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Foreign Minister, N. Kotzias΄ opening speech at the Rhodes Conference for Security and Stability (Rhodes, 22.05.2017)
I want to thank all of you for accepting our invitation. Some of our colleagues will be arriving with some delay, due to yesterday's emergency meeting of Arab states, in Saudi Arabia.
Today we are meeting for the second time.
We constitute a common historical-geographical space with many shared political, historical and cultural traditions. A space that we must build as our common home.
We all know that this space is a crossroads of possibilities and risks. Positive prospects and negative undercurrents. A space with history and great wealth; well-educated populations; great civilizations; but also, many forces trying to destabilise and control it.
We must do everything in our power for there to be peace, security and stability in the region. Anyone who endeavours to foster these goods, must fight terrorism. Must defend human rights, including social rights; the interests of the region's peoples. Must promote international cooperation based on international law.
Stability and security mean an end to the policy of overthrowing regimes without introducing just reforms. We need to assist in the consolidation of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya and the inclusion in that government of all forces combating chaos and terrorism.
Stability and security mean putting an end to the wars in Syria and Iraq. They mean our agreeing on a peace settlement that will allow the region's population to return to their homes and build a future with prospects, aspirations and hope for themselves and their children. They mean a major, rational programme for reconstructing these countries.
Stabilising zones of instability and resolving the Kurdish issue in a peaceful and sustainable manner.
Stability and security mean acknowledging the great work being done by Jordan and Lebanon to remedy the consequences of the region's wars on large population groups. They mean economic support for these two states, especially from the EU. The goal is not just to care for large numbers of refugees, but to create new economic, productive infrastructure, as well as agricultural and industrial zones.
We must make our environment more stable and secure. To a great extent, the development of our societies depends on the environment created by other societies. When we are in the midst of five major conflicts and extensive terrorist activity, this takes its toll on tourism, investments, on how we –and the younger generations in particular– see and perceive our societies today and tomorrow. Whether the enthusiasm and positive energy of social and intellectual development will prevail, with ethos and optimism, or whether disarray, grief and pessimism will carry the day. These sentiments, like the stability of institutions and societies, are an indicator determining a country's productivity.
At the same time, the ongoing instability in the region makes it imperative that we work together to promote a common positive agenda for facing new challenges. To create a space of security and stability.
In the second part of our discussion, I will propose that we set up a joint working group so that we can create a common space of security based on international experience, and in particular that of the OSCE. The OSCE is the largest security organization in the world (57 member states), and it boasts dozens of initiatives, conferences and legally grounded agreements.
The common space I propose we create will be a space of cooperation and of promoting a manifold system of networks connecting regions and states – a subject we will cover in our discussion under the third item on our agenda.
We didn't do everything we agreed on last year, but we began implementing our decisions, like the joint visit of foreign ministers to Lebanon, the cooperation of five universities, coordination of our diasporas, promotion of our cooperation on transport – especially on the creation of seaport networks.
Our region is faced with great challenges. No country can deal with these challenges on its own. It can only do so through cooperation. Between us. With the EU. With other regional organizations.
Our common space needs to become as secure and stable as possible. Against the trends of instability and the wars in the wider region. To break the waves of instability, we must send out waves of stability, through our policy and overall social and economic development.
I propose, first, that we put together a working group composed of senior diplomats from each of our countries; a working group that will study the international experience of security organizations such as the CSCE and, later, the OSCE. How they were created. In what fields they were developed/deployed. The method used and what lessons we can learn. Our plan is initially to form a security structure for the Eastern Mediterranean, and then pursue its extension further east and south. This 'duty' should be the main subject of our meeting next year.
In order to achieve this goal, we will need to make our exchange of information broader and more intensive, and we will need to brief each other more frequently.
Second, in our wider region there are multiple instability hotspots.
We need to draw up a plan of our own, in line with the UN resolutions and with the assistance of the regional organizations, so that we can combat the causes of this instability.
