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Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias at the Delphi Economic Forum and the session on “Peace and Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean” (Athens, 14.05.2021)
Ν. DENDIAS: Thank you for your invitation, thank you for the opportunity. Thank you also for bringing me into a discussion with very distinguished guests, my friends, the Foreign Ministers of the Kingdom of Spain, of Malta, of Cyprus, Nikos, but also with Professor Katrougalos, who represents the Opposition, but also has a deep knowledge on international affairs and on the region.
Well, you have asked a very basic question, how we can address the issues of our region. Is there any other way than International Law and the International Law of the Sea?
On this one, I could give two answers. One is a very short answer, a one-word answer, and that answer is: No, there is none.
But in order to explain why there is none, one has to try to go through another, longer answer. So, you will allow me to make use of the five minutes I have.
Well, there are many people and politicians and analysts in the world who think that the center of gravity has moved towards the Pacific now. But yet again, even these analysts and politicians understand how important the Eastern Mediterranean is for the balance of the world.
Eastern Mediterranean is a trade route, it is an energy route, it is also an area in which worlds' ancient civilizations took place. And as you said in your opening question, it is of profound importance.
Migration is a world issue that needs to be discussed. Many conflicts persist around the region for decades, some even for centuries. Just now, a "déjà vu", we have again the situation with the Palestinians and Israel. We have the situation in Libya. If you allow me to say, the Gulf is right next door, Yemen is right next to us, Iran is right next to us. And also, we should not forget that Eastern Mediterranean is the only route towards the Black Sea, and there we have Ukraine, we have Crimea. So, we have all sorts of problems.
MODERATOR: We are in the middle of a turmoil.
Ν. DENDIAS: Unfortunately, and I am always, when discussing with my fellow Ministers in the Council, in Brussels or in Luxemburg, I am always saying: We are not blessed to be Luxemburg. We are Greece. And fortunately, or unfortunately, apart from the huge and important traditions, there are always problems around us, many problems around us.
So, what Greece is trying to do? Greece is trying to persuade all the neighbours in the region that unless we found rules with which we would address problems that were here, are here and are going to be here, there is no way going forward.
We cannot invent the rules. The rules are there, and the rules are International Law and the International Law of the sea. That is what it is.
And I am happy because very many countries around the region, be it the countries of the Gulf, be it the countries of the Balkans, accept this thing. Of course, there are exceptions. Unfortunately, very important exceptions. Very important exceptions for us, very important exceptions for the world. Turkey is a primary example of exception.
Yet again, I believe that we will continue trying, and that is the only way forward. But that is something that we will come back to during our discussion.
So, my short answer is no, there is no other way. And I gave you the long answer why that is that.
MODERATOR: Let's find the way to follow this way or enforce this way at the end of the day.
Ν. DENDIAS: We believe in the power of persuasion. It takes more time, but I think it is more stable at the end of the day.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Minister, for your opening remarks.
Q & A
MODERATOR: Let me start with our host, with Minister Dendias, I have to say that here in Greece, dear Minister, we appreciated your presence in Turkey, your presence as the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On the other hand, we saw the collapse of the Cyprus talks under the auspices of UN Secretary General Guterres.
And the question is what is next? Are we in an impasse with Turkey now? Are we going to continue the effort with Minister Çavuşoğlu? Are you going to meet him soon, in the next, let's say, days, months? What is next?
Ν. DENDIAS: Well, thank you for the question. The truth is that for any journalist the challenge is to ask as many questions as possible and for any politician to answer the least possible.
So, I will start with Geneva. As Nikos Christodoulides will testify, it was not good. It was not good at all. And I have to say it was not good at all, regardless of the huge efforts of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Secretary General Guterres, who tried his best by far, because what appeared there, is that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots were beginning the discussion from a no-go. What I mean by a no-go? Not something that we or the Republic of Cyprus didn’t like, that would not have been the problem. A no-go regarding International Law, a no-go regarding the United Nations Resolutions, the Security Council Resolutions.
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots demanded from the Greek Cypriots, from the Republic of Cyprus and from Greece to accept that the Turkish Cypriot community had sovereign rights, that it was a sovereign entity, which is contrary to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. So, although we’ve tried all sorts of angles, the truth is that if this is a starting point with Turkey, if it is a starting point for the Turkish Cypriot community, then it is impossible to achieve something positive.
What I keep as a small hope, nevertheless, is that the Secretary General will continue trying. And we will continue trying, persuading Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots that is worth unifying the island again, but within a certain framework. And that framework can only be the Resolutions of the Security Council and the International Law, which really means a bicommunal, bizonal federation in Cyprus. There is no other way.
As far as Turkey is concerned, of course I will be meeting Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who - I’ve never hidden - is a friend of mine. I have invited him to come to Greece. In principle he has accepted the invitation.
MODERATOR: When is he coming?
Ν. DENDIAS: Well, that is up to him to decide. There is always an open door for him in Greece, in Athens. Again, I told you, he is friend of mine, apart from all other things. And I hope that this will be a meeting which will prepare a meeting between the leaders, between Prime Minister Mitsotakis and President Erdoğan, because we have to find a way to resolve issues with Turkey.
And if we cannot find a solution, at least we could find a way to manage our differences. What has happened in 2020 and in the beginning of 2021 is totally unacceptable. The total disregard of International Law from Turkey, be it in Evros with the migratory flows, be it in the Southeast Mediterranean, be it in the Aegean with the overflights over the Greek islands. These are totally unacceptable. So, we have to find a way. But always, the way needs to have a framework and the framework is the International Law of the Sea.
MODERATOR: This meeting is going to take place any time soon?
Ν. DENDIAS: I hope sooner rather than later. Because although what appeared to have happened in Ankara was a sort of open debate, in my humble opinion this was useful. Because everybody listened very clearly, in a not very diplomatic language, to two opinions there. And I have to say that for anybody who is well-meaning, it was quite clear who was right and who was wrong. But yet again, I am the Greek Foreign Minister, so I am expressing my opinion. But I think that it is good that everybody knows where the starting point is.
That does not mean that we cannot talk, that dialogue could not continue and we cannot live together.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Minister for your answer.
MODERATOR: In conclusion….
Ν. DENDIAS: Well, I think it could be said that what we have all agreed, is that there is a way, there is a way for the Eastern Mediterranean. And this way is to base our discussions and to base our dialogue on International Law and International Law of the Sea. This is the way forward. And I think Greece, regardless of government, is doing exactly that, and it is becoming a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and the whole region.
Thank you so much for the opportunity and also, I have to thank the Delphi Forum and Mr. Tsomokos for organizing this within the pandemic. Even this is a great achievement.
MODERATOR: Thank you, dear Minister.