Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giorgos Gerapetritis, on Proto Thema and the journalist Nikos Meletis (22.10.2023)

JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, we are experiencing an unprecedented escalation of violence in the Middle East. And certainly not a ray of light on the horizon. Is Greece ready both diplomatically and operationally to face a further escalation of tension in the Middle East?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The situation in the Middle East is fragile. As the horrifying incident in the Gaza hospital has shown, from one moment to the next there can be a global deterioration. What we must do is be fully prepared to manage any further tension that arises in the Middle East. From a diplomatic point of view, from the first moment we followed a principled foreign policy in the Middle East issue, as we generally do. We laid down a concrete plan to decompress the crisis from the outset, which included not only the condemnation of terrorism, but also the creation of humanitarian corridors, the provision of humanitarian aid to all the vulnerable, the release of all hostages, the non-targeting of civilians, as well as holding an international conference on the Middle East issue. We are also present at the tip of the spear. On Saturday, we met with the Prime Minister at an international conference in Egypt, which included countries from the European Union and the Arab world to discuss the de-escalation of the crisis, while we organize a humanitarian aid mission for the people of Gaza. Operationally, Greece is working on all scenarios, both at the level of internal security and in the case of the existence of new migration flows. We are ready to manage any crisis, as we proved in the case of the release of the Greeks who were in Israel, where we were the first country to complete the transfer of its citizens who wished to do so, in a safe manner, in just four days, while we also helped repatriation of foreign citizens from various countries.

JOURNALIST: Our position is clear, we support Israel against the attack of Hamas. How can this position not affect the high level of relations we have achieved with the Arab world?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greece follows a principled foreign policy, which is neither opportunistic nor transactional. One of our founding principles is the condemnation of any form of violence or terrorism. In this context, we condemned from the first moment the terrorist attacks of Hamas and recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, within the limits of international law. With Israel we have a strategic partnership, which coexists and develops alongside our deep traditional relations with the Arab countries. The timeless position of Greece in relation to the settlement of the Middle East remains the overall solution of the two states, in accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council. Our clear and consistent attitude has accumulated significant international capital in Greece and is highly appreciated by our partners and the international community.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that with the latest developments ambitious projects of strategic importance, such as the IMEC Corridor or even the electrical interconnections of Israel and Egypt with Greece, are at risk?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The great corridor of India – Middle East – Europe and the electrical interconnection of Greece – Cyprus – Israel are long-term projects, projects that benefit and unite. Our country is at the forefront of new international trade and energy routes. I do not believe that the implementation of these projects will be hindered by the crisis in the Middle East, however, we should be constantly alert to deal with the new data with quick reflexes.

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JOURNALIST: Are you worried about the Turkish president’s new anti-Western and anti-American outburst?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Every crisis in the Middle East potentially creates shifts in the strategy of the countries in the wider region. Effective diplomacy is one that prepares for every variation and works through all possible scenarios. In the last four years, we have gained the luxury of not defining ourselves as a country and of being part of the solutions and not the source of the problems at the international level.

JOURNALIST: If finally the friendship attack made by Turkey in recent months it is also connected with the development of American-Turkish relations, how will this be reflected in the Greek-Turkish dialogue?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I would not like to analyze hypothetical scenarios. What is important from our point of view is that the climate of calm that prevails continues and that the dialogue and cooperation between the two countries proceed in good faith and with respect to International Law. Our purpose is to proceed step by step in matters that remain pending for a long time and to prevent the crises that may arise from our disagreements.

JOURNALIST: Last week we had the start of the Political Dialogue and the Positive Agenda with Turkey. Was there a preview of how Ankara deals with the delimitation of the continental shelf/EEZ? Is there a road map for these talks?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Both meetings were held in a good atmosphere. A number of mutually beneficial agreements were worked out in the positive agenda talks. We aim to deepen our cooperation in important areas such as entrepreneurship, tourism, transport, energy, science, agriculture, environment, youth, education and sports.
The political dialogue discussed the way to better coordinate the issue of irregular immigration, in the light of the latest developments in the Middle East, and the issue of the climate crisis that equally threatens the two countries, with an emphasis on prevention policies and political protection. At a later stage we will also touch on our major dispute, the only one that can be brought before international jurisdiction, namely the delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone.
The next stop of the bilateral contacts will be the November meeting on Confidence Building Measures and the Supreme Cooperation Council which will be held in Thessaloniki on December 7, with an agenda and composition to be determined by the two Foreign Ministers.

