Greek FM: Improving Greece-Turkey ties will have a positive collateral for the Cyprus issue


Greek Foreign Affairs Minister George Gerapetritis expressed his concern about the situation in the Middle East, in an interview with Al Arabiya published on Saturday.

JOURNALIST: Welcome to our special interview with his Excellency, Mr. George Gerapetritis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic. Your Excellency, welcome to Al Arabiya. And it is a great pleasure to have you today here in a special interview. Your Excellency, you know, the prevailing concern in the region currently is the Israeli war in Gaza. In this context Greece has hosted the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during his regional tour. What exactly did you hear from him regarding the war?

G. GERAPETRITIS: As you know, there is an increasing concern about the situation in the Middle East. I think there are two basic issues that we need to address immediately and I think Secretary Blinken completely shares this view. The first thing is how we increase further humanitarian aid, because there is an increasing humanitarian tension and crisis that we need to address. We need sustainable corridors directly to Gaza in order to provide it with essential facilities, medical treatment and other humanitarian tools. On the other hand, the second concern comes with the possibility of having a spill-over effect in the region. As you know, there are two further problems in the region. The one comes from the northern part of Israel and the involvement of Hezbollah and the other from the Houthis in the Red Sea. So it is a significant concern that we need to contain the hostilities now in the broader region in order to find a sustainable and long lasting solution.

JOURNALIST: The European Union member states have different points of views regarding the war. Some countries strongly demand a complete stop to the war, while others focus on the humanitarian sides and aspects. Where does Greece stand in this regard?

G. GERAPETRITIS: To start with, I think that they are not mutually exclusive. I think that we should both work for the humanitarian aid as well as with how we develop a sustainable pause of the hostilities in order to develop a more sustainable ceasefire and peace. The important thing in my opinion at the moment is that we have a coalition of governments and leaders in order to promote the idea of a sustainable solution. We clearly support the resolutions of the UN Security Council about the two-state solution within the boundaries prior to 1967. I think this should be the starting point for any discussion for the post war era. I think it is important to start working on this. I know that there is a divergence of opinions within the European Union. Every single member state has a different idea about how to develop their respective foreign policies. But we all coincide with the need to provide substantial and meaningful humanitarian aid and we would like to see as soon as possible this war to stop. What is happening now is beyond imagination. We do realize that the triggering situation of the 7th of October has resulted in these hostilities, but we need to address the humanitarian issue and work for sustainable peace in the region.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Gerapetritis, could you share also with us Greece's point of view regarding the end of both the current war in Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general?

G. GERAPETRITIS: We are clearly in favour of the implementation of International Law. From the very beginning, Greece has a very principled and rule-based policy when it comes to the issue of Middle East, as well as in any other issue of foreign policy. We need to apply uniform standards in all situations of hostility and aggression. This is why, from the very beginning, we stated in a very categorical manner that Greece stands against the aggression, against any hostility, against any form of terrorism. We clearly distinguished between Hamas, the terrorist organisation, and the Palestinian people, who we clearly respect and with whom we have strong historical ties. And on the other hand, what we said is that we need to minimize the consequences of the war against civilians and we have to establish sustainable humanitarian corridors. It is unacceptable for us that there is a current state of people being held hostages. We demand just like the rest of the international community, the immediate release of hostages. We do consider that there is an International Law-based right of self-defense, but within the limits of International Law and International Humanitarian Law.

JOURNALIST: Are there any prospects for Greece to conduct a mediation and to put an end to this conflict? And what would be the pillars of this mediation if the country is considering such an initiative? Especially since Greece has historically a good relationship with both parties, Israel and the Palestinians.

G. GERAPETRITIS: Exactly because of the fact that we adopted the principled position from the start of this situation, we have earned as a country a strong diplomatic capital. We can talk with all state actors. We can talk to the stakeholders. This is why I am also here. Apart from our bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia, we are going to discuss about the current state of play in the Middle East. We also discuss with both Israelis and Palestinians. I will host the Palestinian Foreign Minister in Athens in the near future. And next week, I am planning to also visit other Arab countries. We do talk to all parties. We are, I think, very credible interlocutors in this respect and we are offering good offices. Already I think we have provided our good mediation, when it comes to the European Union. We submitted an original plan that was altogether accepted by the European Union and especially by the Foreign Affairs Council concerning the situation in the Middle East. And now I think we are in a position to become facilitators in this respect. Greece will also stand by International Law. We consider that any sort of revisionism is unacceptable and we have to apply uniform standards in all situations in order to have the credibility and the legitimacy to talk to all countries and to the international community in the same way.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Gerapetritis, as you prepare to meet with your Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki in Athens, could you provide some highlights on the key topics that will be addressed during this important rendez-vous? Taking into account the current situation, topics such as the roadmap for peace in the Middle East and humanitarian aid will probably be on the top of the list. What would be the commitments and initiatives that you might propose following this meeting?

