Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giorgos Gerapetritis, in the newspaper “Kathimerini tis Kyriakis” and the journalist Vassilis Nedos (16.07.2023)

JOURNALIST: How did you feel when your Prime Minister announced that you would take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? How do you plan to move into the Ministry?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Fully realizing the importance but also the stakes of assuming the political leadership of a ministry intertwined with the very existence, history and international image of the country, I felt an honor and a great responsibility. With the self-confidence and international recognition that we have achieved, as well as with the development of all the sources of power of Greece and Hellenism around the world, our country is not defined differently in its foreign policy. Enhancing proactive outreach and public diplomacy and building a multifaceted foreign policy. My intention is to work so that Greeks feel proud and protected. I genuinely feel that I am accountable to all Greek citizens and to the generations to come.

JOURNALIST: You participated in perhaps the most critical meeting between the leaders of Greece and Turkey in the last four years. Do you think the current calm atmosphere in the Aegean will continue?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The meeting of the Greek Prime Minister with the Turkish President in Vilnius took place in an atmosphere of desire for mutual understanding. We are starting a dialogue process with good intentions and we want this new effort to be characterized by honesty and trust. A first step has been taken. The settlement that currently prevails in the Aegean is a necessary condition for this new beginning to thrive. But it will take additional continuity and consistency in a positive perspective of true friendship, peace and cooperation.

JOURNALIST: Is President Erdogan in the process of sincerely normalizing his relations with the West, or is this a momentary episode?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I cannot interpret the productive causes of the will of the President of Turkey. The Greek government wants a climate of cooperation and dialogue. I personally look forward to building a reliable and stable relationship with my Turkish counterpart, with whom I have already taken first steps for a direct and meaningful channel of communication. Regarding Turkey’s relations with the West, especially with the European Union, Greece’s position is known and stable. Progress in Euro-Turkish relations would contribute to calm in an extremely fragile region. But vice versa, progress in the normalization of Greece-Turkey relations is an essential element for the EU-Turkey rapprochement. In any case, we will have an active role in the European Council in any decisions and conclusions adopted for it Turkey.

JOURNALIST: Do you see prospects for joint initiatives for the exploitation of deposits, etc.? Or is this an outdated discussion?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greece has secured unprecedented energy autonomy and has developed into a hub that contributes decisively to Europe’s energy diversification and independence. An indicative result of this policy is that last May we secured 50% of our energy needs from renewable energy sources, which is a huge step towards weaning our country off fossil fuels. We will continue to proceed independently with a view to the energy autonomy of the country.

JOURNALIST: How could Greece be secured by the USA. With a quality advantage in the equipment it gets from the US compared to Turkey, free military aid, or guarantees that there will be no overflights?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greek-American relations are at their best ever. On the basis of the updated defense cooperation agreement, which qualitatively upgraded Greece’s strategic position, we have cultivated strong defense cooperation and are deepening our political dialogue. In the context of this cooperation, it is normal and expected that there will be further strengthening of our defense systems by the USA. As far as Congress is concerned, it has already made it clear that defense arms sales must take into account stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and in particular cannot be used against NATO allies.

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JOURNALIST: What exactly is the moratorium that seems to be in effect in the Aegean – and will it continue? Overflights, avoiding high schools in certain areas?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The calm atmosphere that has prevailed in the Aegean has two goals. On the one hand, to limit potential risks from any operational activities. On the other hand, there should be a permanent direct communication mechanism for de-escalation when crises arise in the field. It is, I believe, the common will of the parties to maintain these conditions.

JOURNALIST: You are a lawyer with experience in international negotiations. Having seen the relevant files, do you think that there is a fair and sustainable solution to the Greek-Turkish issues? Politically feasible?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Coming from the field of legal science and academic rationality, my aim is to continue a foreign policy of principles and rules. I respect and listen to the positions of all states when I come to any discussion, but my belief is that we cannot distance ourselves from established positions of international law, such as in particular the principles of the UN Charter, respect for sovereignty and sovereign rights, commitment to universal rights. I would not like to prejudge the outcome of the attempt to restart the Greek-Turkish talks. However, it is worth building on the positive atmosphere of the last few months and on the joint statement of the leaders of the two countries after their recent meeting. In other words, to proceed with a process of rapprochement with more politics, under the supervision and responsibility of the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs. This process will include three pillars: the political dialogue, the positive cooperation agenda in individual fields and the Confidence Building Measures. Important milestones of this road map will be the holding of the 4th High Council of Greece-Turkey Cooperation in Thessaloniki within the year and my periodic contacts with my Turkish counterpart. In this context, the two leaders may also meet within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly, next September in New York.

