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Statements by Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos following the conclusion of his meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Antalya, 21/03/2019)
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you for the welcome and the warm hospitality. We are here to positively advance this agenda, as our two leaders agreed a short while ago in Ankara. This is something that is beyond the two countries, the two countries can set an example of peaceful co-existence with respect of the rules of International Law. A few days ago, Mevlüt was in New Zealand, where a heinous crime was committed, not just against Muslims, but against humanity as a whole, against peaceful co-existence.
We do not believe in the war between civilisations. We believe that relations between peoples ought to be based on mutual respect, and that relations between countries ought to be based on International Law, on the system of multilateralism of international organisations, and we must do everything possible in order for it to function effectively and to provide solutions to existing problems. Therefore, a part of our positive agenda precisely relates to how we will go about ensuring respect of International Law, ensuring de-escalation of tensions in our region through the implementation of confidence-building measures that have already been agreed upon, including the famous Papoulias-Yilmaz Memorandum, and generally finding ways to discuss resolution of the problems that concern us.
For this reason, we are open to Turkey’s European prospect, precisely because we believe that it is to the benefit of the European Union, the Turkish people, as well as Greece, to have a friendly, European Turkey at our Eastern border.
And naturally, I reiterate that the pace of harmonious co-existence among countries is set by International Law. As my friend Mevlüt rightly stated, we feel that, with regard to all issues pertaining to it, Turkey has rights. On energy, we have defended Cyprus’ right, its obvious right, to manage the resources of its Exclusive Economic Zone for the benefit of both of the island's communities. But it is clear that in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has rights too in accordance with the Law of the Sea, which we see as applicable and which governs differences between us.
We particularly wanted to advance the positive agenda on economic issues, cultural issues, issues of understanding among peoples. Both sides have taken initiatives for the restoration of cultural and religious monuments in our two countries. We ve attributed special importance to the restoration of the Mosque of Murad Reis in Rhodes and the Bayezid Mosque in Didymoteicho. It is with great pleasure that I heard from my friend Mevlüt that work is being completed on Soumela Monastery; he assured me that on 15 August of this year, it will be possible for the liturgy to be celebrated there again, as it was the case in previous years. And as the Prime Minister stated in Halki, we would consider the re-opening of the School there to be an especially positive event. All this is precisely an example showing that dialogue is possible between Islam and Orthodoxy, and Christendom at large. But, beyond this, the message that I expressed in the beginning is that there should be no war of civilisations, but rather the possibility of co-existence for the benefit of our peoples.
We also discussed the minority, the Muslim minority in Greece, as provided for by the Treaties, and I told him that obviously as they are Greek citizens, we have every interest and duty in ensuring their prosperity and education. And we also talked about the rights of our minority in Istanbul. I raised an issue that I believe will be addressed positively, for the need to replace the administration of the Waqf Institutions.
But we agreed also on the promotion of economic cooperation, on an economic forum that will take place in Istanbul, preparing also for the large economic meeting which will take place when the High-Level Cooperation Council convenes in Thessaloniki, as has been agreed upon between the Prime Minister and Turkey's President.
In short, what was our objective? To lay out a programme, a step at a time, without setting overambitious goals that we will never achieve, to have continuous dialogue which will improve the situation.
On 12 April, the meeting will take place on the level of Ministries of Foreign Affairs for confidence-building measures, for stock taking, and we agreed with my friend Mevlüt to hold, in the context of this meeting, the first informal exploratory talk on where the two sides stand with regard to the major issue of Cyprus. As you know, we regard Cyprus, above all, as an issue of violation of International Law. Greece exclusively focuses on the international dimension of the problem. It feels that the issues of governance and all the other issues that pertain to how the two communities will co-exist in Cyprus is an issue to be negotiated by the two communities, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots. But we want to help as much as we can in resolving its international dimension. Our stance has always been, as you know, for the anachronistic system of guarantees to be abolished, and for removal of the occupation troops.
The goal of the next meeting is not to negotiate on these issues, but to listen to the Turkish side, as to what its ideas are. And we agreed to begin again, step by step, to listen to the ideas put on the table as to what could be the mechanism in the future that could replace the system of guarantees, with the assumption that all the other issues, the domestic ones, have been resolved.
We also agreed to proceed with issues that pertain to maritime cooperation. In June, a discussion will be made, in order to proceed to the cooperation related to tourism. I spoke with Mevlüt about a Greek initiative, by Tourism Minister El. Kountoura, for an international tourism and sports organisation, in which he showed great interest.
I would therefore like to reassure you that we hope that a period of better understanding can indeed commence between our two countries, of de-escalation of tension and, subsequently, of promotion also of dialogue, so that we are progressively able to find solutions to our problems.
I would like to thank again Mevlüt for his warm hospitality.
JOURNALIST: The question pertains to the Cyprus issue. You spoke, Mr Çavuşoğlu, about Turkey’s rights, as did you Mr Katrougalos, as regards Cyprus’ energy issues. We would like a clarification on this. How do you see these rights, and how can the topic of energy serve as a tool that will help in achieving a resolution as well as in reopening dialogue.
G. KATROUGALOS: With regard to the Cyprus issue, it is clear that we must take into consideration that significant progress made at Crans-Montana. For us, the most important acquis of that process is that the international aspect of the Cyprus issue was again put on the table, as I outlined earlier. We must therefore further try to know precisely how Turkey sees this aspect, which is important for Greece.
With regard to the energy issue, I believe I made myself clear. We believe that every country possesses the rights recognised under International Law and the Law of the Sea on its Exclusive Economic Zone. Beyond that, no country can have a monopoly in a wider region; neither Greece, nor Turkey, nor Cyprus. No one has sought such a monopoly. Our position is always a position deriving from International Law and from the Law of the Sea, and the Greek side will continue to act precisely within this framework.
