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Statements by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Ankara, 15 April 2021)

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Statements by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Ankara, 15 April 2021)“Your Excellency the Minister, my dear Mevlüt,

I would like to thank President Erdoğan and you, of course, my old friend – thank you for reminding when and how we met, many years ago – for today’s hospitality.

And I would also like to thank you for the great honour you do me by inviting me to the Iftar dinner later this evening.

In this respect, I would like to take this opportunity to convey, on behalf of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, best wishes to all Muslims on the start of Ramadan. The Mitsotakis government attaches great importance to the matter of religious freedom, which is also enshrined in the Greek Constitution. The Prime Minister himself committed to the opening of the mosque in Athens, which took place this past November, and we will be having the official inauguration immediately after the pandemic.

Regarding the talks we had today – extensive talks – they were open and sincere. We had a very useful discussion. And I would like to say, frankly, that we discussed all of the issues on which there is agreement, as well as all the issues creating friction between us.

Because we believe that it is necessary to keep the channels of communication open between two neighbouring states. The first priority is to consolidate peaceful coexistence on the basis of international law. As well as on the basis of the fundamental rules and values of the UN Charter and NATO, to which both countries, Greece and Turkey, have belonged for over 70 years now. And of course, the European Union, which Greece joined 40 years ago, with Turkey having repeatedly stressed that joining the EU remains its strategic goal.

In this context, I welcome the resumption of the exploratory talks between us and Turkey, of the political consultations between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as well as of  the confidence-building measures, which will follow.

Today, we talked for a long time. We discussed our bilateral relations. We talked about regional developments. And my friend Mevlüt and I agreed that there is significant room for enhancing our bilateral relations in various sectors.

First of all, in the economy, in trade. My close associate, Deputy Minister Kostas Fragogiannis, is here so that we can discuss specific cooperation proposals.

In this framework, we submitted to the Turkish side a number of proposals for reviving initiatives that have been taken over the past two decades but have not been implemented. And I think we agreed to create, jointly with the Turkish side, a positive agenda on economic issues so that we can move our relations forward and promote our economic cooperation and change the climate that exists in Greek-Turkish relations. So that we can head towards a positive climate, in contrast to the one that has existed for the past 20 months.

We also considered the potential for initiatives that will facilitate contacts between our two peoples after the end of the pandemic. And of course, I stated – and I think we all agree – that a necessary condition for improving our bilateral relations is de-escalation and avoidance of actions and statements that undermine the climate. I do not think I am saying anything new. Until a very short time ago, just a few months ago, actions violating international legality had increased dramatically, undermining our efforts to create the climate of trust that we are trying to create today. Our stance on these issues is well known.

I want to say, here in the capital of Turkey, that yesterday I was in Istanbul, where I met with the Ecumenical Patriarch. And this gave me the opportunity to discuss issues that concern the Greek community. Moreover, for us – I have to say this – there is a Muslim minority in Greece. This is acknowledged as such in the Treaty of Lausanne; this is the official view of the Greek state.

Moreover, in our talks, I requested for the fake news and the provocative rhetoric peddled by certain circles to be stopped, as these do not help towards the positive climate we agreed to promote.

Today, Mevlüt and I discussed a number of regional issues, starting, naturally, with the five-sided talks on the Cyprus issue that are being hosted by the UN, in Geneva, two weeks from now. We hope that all sides will come to the talks in a constructive spirit so that the negotiations can begin on the resolution of the Cyprus problem.

As you know, the only solution acceptable to the whole of the international community is a bizonal, bicommunal federation based on the relevant resolutions of United Nations. This solution is also compatible with the European acquis. And also, of course, I must underscore the need, in this context, to seek, at last, a solution to the Cyprus issue and to refrain from actions that violate the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.

Of course, we also talked about EU-Turkey issues. I underscore again, for a second time, that Greece supports Turkey's accession process, provided that Turkey wishes to join the EU. Because we are convinced that, as neighbours, both sides stand to gain a great deal from the participation in the European Union of a Turkey that is fully integrated in the European family.

Moreover, we believe – though it is not our place to be the judge of this – that the majority of the Turkish people wishes for their country to join the European Union. For this reason, as the European Council also underscored, we are open to positively consider key issues of mutual interest, such as visa liberalisation. An issue on which we have always taken a positive stance within the European Union.

But, as is the case for every candidate country, there is an inviolable rule that must be followed: respect for the principles and values of the European Union, including the European acquis, which, as you know, includes full respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and sovereign rights of all EU member states. And in this context, the European Union has adopted a two-fold approach. The option of taking measures is always on the table at the Council. If there are unlawful and illegal actions against our sovereignty and sovereign rights, there is always the possibility of measures being taken. Of course, it is our heartfelt hope that there will be no illegal actions.

Allow me to refer in particular to a matter that has unfortunately had a negative impact on our bilateral relations and, I think, on Turkey’s accession course. And this concerns the threat of war if Greece should exercise its inalienable rights deriving from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and International Law. This stance runs counter to the Charter of the United Nations and is not consistent with a NATO Ally, good neighbourly relations or promotion of these relations.

Turkey continues not to accept the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which not only reflects customary law, but has also been ratified by the European Union and is therefore part of the European acquis. And a characteristic example of non-compliance is the well-known ‘memorandum’ between Turkey and Libya, which has been condemned by the European Council because it violates the sovereign rights of third states and is not consistent with the Law of the Sea.

