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Monday, July 8, 2019

Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on ‘Athina 984’ radio, with journalist Noni Karagianni (27 June 2019)

JOURNALIST: The Minister of Foreign Affairs and MP candidate in the 2nd Electoral District of Athens – northern Athens – on the Syriza ticket, Mr. Katrougalos, is on the line. Good morning, Minister. G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you and our listeners. JOURNALIST: Thank you. Minister, how much more complicated, and therefore more dangerous, is the situation with Turkey than it was in the past? G. KATROUGALOS: We have some constants, such as Turkey’s persistently following a revisionist policy. In other words, it is projecting power in an attempt to cancel out the support our country has from international law in defence of its national interests. And of course we have a policy that always defends international law. What has changed is the international environment, and especially Turkey’s stance towards its alliances. You see what’s happening now: It’s getting the S400 system, it isn’t getting it... And another thing that has changed is that we’ve enhanced our country’s position through promoting the cooperation schemes we have in the Eastern Mediterranean – at the core of which are Cyprus, Israel and Egypt – and because we have shown the international community that we are not just a stable democracy, but that we also export stability, starting from the Prespa Agreement, but also through our cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is why the U.S. has come in as a 4th partner, in a 3+1 scheme in our cooperation with Cyprus and Israel on construction of the East Med pipeline. JOURNALIST: Minister, everything you are saying about the activity and developments we are seeing in the Eastern Mediterranean points to a matter that is linked to the issue of our relations with Turkey. In this whole energy project that is under way and that is very, very important, can we exclude a country like Turkey, and for how long? And to complete the question, is everything that is being created in the Eastern Mediterranean one more factor in Ankara’s aggressive, rhetorical tactic? G. KATROUGALOS: We aren’t excluding Turkey. Turkey is excluding itself from the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean by not respecting international legality. Remember that I myself have said that Turkey has rights. But what rights? Only those recognized by international law. Not the rights that Turkey wants to take for itself beyond international legality. So, to the extent that Turkey realises it is losing, not gaining, as long as it continues this illegal conduct of violations – its actions are being condemned not only by the EU, but also by the U.S. and all of the countries in the region – this is why it cannot create accomplished facts. The opposite is happening. As long as it continues, every additional hour that its vessels remain in the region of the Cypriot EEZ, it is losing diplomatic capital. It can't create grey areas in terms of international law in these regions, and in reality it is depriving itself of the potential to be one of the players who can participate in the energy developments. JOURNALIST: In recent decades, Turkey has often moved in ways that are outside international law – at least the rules we are talking about. Nevertheless, it has created grey areas by employing this tactic. And I would say it has created grey areas in international law. G. KATROUGALOS: You’re right – that’s exactly what it’s trying to do. JOURNALIST: That’s what it’s trying to do. How should Greek foreign policy confront these attempts? G. KATROUGALOS: That’s what I was trying to say, but apparently I wasn't clear enough. My argument is this: That to be able to create grey areas, to dispute the implementation of international law, someone in the international community has to listen to your views. If no one accepts the efforts you make, international law is not called into question. So Turkey is simply reinforcing its image, in the eyes of all countries and the international community in general, as a violator of international law. So I’m saying that, together with the Republic of Cyprus, we were able to mount a systematic diplomatic effort. And what are the key characteristics of this effort? First of all, the Republic of Cyprus’s delimitation of its EEZ. Subsequently, the granting of concessions for specific blocks, which linked the defence of the National Rights of the Republic of Cyprus with the interests of multinationals and the interests of powerful countries. And then our pointing out together, Greece and Cyprus, that Turkey’s conduct in fact disputes not only the rights of Cyprus, but essentially the borders of Europe. JOURNALIST: Minister, in your experience and knowledge, in this whole complicated puzzle you are describing in the Eastern Mediterranean, do you think we could have had a different stance on the part of Turkey if we had had a positive outcome on the Cyprus issue? In other words, if the Crans Montana talks had been successful? G. KATROUGALOS: What can I say. It’s a hypothetical question. JOURNALIST: Yes, it’s hypothetical, but the Cyprus problem casts a long shadow. G. KATROUGALOS: I’m not trying to avoid it. It goes without saying that we want to see the Cyprus problem resolved. And the two basic problems in our relations with Turkey are the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Cyprus problem. If one of them were resolved – but resolved in the proper framework, the framework of the UN resolutions, as a matter of international law – the climate really would improve and our chances would be better. Because it is our long-standing pursuit, through dialogue, to resolve the problems we have: the delimitation of the continental shelf with the Turkish side. JOURNALIST: Over the past four years, Greek foreign policy has employed appeasement tactics. I would say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government as a whole, avoided responding to Erdogan’s aggressive rhetoric. The question is, are you perhaps underestimating the problem, and perhaps now, Minister – and I think this is crucial for foreign policy issues – the Greek government is somewhat awkwardly exaggerating the problem in the run-up to elections. You have been accused of this. G. KATROUGALOS: Exactly. This is a criticism we are hearing, and in fact it is contradictory, because at first we were accused of glossing over the situation – or appeasement, as you said – and then of inflating things, but we have consistently followed... JOURNALIST: The truth is, the emergency meeting of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) was a little over the top. We couldn’t really understand why... G. KATROUGALOS: Let’s start with what’s easy to answer because it’s fresh in our listeners’ memories, and then we’ll move on to earlier things. The response to