JOURNALIST: The belief that Greek-Turkish is a zero-sum game has been established. Can they become a win-win?

G. GERAPETRITIS: External relations cannot be oversimplified. Russia’s recent unprovoked invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that certainties and constants in international relations are much less than we think. In relation to Greek-Turkish relations, it is certain that the continuation of the climate of calm and avoidance of tension constitutes in itself a mutually beneficial situation, a great achievement. The climate of confrontation that prevailed for a long time in the past was extremely damaging both to the two countries and to regional stability. The duty of the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey is to explore the possibilities of consolidating and developing this good atmosphere, promoting the road map and more broadly developing multi-level relations of bilateral cooperation. Good relationships will pave the way for meaningful conversations. We are not there yet, but with a strong political mandate and with our significant international capital, I think the time has come to face the wounds of the past and the challenges of the future. Bold agenda, legacy for future generations.

JOURNALIST: A lot is heard about the Cyprus issue. Do you think there is room to start a process?

G. GERAPETRITIS: For Greece, finding a fair, sustainable, functional and mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus issue is a top foreign policy priority. We support the creation of the conditions for the solution of the Cyprus problem, we unwaveringly support a solution of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation in the framework formed by the decisions of the UN Security Council and the European acquis and we do not accept any discussion of a two-state solution. A few days ago, I had the distinct honor of being in Cyprus, making my first visit after assuming the duties of Foreign Minister. I was received by the President of the Republic of Cyprus and met with my counterpart the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with whom I maintain excellent cooperation. Our common understanding is that the European position, as reflected in the conclusions of the last European Council, expressing the readiness of the Union to play an active supporting role at all stages of the process under the United Nations, opens an important window of opportunity.

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JOURNALIST: You are not a professional politician, but you have been at the center of implementing important policies. In previous years, what was the most difficult moment you faced at Megaros Maximos?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Without a second thought, the management of the consequences of the train accident in Tempi. Because this management was not purely administrative or political; it was primarily emotional. It was an unprecedented national tragedy, which marked us all because of the unjustified loss of a large number, especially young people, of our fellow human beings. The pain and heartbreak, mainly of the relatives of the victims but also of all of us, had to find catharsis. We worked hard in this direction, investigating without any discount and in depth the causes of the accident and trying to solve the pathologies that led to it. The case is being rapidly investigated by the judiciary, while the railway safety upgrade projects are being completed.

JOURNALIST: Has the time finally come for some changes – institutional or administrative – in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will make the service more efficient and more active?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The extremely complex work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can only be achieved if we rely on its greatest capital, its human resources. Our executives are characterized by an excellent level of training and experience and are imbued with a high sense of responsibility. However, in order for them to be able to perform to the maximum extent and to respond to the increased demands of modern diplomacy, we must provide them with the necessary tools. Strengthening the budget, modernizing administrative structures and processes, digital upgrading, investing in education, lifelong learning and cultivating new skills are some of them. I intend to work systematically to secure them. We join forces and utilize all staff to achieve the best result in our foreign policy.

JOURNALIST: Greece wants to play a role in the Western Balkans. Is there any practical plan for this?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greece already plays an important role in the Western Balkans. A few days ago, on June 21, 20 years have passed since the historic Declaration of Thessaloniki, in which it is explicitly stated that the future of the Balkans lies within the European Union. Our country remains firmly committed to the development, security, prosperity and European path of the Western Balkans, as their integration and European perspective is necessary for the security and absolute interest of the Union itself. We also firmly support the European path of Serbia and Montenegro, while we support the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the efforts of the Union’s Special Representative in this direction. Equally firm is our will for the integration of North Macedonia into the EU, in the context of the consistent and good faith implementation of the Prespa Agreement. As far as Albania is concerned, it is obvious that its European path is directly related to the need to comply with the fundamental rules of the rule of law. For us, the case of the arrest and detention of Freddy Beleris is not only a thorn in our bilateral relations but also a test for the rule of law in the neighboring country.

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