Foreign Minister Kotzias: ‘Greece and Iran are linked by at least 4,000 years of common history’

Foreign Minister N. Kotzias’ speech on Greek Foreign Policy at the University of Tehran: “Greece and Iran are linked by at least 4,000 years of common history and shared cultural elements. They are two countries and peoples who moved together through history. They tried all forms of peaceful and non-peaceful coexistence. They did not become prisoners to history. They are not living in the past, but they learn from it and are optimistic about the future.

An element of our common future in the era of globalization is capitalization on history as a sail that will propel us toward tomorrow.

The world is changing. Nothing is as it was. This is why foreign policy must be proactive. It has to be able, in a timely manner, to recognize the problems; to study and shape alternative solutions; to be able to choose the best possible strategy and, at the same time, ensure its implementation.

Those who fear the cost of action should consider the cost of inaction, which, as a rule, is greater. The right actions, with effective implementation, are profit/gains. Waiting is the greatest loss. Because while one fails to take action, there are others who are taking positions and gaining influence on points on the horizon where there is no action.

The study of international relations – the experience of the foreign policy of smaller states, particularly European states – has led me to the conclusion that, as in the international division of labor, with each state having to find the niche in which it will have the greatest productivity and presence, so it is in international diplomacy that each state must develop the maximum possibilities and capabilities. A specialization. The specialization that we want for our country is what I call – in Greek – the three “Deltas”. In English, negotiation, mediation, arbitration. In this way, at the same time, we become useful in the international system.

The foreign policy of a country like Greece needs to promote all functional aspects of that policy, including public diplomacy – of which today’s speech is a case in point – economic diplomacy, within the framework of which dozens of entrepreneurs are accompanying our diplomatic mission. It is of great importance to ensure that the foreign policy will highlight our country’s geopolitical role, at the crossroads of three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. It will offset the loss of power we have in the economic sector. It will support the battle we are waging to resolve the fiscal problem of our country, which is going through the seventh year of a very harsh crisis.

Greek foreign policy – its agencies – sees itself as an institutional system in the service of relieving the population from poverty. Ensuring, in other words, new possibilities for economic and social policy. The development of understanding of a whole people’s apprehension about tomorrow. The shaping of a new movement of solidarity with the Greek people in their suffering. These new possibilities are tools and potential agreements, already, as of today, for the strengthening of economic cooperation with third countries like Iran. They contain the potential for (a) recognizing problems – global, regional, in the immediate environment, (b) shaping and setting down alternative solutions and plans, actions and alliances, and (c) gathering the maximum possible intellectual forces and resources. The goal is to ensure the effective implementation of the foreign policy plan that is chosen.

We have particular potential for working with the emerging countries in today’s world. Both to cover our needs and to function as a bridge between the west/EU, where we reside, and these other countries. Greece perceives that in today’s world, in many regions, there are piles of stones. It does not choose to throw these stones. Nor does it choose to use them to build dividing walls, but to build bridges of understanding and communication, cooperation and prospects.

We are living in a transitional era. In a sense, every era contains elements of transition. The world is going through major changes, while the center of gravity is shifting from the West to Southeast Asia. From the Atlantic “pond” to the Pacific. New problems are appearing on the horizon. New countries are making their appearance on the world political stage, while older ones are making their return.

Greece is a country that went through a long and major positive cycle following the Second World War and its own civil war, but this cycle was disrupted by the seven-year military dictatorship, from 1967 to 1974, and, now, by the economic crisis. The Greece that became the 10th member of the European Union, joining the EEC, at the time – now the EU. It organized two European enlargements that created a Union of 28 states.

Greece is one of the small countries of the EU; a country with a great history and culture. It is experiencing the contradiction of being a part of one of the three centers of today’s world, while not itself being a great power. That is why it sees its special role as one of mediation between the EU and the emerging world. Helping in this direction is the fact that, during the period of Western domination and the domination of capitalism, it never waged unjust/aggressive wars. It did not conquer third countries. It was not a colonial power, as were the majority of EU states (19 of the 28) and it in no way exercises neo-colonialist policy. We have all the characteristics of a country that one can and should trust.

Despite our small size, we are taking international initiatives, such as the recent Athens International Conference on the protection of the cultures and all of the religions in the Middle East, as well as of the cultural heritage of all of the people(s) in the region.

