JOURNALIST: In a few days you will travel to Washington to sign one more amendment of the Greece-USA Defence Agreement (MDCA). What has changed since the previous amendment in 2019?
N. DENDIAS: I am going to Washington to meet with my American counterpart Antony Blinken and to launch the Strategic Dialogue. In this context, the second Protocol of Amendment is expected to be signed. In the last two years there have been three major changes that have made necessary the amendment of the agreement I signed two years ago. First, our strategic relationship with the USA has reached another level. It is now at its peak. The new agreement is the culmination of this unique relationship – which in turn is complemented by the relations we have developed with our northern neighbours, the countries of the Middle East, but also European countries, such as France. There are more to come. Second, the security environment in our area has changed drastically. Unfortunately, Turkey provokes almost on a daily basis. Let us also not forget the incidents in Evros and the “Oruc Reis”. And of course the threat of war remains, with Turkey maintaining the largest landing force in the Mediterranean facing the Aegean islands. Third, the US strategic and military footprint is being transformed and redirected. The United States is now investing in temporary presence in the territory of other states and not in permanent bases, as was the case in previous decades. At the same time it is distancing itself from Europe. Its focus of interest is on the Indo-Pacific, as the recent agreement with Australia and Great Britain
demonstrates. Some European countries are now willing to pay to maintain the US presence on their territory. Greece is the exception to this trend, which indicates, if nothing else, the American interest in the strategic position of our country, as well as the stabilizing role we play in the wider region.
JOURNALIST: We have heard that the American side initially submitted a list of more than 20 locations. However, the Americans backed out and Skyros, for which there were hopes, is not included in the locations. Where do we end up?
N.DENDIAS: Allow me not to comment on the American position. Indeed, the negotiation was difficult. For our part, there was harmonious cooperation between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Defence. The respective US ministries are in themselves two huge bureaucratic bodies, with their own priorities, as well as changes in their position. But in the end a result was achieved that is mutually beneficial for both sides. There have been proposals from the US side for several other locations, which, as things stand, are not being considered at this stage. However, since you are asking about locations, it should be underlined that the agreement itself leaves open the possibility of adding other locations in the future. What matters in the end is the result, as it has been formulated so far, that is, the selection of four new military locations. This selection augments the American strategic and military footprint in our country and is combined with the other agreements we have concluded over the past two years in order to shield Greece from any kind of external threat. But the locations themselves have their own significance. One location is near the land border with Turkey. Taking into account the events in Evros, I need not expand on its significance. But I will add two more important facts. Through the development of a floating liquefied natural gas terminal, Alexandroupolis is becoming an energy hub for the Western Balkans, but also for the wider region of Central and Eastern Europe, something of particular interest to the US and the EU. The selection of this location has also to do with the possibility of rapid transfer and stationing of American forces in Bulgaria and Romania, bypassing the Straits. The US acknowledges Greece’s strategic position and seems to have doubts about Turkey. Let me remind you that one of the largest American military exercises took place in this area. The other location, in the Greek islands, will facilitate the strengthening of the presence and rapid deployment of the American, as well as the Greek Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean. The locations will be under Greek control. They will be used by both American and Greek forces.
Consequently, the investments that the American side will make will be beneficial for both countries. And that brings us to the duration of the agreement. The US side had asked from the outset that the duration should be for a five-year period, in order to have a perspective of stabitity and allow Congress to release funds for the modernization of the facilities. As the Prime Minister pointed out, we agree with this prospect in principle. By the way, the original agreement, in 1990, remained in force for a term of eight years and since then it has been extended annually by all governments, without any exception and without any delay.
JOURNALIST: In the past, two US Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and Mike Pompeo, had sent letters describing some form of “guarantee” of Greece’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Are you seeking a renewal of this “guarantee”?
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to make two observations on this. First, Kissinger’s letter, in response to a letter from the then-Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dimitris Bitsios, is still formally valid. However, it is part of a completely different context, a Cold War context, two years after the invasion of Cyprus. So, it cannot be used as a benchmark for comparison under the current circumstances. Secondly, perhaps due to the considerable amount of time that has passed, the letter has assumed almost mythic proportions, which are not necessarily reflected in the text. The Pompeo letter of January 2020 goes much further, as it refers to Greece as a “key ally” in the region and to US commitment “to supporting Greece’s prosperity, security, and democracy”. I cannot go into detail about the content of the cover letter from the US Secretary of State which is expected to accompany the Protocol and will be essentially a unilateral US political commitment. However, it is expected to contain at least three points of crucial importance, always on the basis of International Law.
JOURNALIST: Greek-American relations have flourished in recent years. Athens has some very close allies in Washington, especially in Congress. However, there are circles who believe that despite the flirtation with Moscow, Turkey “should not be lost.” What do you think?
N. DENDIAS: Congress is at least one step ahead of the government. Let me remind you of the East Med Act of 2019 and the draft law on defense cooperation, which provides, among other things, for our participation in the F-35 program. At the same time, it takes a particularly critical stance towards Turkey. A more recent example is the introduction of an amendment that requires the State Department to draft a report on the “Gray Wolves”, a proposal that prompted a strong reaction from Turkey. Senator Menendez has played a pivotal role, but it’s not just him. In Washington, I will meet both with members of Congress and members of the Greek Diaspora, who have played a significant role in promoting our positions. It is a fact, however, that US Foreign and Defence Ministry officials continue to treat Turkey with a Cold War approach, as a counterweight to Russia, as is the case in Syria and Libya. Τheir approach is based on the image of a secular and western-oriented country, as Turkey used to be two decades ago, without fully taking into account the radical changes that have occurred since then.
JOURNALIST: Another round of exploratory talks took place in Ankara recently. I would like to ask you directly: are we just talking with the Turks for the sake of talking?
N. DENDIAS: As long as Turkey is threatening our country with war, the infamous casus belli, maintaining a huge landing force facing us and demanding the demilitarization of our islands, invoking an illegal and invalid memorandum to justify its actions, promoting its expansionist “Blue Homeland” doctrine and completely disregarding the fundamental rules of international law, then there is limited to non-existent scope for a constructive dialogue. Of course, even under these circumstances, there is a need to maintain a communication channel; if anything, so as to avoid any misunderstandings.
JOURNALIST: Recently, you had a confrontation with Konstantinos Bogdanos. This MP is no longer a member of the Parliamentary group of New Democracy, but I think you will agree with me that we are witnessing a worrying resurgence of far-right movements. Having had the experience of Golden Dawn, what is your view on that?
N. DENDIAS: There is a political, ideological and value-related abyss that separates New Democracy from the Golden Dawn. The ND government and I personally, as a minister, directly confronted the neo-Nazi formation, after which the case took its well-known judicial course. I will agree with you, but without linking it in any way to the position of Mr. Bogdanos, that there is a resurgence of illegal activity of the far right by imitators or branches of Golden Dawn, who are obviously seeking to exploit the insecurity caused by the pandemic and the widespread endorsement of conspiracy theories. Apart from the reaction of the competent bodies of the State, which has already come about and I am sure that it will continue to do so, it is true that this is a challenge to which we need to respond as a whole, as a political system, but also as Greek society. As I have pointed out, storm troopers were not, are not and will not be tolerated in our country. And this applies regardless of their name.