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Transcript of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos’ interview with Asligul Atasagun (Turkish TV, Cine5, Tuesday, 25 November 2014)
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, let me start with the latest situation on Cyprus, if you would like to. You have stated many times the need of a solution in Cyprus. Two months ago, almost two months ago the Greek Cypriot side unilaterally decided to suspend the intercommunal talks under the UN for a solution in the island. How do you evaluate the current situation, also maybe did you talk about the issue with Mr. Anastasiades and how do you encourage him which stance to take?
VENIZELOS: As you know, I am the Greek Foreign Minister, not the official representative of the Republic of Cyprus, and my first duty and my first legal and institutional obligation is to respect the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Cyprus – and especially President Anastasiades, as the Cypriot leader. I must also respect the democratic leadership of the Greek Cypriot community. The suspension of the negotiations was the result of this brutal violation of international law and especially the International Law of the Sea because of the presence of a Turkish ship, the famous Barbaros, in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus, without permission, without any type of right. From this point of view we have before us a very easy solution in order to re-establish the negotiations, in order to reopen the negotiations process. The solution is to stop the violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.
JOURNALIST: Mr Minister, I must tell that the Turkish Barbaros ship, the exploration vessel, was called by the Turkish Cypriot side to realize the exploration in the Exclusive Economic Zone…
VENIZELOS: I know, I know the official Turkish argumentation.
JOURNALIST: … that’s why Turkey sent it.
VENIZELOS: OK, this is the official Turkish invocation, the argument, the legal basis. As you understand, this title, Agreement between the so-called “Republic of North Cyprus” is not something valid and acceptable by the international community. As I understand, Turkey relies first of all the capacity of guarantor; on a second level, this commercial agreement between the so-called authorities of the occupied part of the island of Cyprus, the so-called “Republic of Northern Cyprus”, non-recognized by the international community, between the so-called “State of Northern Cyprus” and the Turkish Petroleum Company. This is something non-existent on the level, within the frame of the international Law of the Sea and also within the frame of the international legal order.
JOURNALIST: According to Turkish thesis, there is an independent state there since 1983 – I must say that. Also, Turkey has not ratified the UN Law of the Sea during the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
VENIZELOS: I know very well this kind of argumentation and also the rationale of the Turkish Republic. As you know, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is the codification of the existing customary International Law of the Sea. If we are ready to accept the existing case law, the existing jurisprudence of the International Court or of other bodies, we are ready to accept at least the customary International Law of the Sea – but for the region, for a peaceful Mediterranean Sea, for the prosperity of our peoples and our nations, we must accept a common legal reference, not only between Greece and Turkey, not only between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, but between all the countries in the region. And the unique solid and common acceptable legal basis is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; in any case, the customary law. But the preamble for everything, the precondition for everything is to avoid any escalation, to organize through a productive manner the de-escalation and also to re-establish the bicommunal negotiations in Cyprus, because the Cypriot problem is, as I understand, the key for everything between us, between Greece and Turkey, and also for the solution in the wider area. We have the common historical, legal, but first of all historical and political obligation to go towards a new era in our bilateral relations.
JOURNALIST: Hopefully. So, Egypt, the “Greek Cypriot” side and Greece have recently taken the decision to accelerate the negotiations for defining the maritime zone in the Mediterranean.
VENIZELOS: Not exactly. Between Cyprus and Egypt, there is an existing agreement for the delimitation of maritime zones, something not existing yet between Greece and Egypt, we have contacts, talks, deliberations like between Greece and Turkey. Our principle and our behaviour is very clear. We respect without any objection the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and, from this point of view, we have the right to declare our sovereign rights through deliberation with our neighbourhood. We have this open deliberation between Greece and Turkey the last twelve years, maybe the last forty years.
JOURNALIST: You have also lately stated that you could take a legal action towards Turkey, if Turkey does not respect the sovereign rights of…
VENIZELOS: This is a very good question for President Anastasiades, for the Republic of Cyprus, not for Greece. This is not a problem between Greece and Turkey during this crucial period. But Greece, as motherland, like Turkey, and also as guarantor – first of all as member of the European Union and of course as member of the UN family – we have the legal right to underline the necessity for the respect of the Law of the Sea, and also we must repeat once again that it is better to avoid the escalation than to organize the tension in the area.
It is very, very important to avoid any tension and, first of all, any exportation of internal problems, of domestic problems, in the international level and area. This is something very, very important, especially during this very difficult period, because now, not only for Greece and for Turkey, but for the international community as a whole, the first problem is to organize a solid and capable and operable alliance against the first threat. And the first threat is the so-called Islamic State, ISIS.
