Kotzias: Tur­key close to cross­ing Greek red lines

FM speaks about Greece’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect its sov­er­eign in­ter­ests, Cyprus, the Turk­ish ser­vice­men, and NATO’s Aegean pa­trols

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

Tur­key came very clos­eto cross­ing Greece’s red lines in the Aegean last week, when a Turk­ish coast guard ves­sel fired shots in Greek ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters east of the islet of Far­makon­isi, For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias told Skai Tele­vi­sion’s “Is­to­ries” pro­gram last night. In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with Kathimerini’s ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor, Alexis Papachelas, Kotzias spoke also about Greece’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect its sov­er­eign in­ter­ests, the Cyprus is­sue, the case of the eight Turk­ish ser­vice­men whom the Supreme Court re­fused to ex­tra­dite to Tur­key, and NATO’s op­er­a­tions in the Aegean.

“A year-and-a-half ago I de­scribed Tur­key as a ner­vous power, a power, in other words, which like Ger­many af­ter Bis­marck in the 19th cen­tury had be­come ner­vous and did not main­tain a bal­ance with its en­vi­ron­ment,” Kotzias said in the in­ter­view, which was recorded last Fri­day, the day of the Far­makon­isi in­ci­dent. “Some peo­ple in Tur­key think that Greece could be like Syria or Iraq. The ‘game’ they played at Far­makon­isi is a se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and I think they should know that we will not al­ways be tol­er­ant, that our re­sponse will not only be the one that we gave then, that it will be much harsher.” Asked what the Greek gov­ern­ment was do­ing to face this “ner­vous­ness,” Kotzias said: “We have com­mu­ni­cated with all the ma­jor pow­ers on the planet, we have in­formed all in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and, of course, we have made the nec­es­sary protests against Tur­key for their vi­o­la­tions of our ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and for their be­hav­ior. The in­ter­na­tional cli­mate and in­ter­na­tional law are on the side of our in­ter­ests, they are tools that we will not aban­don. But I want to re­peat from here, in this in­ter­view, that they are not the only in­stru­ments we have. We are not Syria, which has been de­stroyed, nor a dis­or­ga­nized Iraq… Tur­key is mak­ing a mis­take if it thinks that be­cause we have an eco­nomic cri­sis we are weak as re­gards our coun­try’s se­cu­rity. They are mak­ing a big mis­take. Be­cause we have eco­nomic prob­lems our care for the se­cu­rity of our coun­try and its sovereignty is greater than in the past.”

Asked whether Tur­key had crossed any of the Greek gov­ern­ment’s red lines, as in the Far­makon­isi in­ci­dent, Kotzias replied, “They nearly did this morn­ing.”

Com­ment­ing on whether dif­fer­ences be­tween Greece and Tur­key could be solved at The Hague, Kotzias said: “If I had to choose be­tween a court and war, I would choose the court. If I had to choose be­tween a court and a bi­lat­eral, sub­stan­tial and real agree­ment, a process of agree­ment, I would choose the lat­ter. For the time be­ing, we are in the lat­ter process. With the dif­fi­cul­ties caused by the sit­u­a­tion in Tur­key.”

The Greek for­eign min­is­ter spoke also of the opportunity that had been pre­sented by the Helsinki Agree­ment, which had pro­vided a frame­work for Greek-Turk­ish re­la­tions. “It would have been good if the Helsinki agree­ments had held. You know, I have an opin­ion on this. The Helsinki agree­ments had obliged Tur­key to ac­cept that for any is­sue that it had, we would go to the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice at The Hague. The Helsinki Agree­ment – we al­lowed them to pull out of com­mit­ments that they had, be­cause other po­lit­i­cal forces be­lieved it was bad that there should be such agree­ments con­cern­ing the In­ter­na­tional Court at The Hague. I see no other way for us to be able to re­solve our dif­fer­ences, other than diplo­macy and jus­tice, and, by ex­ten­sion, if nec­es­sary, to use all the le­gal frame­works that ex­ist in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. This does not mean that we will go to court at this time. Our strength… is in­ter­na­tional jus­tice. This does not mean that we do not rely on other types of strength.”

Turn­ing to the talks aimed at set­tling the Cyprus is­sue, Kotzias de­nied tak­ing a max­i­mal­ist po­si­tion, say­ing that he had never said all Turk­ish troops should with­draw the day af­ter an agree­ment. He said this would not be fea­si­ble but he did de- mand a grad­ual with­drawal. “What an­noyed [the Turks] was that there would be a dead­line by which all would have to leave,” Kotzias said. “It is bad when a process gets bogged down and we have to keep it alive. That is why I agreed to a sec­ond Geneva con­fer­ence… de­spite the fact that I be­lieve that un­til the ref­er­en­dum it will be dif­fi­cult for Tur­key to de­cide whether it wants a com­pro­mise or not.”

