Minister of Foreign Affairs George Gerapetritis’ interview with "TO VIMA tis KYRIAKIS" newspaper

george Gerapetritis

In a candid and insightful conversation, Minister of Foreign Affairs George Gerapetritis sat down with "TO VIMA tis KYRIAKIS," delving into a wide range of pressing international matters.

JOURNALIST: Let us begin with the war in the Middle East and diplomatic sources speaking of Greece's creative abstention in the UN resolution on Gaza. I would like to ask you what they meant by this and why Greece couldn't ultimately endorse the resolution. Is there a restraint due to our alliance with Israel, and to what extent is it justified?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The answer, Ms. Fotaki, is very clear. Greek foreign policy is a policy of principles. From the very beginning of the crisis sparked in the Middle East by Hamas’ terrorist attack against the state of Israel, we took a very clear position. Our stance was that any act of terrorism, any violent act, any inhuman treatment must be condemned in its entirety. However, we also stated that civilians must be protected and humanitarian corridors must be established so that humanitarian aid can pass into Gaza and the people, who are the primary victims of war, can have access to necessities. In this regard, we had a constructive approach during the discussion on the United Nations resolution. It was a draft resolution tabled by the Arab world and initiated by Jordan. I was in constant communication with my counterparts from the Arab world. We tried to produce a text that would be acceptable to all sides.

We did not do this because we seek balance. Our foreign policy is not one of balance. It is a foreign policy based on International Law and national interest. We, therefore, stated the following: We would certainly endorse a resolution, but it must first and foremost condemn every act of terrorism. We all understand that it is inconceivable not to have a condemnation, including every action, directed against a state. I believe we can all agree on this. Furthermore, we made additional constructive interventions in an effort to produce a text that is both beneficial and fair. In this regard, and given that our proposals did not make it to the final text, we chose to abstain. We opted for abstention, a decision that I must emphasize, Ms. Fotaki, should not be perceived as a vote against. This is because abstention is not counted in the total number of those present to determine a majority. So, it is essentially different from casting a vote against. And, if you allow me to say, this was also the path followed by the majority of the countries of the European Union.
Of course, there were some countries that accepted and voted in favour of the resolution. We felt we maintained a principled stance, as we have done since day one. Our country’s stance is humanitarian in its entirety. Even today, we continue our efforts with constant communication with both the Arab world and Israel to ensure the protection of civilians and maximize humanitarian aid to those affected, especially in Gaza. This will continue to be our stance. In our eyes, every human life is worth the same, irrespective of nationality.

JOURNALIST: Of course, there was some criticism about this...

G. GERAPETRITIS: Let me say, Ms. Fotaki, that criticism is overly simplistic and easy. This is due to the fact that it lacks any factual basis. Anyone who has read the text of this resolution can understand why we did not vote against it, as other European Union countries did, and why we did not vote in favour of it, as other countries did. We followed the European policy line. The European stance was to abstain in order to facilitate the resolution’s eventual adoption. We should be very clear, though, that if there is no condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, our country cannot support such a document.

JOURNALIST: How about the political dialogue between Greece and Türkiye held a few days ago? What did you get out of this preliminary meeting? Is there a willingness to find solutions through compromises, or is the focus primarily on maintaining the current calm?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Discussions took place in an exceptionally productive atmosphere. It was the first meeting held in the context of both the political dialogue and the positive agenda for mutually beneficial cooperation measures. The dialogue was held between our Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the competent Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, within the scope of the agreement reached by the two countries’ leaders. What I would like to tell you, Ms. Fotaki, is this: we are a country that favours International Law. We will always do so and continue to support all its forms and promote good neighbourly relations within the framework of International Law. We genuinely wish to have good relations with all countries, especially our neighbours, including Türkiye. However, we need to clarify two crucial points: first, International Law will always be our guide, and secondly, issues concerning Greek national sovereignty cannot be discussed. In this regard, I understand that we are proceeding step by step in a good climate, which we want to maintain.