We take initiatives, when needed, even against the current of our partners’ will. A recent example is our refusal to vote for the UN draft resolution on “human rights in Syria”, paragraph 14 of which characterized the Iranian revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization, while it is not included in the special list that the EU has drawn up. We refused to support it. Both because our great friendship with the Iranian people and leadership does not allow us to do so, and because, at a time when consultations were under way in Geneva and, more recently, in Vienna for a political solution to the Syrian problem, there are those who want to denigrate some of those with whom they are negotiating.

The region needs peace. It needs the guns of war to be silent, and it needs the arsenal of peace and diplomacy to be heard. We are convinced, and we are working in such a direction. Of course, incidents like the downing of the Russian jet over Syrian territory do anything but contribute in this imperative direction.

For the EU to do this, it has to return to its roots, to its values and its principles. Unfortunately, the EU’s current trend is to limit its actions to certain tools of international politics that, as a rule, have a negative outlook. This alters its very characteristics. The EU should redesign its position in the 21st century and what it wants its position to be. It needs to shape its vision. As long as it bases its policy on the “punishment” of third countries, on sanctions and embargos against them, it will see its international influence slip away. That is why we, as Greece, insist on looking again at where the 21st century is headed and what our position will be in it; what our dream and aspiration is.

My analysis of the triangle of stability and instability has now had a unique international career and is a constant in the analysis we carry out in Greek foreign policy of the state of affairs in our wider region.

Two different forces are clashing in this region: those of instability and destabilization, and those of (democratic) stability. Our region is shaped like a triangle. At the top of the triangle is eastern Ukraine, and at its base is Libya, in the west, and the Middle East on the right (in the east). Old forms of statehood, beyond the nation state, are renewing their appearance with the use of modern technology, means of war and communication: tribal dominance, as in Libya, and the caliphate in the Middle East. Dreams of re-establishing empires for certain others. Voids are also being created that certain parties want to fill with terrorism, lawlessness. These are regions in which, at the same time, millions of refugees and victims of war are on the move.

The refugees and the countries that have to handle the problems of their influxes, like Greece, are not responsible for the causes behind these refugee flows. There are those who are starting wars, while others, as usual, are paying for them. One set of people is making the decisions, while another set is suffering the consequences of those decisions. In Greece, over the past seven months, 640,000 refugees have passed through six islands with a population of 92,000. That is, the refugees outnumber the local residents 7 to 1. There are small islands, like Simi and Agathonisi, on which there were 17 and 19 times as many refugees as local residents.

Earlier, from Libya – about which the international community was so concerned last year – there were 1.4 million refugees. Twelve million from Syria. Following behind them, millions from Afghanistan and Pakistan (this year alone, 300,000 arrived in Greece from Afghanistan and Pakistan). Can anyone imagine what will happen in the Mediterranean and in Europe if Egypt destabilizes, with its population of 95 million, including 65 million young people who are, for the most part, unemployed? And behind Egypt there is the civil war in Sudan and the failed state of Somalia.

We are taking all possible measures to support a policy of stability and security in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are taking special cooperation measures with the states of the region. We are developing the policy of support for Palestine in every possible way. We support the creation of a Palestinian state.

The refugee issue is a key problem for Greece, for the whole of the EU. We have to find immediate solutions. The most decisive step is to bring peace to Syria itself and to Iraq, followed by the reconstruction of these two states, which will require many billions of dollars, the stability of the institutional system, with the agreement on a new, democratic constitution, the talks between the various sides, the carrying out of fair elections.

The second important step is the strengthening of infrastructure and the funding of the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The development of investments and ensuring of jobs. The best and most systematic education/training.

The third is the implementation of the inter-state and international agreements on readmission, like those between Greece and Turkey, Turkey and Pakistan. The creation of refugee processing centers (hotspots) in Turkey itself, so that refugees can be relocated from there, directly to the European countries that have agreed to take them.

What needs to stop immediately is the transformation of the Aegean Sea into a grave for young souls, young children; a zone of shame for our culture.

This is why, fourthly, the rings that are trafficking in the fear and needs of the refugees must be broken immediately. The para-institutional mechanisms that capitalize on refugees’ pain and fear must be broken in all countries. In my life, I have learned not to fear problems, concerns, pressures. The only thing one has to fear is fear itself, cowardice, those who are frightened.

Boldly, we are making overtures to the Balkan states. We are promoting the cooperation of the Balkan EU member states and the rest of the states in the Western Balkans. We do not consider successful the plan of certain of our partners to govern the region from outside or to create certain collaborations with the Western Balkans while leaving the region’s EU member states out of this cooperation.