G. GERAPETRITIS: First of all, I need to say that I also talked yesterday to the new Foreign Minister of Israel, and we have had an extensive discussion concerning the post war situation and the means to implement a more meaningful humanitarian aid to Gaza. On the other hand, with my Palestinian counterpart, Mr. Maliki, we are in constant communication and as I mentioned, I will welcome him next week in Athens. In my view, it is actually important to provide further legitimacy and leverage to the Palestinian Authority. We need to have credible interlocutors for the day after. It is absolutely essential that we talk to the Palestinians, the Palestinian people, who have suffered indeed a lot in the past, and there must be some significant prospect for their future and prosperity. What I think is important at this moment is to involve the Palestinian Authority in the discussions for the postwar era. And also to make sure that there is an effective administration the day after that would secure the future of the Palestinian people, but also will define the security in the broader region, and especially on the Palestinian Territories, without any involvement of terrorism in this respect.

JOURNALIST: The main concerns triggered by the war in Gaza are related to the Israeli threats to transfer the residents of Gaza to other countries. What do you think about this idea, which was proposed by some members of the Israel government?

G. GERAPETRITIS: To be honest, I don't think that this idea reflects the leadership of Israel. I think, and this is the notion of the Greek government, that there can be no forcible displacement of people and there can be no collective punishment. This is prohibited by International Law. So we are clearly in favour of the right of all people to self-determination and the right to stay in their homeland. So clearly, we are against any idea of displacement in the region.

JOURNALIST: But is Greece ready to receive some from Gaza if asked to?

G. GERAPETRITIS: It is important to provide humanitarian aid. And from the first instance, we were very clear that in case there is a situation that needs further treatment, for example, if there is a medical situation that needs to be addressed, we would be welcoming any Palestinian people who will need immediate medical treatment. And we have conveyed this to the parties. Having said that, I think it is important for people to stay in their homelands.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Gerapetritis, moving now to the relationship between Greece and Türkiye, which is experiencing significant improvement following the visit of the Turkish President to Athens. Mr. Erdogan described his visit to Athens as a new era of friendship between both countries. How does Greece see this new era with Türkiye?

G. GERAPETRITIS: With Türkiye we are neighbouring countries and we share geography, so we need to learn to live together. The truth is that there are strong historical burdens coming from the past and we are now trying to enter a new phase of good neighbourly relations and of course, of more sincere, frank interactions. On the 7th of December, we welcomed in Athens the Turkish delegation led by the Turkish President and also a number of Ministers of the Republic of Türkiye. We had a very interesting and I think frank exchange of views. We signed a number of agreements, memoranda and joint statements in various fields, such as tourism, agriculture, commerce, migration, civil protection. And we established a new position in our bilateral relations by signing a joint declaration on good neighbourly relations and friendly settlement of disputes. I think it is important to actually be in a state of dialogue with Türkiye. I think it is important to be deliberative, to have a mutual recognition of each other's positions. We do not necessarily share the views in all respects, but what we need to do is to actually discuss among each other. We started with a win-win agenda, a positive agenda, with mutually beneficial measures. So we think step by step, we can progress to a better relationship and I think this better relationship can be functional and sustainable.

JOURNALIST: Have you engaged in any discussions with President Erdogan regarding the migration issue? And could you elaborate on the strategies or approaches to effectively address and manage these waves?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The migration issue is a very delicate issue. We need to address it not on the basis of a single country policy. It is an international issue. We need to address migration waves and every time there is a regional war, there is the risk of having increased migration waves. The truth is that in the last eight months we have developed a more comprehensive policy with Türkiye in this respect. We are on open discussions with the police and the coast guard. And we have managed to reduce the migration flows and to be able to go after the smugglers who are operating in the broader region. It is important to reactivate the joint statement between the European Union and Türkiye in order to improve the ratio of returns. It is important to have an international cooperation when it comes to migration because we do expect that there is a surge in this respect in the near future.

