FM Kotzias: Greece should not become part of Turkey’s problem

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, in an interview with Athens daily Kathimerini said:

On the Aegean issue: A tough battle for power is being waged in Turkey. It’s not just the change of prime minister, which has its significance for EU-Turkey relations. An effort is being made to reduce the political system to a two-party system. Also significant is the upgrading of the army’s role, both domestically, in confronting the Gulen movement and the Kurds, as well as abroad (Iraq and Syria). That is, many years after Erdogan sent the army to its barracks, the armed forces are re-emerging and, on the one hand, shaping new compromises in the power complex, while also exhibiting unacceptable conduct that is outside international law. All of this is happening in combination with the fact that Turkey has acquired tension hotspots with nearly all its neighbours.

Turkey is currently more on edge than in the past. Greece needs to take care, to not become part of Turkey’s problem, as certain circles in Turkey would like. As I explained to the National Council on Foreign Policy, Greece is implementing a foreign policy that is firm on its “red lines”. Prudent and decisive in its deterrent function. Creating alliances and support. Sober and composed. A policy that uses all of the diplomatic tools. It briefs the members of the Security Council, NATO and the EU on an ongoing basis. It channels intelligence and findings where it should. All of this in close cooperation with the Shipping and Defence ministries.

There hasn’t been a ‘heated incident’ during Erdogan’s time as prime minister and president of Turkey. But if one isn’t careful, a ‘heated incident’ can arise even by mistake.

Problems arise objectively from the ongoing violations and provocations committed by a portion of our neighbour’s military machine. But there should be no underestimation of our resolve to defend our country’s sovereign rights and territorial integrity. In foreign policy there are always counterweights of diplomatic and other kinds. In this context we rejected proposals reminiscent of Pontius Pilate-style thinking.

On Turkey: Turkey is a country of multiple contradictions. The main question is: How will it resolve these? If it tries to do it democratically, then it will be a model country for the Islamic world, having found a way to resolve the Kurdish problem and live in peace with its neighbours. If it tries to solve the problems in an authoritarian manner, it runs the risk of drowning in conflicts over social, democratic, religious and national issues.

On NATO operation: At the most recent meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, at which there was a discussion of the extension of Operation Sophia, I put forward as a binding condition our being given legal and political guarantees that: a) the region’s refugees will not be transferred to Greek islands, particularly Crete, and b) third powers that dispute Greece’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will not participate.

On Putin’s visit: Despite the multiple problems that exist in the relations between the West and Russia, we should find ways to talk and communicate with the latter. It is no coincidence that the U.S. itself is talking to Russia regarding a number of fundamental problems in today’s world.

The second thing is that the EU needs to come to a decision on what security architecture it wants for the European continent in the 21st century: Will it be an architecture against Russia or with Russia? Even during the Cold War, the answer was the second option. The Helsinki agreements were concluded on this basis.

Finally, I would like to note that all of the longstanding members of the EU, including Greece, are choosing to talk with Russia, while certain newer members of the EU are doing otherwise.

On Greece’s role in the Mediterranean: Together with Cyprus, we have put together trilateral cooperation configurations with Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, and we are thinking about a fifth, with Palestine. With the first two, the cooperation system is not just multi-leveled, as it is with the others, but also multi-thematic. That is, trilateral configurations have been formed among almost all of the ministries, and not just the ministries of foreign affairs. This intricacy in relations imparts a new quality to the trilateral configurations. Through these we are gaining new responsibilities, but also opportunities, in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Finally, on 8 and 9 September we are holding an international meeting in Rhodes, with the participation of six European states (Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia – as the EU Presidency – Bulgaria and Albania) and six Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Tunisia) on security issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a Greek initiative that, if everything goes as we hope, will contribute to the stability of the region and the creation of a new regional security institution.

On the Balkans: My recent initiative for convening a meeting, in Thessaloniki, of the Foreign and Interior Ministers of Greece and our norther neighbours (21-22 April 2016) was crowned with success. We decided, together, to institutionalize this configuration and meet every six months. This is the second institutional format we have promoted in the region, following the Greece-Romania-Bulgaria trilateral format. With Bulgaria in particular, we have developed extremely good relations, to the benefit of our peoples.

With FYROM we are promoting, in practical terms, the confidence-building measures (CBMs). The CBMs are a product of an initiative we took. The aim is to enhance our social and economic relations. As for the name, I think that the conditions should mature in our neighbouring country so that it can accept a substantial compromise. With Albania we are discussing – based on a composite proposal I made – the resolution of all of the problems and pending issues, as well as capitalization on the potential for joint actions. So I hope we will find common pathways for promoting the necessary and creative solutions. [Source: MFA]