- Authoritarianism in relations between states
- Ideological, religious, world-view fanaticism
- Outside interference.
The latter factor is rarely discussed. But when societies feel that someone else is deciding for them without consulting them, manifestation of the other negative phenomena in even more acute form becomes even "easier".
As you all know, I often underscore that one of the fundamental problems in our region is that one set of people decides to wage wars, and others pay for them or otherwise suffer the negative consequences of these wars.
There are strong powers – outside our region, great and regional – that fuel these tensions and wars. The consequence is that in these cases, a ceasefire does not seem imminent.
Our region was one in which multicultural and/or multi-faith societies often coexisted. They were a reality in our region, and especially in the Middle East. And they would certainly survive if it were not for the interference and interventions of the countries that are now pointing their fingers at many states in the region. Because even in cases where there were democratic institutions less evolved than those in the West, these societies were open societies that respected diversity. And this must not be lost. Our region has contributed a great deal as a cradle of civilizations, of the great monotheistic religions; as the birthplace of democracy.
I invite you to the second conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence In the Middle East, that will take place in Athens on 1 and 2 November, this coming fall.
The problems of our region cannot be resolved from the outside. Such efforts have always failed. But, in contrast, policies 'owned' by the region's citizens and institutions have met with success. Our own citizens and institutions must organize our cooperation, dialogue, synergies. The choices have to be their own. Choices that third parties can help to implement and promote. Choices that can be supported materially and morally by third parties. But it cannot be the other way round.
This is why our motto is: no interference in the domestic affairs of any state – interference that often leads to tensions. Promotion of a culture of cooperation on all levels. If this is not immediately feasible, the creation of cooperation networks and the adoption of direct confidence-building measures in multiple sectors.
Our actions and the further development of our cooperation are based on international law, on the UN, the EU, and on the cooperation between the Arab countries and the relevant institutions of that cooperation. Our driving force is the vision that we can shape jointly for a secure and stable Eastern Mediterranean. A region of development of synergies and peace.
Instability is also fomented by a policy that, in the name of human rights, 'allows for' the violation of the highest and most fundamental of these rights: the right to human life; when, in the name of a better future, people are in effect deprived of any future whatsoever.
Denying the right to life for hundreds of thousands of people is accompanied by the destruction of the terms, conditions and prerequisites of life for millions of others who are left without work, without homes, even without food. Millions of people who, in their homelands, cannot defend their families or shape any future for their children. Who are forced to become refugees or economic migrants.
Migrants and refugees pass through our region, but our region is neither the starting point nor the cause of this phenomenon. This is a byproduct of conflicts, wars, economic and social decay.
The migration and refugee flows must be controlled at their regions of origin. The movements/flows of millions of people, under wretched conditions, give rise to the development of the most heinous of crimes: Human Trafficking.
All of these create conditions for the resurgence of racism, nationalism, intolerance. And we must deal with these jointly, together with our societies as a whole.
We ought to offer our societies prospects for the future. We need long-term and positive thinking. Otherwise, terrorism and fanaticism will take over people’s hearts and minds – and in particular the hearts and minds of young people. We need to give young people prospects, hope, vision, values and principles.
One of the main aspects of security pertains in particular to the problem of maritime transport security. Let me remind you that over 33% of global commerce and 40% of global consumption in energy transits through our seas.
As we speak, the Eastern Mediterranean, like the Gulf region, has become the focus of new potential for extraction and transport of energy. At the same time, our region has the potential to develop renewable energy sources, whether solar or wind energy; or energy from sea tides and waves.
For all of these to function in a productive manner, all sides need to respect international law and the law of the sea, and at the same time we must not allow historically groundless legal revisionism.
Our notion of maritime security should not be limited to security from armed attacks or piracy. An important dimension of this security is the protection of the environment from ecological disasters, the protection of marine bio-diversity. A similar issue is that of water security, and especially of potable water.
I propose that we develop a positive agenda for cooperation focused on the sea. And I am not referring only to security and transport, but to innovative sectors that can impart momentum to our economies, like aquaculture, fish farming (pisciculture), coastal and cruise tourism, marine biotechnology.