We have a special problem in the Balkans: that of FYROM. A state of two communities – Albanian and Slavs, who like to describe themselves as “Macedonians”. Slavs who express an anachronistic and illegal irredentism against Greece, both historically and geographically.

We are a peace-loving force that takes its risks, in good and difficult times, for human rights. To see international law imposed. To see that all states function based on the principle of the rule of law and the culture of compromise. These two principles are absent from the conduct of the President of FYROM and from the practices of certain other political figures/players in FYROM. A share in responsibility for this goes to those in the West who, in every crisis this country goes through, give FYROM favorable treatment, to the detriment of its neighbours. This hampers the ability of this country’s leadership make compromises and rule moderately.

We are working for a FYROM living in peace and stability. We have agreed on and are elaborating a joint programme of confidence-building measures (CBMs) We are making a very interesting proposal regarding the manner, the process of the issue of our neighbouring country’s name. The main thing is for our neighbours to overcome the irredentism and chauvinistic plans.

Greece is the country hosting the most Albanians in the world. A large percentage of the neighbouring country’s GDP comes from them. We are fortunate to have them in our society.

We are linked to Albania by a long and rich past, common dreams and prospects. There are also many problems from the past, as well as from immature conduct on the part of a portion of the country’s leadership. The non-implementation of agreements. Refusal to implement the provisions of international law. Violation of the rights of the indigenous Greek minority.  We have the desire and will to resolve these problems and overcome any difficulty. We are planning to propose a package of solutions to all of the problems. Realistic solutions; hopeful and in the interest of both peoples, far from the Balkan-style nationalism and conduct that produces more history than the region can consume.

We are continuing our good relations with Bulgaria and Romania unabated. The promotion of our trilateral cooperation as an anchor of stability in the region. The same holds true for Italy, with whom we have prepared the first agreement on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Greece’s relationship with Cyprus is pivotal. We believe in, we want and support, a Cyprus that is truly independent and sovereign. A federal Cyprus, without the burden of the shame of a third power holding territory of the island and, by extension, of the EU.

We support and will support an honest solution to the Cyprus issue, without outside pressures. A solution that enables the Turkish Cypriots to feel that the island is their home, and the Greek Cypriots to feel secure. The root of the Cyprus problem is the illegal occupation of the northern section of the island by Turkey. The presence of 39,000 Turkish troops – one for every family in occupied Cyprus.

We want a comprehensive and real solution to the Cyprus issue. What we don’t want is a virtual/mock solution that would have us fooling ourselves. Nor do we want to become prisoners of history. This is why we support a real, substantial solution. We support the bicommunal talks. We want to have an end to the status of guarantor powers. In a Cyprus that is a member state of the EU, there is no need for foreign armies. And what kind of solution would it be if it imposed their continued presence?

In meetings with my Turkish counterparts, I always propose to them that we work systematically for a solution to the Cyprus issue, and this means an end to the occupation and the violations of the guarantor powers.

Turkey is our large neighbour to our east. A country we have much in common with in terms of culture and recent history. Good and bad. We have to live together. We have to shape the conditions for cooperation. The solution of the Cyprus issue and an end to any inclination towards violations or threats will open up multiple cooperation forces between the two peoples. To create a better atmosphere of trust, we agreed to promote certain CBMs Greece is proposing to Turkey and to prepare and start the exploratory consultations/talks. At the same time, we are taking measures to develop our economic and cultural relations, despite the many Turkish violations in the Aegean and the ongoing Turkish violations in the air and at sea. We want to live in peace with Turkey, based on the principles of good neighbourly relations, international law, understanding between peoples, progress.

Overall, our foreign policy is a democratic policy. With positive energy and initiatives. Greek foreign policy is a proactive, responsible policy. It doesn’t want to divide, but to unite. It doesn’t want to be subjugated by the past, but to capitalize on the past for tomorrow.

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to speak at this historic university. To talk with young Iranians. We are two proud peoples. Two historic nations. We know that history is not a straight path without difficulties. Life has its zig-zags. Anyone who wants to climb a high mountain has to look for the right path. Seek collaborators. Show fortitude and patience. Resolve and faith in principles and values. You have to create friendships. Mediate between disputing parties. Build relations of trust. I hope that today, with this event, we take a step forward.”

Photo: MFA, from the news briefing with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.