G. KATROUGALOS: If you permit me, I am particularly pleased that this connection was made. The fact that we want de-escalation of tension does not mean that we wish to sweep the problems under the rug. It is clear that differences do exist, which must be discussed, and indeed in the manner which Mevlüt mentioned, in frankness; to identify our well-known differences and to try to address them. How? Through constructive dialogue and with International Law as our guide. Consequently, the reason for which we are against the guarantees in Cyprus, why we consider them to be colonial, is because -this is how Turkey wrongly interprets them- they allow for the unilateral intervention in the sovereign rights of an independent state, as is the Republic of Cyprus. This is why they must be abolished. This is a discussion about the future; a discussion which it would be good if it were to begin, which would be good if it were held publicly, so that we can be familiar with each side’s points of departure.
As regards the inalienable rights of the Republic of Cyprus to its wealth-producing resources, our stance is that it has sovereign rights to its exclusive economic zone. A very substantial step has already been taken towards safeguarding these resources for the benefit of both communities, with the vote by the Cypriot Parliament for the recent law for a Fund similar to the Norwegian Fund, where future revenue from exploitation of hydrocarbons will go.
I think that everything I mentioned earlier about the Greek Muslim minority is clear, and I don’t wish to repeat it.
Consequently, I believe that I, just like my friend Mevlüt for that matter, are not in a position to depart from the national positions that each of us represents. We will continue to support these in the manner in which we perceive them. What we both wish to do is to create a climate that will allow us to proceed as friends and as neighbours while being aware that we have differences, that these differences have a decades-old past and burden, that it is not easy to overcome them through a simple luncheon and the obvious friendly disposition we both possess. But we can begin. The starting point is for us not to see each other as enemies, and I believe that neither of us is doing anything of the sort.
JOURNALIST: The question is for both Ministers. The eight members of the terrorist organisation who fled to Greece after the attempted coup, did you discuss this? There is also the vote by the European Parliament for suspending, for ending accession talks with the European Union. How do you interpret this negative vote by the Greek MEPs?
G. KATROUGALOS: I will begin with the last part. We consider Turkey's European prospect a mutually beneficial “win-win-win” situation, in other words it is good for the Turkish people, good for the European Union, and good for us. But it goes beyond the prospect of a country such as Turkey, as large as it may be. At the moment, there is a clash in Europe between two viewpoints, as to how we desire our political Union and how we desire our societies. We are in favour of open societies. We are against Islamophobia. We are in favour of rights and Democracy. And we believe that any country that wishes to join the European Union, which respects the principles of Democracy, human rights, and the European acquis, has a place in our common European home. This is the position we have always supported, which we will continue to support in the future too.
As regards the issue of the eight: putchists and terrorists are not welcome in Greece. But as to who is a putchist and who is a terrorist, Justice decides this in rule-of-law states. Justice, in the case of the eight, has ruled in a manner which we, as the executive power, the Greek Government, do not have the constitutional competence to intervene. In our domain of action, as an executive power, we have said with our friends in the Turkish Government that we are prepared to cooperate. What does that mean? Identifying existing terrorist networks, identifying organised crime networks that deal in trafficking and illegally bring in migrants; who trade in human suffering. And it is indeed also a concern of ours that during the period 2017-2018, flows from Turkey to Greece increased by 38%. We want to address all these things, and we agreed to strengthen our cooperation, and I repeat in which direction: in identifying terrorism and organised crime.
G. KATROUGALOS: Just to clarify, let me say that the Prime Minister said to President Erdoğan what I also said: putchists are not welcome in Greece. But from the moment anybody in Greece submits a request for asylum, from that point on, their case is examined by the administration, and it then goes to the court. This is what I wished to clarify: that from the moment that the case has reached the Court, our involvement could not be different, concerning the position of any government in a rule-of-law state: to wait and to honour the court decision.
JOURNALIST: Before coming to Turkey, the Minister referred to Turkey's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a Turkish Cypriot, I would like to know the following: What are his thoughts about the rights of Turkish Cypriots as equal citizens in Cyprus?
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you for the question. We want Cyprus to once again be reunified, in the manner that the two communities on the island will choose, in full respect of International Law and the decisions of the UN. And I stressed - and I am reiterating it - that the island's wealth is the wealth of both communities, and there is nobody who will say otherwise, neither in Greece nor in Cyprus.
JOURNALIST: Both of you said that the confidence-building measures are on again, and you referred to the measures for de-escalating tension, and you said that this will proceed based on a programme, and that measures will be taken. You said that you discussed the energy issue in the region, and Mr. Katrougalos said that Turkey cannot be excluded. Both countries will hold regional elections just a few months apart. Does the opposition party use this as a topic for domestic consumption, despite the fact that the two governments avoid this? Until these meetings advance, have you decided to do something? What measures are you able to take? At the same time, yesterday, during the interview he granted to Anadolu News Agency, Mr. Katrougalos stated that, in this region, it would be vital for Turkey to participate, to also be included in these issues. Can progress be made on these issues?
G. KATROUGALOS: Greece has always adopted one position: respect of International Law. International Law and the Law of the Sea grant certain rights to every country with a coastline, which of course also requires cooperation among countries as regards the delimitation of the continental shelf and the EEZ. This is our stance, this has always been our stance. And we feel that confidence-building measures must also be implemented on the level of military measures in order to avoid escalation of tension, to avoid any action that could lead to an accident, which neither side wants. Also, particular attention must be paid to public discourse. Every time I meet him, I want Mevlüt to address me as “kardeş”, not “giaour”. And these are some of the things we can achieve. And this is what we have achieved through today’s meeting.