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Statements by Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexis Tsipras during the joint Press Conference with the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Ankara, 5 February 2019)
Thank you very much, Mr President. I would like to thank you for your reception and hospitality. And of course, let me thank you once again for the honest talks we had.
As I had the opportunity to also stress over the previous days to the press, who requested that I make a statement in light of my visit, our dialogue all these years was an honest dialogue, and an important one, not only for the future of our peoples, but also for our wider region I would say.
Our two countries were able to work together closely in 2015 and 2016, which was a critical period; mainly because it was the period during which the unprecedented refugee and migration crisis broke out. It was then that we managed, for the first time, to work together, not only on issues of so-called low politics, but also on tackling this greatly significant international issue: the refugee and migration crisis.
In this context, we are able to build a new strategy for cooperation between Europe and Turkey. At the same time, we were able to also jump start the positive agenda of Greek-Turkish relations. Our economic and energy cooperation. We were able to conduct rounds of exploratory talks and to promote dialogue between our military officials to reduce tension in the Aegean.And at the same time, we succeeded in promoting talks on the Cyprus issue. Talks which came very close to reaching a solution, opening up difficult issues, such as the issue of security.
Unfortunately, though, the horrible coup ensued here in Turkey as well as other developments, which put a brake on this positive course. You will remember that I was one of the first people to call you that night, to express Greece’s support, which is a country that defends Democracy and Liberty. And as such, a country that condemns all forms of coups, and of course every attempt to overthrow democratic law. But later, it is a fact that there were developments that created obstacles to this positive course of Greek-Turkish relations. Often, there was confrontational rhetoric. In the Aegean, unfortunately, we saw the number of violations of Greece’s national airspace reaching very high levels, with very dangerous incidents at sea and in the air. And, at the same time, the incident with the eight soldiers, to which you referred, was a thorn in our relations and, subsequently, yet another thorn, the incident with the two Greek soldiers who were held in Turkey.
Given these conditions, we could accept that this vicious cycle is our fate, our kismet. But we did not do so. And I am happy that we did not. Today, during our talks, I believe that it was made clear, yet again, that neither your nor I accept the logic of intertia and compliance with the course most travelled. Because we recognise that the challenges we face, in our age and in our region, do not permit us to remain trapped in an impasse, but we strive for and seek dialogue in order to find a peaceful manner for resolving any differences we may have. At the same time, with regard to cross-border contacts, the economy, tourism, culture, our peoples, as they live in the same region, continue to grow closer. And I believe we must follow the example of our peoples.
In this context, we must abolish the thinking of the past, in order to build a relationship based on mutual respect. A relationship based on respect of International Law, elimination of threats of war and, of course, on mutual understanding; mutual understanding of our concerns. In December 2017, as you said, you visited Greece for the first time. For the first time, after 65 years, in the capacity of President of Turkey, you visited our country. For the first time, after 65 years, we had an official visit to Greece by a Turkish President. There were many who said, following that meeting of ours, that it was not a successful meeting, because we spoke honestly. I said that precisely because we spoke honestly that this was a successful meeting. Because we must discuss matters precisely when difficulties exist. The channels of communication and dialogue must be open in order to overcome any differences we may have.
Of course, I hold a sort of record since, in the four years that I have been Prime Minister, I have visited Turkey four times in my capacity of Prime Minister of Greece. We have met that many more times at international fora. And of course, in this positive spirit, we agreed today to proceed in the near future with the basic goal of reducing tension in the Aegean and promoting trust building measures.
And I believe that talks that will ensue after our meeting, between our ministers of National Defence and of our Ministries of Foreign Affairs can indeed contribute to this. With the creation of these conditions, I believe that, going forth, we can have progress and also repeat exploratory talks on the issues we have with the continental shelf in the Aegean.
Of course, we also discussed the Cyprus issue. I stressed the need for a fair and sustainable solution to exist, within the framework of the UN resolutions for the benefit of all the people of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, which will constitute the reunified federal Cyprus, a normal country in the region and a normal country belonging to the EU. And of course, I believe that we owe it to this new effort to avoid the mistakes of the past. And this is why I submitted the view that we must agree to carrying out preparatory meetings on the crucial issue of security, in which Greece and Turkey are involved.
At the same time, I stressed the importance that respecting International Law in the Eastern Mediterranean plays and, of course, the need for energy to serve as a bridge and not as an obstacle, not as a subject of conflict in the region. And already, we are working together on certain important energy projects such as the TAP pipeline. We would like to have broader cooperation, such as on the Turkish Stream.
Of course, since we want to bring back the positive agenda to our talks, we discussed the economy, our economic relations, the steps we must take for them to change the lives of the citizens in the region for the better. We agreed that we must work together so that, this summer, the ferry services connecting Izmir and Thessaloniki can become a reality. And we agreed to proceed with organising a new business forum which will showcase the opportunities that arise for collaboration, especially now that Greece has exited an economic crisis that had plagued it these previous years.