JOURNALIST: ISIS, yes. You have recently also, Greece, Egypt and Israel, have some agreement only on energy, or there are other agreements signed…
VENIZELOS: We are open for every type of bilateral, trilateral or multilateral cooperation. We have some trilateral formats in the wider Eastern Mediterranean area.
We have this triangle between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. We have also other trilateral cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel – not offensive cooperation against Turkey. Not at all. This is a peaceful cooperation for the prosperity of our nations and also for the stability of our region. And our invitation towards Turkey to participate in this type of trilateral or multilateral cooperation is always open, sincere, and, from this point of view, my visit in Ankara and also the High-Level Cooperation Council between the two governments in Athens, in some days, are two excellent opportunities in order to discuss other ideas towards the same principle, the cooperation, the de-escalation, the peaceful discussion for everything.
But, as you understand, as you know from your professional experience, Greece recognizes only one legal dispute between Greece and Turkey: the delimitation of maritime zones, of the continental shelf and also of the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean Sea and also in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
We have a very rich agenda of bilateral items, and we are always open to discuss, to elaborate solutions, to organize new steps towards a very good neighbourhood and a very peaceful and powerful cooperation, not only for the benefit of the two peoples, but also for the benefit of our region. But, legally speaking, we are ready to continue our deliberations for the delimitation of the maritime zones. But, I repeat once again: the key for everything is a viable solution in Cyprus and, first of all, the end of the tension and the withdrawal of this famous Barbaros vessel from the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus.
JOURNALIST: So, there was a proposal by your government to Turkey, if I have not misunderstood, to join some kind of energy agreements with Egypt, Israel and Greece? Or will you do such a proposal when you go to Ankara?
VENIZELOS: My clarification is very simple. Our trilateral cooperation with Egypt and also with Israel is a peaceful, open-minded cooperation, not something offensive against Turkey, and, yes, indeed, the invitation for the Turkish participation is always open. The pre-condition, obviously, is the acceptance of the legal frame, the respect of the international legal order, the acceptance of the UN Convention or of the same rules under the format of the customary International Law of the Sea – because we are always open to discuss substantially. From this point of view we are waiting for a productive answer from the Turkish part.
JOURNALIST: Turkish Cypriots defend their right to the energy resources in the Exclusive Zone. Recently the U.S. Secretary for Energy at the Atlantic Council Energy Summit in Istanbul stated that natural gas resources of Cyprus, of the island, should be shared justly by both sides. Do you agree with this statement?
VENIZELOS: The natural resources of Cyprus belong to the state of Cyprus. This is a very critical dimension. It is very, very important to understand the legal situation in Cyprus.
We have the state, a member state of the European Union and also of UN, also of the Eurozone, the Republic of Cyprus, a sovereign independent state with all the sovereign rights on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf.
From this point of view the natural resources belong to the state, but for the benefit of all the citizens, without any type of distinction or discrimination, and for the benefit of the two communities – the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities – on an equal basis, on a proportional basis. From this point of view it is very easy to elaborate a formula in order to grant the necessary legal and institutional guarantees for the future generations, not only of Greek Cypriots, but also of Turkish Cypriots.
But it is very, very important to make this distinction: We talk about a state and about two other entities, according to the Cypriot legal order: the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. We accept the format of the so-called bicommunal negotiations for a viable solution, always within the frame of the resolutions of the UN and always within the frame of the Joint Communiqué of February 2014, and, from this point of view, the Joint Communiqué is an excellent and common acceptable, of course, institutional and political basis for these negotiations. But if the common will is to reopen the negotiations, we must respect the sovereignty, the existence of the Republic of Cyprus.
This is the main obstacle also for the European path of Turkey. Turkey is a candidate state for accession to the European Union, but, as you know, the European Union as a community, the European Union as family, has 28 members, including the Republic of Cyprus as state. This is the problem. If your question is about the possibility of the Turkish Cypriot citizens to exploit the revenues from the natural resources, my answer is of course positive, yes, indeed. The revenues are always in the disposal of the Cypriot citizens and in the disposal of the two communities. But the sovereign rights belong to the state, to the Cyprus Republic.
JOURNALIST: Mr Minister, what would you say about the proposal from some officials, we heard that there was a proposal from the Turkish side about the formation of a joint venture company from the two sides of the island to produce this natural gas together and to export it to Europe. Did you receive a proposal?
