HomeGreeceMinister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Proto Thema” newspaper and...

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Proto Thema” newspaper and journalist Makis Pollatos (03.07.2022)

Throughout the past period, in addition to existing alliances, we have established new relations with several states on the basis of respect for International Law and the International Law of the Sea. That is why we want Turkey to engage with countries that, like us, believe that International Law is the basis on which disputes between states should be resolved. Turkey’s rapprochement with the countries of the region, with which it has been at odds, is not expected to disrupt these countries’ relations with Greece.JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the opening of numerous fronts by Turkey favours dealing with it this time by building broader alliances?We are a self-confident country, certain of our positions and principles. We have managed to have a voice and a role in the wider region through a truly proactive foreign policy. Therefore, we are in no way defined by our neighbouring country’s alliances and aspirations.N. DENDIAS: On this particular issue as well, Turkey’s claims are completely unsubstantiated from a legal point of view and essentially constitute yet another piece in the general revisionist narrative put forward by the neighbouring country. On the contrary, Greece’s positions are based on International Law, on International Treaties, on the UN Charter, on the fundamental right to protect the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of states. We have sent two letters to the UN Secretary-General, in which we deconstruct, one by one, all the unfounded Turkish claims. The new narrative according to which Turkey links our sovereignty over the Aegean islands to their demilitarization is particularly worrying and dangerous, especially at the current global juncture. That is why we have intensified our information campaign with our partners, as well as with the general public around the world. The fact that there have been many reactions, which essentially debunk the Turkish claims, demonstrates that other states realize that these claims are not based on logic.As I have repeatedly stressed, we are shielding our country diplomatically by strengthening ties with our strategic partners. We are informing our allies and partners of Turkey’s unacceptable conduct. We are now pleased to note that our arguments are being accepted, as evidenced by the recent European Council’s Conclusions, as well as from the exhortations of allies to the Turkish side made on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid. And of course we are strengthening our country’s deterrence. Our national security is first and foremost our own affair and relies primarily on our own forces.JOURNALIST: Is Erdoğan’s decision to cut off channels of communication a tactic ahead of elections in Turkey, or is the escalation of the crisis inevitable?N. DENDIAS: If we use the pro-government press reports in Turkey as a benchmark, then the agreement signed in Madrid, which, it should be noted, has no independent legal status and does not bind others, could be described as a success for Turkey. A close reading of the text, however, paints a very different picture. At the rhetorical level, it is possible to create the impression that Sweden and Finland are making concessions. In reality, however, Turkey is not actually gaining anything substantial. As far as terrorism is concerned, Turkey has not succeeded in having the Syrian Kurds who fought “ISIS” declared “terrorists”, something it ardently desires but no other country accepts. Regarding possible extraditions of suspects, this will be examined on the basis of the European Convention on Extradition. This would happen anyway. As regards exports of weapons systems to Turkey, apart from the fact that Swedish and Finnish exports are negligible, these countries are also bound by the relevant European decisions anyway.N. DENDIAS: Of course. In Madrid I met with my Swedish counterpart Ann Linde and my Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto. To both of them, I reiterated Greece’s full support for their countries’ candidacy for NATO membership.Today, in light of the multitude of challenges we face, in a period of war that is felt at dramatic cost by the whole of Europe, we firmly believe that cooperation between countries that are guided by the same principles and apply the same rules is more imperative than ever before. We believe that this is the best legacy for the future of our country, for the future of the international community, for the future of humanity itself. Our country is now opening itself to the world with outward-looking confidence.JOURNALIST: Do you consider Turkey’s re-engagement with countries in the region to be opportunistic or likely to damage our own alliances?N. DENDIAS: Our foreign policy is not defined by others. It is guided by long-standing positions based on the principles of International Law. At the same time, Greece looks for synergies with other countries, with the ultimate goal of maintaining security, stability and prosperity in the wider region.JOURNALIST: Are we going to experience yet another ‘hot’ summer in the Aegean?JOURNALIST: Was the validity of the mutual assistance clause reaffirmed during your recent visit to the United Arab Emirates?N. DENDIAS: Turkey’s attempt to re-engage and improve relations with most of its neighbouring countries with which it has been estranged in recent years demonstrates the economic and political stalemate it has found itself in due to its “neo-Ottoman” aspirations. It remains to be seen whether these moves represent a strategic reorientation or a tactical retreat. What is certain is that the shift in foreign policy that Turkey is now