We also discussed the Refugee issue, our cooperation within the context of the EU-Turkey Statement and the possibilities that exist for reducing the flows, the need for increasing returns, and tackling the networks of traffickers. We also agreed on the need to work together closely on EU-Turkish relations, stressing the support that Turkey must have, given that it hosts more than 4 million refugees and migrants. And we discussed the prospect of revising the EU-Turkey Customs Union for the benefit, among other things, of the countries in the region. And of course I once again had the opportunity to stress Greece’s long-standing support for Turkey's accession perspective. Something that will also be to the benefit of Turkey, as well as the benefit of Europe. This course, the accession course may contribute to a return to the significant democratic reforms that were made in recent years and, of course, they need to be strengthened.
As regards the thorny issue of the eight soldiers regarding which the Greek justice system has made clear decisions, I wish to state, yet again, that Greece, under the Rule of Law, must respect the decisions of Justice. In Greece, of course, coup attempts are not welcome. Nonetheless, what has precedence at this time is strengthening our cooperation in the area of security, in order to effectively tackle the networks of traffickers who are active in the Aegean and in Evros, as well as to tackle every criminal organisation, every suspect, who wishes to create problems in the good neighbourly relations and good cooperation between the two countries. Therefore, we agreed to step up our cooperation in the field of security between the respective Ministries.
I would like once again, therefore, in closing, to thank President Erdoğan for his invitation extended to me to visit Ankara and to travel to Istanbul tomorrow, where I shall have the opportunity to also visit Halki, to meet the Patriarch. I believe there is a great possibility in the near future to invest in the positive agenda of relations between the two countries. The period we are going through is a special period. Greece is coming out onto the markets after numerous years of economic crisis, is returning to the economic light, has possibilities. At the same time we are resolving problems that have lasted for decades, such as our difference with our neighbour to the North, North Macedonia.
Therefore we must, and I say we can, create the conditions to give shape to a climate of security, peace, and cooperation in the Aegean, which will be to the benefit of both peoples, both countries, and this of course is contingent upon building carefully. We want to now lay the foundations so that we will be able to build at some point. We are not ready to build without first laying the foundations. Therefore, the subject of this meeting was to create the conditions to be able to later take historic steps in Greek-Turkish relations. I thus believe that, in this context, this opportunity we had to meet was greatly successful, greatly productive and honest, and I would like to thank you once again.
JOURNALIST: I would like first of all to ask the Greek Prime Minister, given that relations between the two countries are traditionally charged, given that difficult issues exist between the two countries, which many times and at many periods are trying to relations between the two countries on numerous levels, with complex issues, why in your opinion was this choice made, why did you choose for this meeting to take place now, to accept the invitation at this juncture? There is criticism by many that perhaps the selection of this point in time was not the most proper choice. I would be interested in hearing President Erdoğan’s comment. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: I think that I have already answered that question by making a comment in my initial statement with regard to President Erdoğan’s visit to Athens, in December 2017. I believe that the two neighbouring countries, especially when they have issues to resolve, must hold frequent talks, open channels of communication, especially at the highest level. If there were no issues to resolve, there would be no reason to hold these frequent and substantive contacts. I feel, therefore, that the criticism that may be exercised by certain individuals is criticism which, if one thinks about it well, leads to a quagmire, to inertia, as well as to dangerous slippery slopes. If I was not in constant contact with President Erdoğan, then we would not be able to face the critical issues which we have been faced with many times, or the dangers we have averted. If I were unable to pick up the telephone, or if the President were unable to pick up the telephone, so that we could communicate, it would be very probable that we would find ourselves faced with dangerous escalations, often without meaning to, and this is the worst thing. Therefore, I consider it a fortunate fact that this level of communication and honesty exists between us, and I feel that this is the basis for us to proceed even further in the near future, to even more constructive and substantive talks which may potentially lead to specific decisions. Taking the podium, the President told me that we don’t have resolutions to sign today, but I told him that we will perhaps have some the next time we meet.
JOURNALIST: First of all, Mr Tsipras, Fethullah Gülen’s movement in our country is a red line. There are eight soldiers who have escaped to your country. Of course, you are aware that there is a difference between them and the other because, they had criminal intentions towards our President. Please tell us if you intend to return them to us.
PRIME MINISTER: I believe that this issue which you are asking me about has been exhausted in our discussions. I would like to repeat once again the categorical opposition of the Greek Government, of Greece, as well as of the Greek people, to all those who attempted to topple the democratically elected government in Turkey. And once again I shall express, as regards my political stance, that Greece is a country which supports Democracy and has no intention to protect or favour putschists or coups which go against stability and the democratic proper functioning of the neighbouring country. Beyond that, I believe that it is completely clear that Greece has its own legal system. The independence of Justice is completely respected, and of course the separation of power is an absolute condition of the Greek Constitution. Certain decisions were made by Greek Justice, which we must respect, and which we are respecting.
And of course, beyond that, I believe what is especially important is what I told you earlier, that we are discussing with President Erdoğan about the extent to which our cooperation will be more effective going forward in the area of security, in the area of tackling the violent activity of networks of traffickers or terrorists at our borders. And in this area, I believe that we have taken certain specific initiatives which may potentially come to fruition in the near future.