JOURNALIST: The defence cooperation agreement between Greece and France was announced in Paris. What does this cooperation mean?
N. DENDIAS: The agreement I signed together with the Minister of National Defence Nikos Panagiotopoulos, in the presence of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Emmanuel Macron, is a broader strategic partnership agreement that covers cooperation in foreign policy.
It is the achievement of almost two years of collective effort under the leadership of the Prime Minister. I am happy for my contribution to it.
I have to say that this effort went through a lot of difficulties. When we started talks with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean–Yves Le Drian, the underlying logic was obvious. The procurement of weapons systems should be carried out under an umbrella of political understanding on the common challenges these systems and the people who operate them are called upon to face.
I believe it is an extremely important agreement, which may prove to be historic.
And this for three main reasons.
Firstly, it shields Greece as, on the basis of a bilateral contractual relationship, the largest military force in the European Union will be at its side. And the only nuclear power – let us not forget that.
This agreement comes on top of the strategic partnership I signed last year with the United Arab Emirates.
For our country, which is under constant threat of war from Turkey – the infamous casus belli – in case it exercises its legal rights, the defence support that France is coming to provide us, following the United Arab Emirates, gives rise to a new reality.
But allow me to emphasize, in order to avoid any misinterpretation, the strictly defensive nature of the agreement.
Greece does not pursue an opportunistic policy. But neither will it accept to forfeit its sovereign rights.
Secondly, the agreement lays the foundations for enhancing the visibility of Greek positions internationally, through the envisaged close coordination between the two countries.
Thirdly, it constitutes an important contribution to the strengthening of European Defence and European understanding, goals that Greece has always supported.
JOURNALIST: How did the US react to the agreement? You will be visiting Washington in mid-October for the new Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement. Will the agreement with France affect what we are asking for?
N. DENDIAS: We were very pleased by the positive comments from the USA. I will make no secret of the fact that I had taken care, in consultation with the Prime Minister, to keep the American side informed. After all, our relationship is excellent. You may recall that I had a private meeting with the Under Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, in New York and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt as soon as I returned.
With regard to my visit to Washington, I hope that the discussions will be completed and that the amendment to the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement will be signed during the visit.
The amended – extended agreement will be a demonstration of the strengthening of the strategic relationship with the USA, two years after the first amendment was signed by me and my then American counterpart, Mike Pompeo, in Athens.
It should be noted that the negotiations are taking place at a time when the United States is focusing its attention and increasing its presence in the Pacific.
With this agreement, the US military presence on Greek territory is expected to be consolidated. Let me just point out that there are quite a few countries that are literally begging the United States to deploy forces on their territory. And they are even willing to bear the cost.
The agreement will also constitute a significant contribution to the overall bilateral cooperation between Greece and the USA. Our relations go far beyond purely military cooperation.
Our strategic dialogue covers particularly important fields, such as energy, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, tackling the effects of the refugee-migrant issue, the fight against terrorism and so on.
The role of the US Congress should also be emphasized. Let me focus on the key role of the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, whom I met in Athens a few weeks ago.
The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 had a catalytic effect on the imposition of sanctions for arms sales to Turkey, as well as on the lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus.
Equally important and complementary to the MDCA is the draft bill on bilateral defence cooperation that is expected to be adopted by the end of the year. It includes provisions for the transfer of American military equipment to Greece, our participation in the F-35 program, as well as the strengthening of multilateral cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, through the participation of the USA in the Greece-Cyprus-Israel scheme.
Regarding France, let me emphasize that this country, like the United States, is our ally and strategic partner. Strengthening ties with both countries is not antagonistic. On the contrary, it is complementary and beneficial for the national interests of our countries.
JOURNALIST: Could the Greece-France agreement be the beginning for the creation of a European army? Does such an eventuality affect relations with NATO?
N. DENDIAS: The agreement with France contributes to the development of European military capabilities and the strengthening of European Defence.
It is a small but necessary step towards the coming of age of the European Defence, which in turn constitutes a key pillar of the European Political Union.
These developments, of course, also affect NATO in a positive way, as they respond to a constant request by the USA for better burden-sharing in defence, but also through the gradual creation of a European component within the Atlantic Alliance.
It is true that there is still a long way to go before a European supranational army is created, which will undertake the protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the European territory, as well as crisis management in our wider region.
JOURNALIST: In your recent contacts in New York, you argued that Turkey has now gone beyond reason. What do you mean?
N. DENDIAS: Turkish actions are completely unacceptable; they defy every notion of International Law and common sense.
There is no other way to describe the harassment of a research vessel, which was sailing within a delimitated Greek exclusive economic zone, 10 nautical miles east of Crete, claiming that this area was on the Turkish continental shelf.
In addition, the Turkish side, in order to justify its unacceptable attitude, invoked a Turkish-Libyan memorandum, which is generally considered to be illegal, invalid and non-existent.
Under different circumstances, we might say that this action was just eccentric. But unfortunately, it was extremely dangerous, and of course, condemnable.
During my last meeting with my European counterparts, I showed them on the map where the vessel Nautical Geo had been harassed, between Crete and Kassos.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Even our most sceptical partners, those who show tolerance for Turkish actions, remained silent. They could not utter a word; because there is simply nothing, not in the least, to justify such behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Despite the tense climate, exploratory talks will take place in October. What do you say about that?
N. DENDIAS: The 63rd round of exploratory talks will take place in a few days, on October 6, this time in Ankara. Despite a climate of tension sustained by Turkey, we consider it appropriate to maintain open channels of communication.
But we do not harbour any illusions. We do not expect anything to come out of these informal contacts, as, unfortunately, at least for the time being, there seems to be no room for reasonable consultation with Turkey. Not because the issue under consideration, namely the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, is not possible, but because Turkey does not accept the fundamental rules provided for in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
But again, I would say that we wish we were refuted.
All Greek governments have always advocated an understanding with Turkey under the conditions laid out in International Law and the Law of the Sea.
We believe that this is in our interest, that this is in Turkey’s interest, but also it is the will of a large part of Turkish society, which considers Europe as its natural and cultural place.