HomeGreeceMinister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with newspaper “Kathimerini tis Kyriakis”...

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with newspaper “Kathimerini tis Kyriakis” and journalist Vassilis Nedos (17.10.2021)

JOURNALIST: You just signed the new Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between Greece and the USA on Thursday. What does it bring that is new in Greek-US relations?

N. DENDIAS: This agreement takes relations with the United States to a new level; a level they had never reached before. These relations had gone through various phases until the 1990s, when the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed. These relations have not just expanded. They have improved dramatically, without precedent, and have now acquired a strategic character. The Mitsotakis government has invested in this effort. It is no coincidence that both amendments to the agreement were made by the current government. Nor is it a coincidence that two of the three rounds of the strategic dialogue have taken place in the last two years. In fact, another one would have taken place if the pandemic had not occurred in the meantime.

JOURNALIST: How exactly does the multiannual renewal serve Greek interests?

N. DENDIAS: The five-year renewal has a positive political and defensive impact on Greece. First, the United States, while focusing on Asia and withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, is committed to stationing and deploying forces on Greek soil for at least the next five years, and possibly for a much longer period. This presence further shields our country against external threats. In case a country is planning to commit the “desperate act” of attacking us, then it must take seriously under consideration the fact that American troops are stationed in our country. Let me remind you that one of the largest US military exercises in Europe this year was carried out in Thrace last May. Let me also remind you that other European, but also Asian countries, are willing to pay in order to have American forces stationed on their territory.

Second, the five-year duration means that both the current and the next US administration are committed for this period, regardless of their foreign policy approach. Therefore, it provides a framework of stability for both the United States and us. Third, in order for an investment to be made and pay off, the investor wants to have a long-term perspective. The initial five-year duration will allow for the commitment of the relevant funds and their approval by Congress for the modernization of facilities in the selected locations, something that of course the annual renewal did not make possible. These facilities will also be used by the Greek Armed Forces. So, the investments that will be made basically benefit the Greek side.

JOURNALIST: Why was the negotiation on the content so prolonged, which was unusual compared to what happened in the past?

N. DENDIAS: The negotiation, which from the Greek side was held in excellent cooperation with the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos, began in 2020, that is, with the previous US administration. As you know the election of a new President and the appointment of new officials in key posts in Departments such as those of State and Defence takes time, resulting in a fairly long transition period during which it is difficult to make decisions. In this case, for purely internal reasons of the US, the appointment of “key people” in these two Departments, who would supervise the negotiations, was particularly delayed. Inevitably, there was a lack of flexibility that did not facilitate the negotiation despite the positive will of both sides for a conclusion of negotiations in a short period of time.

JOURNALIST: Why did the Americans ultimately hesitate in having forces stationed in an island, such as Skyros, while initially there was a more positive attitude?

N. DENDIAS: In negotiations nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The American side entered the negotiation with an initial proposal which suggested other locations too, including Skyros. Let me clarify that the Greek side did not submit a proposal for Skyros. However, it is not unprecedented in a negotiation for one side to request something and then withdraw it. But I will not resort to conspiracy theories of the kind “the Americans were worried about Turkey’s reaction”. If the Turkish reaction was so important, they would not have selected a military camp in Alexandroupolis, a few kilometers away from Evros, nor the naval base in Souda, on an island that lies in the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean. The agreement provides for the selection of additional locations in the future. So, this selection is not necessarily final. In addition, in the letter of my US counterpart the possibility of US forces using Greek islands for training or operational purposes is explicitly stated.

JOURNALIST: What are your conclusions on the Greek-US relationship, from your contacts in Washington D.C. in the previous days?

N. DENDIAS: You will allow me to take a step back. The key conclusion from my contacts was that the first priority of American foreign policy today is the Indo-Pacific region and then the Middle East. In the hierarchy of interest, Europe follows. In this context, it is extremely positive for our national interests that the US attaches particular importance to our country. They consider Greece to be a country that can play a leading role in the region of Western Balkans and their accession to the European Union. They also see us as a bridge between the Middle East and the Gulf with Europe.

The particularly good relationships we have developed in recent years with Israel and the most important Arab countries play a decisive role. And, of course, for these reasons, in the letter of the US Secretary of State there is a reference to the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity. For the first time, special reference is made to the need for respect of our sovereign rights, on the basis of the International Law of the Sea, which is recognized as customary law that binds all states. This reference is an important success for our country. It demonstrates that the two countries perceive reality in the same way.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is any shift in Washington’s attitude towards Ankara?

N. DENDIAS: The Congress, and in particular the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Senator Menendez, has taken a clear position on Turkey, and in particular on its slide in an anti-democratic and anti-Western direction, which is not in line with the will of a large part of Turkish society. Let me remind you the East Med Act of 2019, as well as the US-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act, which, I should point out, mostly concerns our country. This draft bill includes important provisions, such as the clear strengthening of bilateral defence cooperation, the possibility of selling F-35 aircraft to Greece, but also the strengthening of the 3 + 1 format (Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the USA). I would also highlight the highly praising comments by my US counterpart, who referred to the “leading role of Greece” in the region.