JOURNALIST: Now, how would the rapprochement reflect on the regional issues, the situation on Cyprus and the dispute over the Eastern Mediterranean gas?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I think it goes without saying that if we manage to improve the bilateral relations between Greece and Türkiye, there is going to be a positive collateral for the Cyprus issue as well. We have a different standpoint with Türkiye in this respect. We fully abide - and we are very strict about this - by the UN Security Council resolutions on a bizonal, bicommunal federation in Cyprus that would enable both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to coexist under a single federal state. So we do have a different standpoint. But I am very positive and I think the Cypriot government also shares this view that the improvement of our bilateral with Türkiye will also improve the situation in Cyprus. I clearly welcome the appointment by the United Nations of the new special envoy, former Foreign Minister of Colombia, Ms. Cuéllar. And I think this is a good signal in order to resume talks. Because irrespective of each other's positions, I think it is very important that we engage in deliberative processes. We need to discuss and we hope that we will have soon some developments in this respect. As regards the energy corridors, we keep on working. I think it is absolutely essential that we further enhance the projects to actually enable energy bridges between the Middle East and Far East with Europe. And Greece has a very dominant role to perform in this respect.

JOURNALIST: Let us talk now about your current visit to Riyadh, which is part of the intensive contacts between the two countries. How do you describe Athens’ relationship with Riyadh now and how do you see the future of the development of this relationship?

G. GERAPETRITIS: With the Government of Saudi Arabia we have developed a strategic cooperation. We have signed to establish a High-Level Strategic Council in the near future. And we expect that within this year, within 2024, we are going to launch this significant strategic dialogue. We have signed a lot of agreements in various sectors. I would especially highlight the agreements on the energy sector. We have signed a Memorandum between the two Ministries of Energy in 2022 that we are going to further develop. I place particular emphasis on the transfer of green hydrogen from Saudi Arabia to Europe through Greece. This is particularly important not only for the bilateral relations, but also for the relations between the European Union and Saudi Arabia. It is also important for combating the climate crisis, which is a huge problem, a global problem, but especially a problem for the Mediterranean Sea. We have also concluded an agreement concerning the electricity connectors, the electricity grids between the two countries. And of course, we have the important agreement for the data corridor between Saudi Arabia and Greece, which is very important because on this basis we can also develop other fields and other synergies. And of course, within the spectrum of our bilateral relations, the two countries share similar national interests concerning the India East Europe Corridor, which will further develop the bridges between Asia and Europe. In the last years we have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. We are going to reiterate this relationship here and we expect to further enhance it. As you know, Greece has a very fast-growing economy. We have gained the investment grade recently. So, Greece is indeed a country which welcomes foreign investments. We are willing to further develop these prospects with Saudi government.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Gerapetritis, on several occasions you have highlighted your country's desire to partner with Saudi Arabia in leading green projects and renewable initiatives. How is your country actively working towards this collaboration in the sustainability domain? And can you share details on these specific methods and channels facilitating this joint effort between the two countries?

G. GERAPETRITIS: First of all, Greece has a significant know-how with respect to renewable energy sources. Because just like you we have a high level of wind, sea and sun. And these enable us to develop all types of renewables. We managed to have more than 50% of our energy mix coming from renewable energy sources. We definitely need to differentiate our energy sources, to move from carbon to renewables and to green energy sources. And in this respect, we work very hard both with the European Union and with Saudi Arabia. I think the future in this respect, apart from conventional renewables, is the green hydrogen. The European Union is developing a megaproject concerning the transfer of green hydrogen. And I think almost 50% of the European needs can be covered by Saudi Arabia. And this is why we are developing this project. I am very optimistic that our collaboration with Saudi Arabia will be mutually beneficial. But it will also be the energy bridge from Saudi Arabia to Europe. Because the energy needs of Europe are growing and exactly because of the containment of the over dependence towards Russia, we are now facilitating alternative routes of green energy. And I think Saudi Arabia is a key actor in this respect.

JOURNALIST: In the 1970s Constantinos Doxiades, a Greek architect and urban planner, was invited to contribute his expertise to the growing city of Riyadh. Do Greek architects and investors nowadays share comparable enthusiasm and interest to participate in the diverse urban development initiative taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Saudi Arabia is in a phase of tremendous growth. I completely share and admire the Vision 2030, which is, I think, a model of foresight and future economic growth and development, of reconstruction, of diversification, all modules that we need to address for the future. I think in this respect there is a tremendous interest on the part of Greek companies. We do have significant know-how in many respects, such as, for example, tourism, energy, construction, as you mentioned, architecture, but also other fields such as culture and education. And we would be more than willing to participate in this giga project of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to further develop the new Vision of 2030. I think that the cooperation between our two Governments and our two peoples has huge potential. There is clearly an upscale we need to develop in exchanges, in economic exchanges, but also people to people exchange like Doxiades did in the 1970s.

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