Let me share two observations with you. First, it is essential for me to come to a mutual understanding with Türkiye so that every time there is tension or disagreement, it does not escalate into a crisis. In other words, we should have those safety valves in place that allow for de-escalation without creating a crisis between the two countries, which I believe is crucial for their people’s prosperity. Secondly, we want to have a constructive dialogue with Türkiye. We believe that inaction is not the way to resolve differences. Of course, there are areas for discussion that can lead to mutually beneficial agreements: civil protection, migration policy, and tourism are issues that could undoubtedly be on the agenda, resulting in positive agreements for both countries. However, it is imperative to address long-pending issues as well. I think the time has come for us to discuss this without tensions for the mutual benefit of both countries and, more importantly, for the benefit of future generations who deserve to live in a peaceful and prosperous country.

JOURNALIST: The High-Level Cooperation Council will build upon the positive agenda and the agreements emerging from these discussions, correct?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The discussion that will take place in December between the two delegations will primarily revolve around the approval of everything discussed so far. In other words, it will be about signing a series of agreements, which will be agreed upon between the two delegations by December 7th and will determine the next steps. The leaders of both countries will be called upon to adopt and approve a series of positive, mutually beneficial agreements, determine the next steps, and confirm a climate of détente. I want to emphasize that from February until now, we have experienced a long period of calm and détente in our neighbourhood.

JOURNALIST: There are no overflights, no violations...

G. GERAPETRITIS: Not at all. This peaceful environment should not be taken for granted.  It makes us cautiously optimistic that it could be the basis for building our relations. And I feel there is room for us to discuss with Türkiye without agreeing on everything. We are aware that we have fundamental differences on crucial issues; it is essential, however, that we can find common ground in order to move forward.

JOURNALIST: Regarding the war in Ukraine and the war in the Middle East. In the shadow of both conflicts, what is Greece's role in the region, and what is the role of the military bases granted to the US through the MDCA?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greece has substantial international capital. This international capital has been acquired through our consistent, sincere, honest stance over the last few years. As a result, we can be a reliable interlocutor not only with regional states but also with all governments and international organisations. This is what we will continue to do. In both Ukraine and the Middle East, we have adopted a principled stance. We oppose all forms of aggression and revisionism. Therefore, let me be clear: we will continue to advocate for International Law and defend democratic and humanitarian values. Regarding our position on the status of military bases in Greece, this is governed by international agreements that have been signed and ratified by the Hellenic Parliament, and in this context, the necessary facilities are provided.  It goes without saying that Greece will not be engaged in any military conflict. However, we will do everything possible to pursue creative and active diplomacy in order to reduce tensions and restore peace on both these major fronts in our wider region and elsewhere in the world.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that these two Agreements enhance Greece's role in the US?

G. GERAPETRITIS: They are unquestionably beneficial for our country. These agreements serve to safeguard our national interests and establish strategic alliances with allies who stand by our side not only today but also potentially in any aggression against our country. Consequently, I believe that the agreements that have been signed with both the United States and France establish a regime of security and guarantees for our country in the future.

JOURNALIST: Greece, Cyprus and France discuss the establishment of a solidarity corridor to Gaza. There have even been some reports in Cyprus regarding who proposed it first, Cyprus or Greece, and whether it operates competitively. Where do we stand with this, and how should we proceed from this point forward?

G. GERAPETRITIS: We could not be competitors with Cyprus because we are in coordination. I am in daily contact with the Cypriot diplomacy and the Cypriot Foreign Minister. This is an initiative taken by our countries as well as France. We are coordinating with international organisations, in particular the United Nations and Israel itself. The establishment of a maritime humanitarian corridor to Gaza was addressed during our discussion with the Israeli Prime Minister a few days ago when the Prime Minister and I were in Israel. We are all aware that this initiative has unique technical challenges because there is no safe port for a ship to dock in the wider Gaza Strip. Therefore, special conditions are required, including, of course, assurances of safety, in order for a vessel to berth there. We are still discussing ensuring as immediate, beneficial and effective humanitarian aid as possible to the affected civilians in Gaza. I would like to tell you that independently of this maritime corridor we are trying to establish, Greece will also send humanitarian aid through Egypt.