On the other hand, there are Administration officials who are taking a more conservative approach, which sets as a primary goal for the West “not to lose Turkey”, bearing in mind the post-Erdogan era. This approach is rather outdated. Turkey purchases state-of-the-art non-NATO weapons, builds a non-Western nuclear reactor and has established a modus vivendi with non-allied forces in Syria and Libya. Present-day Turkey has nothing to do with the country it was two decades ago and much less so with the country that joined NATO in 1952. This remains to be assimilated by the bureaucracy in Washington and NATO. And of course, together with our friends and allies, we are making efforts in this direction.

JOURNALIST: How do the guarantees provided by the Blinken letter compare with the Greek-French Defence Agreement that the Parliament ratified a few days ago?

N. DENDIAS: Americans have a saying that applies best in this case: It’s like trying to compare apples with pears. In both cases we have two very important, diplomatic and defence “weapons”. Of course, the letter submitted by US Secretary of State A.J. Blinken is a unilateral US political commitment, while the Greek-French agreement is a legally binding text. But the text contained in the US Secretary of State’s letter also exists in the text of the revised Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which is also a legally binding text. We should take into account all the parameters. The United States has not entered into any bilateral mutual assistance agreement with a European country. The only relevant agreements they have concluded are with Japan and Korea, both in the early 1950s. I should add that the US commitment to Greece can rightly be considered stronger than the US commitment to Australia undertaken at that time.

The only relevant US commitment in Europe is Article 5 of NATO, undertaken as far back as 1949. However, even this commitment does not imply automatic action, such as provided in Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union. France has signed a similar clause only with another European country, Germany, in 2019. In a sense, albeit in a different way, one Agreement complements the other in the direction of consolidating the security and stability of our country, as well as the wider region. And of course, both Agreements are not directed against any other country, let alone Turkey, unless Turkey perceives itself as an aggressor.

JOURNALIST: How does Athens react to Ankara’s attempt to normalize its relations with Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates?

N. DENDIAS: Turkey, with its expansionist, neo-Ottoman and Islamocentric policies, has managed to alienate itself from all the states in its immediate neighbourhood. This is a real achievement that should be taught: how can a country destroy within a few years the relations it has been building for decades. Despite its latest moves, the message we receive from all directions is clear. As long as Turkey does not change its stance, that is, cease to be the troublemaker of the Mediterranean, to threaten with war, to illegally occupy foreign lands, to send troops and mercenaries to countries in the region, and to be a refuge and ally of extremist Islamist movements and organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, then the scope for improving relations with the countries you mentioned is limited.

But let me add something important: Greece does not wish to encircle or exclude Turkey from regional cooperation schemes. Greece considers that its participation in these schemes is in the interest of Turkish society and we look forward to such a perspective, of course, provided that Turkey fulfills the terms and conditions of participation in these schemes. We have repeatedly said that if Turkey respects international law, stops threatening with war and violating fundamental provisions of the UN Charter, then co-operation with it will be welcomed, both bilaterally and at regional level.

JOURNALIST: In the coming days you are having a packed schedule of visits. Greece is lately opening itself to Libya, but also to the whole region of Middle East-North Africa. What are we to expect from this?

N. DENDIAS: Indeed, numerous contacts have been scheduled. Tomorrow I will participate in the EU Foreign Affairs Council to be held in Luxembourg. On the sidelines, at the initiative of Greece, a working breakfast is being organized with the Libyan Foreign Minister, whom I welcomed in Athens a few weeks ago. On Wednesday I am travelling to Oman, one of the few countries in the region that I have not yet visited and which plays a significant regional role, away from the limelight. On Thursday, I will be in Tripoli, Libya, invited by my counterpart, Ms El-Mangoush, to attend the Conference on Libya. Let me remind you, on this occasion, that on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Greece participated in the Ministerial Conference on Libya organized by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Italy. And there is more to follow.

JOURNALIST: A few days ago, your intervention in Parliament and the subsequent removal of Konstantinos Bogdanos from the Parliamentary Group of New Democracy revived certain scenarios. Some describe you as a future would-be leader. Are you interested in the leadership of New Democracy?

N. DENDIAS: I view these scenarios with a lenient smile, scenarios that are coming from a specific direction and for very obvious reasons, even to the politically ignorant. As for the issue of Mr. Bogdanos, you know very well what had preceded it, on the occasion of another incident, and what warning had been issued by the government, without any involvement on my part. I believe that what I said in Parliament would be said by any other minister present at the Plenary session. I just happened to represent the government. I spoke on behalf of the government. As for your question, there is no leadership issue in New Democracy and there will never be. Anyone who implies the opposite is simply “provoking”, so as to use a popular expression of the Left.

The Mitsotakis government is implementing a reform program which enjoys the Greek people’ approval. Also, there is obviously no difference of opinion on foreign policy issues. All that has been achieved, the successive agreements with other countries, the safeguarding of national interests in practice, the expansion of our alliances, our active presence in international developments, are all achievements of the Mitsotakis government. And for my part, I am carrying out the mandate of the Prime Minister who appointed me. If there is somewhere an expectation of a crisis in the New Democracy party, I am sorry but it is wishful thinking that is not going to bear fruit. Personally, what interests me is to carry out my duties as Foreign Minister in the best possible way.

JOURNALIST: These are scenarios that come up on various occasions as to whether you have always been in consultation with the Prime Minister, such as, for example, last April regarding the statements you made in Ankara. Are they valid?

N. DENDIAS: This issue has been clarified from the first moment. It goes without saying that every time I represent the country, as happened in that case, during my visit to Ankara, I am in consultation with the Prime Minister.


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