anything in exchange for Souda?” What can you say? If you tell them that “we didn’t give them Souda, so we got nothing in exchange,” they’ll say: “We gave Souda without getting anything in exchange.” There are no nuclear weapons, there is no Souda issue. We are very, very clear on this.
The Souda agreement is renewed automatically every year. Otherwise you have to take the decision to end the agreement and oust the bases. Anyone who wants to can propose this. There are parties that propose this. Some say the agreement should be for ten years. The simplest thing is the annual renewal.
I have no problem with their criticizing and pressuring us on something, because I think we have a smart institution in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This Ministry knows how to use and capitalise on criticism in international relations. As long as the criticism doesn’t reach the point of stupidity, because then it can’t be beaten. It is difficult for even a smart diplomat to handle.
JOURNALIST: And a second question regarding the case of the Russian citizen.
N. KOTZIAS: After Turkey, I now have Russia with which to discuss legal proceedings.
JOURNALIST: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an announcement expressing dismay at the ruling of the Appeals Council. What can you tell us on this issue? Are you discussing it with the Russian diplomats or not?
N. KOTZIAS: In Greece, justice is independent, sovereign. And you saw that two different judicial bodies made two different rulings. That says it all.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, a few days ago the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an announcement on the situation in Himara and the political situation in Albania resulting from the possible involvement of a former Minister in a narcotics scandal. The Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded and accused your side of interfering in Albania’s domestic affairs. In the same announcement, Tirana expresses its readiness to continue the negotiations, though it again makes the reminder that there was a violation of diplomatic protocols, etc.
My question is this: In this atmosphere, with these serious accusations, does it help to continue the negotiations? Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: I think it is very wise that the intention to “pull down” the buildings in Himara – to put it politely – was not carried through. I think it is a wise choice by the Albanian side; a choice that helps the negotiations.
Second. Regarding the allegation that we interfered in Albania’s domestic affairs: we talked about human rights. The problem we have is this: the Greek minority is recognised not by Albanian law; it is recognised by International Law, in the agreements of 1921. The very founding of the state of Albania was accompanied by the recognition of these rights.
Then came Enver Hoxha. Enver Hoxha, in his opinion, “socialised” private property and he socialised it in the style of the 1968 cultural revolution in China. In other words, he "socialised" – in quotation marks, or not, that’s a discussion for another time – both small and mid-sized properties. And thus he took the Greek minority’s property away.
Moreover, while he had a good policy on the minority – given the framework of his regime – he “cheated”, to put it politely. He defined the Greek minority as existing only in specific zones and – I want all of you to remember this and understand it – allow only those living in these zones to register as members of the Greek minority.
Albania’s new law on minorities will be judged by Europe. As a member state of Europe, we have an opinion and we advise the European Union of this opinion.
The law gave a number of rights not to one minority, as recognised by international law since 1921, but to nine minorities – whether national or ethno-linguistic.
In principle it is a good law. That’s why we said it was a step forward. What is the law’s weakness and, for us, a step backward with regard to the large minority? That it preserves the zones. An Albanian politician might say to me, rightly: “What zones? We are saying that minorities exist everywhere in Albania.” Yes, but the law does one thing: It refers to minorities as determined by the registries.
But the registries, in Himara, for instance, did not allow the Greek minority to register. So, while the law is liberal and good, its reasoning, its point of departure, which is the registries, reiterates the problem the Greek minority had under Enver Hoxha.
For example, do you know that the former President of Omonia, the Greek Minority’s organization, is not registered as a member of a minority, because he was from Himara and in Himara he was prohibited from registering as a member of a minority?
This is the problem we are referring to. That you promulgated a good law, but rather than allowing citizens self-determination – as a Turk, Greek, Albanian, whatever anyone wants – the law provides for determination based on the registries. But this was determined by Hoxha, who prohibited registration outside the zones. This is the issue, and I think it is unfair. Do you know what the Greek population of Himara is? Just look at how many buildings are slated for demolition.
And the second problem – this is why I mentioned Hoxha’s “socialisation” of these houses – is that after the fall of Hoxha’s regime, deeds of ownership were not granted. And they say, “you don’t have a deed of ownership,” or, “okay, I’ll give you a little compensation.” There is a solution, but I won’t impose it. But as a human being, not as a Minister, I say that the solution is to give comparable plots of land elsewhere, to give the potential for economic activity. You didn’t need to go and demolish tourist shops with bulldozers in June. How are they to make a living?