attempting demonstrates the error of its initial estimates.This decision is a matter of principle for the Mitsotakis government. For decades, Sweden and Finland have been our partners in the European Union. We have excellent bilateral relations with both countries. There is a sizable Greek community living in Sweden. At a time when the security situation in Europe is changing rapidly, we need to demonstrate our solidarity; as we would expect from our partners to do so. We have taken a clear position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this regard, we have imposed sanctions and stood shoulder to shoulder with our European Union partners and our NATO allies.N. DENDIAS: During my most recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, my sixth in less than three years, we reaffirmed the strategic nature of our relations, which was sealed in November 2020 with the signing of the Agreement on Joint Foreign Policy and Defence Cooperation, which contains a mutual assistance clause that of course remains in force. Let me remind you that Greece has only signed a similar bilateral Agreement with one other state, France. That in itself says a lot.JOURNALIST: Does Turkey still have room to escalate its claims on the demilitarization of islands?N. DENDIAS: First of all I would like to emphasize, once again, that it is not us who decided to cut off the channels of communication with Turkey. It was not we who put an end to the High-Level Cooperation Council process, the confidence-building measures, the exploratory talks, the political dialogue and the positive agenda. We wish to reduce tensions and we sincerely look forward to maintaining open channels of communication with Ankara and engaging in a constructive dialogue, always on the basis of International Law.We are not taking an ambivalent attitude. We are not pursuing an opportunist policy. And we are not entering into an ‘oriental bargaining’ tactics with dubious, at best, gains.Lastly, Turkey’s participation in European defence requires unanimity from the EU member states that is our country and Cyprus. And of course, our position on this issue, as well as that of Cyprus, will be determined by Turkish conduct. Our strategic relationship with the United Arab Emirates gained new momentum with the signing of 12 memoranda of understanding on a wide range of issues during the Prime Minister’s visit to the country last May, as well as an agreement of EUR 4 billion on Emirati investment in our country to the tune. My meeting with my counterpart Sheikh Abdullah sealed our desire to deepen relations, particularly in the economy and, more specifically, in cutting-edge sectors for the Greek economy, such as renewable energy and advanced technologies.JOURNALIST: Should Greece continue to support the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO?Turkey’s stance has been doubly damaging, if I may say so, at least at the international level. First of all, Turkey, as I already said, reaped no substantial benefits from this bargaining. It also reinforced the image of a wavering ally that does not hesitate to endanger NATO’s cohesion. It may have gained something for domestic consumption, but that is not Greece’s concern. The Mitsotakis government does not conduct foreign policy for a domestic audience. Our policy defends our national interests.N. DENDIAS: Mr. Pollatos, I sincerely hope not. Nobody benefits from tension, especially in the height of the tourist season. Surely you recall what we experienced in August 2020, entirely through Turkey’s fault. Whether and to what extent we will have a quiet summer this year will depend on Turkey’s stance. Recently we have seen an escalation of Turkish rhetoric. Representatives of the political leadership, the opposition and various analysts in Turkey seem to have engaged in a peculiar contest of verbal attacks against Greece. They outdo each other in unsubstantiated legal arguments, unhistorical narratives, irrational claims, and even personal insults to members of the Greek government, including the Prime Minister. Every day, we read or hear statements to this effect from a significant part of Turkey’s political world – and not only from government officials, to be fair; statements that under other circumstances would be considered to border on eccentricity, if they did not consistently serve the dangerous ideology of Turkish revisionism and were not accompanied by extremely provocative conduct, such as overflights over inhabited Greek islands. To this escalation we have chosen to respond with caution, with composure, but also with determination in the defence of our rights, with full respect for International Law and in particular the International Law of the Sea. We are not veering into a pointless confrontation, nor are we resorting to sensationalism.JOURNALIST: Following the NATO Summit in Madrid, do you believe Sweden and Finland gave in to Turkish pressure? Will the agreement with Turkey harm our interests, especially in the European Union?A few days ago, on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid, I had a social meeting with President Erdoğan and later with my counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, both whom I have known for several years. But it is not for me, or any non-Turkish official, to comment on where the decision to ‘cut off channels of communication’ comes from and what it is aimed at. However, my assumption is that the recent flurry of “anti-Greek” statements does not reflect the friendly feelings that a significant part of Turkish society still holds toward Greece. In particular, the one that still looks forward to the European perspective of the neighbouring country. The same can be said about Greek society, which feels a particular affinity with the pro-European part of Turkish society.

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