VENIZELOS: After the solution of the Cypriot problem, the state of Cyprus, a bicommunal federal state, has the possibility to organize everything on the exploitation of natural resources and also on the repartition of the revenues, always in the benefit of the people and of course in the benefit of the future generations.
But now it’s not possible to discuss without a solution on the table, without a new legal frame for the continuation of the state of Cyprus. Because a new state, a federal state with two components, with two federated states, with two constituent states, according to the terminology of the Joint Communiqué of February 2014, will be the continuation, as legal entity, of the existing republic of Cyprus. From this point of view we must respect the existing state and also the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus in order to protect, in the future, this common legacy for the citizens of Cyprus, for the two communities, for the Greek Cypriots and also for the Turkish Cypriots
JOURNALIST: It would be necessary of the Greek side to get back to the table of negotiations to start soon.
E. VENIZELOS: My opinion, my feeling, is that it’s very easy to reopen the negotiations. It Is very easy to end the violation of sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, it is very easy to end the so-called mission of the Barbaros vessel in the area, and also it is very easy to elaborate the necessary legal guarantees on the level of the Cypriot legal order for the future of the natural resources of the island
JOURNALIST: So this is Greece’s and Greek Cypriot expectations from the Turkish Cypriot side probably it would be discussed in the meeting in Athens.
E. VENIZELOS: Yes, but I repeat that my duty and my obligation is to respect the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus and also the specific role of president Anastasiades, both not only as head of state in Cyprus, but also as the democratic elected leader of the Greek Cypriot community. Because President Anastasiades is the negotiator, and not the Greek government, but we are always ready to give our support and also to make our best for the reopening of the negotiations and also for a good atmosphere between the two communities and, of course, between the two motherlands
JOURNALIST: Recently, President Erdogan to his latest visit to northern Cyprus has stated that “for the opening of the Halki Seminary, Greece should legalize the muftis elected by the “Turkish minority” on Greece as also the opening of mosque in Athens”. How do you evaluate Erdogan’s call and are you going to open a mosque in Athens, the only capital in Europe without a mosque.
E. VENIZELOS: As you know, in the field of human rights, in the field of minority rights, every state has the constitutional and international obligation to implement the existing regulations and also to respect the rights without reciprocity. It is not a matter of reciprocity but a matter of unilateral obligation for Turkey and also for Greece, and for every country, to respect international law, the human rights and especially the minority rights. Greece has simultaneously the obligation to respect the minority rights, always within the frame of the famous historical Treaty of Lausanne, within the frame of the Greek constitution, which is a very modern European constitution, and also within the frame of the European convention for the protection of human rights, and also within the frame of the international law as organized order with the necessary judicial review.
Especially for the muftis in Thrace, as you know, muftis is a double organ, it is not only religious minister, but first of all a judge, a state organ, because in Greece, and within the frame of the Treaty of Lausanne, mufti is first of all responsible for the implementation of the sharia law, the traditional Islamic law. This is something very, very important because from this point of view mufti is part of our legal but especially our judicial system. I know some proposals and some ideas maybe for the split of the two competencies. We are always ready to discuss on different ideas, but not on the basis of reciprocity, because this is something not acceptable from the European point of view.
It is not a matter of change, a matter of negotiation between Greece and Turkey. We have, unilaterally, as entity of the international community, as country, as state, the obligation to respect the minority rights, and our own policy is the full participation, the full integration, of the Muslim minority in Thrace in the Greek economic, social, political life, in our education system, in our professional life. This is something very, very important not only for the Muslim minority, but also for the Greek society as open-minded European western-way society, as member of the European union.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, the “Turkish minority” in western Thrace…
E. VENIZELOS: It is not a “Turkish minority”. According to the terminology of the Treaty of Lausanne we talk about a Muslim religious minority, this is something very, very important, because it is not an ethnic minority.
JOURNALIST: In this point, I want to ask, there are many reactions from the Greek citizen, Turkish origin, Muslim minority there. Would the government take a step to put the name Turkish before the minority?
E. VENIZELOS: If you talk about collective and legal entities, we must respect international law. According to international law, and especially according to the Treaty of Lausanne, we must talk about religious, Muslim minority in Thrace. If your remark is a remark on the level of the so-called “self-determination”, the “self-determination” is an individual right, always according to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg.
JOURNALIST: And about the mosque, Mr. Minister ….
E. VENIZELOS: For us, not only one mosque, but the Muslim, the Ottoman legacy in Greece is part of our own national legacy, and in my capacity as former minister for culture I am in position to repeat that the restoration and the promotion of the Ottoman and the Muslim monuments in our territory is a great asset, not only for our cultural policy and our cultural legacy, but also for our touristic industry.