In any case, we believe that there has to be better coordination with the Greek minority, more respect. And fodder should not be given to those who believe – and I am not among them – that there are those who want to uproot the minority from Albania.
So we have to protect the minority. The Greek minority is a bridge of friendship between Greece and Albania, like the Albanian immigrants here.
We have the good fortune, as a family, to have a woman from Albania work at our house once a week, and she is like a daughter to us. I have the good fortune to be a professor, and I often see that, of the top ten students, half are Albanians. It’s the same with graduate students. Albanians account for 5% of the student population, but they often account for 50% of those who stand out.
I am proud of these students of mine. I am proud of these people, and you don’t know how happy I am when I go to Tirana and see that four of my students are today professors at Albanian universities. These people are bridges. We don’t need to destroy them. In fact, we need to beautify them. Let them flourish. That's my opinion.
In Europe it is normal for us to discuss minority rights, human rights, property rights. And at the Council, as you know, these have been set as conditions. There are five conditions. The Commission – I remind everyone – came to the Council with one condition. But the Commission is not all-powerful. We are there, too. At the Council of Ministers, we set five conditions. The Commission didn’t like this. They wanted one condition, but they are committed on five.
Each member state has a right to an opinion on whether or not these five conditions have been met. And of these five conditions for the opening of the negotiations with Albania, one is minority rights. So it’s reasonable that we should have an opinion.
Moreover, the second condition is protection of property rights. In Himara we have the property issue as well as the minority issue. It was on this that we expressed ourselves. What our Albanian friends perhaps failed to notice, though I think they noticed it afterwards, is that, with great care, with the spokesperson, Mr. Yennimatas, we wrote about what is being said. We didn’t say it was our opinion, and we added that “we hope this is not the case.” This is very clear in Greek.
I don’t like to fuel conflict. And that’s why we didn’t respond to the announcement from the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I had prepared a very nice response, but afterwards I deemed it unnecessary. The same happens with the Turks and others. They issued 10 announcements, I responded with half an announcement. I am not a fan of fuelling momentary anger and creating ongoing confrontation in the relations of states.
I am a fan of the fact that Greece, a country with culture and history, has a greater responsibility for where the region is heading. I’m not saying that you have to listen to us because we are more powerful. I’m saying that we have greater responsibility. And that is why I don’t always respond to the announcements of other Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
To me, international politics is not an altercation between two angry people, in which I have to raise my voice more. When I see that things aren’t going well, I have to deal with them more soberly, calmly, patiently.
And this is why I think that, even if there is an exchange of harsh announcements – an exchange we don’t perpetuate – negotiations can take place. And, in fact, can I tell you something? It’s clear that we have to resolve the issues. Because if we don’t resolve them, a problem like this will arise every day.
JOURNALIST: I would like to ask about Greece’s red lines on the name issue, because we’ve been hearing various things of late regarding a compound name with a geographical qualifier. Are we talking about the word “Macedonia” or something else if that has changed? And something else you said after the ministerial meeting in Thessaloniki. You said the discussion is about the name and anything linked to it. What exactly is that? Language, identity, etc.? Do you believe there has to be a solution that has all the issues in it, so the problem between the two countries can end? Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: My deep conviction and will, and that of my government, and I hope of the government in Skopje, is that we finish with this problem. I told Mr. Nimetz that, hand on my heart, I want to resolve it. I want the politicians on the other side to do the same thing, to put their hands on their hearts and say, “I want to resolve it.”
If both sides want to resolve it, we have to make a compromise. The compromise concerns the whole package. What is the package? It is the name, the use of the name, the derivatives, what relation they have to the name and the abbreviations. There are four issues.
Mr. Nimetz has taken on the first two issues in the negotiations he has been holding for all these years now. The other two haven’t been discussed. Along the way we have been working with many institutes and professors more specialised in this issue. In the course of the discussions, I discovered that there are peculiar problems, e.g. with the derivatives: Everyone thinks about the derivatives, because in your country this is the burning issue, identity and language.