Regarding the migration/refugee issue, I highlighted – and I think we agreed – that this is an EU-Turkey issue. Turkey’s obligations derive from the EU-Turkey Statement of 2016. My friend Mevlüt apprised me of Turkey’s desire to sign a new agreement. However, for any agreement to be successfully implemented, the right actions have to be taken and there has to be the necessary will to end the criminal activities of migrant smuggling networks. And I referred clearly to the past attempt to instrumentalize the migration issue in Evros.

We also talked about cultural heritage issues. Our desire for the reversal of the decisions to convert Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora into mosques was expressed to the Turkish side. We believe that such a reversal is also in the interest of Turkey and of Turkey’s international image.

Dear Mevlüt, I will conclude with a brief reference to the regional challenges in Syria and Libya. I think that in both of these countries – we will also discuss this later, at the dinner – we should help to comprehensively resolve the long-term crises while safeguarding the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of both countries, in accordance with International Law and the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, Greece and Turkey are fated by geography to live together in a region with many complex problems. Whether in the Balkans, the Middle East or the Caucasus. It is in the interest of both countries, of Greece and Turkey, for us to work together to consolidate security, stability and prosperity in these regions, based on International Law and the principle of good neighbourliness. This is the view of the Mitsotakis government and this is the view that I came here to express today in Ankara, in the hope that our relations will move forward. I am not ignoring reality. We know it is a long road ahead. But I hope that today we can say that we can take a step that will benefit both of our countries and, mainly, both of our peoples.

I would also like to take this opportunity to convey to my friend Mevlüt an invitation to visit Athens, at a time that we determine jointly and that will give us the opportunity to continue the discussion on the basis of our agenda and, finally, to prepare, through our talks, the meeting between President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis.

Once again, thank you very much for your hospitality here today, my dear Mevlüt.”

Second statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendia

“Thank you, my dear Mevlüt, for allowing me to respond. I imagine that your associates are ‘more royal than the king’ and would prefer I not respond, but I must.

I will take things in order.

I think that the Greek position with respect to the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean is always clear. And I do not think this is the first time you are hearing these things. And I would be very surprised, my dear Mevlüt, if you did not expect me to say these things here in Ankara. In other words, if you expected me to come to Ankara and present things as if nothing had happened in the Aegean and as if nothing had happened in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece’s position is clear: Turkey has violated International Law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea in the Aegean and in the Eastern Mediterranean. And beyond that, it has violated the sovereign rights of Greece. It has carried out 400 overflights of Greek territory, Mevlüt. Flights over Greek territory. There is no legal provision that allows flights over Greek territory. I am not talking about the sea.

Regarding the issue of the minority, of the Muslim minority: it is mentioned as such in the Treaty of Lausanne, it is not us saying this. And, if I remember correctly, Turkey has signed the Treaty of Lausanne. This is the Treaty. Whether Turkey likes it or not, the Treaty of Lausanne is in force and will continue to be in force.

Regarding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: UNCLOS is part of the European acquis. The European Union has signed it as the European Union. Not just the member states, but the European Union itself. If Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union, which I hope it does, it will also accept UNCLOS, the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Regarding migration, I sincerely think that, after the events of February and March, Turkey should not be giving lessons to Greece. As you said, we really are ready to turn a new page. But a new page sometimes requires one to see what one is doing right and what one is doing wrong. So, I think there was rather something not right on this issue.

I would therefore like to make it clear that Greece is prepared to gradually move ahead to a positive agenda with Turkey. But this does not mean a change in Greece’s firm and longstanding foreign policy stances; it does not mean abandonment of the European acquis.

And allow me to say, Mevlüt, that Greece does not consider the European Council to be “third parties”. Greece is a member of the European Union, and therefore the European Council is the Council we belong to, and to which we propose you should belong when you become a member. So the Council is not a third party; it is our family. These are countries that we live with, countries with which we share the same values, with which we share a common future, a common vision, a space of protection of human rights. As I always say, it is the proudest example of coexistence of states in human history. Greece is proud to participate in the European Union, it is proud of the European acquis, in accordance with which it will continue to function.

Again, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I would suggest that we do not get drawn into an endless discussion of these matters, on which we know we disagree. Otherwise, we will ruin what we are trying to create today, following the excellent meeting with President Erdoğan.”

Third statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendia

“I did not hear, but I will try to limit myself to one or two minutes, just to say that we really are seeking a positive agenda. This is the solution.

But a positive agenda means understanding the other side’s positions.  Mevlüt, you raised two issues:

Demilitarisation of the islands. Why is there a military presence on the islands? Because they are under threat from somewhere. The military costs money. We do not want to spend money for no reason. Is there anyone who maintains that, right now, there is not a military threat and landing force across from the islands? If there is not, it would be good for you to let us know.

The 6 to 10 miles in the air and sea, if I remember correctly, date back to 1930. Turkey first protested in 1975. After 50 years, after half a century.

I agree, we have to find solutions and not cover up our disagreements. And we have to find a common positive agenda. However, I also want to say frankly to the Turkish side that this will be achieved, Mevlüt, if you understand our sensitivities and if you understand how the EU functions. By the way, I hope our disagreement did not lead you to cancel the dinner invitation, because I am very hungry.”

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