JOURNALIST: A Declaration on opening Varosha and an attempt to establish a settlement in Famagusta. The recent Turkish provocations were met with mild reaction from countries such as Great Britain and Germany. Are the reactions of the United States, the EU and the UN sufficient while Tayyip Erdoğan is emboldened?
N. DENDIAS: The declaration on opening part of Varosha is not merely another unlawful action by Turkey, which violates and blatantly disregards International Law. It is an organized effort to radically change the framework for resolving the Cyprus issue.
In the framework of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, Varosha will be part of the Greek Cypriot community.
As early as 1979 there was an agreement for the return of the lawful inhabitants of the area under UN administration, even before a settlement on the Cyprus issue was reached. The Turkish declarations put the last nail in the coffin of this agreement and at the same time are an insult to the UN.
You are right to note that certain countries, such as Great Britain within the UN Security Council and Germany within the EU, initially demonstrated a lukewarm attitude towards the UN Security Council and the European Council resolutions condemning the Turkish side. However, there are two important quality elements we should not forget. These decisions were the result of an agreement by all, the 15 members of the UN Security Council and the 27 member states of the EU.
Countries that have little in common and much that divide them, such as the USA, Russia, China, India and France, agreed to condemn Turkey, something that had not happened in the past. This is not accidental. It is the result of coordinated efforts made by our country together with Cyprus and a proof that the diplomatic openings we are making bear fruit. It also shows that Turkey tends to alienate itself permanently from international legality and to become a minority of one.
JOURNALIST: Why does Erdoğan choose to use aggressive rhetoric towards Cyprus? Could it be that Crimea-type scenarios for the occupied territories of Cyprus are being worked out in Ankara? Is Turkey talking about two separate states in Cyprus seeking to bring the idea of a confederation back on the table?
N. DENDIAS: I cannot speculate on Turkish intentions. However, one thing is clear: as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the Turkish President, Greece rejects any proposal that does not fall within the framework set by the UN Security Council resolutions, that is, the bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. The same position has been adopted by all UN member states, with the sole exception of Turkey.
JOURNALIST: There seems to be a de-escalation of Turkish provocations in the Aegean, at least in terms of actions, because the rhetoric is still provocative. What is the reason for this development?
N. DENDIAS: It is true that there has been a relative de-escalation in the Aegean in recent months, but provocations have not been completely absent. This, however, is only a superficial assessment of the situation. The fact of the matter is that there is a gap between the two countries’ positions. This is due to the fact that Turkey refuses to accept International Law, and in particular the Law of the Sea, as the basis for resolving any dispute. Instead, it continues to behave according to rules that applied in the 19th century, threatening our country with war if we exercise our inalienable rights. Turkey seeks to implement the so-called “gunboat diplomacy”.
Unfortunately, some circles in Turkey refuse to accept that we live in the 21st century and that the epic of empires, including the Ottoman Empire, is definitely over. Facing a country like Turkey, Greece draws strength from its alliances with other countries that share the same values; at a European level, with the US, but also with the countries of the region. The policies we have been developing for the past two years, as well as the European “sword of Damocles” that hangs over Turkey, in case it repeats its infringing conduct, have started to produce tangible results. Turkey should realize that any escalation of provocations will lead to great cost for itself, both diplomatic and economic. In my opinion, the interests of Turkish society are different.
JOURNALIST: One year after the crisis with the surveys of “Oruc Reis” in Kastelorizo, had there been moments that you were even prepared for military confrontation with Turkey? What was the most difficult time in the summer of 2020?
N. DENDIAS: With regard to the first part of your question, it was not Greece that sent a survey vessel on the Greek continental shelf, literally flanked by navy vessels. Greece remains committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes. Unlike Turkey, however, it will protect its rights, as well as its national sovereignty, as it should. We have limits, which Turkey knows very well. The year 2020 was a difficult year, with constant provocations; provocations in Evros, thousands of violations, 400 fly-overs and the excursion of “Oruc Reis” in the Eastern Mediterranean until the end of November. It was a constant crisis, which required vigilance and composure. Let us hope that this scenario will not be repeated.
JOURNALIST: The Turkish expansionist policy in the Eastern Mediterranean has strengthened Greece’s dormant alliances and cooperation with countries of the Middle East and the Gulf. What are the next steps of Greek diplomacy in establishing an honest understanding with Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia?
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to disagree with a word you used, the adjective “dormant”. Most of the alliances that have been built in the region are relatively recent.