But there are issues that are even more complex. Not more serious, more complex. For instance, commercial product names. What do we do with those when exist on both sides. Someone has set up a business selling “Macedonian product x” in Thessaloniki, and someone else is selling “Macedonian product y” in Skopje. This is an issue we hadn’t even thought about. What I want to say is, the more we think, the more complex problems arise.
Regarding the name, what I often say is that we need to arrive to a compromise. We mustn’t have winners and losers in this case. And to come to a compromise, we have to have resolved two problems. First, for your country’s people to understand that we like the fact that you exist – and I’m pleased that you are here with us – and the second is that the irredentism has to stop.
I’ll tell you, I say this often, but I said it in my first press conference, I don’t know if you were there in 2015, in Skopje, it was a three or three-and-a-half hour press conference, 250 reporters, I still remember it. And I said this: I go to Pakistan, and someone says to me: “I am a descendant of Alexander the Great. Do you think that upsets me? “Great,” I say to him. I like the fact that he wants to be an heir to Greek culture. Do you know what he doesn’t say to me? He doesn’t say Macedonia is Pakistani. And all of Macedonia, at that.
I go to Egypt. There is a city there called Alexandria, named after Alexander the Great. But when I went to Alexandria for the first time, and everyone was so proud of their Library, no one said that, because it was called Alexandria, Alexandroupoli, named for the saint, belongs to them. This is irredentism.
If some people want to feel that Greek civilization was great ... Can I tell you something? The German’s founded their state in the name of Greek philosophy and heritage. They didn’t want to join the French Enlightenment due to the Franco-German wars, and they considered themselves the heirs of Greek civilization. There’s nothing bad about that.
But don’t add that “this belongs to me.” That is, if you say that “Macedonia is a geographical term,” it is another thing to say that “Macedonia is an ethnic term.” And it is another thing to say that “Pirin, Bulgaria, has a portion of Macedonia, Pirin Macedonia, but the largest part lies in Greece geographically,” and it is another thing to say, ethnologically, that “Macedonia and the history of Macedonia belong to me and I’m therefore raising 10 statues.”
That is why I say that I believe deeply that we have to reverse the perception that Greece wants your country to break up. We don’t want that, and I hope they are convinced of this in fYROM. I like the fact that it exists. I like it geostrategically as well, but irredentism is another thing. We have to have done with these two things.
And can I point out to you an academic methodological difference – academic, not as a Minister: In the international debate there are two types of social wars: Class wars, which Marx defined for us, and the wars that are an offshoot/derivative of these wars: culture wars. And historically, in fact, we became more aware of the culture wars in 19th century Germany, in the clash between Bismarck, as a Protestant, and the Centre Party, Zentrumspartei, which was Catholic. But then the German social democratic party appeared, and these two joined together to form today’s Christian Democratic Party.
Even today, culture wars play a very important role in countries from time to time, but especially in the U.S., because they are an offshoot of the social struggles. Here, we had the “battle for 666.” What kind of battle is this? It is cultural. Whether a persons religion will be put on IDs. Or the patriotic issue. These are cultural struggles that reflect, are offshoots of, other social struggles.
From this standpoint, one time I tried to think about what this pattern would mean in the context of international politics for our neighbours. I would say that such a controversy, I won’t say clash, appertains more to clashes, to differences in identity, cultural identity.
In other words, who we are, where we come from, where we are going. Are we the same? Are we us and not you? Are you you and not us? While our differences with other neighbourhoods are geostrategic, geopolitical, of another nature.
And in my opinion, in international relations, and I’m speaking as an academic now, the latter are more important than the former for foreign policy; they are more difficult.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the fYROM name issue, you said yourself that there are much more complex issues beyond the name and its use.
N. KOTZIAS: Not more important. They are a product of what’s important.
JOURNALIST: But there are also the derivatives, etc. And the time frame you set, the first half of 2018. You said it should be resolved in the first half of 2018.
N. KOTZIAS: Otherwise it will run on much longer.
JOURNALIST: Then the second question, Minister, is, as you said, that our neighbour’s government appears more inclined towards compromise and consensus. The question is: is the Greek government as a whole ready for an honest compromise.
JOURNALIST: The whole government, including the ANEL Party?