JOURNALIST: So, I could say that […] from here that in the future we will see a mosque in Athens.
E. VENIZELOS: Yes, of course. A mosque as public work, as a grant from the state for the Muslim community in Athens. Because we talk about a public entity, not a private initiative. We talk about a public legal entity and the relevant infrastructure for the religious needs of the Muslim community in Athens. This is something obvious and necessary for every European, modern, open-minded society.
JOURNALIST: And let’s talk about your visit, because we have short time. There are so many issues to talk …
E. VENIZELOS: But as you know, a substantial part of my visit is my tête-à-tête discussion with my counterpart, Minister Cavusoglu. An excellent politician, a friend of mine, and my visit in Ankara is also a unique opportunity for me to discuss directly with President Erdogan.
JOURNALIST: And you have been really working for the […] to work, to improve much better, you know, we know that …
E. VENIZELOS: Of course. This is our common will. Our political option. And our historical and geographical obligation. Because, for Turkey, Greece is the best neighbour, because Greece is a western-way European country with the good will for a cooperation on different fields. And during this period of tensions and crises, this period of threats, our bilateral cooperation in the Balkan peninsula and also in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea is a precondition for the stabilization and also the prosperity of the region.
JOURNALIST: Do you want to see Turkey in the European Union soon?
E. VENIZELOS: As you know, our official and sincere and frank position is always very positive for the European perspective of Turkey. But the key factor is always the problem of Cyprus. If we have the possibility to solve this problem, to elaborate a viable, commonly acceptable solution, within the frame of the European acquis, within the frame of the solutions of the Security Council of the UN, within the frame of the Joint Communiqué of February 2014, the acceleration of the European itinerary of Turkey is something very easy.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, after Ankara you are also going to Istanbul, and you will be meeting with Bartholomew and the Pope visiting Turkey. As an Orthodox, what does it symbolize to you, the visit of the Pope, the Orthodox Church …
E. VENIZELOS: The visit of the Pope is an excellent opportunity for the international community to understand the specific, institutional, doctrinal role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the other pillar of the Christianity, the Eastern Christianity, the first Church of the Eastern Christianity. And from this point of view, new meetings between the two bishops, the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople, of New Rome, is always an excellent opportunity for the reopening and refreshing of not only the theological dialogue, but also of the wider public debate about the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For Turkey, the existence of the Patriarchate in your country is an excellent asset, not only for touristic reasons, but because the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the oldest institution in the wider area, a point of reference for the global community, for the Christian community worldwide. And from this point of view, the existence and the legal personality – the international and domestic legal personality – of the Ecumenical Patriarchate may be an excellent argument also for the European perspective of Turkey.
JOURNALIST: And, finally, tourism. You know tourism, by the end of 2014, Turkish visitors to Greece, the number will reach to 1 million tourists and vice versa, it will be around 800,000 Greeks coming to Istanbul …
E. VENIZELOS: This is an excellent common industry.
JOURNALIST: Yes, and we hope this will be improving also. But there are some complaints about the visa high prices from the side of …
E. VENIZELOS: We have some difficulties, because, as you know, Greece, as a member of the Schengen Treaty and as a member of the European Union, must respect some rules. But our willingness is always to facilitate these procedures. The visa liberalization for Turkey is always our priority.
JOURNALIST: And would there be a visa exemption, maybe, in the coming …
E. VENIZELOS: We are ready to introduce any type of liberalization, and also of exemptions, within the frame of our legal obligations as member states of the European Union and also of the Treaty of Schengen, especially during this period of threats from the so-called global terrorism, the so-called Islamic State. The threat, the main problem of foreign fighters, is an obstacle for the acceleration of this procedure. But our political willingness and our efforts go always towards the liberalization of the visa system between the two countries.
JOURNALIST: So there might be a visa exemption between the two countries? Which your government might be working right now …
E. VENIZELOS: As you know, for our touristic industry, and also for our bilateral cooperation, communication and perspective, the existing status is always a small obstacle. And our willingness and our intention is to overcome this type of obstacles in order to facilitate the extension of visits and also the creation of a new wave of tourism from Turkey to Greece, and vice versa.
But this is a very good item for the High-Level Cooperation Council, in two weeks, in Athens.
JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister of Greece, thank you very much for this interview.
E. VENIZELOS: Thank you very much for your invitation and also for this excellent opportunity for me to express my positions and also to send a very clear and warm message of friendship, cooperation and neighbourhood between our two countries.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.