Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giorgos Gerapetritis, to the TV station “ERT1” and to the journalist Giorgos Kouvaras (07.12.2023)

JOURNALIST: Thank you for coming, Mr. Minister, and even directly from the airport for saying goodbye to Erdogan. I want to ask, first of all everyone is talking about a new page today, the foreign media and we here have said it, what exactly has happened? Has Erdogan changed? Have conditions changed? Have we changed? What exactly happened?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I think, Mr. Kouvaras, that the time has come for us to have another understanding. And the other understanding has to do with being side by side. We are neighboring countries, geography unites us and for this reason we have a duty to seek solutions, to put aside the differences that exist and focus on those that unite us. In our positive agenda, in the need to have closer relations as peoples, in the need to have better economic relations and, of course, not to have the tension that we have. Our aim, Mr. Kouvaras, is that any disagreements that arise, because there will be disagreements, do not produce crises and this is a great legacy.

JOURNALIST: This important step, which was taken today in Athens, can lead us to the next step, the essential one, which is the resolution of the issue of the continental shelf and the EEZ, which it seemed that the Greek government is seeking government and the Prime Minister mentioned it in his statements today. Therefore, the one issue is that the differences do not produce a crisis, to resolve the differences or the difference that we Greeks perceive. It exists;

G. GERAPETRITIS: You used the word step twice in your sentence and I will join them: we will go step by step. And the reality, Mr. Kouvaras, is that until today, in the last ten months or so, we have had a period of really calm waters. It’s something that I feel has been established. I feel, even today, and I say this with sincerity, that there is now a genuine willingness on the part of the two countries to move forward in our relations, to stabilize our ties and to move forward when the conditions are ripe and to the next step. We all understand that our big difference, the only difference, which can be brought before international justice, is the definition of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf. It’s a difference that goes back decades. I feel that when the conditions are ripe, we can come to grips with this difference as well.

JOURNALIST: You know, because you talk about step by step and I hear it and understand it, there have been some leaps, but in the past usually backwards, never forwards. Is it precisely because these leaps back have been made and what has happened in the last 10 months is indeed a big step. I don’t want to call it a leap, but what we saw today has nothing to do with what we lived ten months ago and which started the whole approach with the earthquakes. Do you think we can run even faster or is this not among the goals of the Greek Government?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I want to confess to you that my real mood and the order of the Prime Minister was to proceed wisely, with wisdom, in a situation where we can really build a relationship, stone by stone, which will be honest. I think we have succeeded. Today is a historic day. You will allow me to say, in the sense that we signed the Declaration of Athens on Friendly and Good Neighborly Relations. It is a Declaration that highlights exactly what unites us. That is, it highlights the need for two neighboring countries to have friendly relations, to have a way to decompress their differences, so that these differences do not divide them and do not cause dangerous situations, and of course to have a level of cooperation, which will be mutual beneficial. It is a Declaration, which I think signals the next day. And if you ask me, yes, I think we’ve reached a level where we can really go faster.

JOURNALIST: This is very interesting. It appeared today that the visit was well prepared diplomatically, but was this retort by the Prime Minister, his reference to the Muslim minority and the Treaty of Lausanne, planned or did it arise from what Erdogan said?

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G. GERAPETRITIS: Mr. Kouvaras, you are a very experienced journalist. You realize, and I think all your colleagues realize, that this particular visit was prepared minute by minute. There had been an enormous amount of diligence, professionalism, prudence and prudence. And I think the seriousness with which we managed Greek-Turkish relations all these months was shown today in the most tangible way. I think that, and if you want, even the kinesiology of the two leaders, the images we saw in the bilateral meetings between the ministers, because Mr. Kouvaras, of course the leadership is important, but it is also important how we perceive the level of the relations between the ministers. And in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we hosted all the inter-ministerial meetings, we really saw relations of honesty, which is what we want.

So I want to tell you that everything was indeed very well prepared and if you will allow me to say that this is largely due to the good work done by the Government and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the Ministers, the who helped to produce the agreements and of course especially for the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who worked with particular fervour.

JOURNALIST: But you didn’t tell me if Mitsotakis’ answer was planned or if it arose from what Erdogan said about the Muslim minority and the Treaty of Lausanne.

G. GERAPETRITIS: I will not be a sibyl. Let me just tell you that Greek diplomacy is prepared for all eventualities. I have been saying it constantly lately that we are preparing and are ready for all eventualities. Do you know something? For this particular issue, for the issue of minorities, we know that there is a difference in approach, just as there is a difference in the Middle East issue, just as there is a difference in Cyprus.