N. KOTZIAS: I responded, and I’m not going to give further explanations. History will judge us. If you will allow me to say something, because sometimes it bothers me, and you know I don’t criticize the opposition very much, and they don’t criticize me very much, to be honest and fair, but it is quite a stretch for a Party that saw years and years of infighting over the name issue, that had a Minister of Foreign Affairs that clashed with his Prime Minister and created his own Party, which, moreover, had three leading members – one of whom became its president (Evert, Dimas, Kanellopoulos) – who clashed strongly, to now wonder whether the government’s other partner has a different opinion. A little historical modesty would do some good. I didn’t create the problem. I found it and I want to solve it.
These people fell as a result of internal feuds over the issue. And in fact the Ministry’s Secretary General at the time, Mr. Skylakakis, describes exactly how Mr. Mitsotakis abandoned his positions, under pressure from within the party and from the three politicians I mentioned.
And I must tell you that the Party that historically maintained a principled stance on this problem in the post-junta country, beyond Synaspismos, was the Communist Party (KKE). This should be said and admitted. It’s the truth.
JOURNALIST: It fell to you, Minister, during your term in office, following the buyout of the Piraeus Port Authority, to shape relations with China to a large extent. Last year, Greece blocked an EU supported ruling of The Hague, naming China and calling on it to comply with the ruling.
N. KOTZIAS: That’s a very nice question, because it isn’t exactly like that. Thank you, because the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and the ‘New York Times’ are criticizing me for this, on the front page.
JOURNALIST: Let’s not leave out this year’s intervention by Greece in EU foreign policy, cutting off a condemnation of China in the sector of human rights, which interest us.
I want to ask what you have been hearing from your European partners about this stance on the part of Greece; what the strategy and rationale are. Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: I want to thank you, because I don’t talk very often, and you are giving me this opportunity. I am grateful.
Ruling of arbitration – not of the Court in The Hague, of arbitration – between the Philippines and China. Length of the ruling: 496 pages. First request: that we issue an announcement against China a week before the ruling is even published and we have it in our hands.
The Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs replies, and let the Greek people judge me: I will not issue an announcement on a ruling that concerns islands, that concerns an EEZ, that concerns the continental shelf in a dispute that is similar in many ways to that between Slovenia-Croatia and Greece and its neighbours, without first reading the ruling.
And I ask: can anyone expect Greece, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, when we have 2,000 islands, 1,200 without the rocky islets, to decide to welcome a ruling that he has not read?
The ruling comes out. Within the day, the European Union renews its request that we issue an announcement at the Council of Ministers. And I say: “Have any of you read it? It came out today. How many of you know how long it is?” I told them: 496 pages.
The third session, at which we agreed and took a decision – it isn’t that we blocked a decision on this – that Slovenia wanted to block in the end. We took a decision, we agreed, we formulated the resolution, but what had we done? We had read the ruling. And, teasingly, I asked my colleagues: Apart from me, has anyone else in here read it? Not an associate of yours, you yourself?” No one.
And I ask: is it possible for Greece to make decisions that concern its vital interests, because when we go to the international Court for some case, should we ever need to go, the international Court will base itself on its previous rulings. And imagine if this previous decision didn’t favour us and I had welcomed it a week before I had even read it, and the judge said to me, “but you welcomed it, Sir. You said it was correct. How is it that you are here now, saying that the ruling wasn’t correct?”
So I – the only Minister of Foreign Affairs who had read the ruling, I’m afraid – did well to wait.
Let’s go to the second case. We have another ruling, on Iran, regarding the Bank of Iran, which we vetoed. What happened there? We were waiting for a ruling from the European Court on the status of this Bank. But the period of the sanctions ended. They proposed that we impose sanctions for the next eight years. What did I propose? That we impose sanctions until the day the ruling came out. And if the ruling acquits Iran, what can we do. If it isn’t an acquittal, we can take a new decision.
But to make a decision on eight years when we knew that the ruling would come out in three months at the latest, and thus independent of the ruling, meant that we would are deceiving people that we are a system founded on Law. Our opinion won out in the end.
How much later did the ruling come out? Three days. They all knew it. All of the major players, I mean. And what was the ruling? It found in favour of Iran. And now the issue was raised: Do we, as Europeans, respect the rulings of the Court of the European Communities, the European Union, now, or not? Some said no. But I, being a small country and saying that my power lays in International Law – I couldn’t share their view.