JOURNALIST: There is a change of style, there is the moratorium, but there are serious indications that there has been no change of position on the Turkish side. But won’t climate improvement have an end date if there is no progress on the big issues?

G. GERAPETRITIS: In Vilnius, Lithuania, the leaders of the two countries agreed to resume the thread of Greek-Turkish relations and promote cooperation between us. With my counterpart Mr. Fidan, we entered into a consultation process in good faith but with moderate optimism.
We are still at the beginning of a dialogue process. Taking a brief review of the bilateral relations, I think we all agree that the current situation with the change of style at the level of rhetoric and the change of strategy in the field with a climate of calm in the Aegean constitute a major conquest and are neither self-evident nor easy steps.
For our part, we approach the dialogue with good will and look forward to positive results. In any case, to achieve progress on our major issues will require deliberative honesty, consistency in the settlement climate and adherence to universal and fundamental values, such as above all the strict and universal application of International Law.
Our disposition is to touch upon our great differences with a consciousness of the historicity of the moment and with a full understanding of their complexity. However, there must be tangible and lasting examples of consistency and honesty.

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JOURNALIST: There has been criticism that the Cyprus issue is put on the “shelf” in order not to disturb the climate. Can there be a complete normalization of Greek-Turkish relations without the solution of the Cyprus issue?

G. GERAPETRITIS: This criticism is completely unfounded. We are in cooperation and constant communication with the Cypriot side. Greece always raises the issue of Cyprus in all international forums and it is also the subject of discussion in its talks with Turkey. We insist on resolving the Cyprus problem within the framework of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, in accordance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. I believe that the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations can contribute to the restart of talks to find a sustainable solution to the Cyprus problem.

JOURNALIST: With North Macedonia, any positive provisions that existed in the Prespa Agreement (textbooks, statues, etc.) have essentially been frozen, and in fact, the non-ratification of the Protocols by the Greek Parliament is often presented as a pretext. Is there a plan for this?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The Prespa Agreement, regardless of the reservations that anyone may have, is a legally binding text that cannot be changed unilaterally, takes precedence over common laws and creates obligations for the parties. The Greek Government will assess the appropriate political time for the ratification of the Protocols, under the self-evident condition of full continuous and good faith implementation of the Agreement.

JOURNALIST: Albania shows it is undeterred by warnings of blocking its European path and jails elected mayor Freddy Beleri. Are there no other tools to exert pressure on Tirana?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Our position on this issue is clear and was reiterated with absolute clarity by the Prime Minister during his visit, a few days ago, to Tirana for the Summit of the Berlin Process. Greece respects the independence of the Albanian Judiciary. However, the ban on the swearing in of the elected mayor of Himara is an administrative measure and not a judicial decision. The limitation of the political right to be elected is unacceptable from the European jurisprudence. Greece will continue to raise this issue with vigor and persistence in all international forums and national governments and to shed light on its legal parameters. Naturally, Albania’s European perspective goes through compliance with the European acquis and the fundamental principles of the Rule of Law.

JOURNALIST: As far as Albania is concerned, the problem is not only Freddy Beleris. Will the agreement to refer to the Hague the delimitation of the EEZ, and the property of the Greek ethnic minority be included as conditions for the green light in Albania’s accession negotiations?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The protection of human rights and respect for good neighborly relations are basic criteria on which the accession progress of each candidate country is evaluated. Adherence to the agreement on the referral of the delimitation of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone between Greece and Albania to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the respect of the rights of the Greek ethnic minority are issues obviously related to Albania’s European course.

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