G. GERAPETRITIS: These differences should be discussed. We should discuss our differences. You know, Mr. Kouvaras, I am a fan of debate, a fan of deliberative democracy. When people are together and have the right reason in their approach, they have principles and values, I think they can always find a solution.

JOURNALIST: I think today….

G. GERAPETRITIS: I think it was shown today where we were quite honest. We said we have differences and it was said from many sides, we didn’t hide it. However, what became clear is that everyone, all sides, are looking for a discussion, a qualitative discussion.

JOURNALIST: Are you telling me something else now? What do you personally have to do with Erdogan and Fidan? And I ask this for an additional reason because it has become an issue today and you have seen it too. The way you greeted Erdogan at one point, that you made a small “bow” and I see a fuss about it.

G. GERAPETRITIS: First of all, let me tell you that characteristically I can only be honest with my interlocutors and act on the basis of principles and values. And I think it’s something that is appreciated by the other side as well. And I want to emphasize that I feel the same is true from the Turkish Foreign Minister’s side. I want to tell you, Mr. Kouvaras, that there have been many cases during the last ten months where we have had many cases of potential tension, which we managed to decompress through discussion at the highest level. So, a good interpersonal relationship has indeed developed between the Foreign Ministers which helps to have a better pace. With President Erdogan we have the typical relationship that a Foreign Minister has with a Head of State. As far as the issue you mentioned is concerned. I want to tell you that I understand, as the Prime Minister also said, that there are also voices within Greece, which are opposed to the approach we are attempting with Turkey. I can accept any point of view. However, I do not understand how anyone would try to cast any shadow on this visit, which is particularly productive for the country. I want to emphasize that. I will always pay due respect to the Head of State, as I did on Saturday when I saw her, I did so today and I will always do so. To my Head of State, I will always do this. Besides, I saw Erdogan, as you know in the morning. I welcomed him and I think the pictures can speak for themselves.

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JOURNALIST: Yes. I want to ask one last thing. Mitsotakis will go to Ankara in the spring. What do you expect from the Greek-Turkish relationship until then? Because you told me just now and I’m recording this because I didn’t know, I confess, that in the previous 10 months there were moments when things went bad and at the diplomatic level, I should say that you saved it, I’ll put it simply, together with Fidan. So we don’t know at any moment how much a relationship can break down. So what do you expect from these months? Let’s take it to the floor until the Mitsotakis Erdogan meeting in the spring.

G. GERAPETRITIS: The more a relationship is built, Mr. Kouvaras, the more difficult it becomes to shake that relationship. And I think we have built a good foundation on which to build. Today, Mr. Kouvaras, we adopted 15 agreements and joint statements. Agreements, which are also economic in nature, commercial exchanges, strengthening of exports, strengthening of investments.

But they also have a social character. Agreements, which concern the mutual recognition of technical qualifications, concern the protection of persons with disabilities. Very important agreements, which I think help to bring people and people together. We have already made sure that there are student exchanges, student exchanges, a great flow. I want to tell you, Mr. Kouvaras, that after today I feel a little stronger to be able to manage, me as a member of the government, and the government collectively under the instructions of our Prime Minister, to be able to manage any tension. Yes, Mr. Kouvaras, there will be tensions. There is never any chance that two countries, which live side by side, have between them the Aegean, our sea, do not have tensions. But I want to say that with good will, which is proven on the field and with a sound reason and principles in our policy, these tensions will not be enough to stop the course for better, more productive relations.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Gerapetritis and one more thing. You will inform the opposition more specifically and how. Or will it be informed, will there be any discussion in Parliament? Will there be any meetings after this meeting?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I’m glad you ask. As you know, I am always a devotee of the fact that there should be full information of the political system. I briefed the political Leaders as you know last week ahead of today and I have already asked to brief the National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of the House in the next few days so that the political parties also know where we stand and what the next steps are . The next steps, which include a series of meetings on all three of our pillars, namely the political dialogue, the Positive Agenda and the Confidence Building Measures and of course, the meetings that the two leaders will have in the immediate future.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to Ankara soon?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I will meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs on more occasions. We have already organized a schedule of contacts until next summer. Both leaders will meet. A meeting of the Prime Minister is already being organized for the spring. The Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, will visit Ankara. I want to assure you and the Greek people that all the next steps are planned with seriousness, with wisdom, with professionalism.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Mr. Gerapetritis.

G. GERAPETRITIS: I sincerely thank you for the honor.

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