a neighbour’s illegal conduct has a diplomatic dimension, which we talked about in detail. But it also necessarily has a military/defence dimension. So we have to look at that too. In many interviews, I’ve said that I think a heated incident in the Aegean is unthinkable, improbable, because the other side doesn’t want one either. With its economy in the state it’s in, it isn’t trying to provoke a heated incident. But all   parameters, including defence parameters, have to be considered when you are planning your policy. This is why the presence of the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was absolutely necessary at the KYSEA meeting. That’s why I briefed the National Council on Foreign Policy. On the other hand, we never followed a policy of appeasement. Proof of this is that in March 2018, for the first time, in contrast to what had happened... JOURNALIST: Perhaps properly speaking, in the proper political dimension, that may be a good thing: not to compete with Erdogan to see who can be more aggressive. G. KATROUGALOS: I think we’re saying exactly the same thing, but using different terminology. We didn’t take up Turkey's rhetoric, and we never exercised foreign policy based on domestic criteria. In other words, we never wanted to respond in kind to Turkey's statements just to show our domestic audience that we can compete with Turkey over who is more nationalistic. But that isn’t appeasement, precisely because we achieved the condemnation of Turkey... JOURNALIST: It may be underestimation of the problem. G. KATROUGALOS: That’s what I want to say. This is another argument I’ve put forward on many occasions, but it is true, and I say it because comparison points up the success of our foreign policy. We've seen many aggressive moves from Turkey in the past. The two classic examples are Imia and the casus belli. In all of these cases – I won’t say the European Union reacted like Pontius Pilate, but it did try to keep an equal distance from the two sides. In contrast, in March 2018, for the first time and due to our diplomatic efforts that are the opposite of appeasement, the European Council expressly condemned Turkey’s illegal conduct as a violation of international law, and last week, again for the first time, we had a political decision on measures against Turkey. That’s the exact opposite of appeasement. It shows that we can have a policy with bite. JOURNALIST: It is evident that the European Union is prepared to move ahead with measures, targeted measures; in other words, the text of the conclusions. And my question is: What exactly do Athens and Nicosia mean when they talk about imposing sanctions on Turkey? And I ask this, Minister, because Erdogan doesn't seem to be interested in Turkey’s path to Europe. G. KATROUGALOS: It is apparent that President Erdogan has other priorities: to be the leader of the Sunni Muslim world. This doesn't mean he has ruled out the European perspective, and the Turkish side often reiterates this to us. I want to underscore that the latest announcement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms two things. What did this announcement say? For our listeners: It said that the European Union’s recent decision rendered Europe a hostage of Greece and Cyprus. This is a full admission of our foreign policy’s effectiveness and Turkey’s isolation. And I think the European Council’s recent decision also provides a clear answer to your question. The 28 member states have unanimously accepted the need for measures to be taken against Turkey, though of course there were varying levels of support during the debate. We got a lot of support from the southern European countries, from countries such as France, Italy. No one came out against the proposal. But Europe’s resolve to take measures right now, for the first time – that is, to go from words to deeds – is a diplomatic victory that should not be undervalued. JOURNALIST: Why was it deemed advisable for the Prime Minister to say that Turkey should not even think about drilling in Kastelorizo? Are we concerned, are there indications that Turkey might move in that direction? G. KATROUGALOS: A state that, as we said, has revisionism at the heart of its policy may have had even that as a possible tactic. And the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly sent a clear message to the other side: that we may have a violation of international law, and that there may be no qualitative difference between Turkish vessels entering the Cypriot EEZ or Greek waters. But in our case, there is another difference: that we have a Navy. And that is why no one should even think about doing anything like that. And this is exactly what I want to say. This was taken – in contrast to what I see in some papers – as our backing down with regard to Turkey’s provocations in Cyprus to keep this from happening, but in reality, the opposite was the case: Precisely because the message was clear, precisely because the message wasn’t sent just bilaterally, but through many diplomatic channels, I don’t think there is any likelihood of its happening. JOURNALIST: One last thing. Unfortunately, I have only a couple of minutes left. One of the main issues that helped the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, win the referendum was the country’s European perspective; turning a new page. This European perspective doesn’t seem to be moving ahead, so I want to ask two questions in one: What kind of diplomatic assistance can Greece now lend with regard to North Macedonia’s European perspective, and whether you think a way should be found to separate the opening of North Macedonia’s negotiations from the opening of Albania’s. G. KATROUGALOS: Both good questions. We support the European perspectives of all the countries in the Western Balkans. Each country as judged on its own, depending on what it has achieved on the level of domestic reforms and good neighbourly relations. North Macedonia has done everything Europe asked it to, and in fact with the Prespa Agreement it went a step further. It resolved a bitter, decades-old dispute. We supported North Macedonia’s prospects for this reason, and although, as you said, Europe wasn’t very generous or, I would say, Europe didn’t honour its commitments as much as it should have, nevertheless, the process will start in October. So Europe hasn't completely reneged on the commitments it has made. And with regard to our bilateral relations, the fact that for the first time the Prespa Agreement was linked to North Macedonia’s European perspective is the best thing for us, because it means that any future violation, divergence from the commitments our neighbouring country has made through the Prespa Agreement will be checked and linked to its European perspective. JOURNALIST: Unfortunately, Minister, I’m out of time. I apologize for our limited time. Thank you very much. G. KATROUGALOS: It was a very interesting discussion, Ms. Karagianni. Thank you.