I think it would be useful for us to promote the formation of a network of our institutes of marine/maritime training and research, in cooperation with the corresponding university departments – from biotechnology to shipping – for promotion of maritime/marine issues.
In the same way, we could promote cooperation among our foreign ministries' centres for analysis and among ministries responsible for combating terrorism.
The security issue also concerns the combating of organized crime and narcotics networks that are trafficking between and through our countries.
Unfortunately, the techniques used by organized crime, the types of organization and the modern technologies it employs, are beyond the capabilities of some states – particularly those states that do not have the necessary capacities and are dysfunctional.
Of course, security should not be seen solely as part of a negative agenda. It is my deep belief that the security of societies is linked to their development, to justice and fairness within them.
It is linked to the development of a positive agenda. Fourth, a special role will be played in the development of this agenda by a more systematic exchange of know-how and ideas more generally, cooperation on research activities. Exchanges of pupils, students, educators and researchers.
One idea would be for us to offer a small number of scholarships for the implementation of these exchanges. Even more important is the creation of a joint research university programme for our region, its economy, societies and history.
Another idea would be for us to plan and carry out a joint forum on migration. We should also act accordingly in order to combat organized crime, and especially criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling. So that we can analyse ways to deter human trafficking and trafficking in narcotics and weapons. Moreover, let's not forget that these criminal networks often have links to terrorism and the funding of terrorism, as in the case of Daesh's smuggling of antiquities and oil.
In the same framework, I would like to reiterate the idea of more intensive and planned cooperation in the culture sector, and more specifically in the areas of cinema and music. We could support Egypt's goal of a week-long film festival with films from all of our countries. Perhaps an eastern Mediterranean music festival would also help.
I know from experience that there is a great deal of interest in joint actions, in all the countries in our region, for the protection of monuments.
On the economy, I think we should organize a meeting of our ministers for international economic relations. I propose that we earmark three sectors of the economy for promoting closer cooperation:
- An industry sector, which may involve new technology or existing capabilities, or both, as is the case of the pharmaceutical industry.
We could also agree on a roadmap for encouraging cooperation among SMEs.
The question arises, how can we carry out all this? The answer is, through a plan and cooperation. We need to increase the frequency of meetings between our ministries' competent directorates and coordinate with the more specialised ministries.
Let's think again about the idea of a steering committee that will meet immediately after the summer and plan and programme all of these actions with precision. There may be some that can't or don't want to participate in everything, but certainly this committee can explore who is interested in and is in a position to undertake which action, or just participate in a given action.
The Spirit of Rhodes, as it was first called by the foreign minister of Lebanon, Mr. Bassil, is the spirit of building a positive agenda for our region and for the cooperation we develop, a comprehensive view of security and protection of/respect for borders. It is the positive spirit manifested in the development of dialogue and in the creative initiatives we can take. The spirit of the creative, peaceful coexistence of cultures and religions. The forging of brotherly relations between our peoples and our youth.
The Spirit of Rhodes is the revival of thousands of years of cooperation and exchange of goods, cultures, ideas among our countries; it is the expression of the historical unity of Southeast Europe with North Africa and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, of the Balkan peninsula and Italy with the Gulf states.
The last time I was in Saudi Arabia, I was taken on a tour of the new archaeological museum, at which there are numerous artefacts attesting to the fact that trade was conducted between the Gulf regions and the cities of Greek antiquity, as well as of the Roman Empire. An example of the bonds between us and of how these two regions flourished through close contact and a certain degree of cooperation. And if that was possible four or five thousand years ago, today it is imperative.
To implement this spirit, we need to activate the steering committee appointing a liaison at each of our Foreign Ministries and forming a network for promoting our decisions and orientations. And this committee will also plan thematic meetings that will support our Third meeting in Rhodes, which I propose should take place at the end of August 2018.
Thank you for your attention, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.