And the last compromise I proposed? There are fines if the ruling of the European Union is not implemented. And I asked? Who will pay the fine levied on me - who I am already burdened with all this debt - for non implementation, simply because you want it this way? No one wanted to pay it. We would have paid a fine, on top of everything!
Now the third concerns human rights. First of all, human rights are selective. We asked: based on what criterion did you choose these 10 countries and not the other 15? Silence. We proposed, and this has now passed, a country that has undermined us at the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. Do you know how they reacted? “No, no, don’t include it!”
We came to the country called China. Two days after the date on which the Permanent Representatives were to make a decision in Geneva – as they don’t bring those decisions to the Ministers, I said to them: “political decisions to the Ministers, not to the diplomats” – we had a meeting, as the EU, with the Chinese on human rights.
And I submitted the simple question: Great, if we have anything to say, we’ll go and “scold” them. Why do we have to make a decision two days earlier? Is this negotiation? Second, why are such-and-such countries not included in this? I propose that these countries be added.
And third, they said that “either we will make this criticism of China without corrections, or we won’t issue the resolution.” And I told them that “if the motion isn’t passed, it’s your fault. Because I, as a country, have three amendments I would like to make. Leave the paragraph out.”
They didn’t blame us because the text on China didn’t come out, they blamed us, falsely, because the text on human rights didn’t come out. That was their decision. It didn’t end there. They said we were doing it for China because of our economic interests. If I remember correctly, Greece accounts for 0.7% of China’s investments in the European Union. Great Britain accounts for 23%, Germany 20%. How is it that we have economic interests and they don’t?
And what do we sell? We sell old facilities of the second industrial revolution. Do you know what they sell? The latest factory that was sold in Germany is robotic. But they supposedly don’t have economic interests. It’s ‘business as usual’. Whereas if we sell anything, its because of our political line. This is hypocrisy and doublespeak, and I have told them this.
JOURNALIST: (off microphone)
N. KOTZIAS: Whatever is necessary we always discuss with our partners and always within the context of our bilateral relations. But I respect that the Chinese have a different view on human rights. There is a philosophical issue: Do human rights as they are understood by the West apply in general, or do others have another outlook?
We believe they apply in general. But not everyone shares our belief.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in previous decades the U.S. position regarding Turkey was, “find solutions, make agreements, proceed to agreements with them.” Is the new American government – you were there – pushing for anything? Is it proposing anything? Is it proposing agreements, statements?
N. KOTZIAS: No. The new American government has two issues. One is to understand Turkey – the Europeans have this too. There is a difficulty with understanding exactly what Turkey’s system of contradictions is. And from this perspective, we are in the pleasant position, I would say, of explaining our views to third parties who have yet to come to some conclusion.
There is no pushing, but I believe that, deep down, they don’t want to lose Turkey. I recommend you read the texts of the people of the new American government. In my personal opinion, there is a shift from its initial statements.
I’m being a little expansive today, but I want to explain my thinking to you, because it is more important than one news report or another. The new American administration came with the thinking that these alliances “cost me money, aren’t in my interest.” Did you see NATO? It’s not worth it, they are free riders.
In other words, just like a free rider doesn’t buy a ticket and rides the bus, “I am paying for international security and the others, e.g. Germany, aren’t paying, but they benefit from this.” Or, in a factory, 100 out of 150 workers strike, but the collective agreement concerns all 150. The 50 who didn’t strike didn’t lose a day’s wage. They are free riders. In other words, they benefit without having gone to the trouble or paid the cost, and so on.
I argue that this initial view has receded, and now the view being promoted more is that the cost of our alliances is smaller than the cost of one’s not having allies. A portion of the Administration, if you read their texts, says this: because America is in the process of reducing its powerful role, our allies are looking to create other alliances – they never say this about Turkey, but as a model I believe it is of interest regarding Turkey – but without the cost of their relationship with the Americans rising.
And they come and say: “Yes, but if our allies leave us, the international balance of power for our economic interests will be against us.” Consequently, it is preferable “for us to contribute to the cost of the alliances, rather than paying the cost of those alliances’ not existing.” This is a new stance.
The philosophy as I read it – they don’t say it themselves – is a sense that the Americans in the West and the West in the world are not as powerful as they once were. That is why they are stepping up the search for routes to the re-strengthening of the U.S. in the West and the West in the world.
I think the Trump Administration is posing this question and is seeking an answer to this question.Thank you very much.