On his own role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions in Geneva, and on how he per­ceives Tur­key’s tac­tics, the Greek for­eign min­is­ter said: “The is­sue of the pres­ence of oc­cu­py­ing forces and of the sys­tem of guar­an­tees is [Tur­key’s] weak­est point on the Cyprus is­sue. And this is a point where it will ei­ther make a sub­stan­tial, real com­pro­mise and con­ces­sions, or it will come to the point where it will break off the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Be­cause Tur­key has not de­cided – at least un­til the ref­eren-

an in­ter­view with Skai Tele­vi­sion on whether dif­fer­ences be­tween Greece and Tur­key could be solved at The Hague, Greek For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias (seen here in a file photo) said: ‘If I had to choose be­tween a court and war, I would choose the court. If I had to choose be­tween a court and a bi­lat­eral, sub­stan­tial and real agree­ment, a process of agree­ment, I would choose the lat­ter.’ dum – how it will re­ally han­dle the is­sue of guar­an­tees and se­cu­rity, if it will re­ally agree to scrap the is­sue of guar­an­tees and se­cu­rity, it is try­ing to find in­ter­me­di­ate is­sues so as to throw the talks off track… [For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut] Cavu­soglu left [Geneva], he went to Ankara, he started to cric­i­t­ize me, say­ing that I am not at the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and I replied, ‘I am still in Geneva and we are dis­cussing Cyprus.’ They have a dif­fi­culty. So they sud­denly put for­ward a new is­sue, the four free­doms [en­joyed by EU ci­ti­zens] for the Turks. They had never put for­ward this is­sue in this way. Why did they? In the hope that [Pres­i­dent Ni­cos] Anas­tasi­ades would be forced to re­ject it and break off the talks at this point, so that they would not break off where they were afraid, where their ar­gu­ments were weak – on the is­sue of guar­an­tees and se­cu­rity – or that we would ac­cept the de­mand and then the Cypri­ots and Greece would clash with the Euro­pean Union, as it is well known that [Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela] Merkel can­not ac­cept this is­sue.”

Speak­ing on an­other thorn in re­la­tions with Tur­key – the Supreme Court’s re­fusal to ex­tra­dite eight Turk­ish ser­vice­men whom Ankara ac­cuses of in­volve­ment in the July 15 coup at­tempt, Kotzias em­pha­sized the ju­di­ciary’s in­de­pen­dence. “We must be clear, there are two prin­ci­ples: Po­lit­i­cally, we con­demn any kind of coup and we would be the last coun­try, es­pe­cially [with a gov­ern­ment of] the Greek left, which could ac­cept or tol­er­ate a mil­i­tary coup. On the other hand, who is a coup plot­ter and who is not, and whether he will have a just trial in Tur­key or not, and has fled to Greece, will be de­cided by the Greek courts. The po­lit­i­cal con­dem­na­tion of the coup does not mean that any Turk­ish cit­i­zen whom Ankara ac­cuses of be­ing a coup plot­ter will be judged as such by the Greek courts. These are two dif­fer­ent es­tates – pol­i­tics and the ju­di­ciary – and I hope that at some point this will be un­der­stood more clearly by the other side,” Kotzias said. “I will not judge what the Greek courts have de­cided. If the courts de­cided that they can and must re­main in Greece, they can and must re­main in Greece.”

But he pointed out that the is­sue is not yet closed. “The Turks have a right, as any one side that ac­cuses an­other, to use and ex­ploit all le­gal means in or­der to con­tinue the cri­sis around these peo­ple. And I think that the Greek ju­di­ciary will take into con­sid­er­a­tion any new ev­i­dence pro­vided by the Turk­ish side and will judge ac­cord­ingly,” he said.

Asked whether there was any in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tive to ease ten­sions, Kotzias replied: “No. First, I think that the Amer­i­cans are not in the po­si­tion, nor do they have the ap­petite that they had in the 90s, to get in­volved in these pro­cesses. The Rus­sians, of course, do not like what the Turks are do­ing in the Aegean but they are work­ing to­gether in Syria. [Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip] Er­do­gan be­lieves that this co­op­er­a­tion can be­come broader and last long. I think that he does not know Rus­sian for­eign pol­icy and diplo­macy very well. The Euro­pean Union, too, has been in­formed, and it is the EU which, in var­i­ous ways, is­sues dec­la­ra­tions to Tur­key. I re­mind you that it is the EU which re­jected Er­do­gan’s com­ments on the Lau­sanne Treaty, that one can vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional agree­ments.” The for­eign min­is­ter men­tioned the role that NATO has been play­ing in the Aegean, point­ing out that this has an­noyed Ankara, “es­pe­cially on the days or in pe­ri­ods when it wants to vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law.”

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