For example, let us not forget that Greece recognized the state of Israel only three decades ago, under the government of Konstantinos Mitsotakis. See the level our bilateral relations have reached today. However, in addition to the particularly close relations we have developed over the last two years with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – countries which I have already visited several times, as well as Saudi Arabia and Jordan – I would like to emphasize the diplomatic openings we are making at regional level. For example, I point to the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation with the Arab League, while I hope the same will happen soon with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the headquarters of which I visited last April. Of particular importance is the expansion of relations with India, a country that maintains close ties with Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates.
The visit of the Indian Minister of External Affairs to Athens a month ago, the first one in almost two decades, offered the opportunity to underline the commitment of both countries to International Law and to have a very interesting exchange of views on global challenges, including Turkey, ascertaining our convergence. These relations have been developing, irrespective of governments. A few days ago, I met with my new Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid. Apart from the very cordial meeting we had, let me remind you that my visit to Israel was the first by a European Foreign Minister under the new government there. The development of relations with the countries of the region is based on a common denominator: the effort to consolidate security and stability in the region on the basis of International Law. Let us hope that Turkey will also endorse these values.
JOURNALIST: Is the possibility of extending Greek territorial waters to 12 nautical miles being considered or has it been implicitly put on the back burner?
N. DENDIAS: The Mitsotakis government was the first to implement this sovereign right, having increased the size of Greece, for the first time since 1947. This right is explicitly provided for by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UNCLOS.
JOURNALIST: Exploratory contacts with Turkey appear to have been frozen. Is the Turkish demand for the demilitarization of the islands and reducing the breadth of the Greek territorial sea and EEZ to a zone of six miles from the islands the reason that does not allow for the resumption of talks?
N. DENDIAS: As far as we are concerned, we expect Ankara to propose new dates for the 63rd round of contacts, as the 62nd round took place in Athens in March. Regarding the essence of these informal and non-binding contacts, it is clear that the only issue being discussed is the delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean; nothing else.
JOURNALIST: Greek-American relations are at an extremely good level. Is the Greek Prime Minister due to make an official visit to the United States soon?
N. DENDIAS: Greece-US bilateral relations are indeed at their highest point. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been instrumental in achieving this goal. The United States views Greece as an oasis of peace and security in the wider region and supports our stabilizing role in both the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Of course, let me emphasize that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken himself, a few weeks ago, urged the US Senate to ratify UNCLOS.
Contacts with the new administration continue at all levels. In addition to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ contacts with President Joe Biden, and mine with Mr. Blinken, I recently had a long conversation with Under Secretary of State, Ms Nuland, who is well aware of the challenges in the region.
Contacts are being extended to Congress. A few weeks ago, I attended a videoconference with Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In fact, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, is expected to visit our country in the coming weeks. If public health conditions allow, I am expected to travel to New York in September to attend the UN General Assembly. A trip to Washington is also being scheduled for October-November, for which we are in consultation with the American side regarding the setting of a date.
JOURNALIST: What is your assessment of the post-Merkel era both in Germany and Europe? Do you expect any improvement in Greek-German relations when the new federal government takes over?
N. DENDIAS: It is well known that we view the current situation differently on several issues concerning our region, starting with how Turkey is treated, but also the export of weapons systems that threaten to upset the balance of power in the region.
On the other hand, Germany is economically the strongest country in the European Union. Therefore, for Greece, close and constructive cooperation with Berlin, based on sincere ties of mutual respect, is a priority irrespective of the party in government.
That is why we have been developing contacts with the most important forces that play a role in politics of today and possibly of the future.
I have already met twice with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU / CSU) candidate for Chancellor Armin Laschet. We also have had extensive contacts with leading members of the Greens, but also of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). It is true that some parties in the current opposition tend to lend a sympathetic ear to our positions.
Let me remind you, however, that Manfred Weber, a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and leader of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament, has repeatedly spoken out in favour of the Greek position and has unequivocally condemned Turkey’s provocative conduct.
JOURNALIST: Following the Biden-Putin meeting, tension with Russia appears to have eased. How are Greek-Russian relations developing?
N. DENDIAS: We are all aware of the close, historical, religious and cultural ties that unite Greece and Russia; starting with the contribution of Russia to the Battle of Navarino and consequently to the establishment of the Greek state. We all know the long-standing presence of Hellenism in parts of Russia. During the meeting with my Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Sochi in May, we agreed to work to further strengthen these ties. The Greek Diaspora, whose representatives I had the pleasure to meet on the shores of the Black Sea, can contribute to this effort. Of all the trips I have made – and they are not few – that was one of the most heart-warming. The last visit of a Greek official to the region was that of the then Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, three decades ago. The expatriates I met asked for only one thing: Greek teachers to teach their children our language.