Ms. Fotaki, we have emphasized since the first day of the terrorist attack against Israel that humanitarian aid must be totally assured. We consistently do so by raising the issue at all international fora and through the provision of humanitarian aid.

JOURNALIST: Relations between Greece and the US, relations between the US and Türkiye: to what degree has the Israel-Hamas conflict disrupted the equilibrium and to what extent might this also precipitate a deterioration in the good climate between Greece and Türkiye?

G. GERAPETRITIS: There has been no turmoil in our relations. Türkiye has, at the moment, chosen to pursue a diplomacy close to Hamas. This is something not acceptable to us. It goes without saying that any terrorist attack, especially against civilians and the vulnerable, must be condemned by all. Regardless, we will continue on the path of dialogue and cooperation with Türkiye. As regards the issues that have already been raised in the context of the political dialogue, the Positive Agenda, and the Confidence Building Measures, which we will discuss in the coming days, we hope the good climate for improving our bilateral relations will continue.

JOURNALIST: What role does the Cyprus issue play in relations? There is also the High-Level Cooperation Council between Greece and Cyprus in the next few days. What are we expecting out of it?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Cyprus is always of primary significance in our foreign policy. It is a huge national asset and a national obligation in the face of history. We could never overlook the Cypriot dimension. Regarding the development of cooperation with Türkiye, I would like to tell you that the Cypriot government shares the common understanding that improving Greek-Turkish relations could only be positive for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. We firmly believe, with solid arguments and conviction, that the Cyprus issue should be resolved within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolutions for a bizonal bicommunal federation. The dialogue should be continued and the Turkish Cypriot side should engage in it. We will continue to raise the Cyprus issue both in international organizations and on any other occasion, hoping for a much more productive discussion in the very near future. The Cypriot President and Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus will visit Greece in the context of the High-Level Cooperation Council to be held in a few days, and we will discuss a number of issues, mainly of a bilateral nature.

A number of agreements aimed at enhancing bilateral relations will be signed. Of course, the Foreign Minister of Cyprus and I, as well as the Prime Minister and the President of Cyprus, will have the opportunity to discuss how to further develop our national policy line on the most important issues that concern us.

JOURNALIST: The Commission's report on the Balkans is expected next week. What stance will Greece adopt regarding the assessment of Albania in light of the ongoing Beleri trial? Could the Beleri case disrupt relations between Greece and Albania?

G. GERAPETRITIS: First of all, I would like to point out that Greece's stance is institutional. Greece advocated for the enlargement of the European Union towards the Western Balkans. We believe that the natural path for these countries is within the European family. We initiated this in 2003 in Thessaloniki. We capitalize on it today with the meetings that the Prime Minister had when he invited the Heads of State of the Western Balkans, as well as of Ukraine and Moldova, to Athens. And I believe that, in principle, our position will always be one of encouragement towards the Western Balkan countries. You specifically ask about the issue of Albania, which, as I would like to underline, has acquired specific features, indeed, due to the Beleri case. From the very first moment, we have adopted a very clear position. It is inconceivable that an elected mayor, an elected representative of local government elected by the Himare electorate, is currently unable to assume the duties entrusted to him by the people. We believe this is independent of the ruling of the Albanian judiciary, which we respect. We must underscore, though, that the issue of the swearing-in of the elected mayor, Fredi Beleri, should not be of the judiciary’s concern, as it is an entirely administrative matter.

It is an issue that concerns the Albanian administration and government. Mr Beleri should definitely, regardless of everything else, be given the opportunity to be sworn in, whether through a short leave of absence or within the prison, as is the case in most civilized states. It is self-evident that as long as this pending issue persists, relations between Greece and Albania will be strained. We believe that the Fredi Beleri case is a matter of fundamental principles of the Rule of Law, which safeguards the political rights of all citizens, especially minorities within each country. We will continue to raise this issue in all international fora and within the European Union, as we have done so thus far.

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