Athens, 29 August 2008
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Good morning. I’ll start with Foreign Minister Ms. Bakoyannis’ programme for the coming days.
On Monday, 1 September, Ms. Bakoyannis will accompany Prime Minister Karamanlis to the extraordinary meeting of the European Council to be held in Brussels. The discussion will focus on the current issue: the crisis and evolving situation in the Caucasus.
The aspects to be discussed include the continuation of efforts to implement the 6-point peace plan; the latest developments within the framework of the UN, including the recent recognition; the provision of humanitarian aid; the prospects for an EU presence in the region; and the broader framework of EU-Russian relations.
On Thursday, 4 September, at – as you have already been informed – the National Council on Foreign Policy will convene at the Foreign Ministry under the chairmanship of Ms. Bakoyannis. Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Valinakis will also participate in this meeting, and the National Council on Foreign Policy will focus this time on developments in the Balkans, the Cyprus issue and the situation in the Caucasus.
On the same day, Ms. Bakoyannis will meet with the UN Secretary General’s special advisor on Cyprus, Mr. Alexander Downer. The hour for that meeting will be announced soon.
Finally, on Friday and Saturday, 5 and 6 September, Ms. Bakoyannis will participate in the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers – the Gymnich meeting – that is to be held in Avignon. Among the issues to be discussed are EU-Russian relations, Euro-Atlantic relations, the Middle East peace process, the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the European security policy. Of course, the agenda may be impacted by developments in the situation in the Caucasus.
On Wednesday, 3 September, Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Petros Doukas will hold the first meeting on the setting up of a steering committee for the creation of an agency that will provide gratis business advice to companies and young entrepreneurs. The aim is for this agency to bring entrepreneurs and management executives into contact with distinguished Greek professors and entrepreneurs, as well as representatives of the banking sector and Greek shipping, for the purpose of analyzing business plan strategies and providing free consultancy, in the manner of the U.S. organization Endevco. A number of notables from the sectors I mentioned will participate in this first meeting.
Following the well-received Green Entrepreneurship conference it hosted in July, the Foreign Ministry – in collaboration with the Agricultural Development Ministry – is hosting another conference, this time on Agricultural Entrepreneurship: Greek products and cutting-edge technology. This will take place on 16 September, at the Foreign Ministry’s Kranidiotis Amphitheatre, and we will make a more detailed announcement on this at a later date.
Within this framework, there will be further conferences hosted in collaboration with co-competent ministries so that we can promote state-of-the-art developments regarding Greek manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
That’s it for announcements. Your questions, please.
Ms. Bozaninou: How do you reply to the dissatisfaction expressed yesterday by the Russian Ambassador regarding the Minister’s statement, in which she condemned Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? The Ambassador said that it wasn’t condemned in the same manner as Kosovo’s independence.
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: The Foreign Ministry does not comment on statements made by Ambassadors accredited to Greece.
Mr. Kottaridis: You may not comment on Ambassadors’ statements, but yesterday the Russian Ambassador wondered at the Greek side’s – the Greek government’s – proceeding to immediate condemnation of Moscow concerning everything that is happening in [South] Ossetia and in Georgia, when it made no similar moves concerning the countries that recognized Kosovo. Do you have anything on that?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: As I said, I won’t comment on statements made by Ambassadors accredited to Greece.
Ms. Rigou: In the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which was considered sui generis, the same thing happened regarding Kosovo, as well as with regard to the case of Cyprus, what comment do you have? Might something similar happen there at some point, and be considered sui generis?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: International crises and international issues – particularly international crises – are never exactly the same; they never share precisely the same characteristics, the same degree of tension. They never occur in precisely the same political environment. So I’m not going to draw parallels between international developments and crises.
Beyond that, however, as far as foreign policy is concerned – and we have taken our positions based on this in every case – there is the basic principle of respect for the territorial integrity and independence of states. Based on this principle – which is of long-standing importance to, and is a fundamental constant of, the Greek foreign policy of all Greek governments – Greece did not recognise Kosovo and does not recognise the secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Ms. Antoniou: Will our country recognise the passports issued recently by the Kosovo government?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: I’m really not in the picture on that matter. Beyond that, I gave you the line that the Greek government’s stance will follow.
Journalist: Mehmet Ali Talat stated that if there is a solution from the talks, it will emerge by early 2009. Do you agree with that approach?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: In the coming days, the basic, main negotiation process on the Cyprus issue is starting within the framework of the UN, following extensive preparation efforts. You know the basic elements of the Greek position.
Greece supports this new effort. As always, it stands by the efforts of the Cypriot government and the Republic of Cyprus and expresses its sincere hope that this new effort will have a positive outcome. Because we believe that this will be to everyone’s benefit.
We believe that a just, viable and functional solution must be reached within the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation that will result in a unified Cyprus with a single sovereignty, one nationality, and a single international personality.
At the same time I want to add that we would like to hope that Turkey, which unquestionably has a say in the matter, will encourage the Turkish Cypriot leadership to follow a path of constructive negotiation so that a positive outcome can be achieved.
Ms. Melissova: On Monday, at the extraordinary summit meeting the French Presidency is holding regarding the Caucasus, if the possibility of sanctions is decided on – as has been discussed – what stance will Greece take?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: This has not even been confirmed by the French Presidency. What I would like to stress – setting aside your particular question – is that in this particular international state of affairs it is reasonable that Russia’s relations are going through a critical period. What is clear to us is that isolation is not the solution.
Mr. Santamouris: According to recent statements from spokespersons for Moscow and the West, it appears that there really is a crisis in relations at this time, as you, too, ascertain. But there are also clear references from both Moscow and NATO to the effect that whatever happens in the meantime – if there is partial withdrawal on the part of Moscow from the dialogue, etc. – cooperation will not stop.
Is this a model that might impact EU-Russian relations? Might this be a model for EU-Russian relations from here on in?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: As you can see, I cannot speculate at a time when such grave matters are evolving and things are so fluid and unstable. You know what Greece’s position is regarding NATO. The Greek position was that we foresaw – and this was borne out in fact – that there would be some backlash in one way or another; repercussions for Russian-NATO relations. But at the same time, the Greek position was clear: that we believed and continue to believe that we have to make use of every channel and every opportunity given to us by the institutionalized dialogue between NATO and Russia within the NATO-Russia Council.
Ms. Kourbela: The EU-Russian relationship is now structured in many sectors. One sector, for example, is regional organizations, like the BSEC. How can cooperation continue there, with Russia being a member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization? Recently, in fact, the European Commission put out a report expressing great satisfaction at the closer relations between the European Union and the countries of the Black Sea, etc. That’s one question.
The second question: Will this advice to be provided to entrepreneurs be from some agency of a non-governmental nature?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Regarding your second question, I think it can be surmised from what I said, but please wait a bit so that details can be provided. As you saw, today’s announcement was introductory, and the relevant details will soon be provided by the Ministry and Mr. Doukas’ office.
Regarding your first question, this is a discussion that concerns future actions and potential repercussions, and I have said that at this time, when everything is evolving, it wouldn’t be right or prudent on my part to enter into such a discussion.
Mr. Barakat: What is your comment on the two Greek ships that have managed to get to the Gaza Strip?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: I have nothing particular to say on that. What the alternate government spokesman, Mr. Antonaros, said expressly is that Greece does not prohibit the legal actions and legal activities of non-governmental organizations. Beyond that, at the time, the government informed – in a timely manner – the head of the initiative of the danger involved in their endeavour. I have nothing further to add.
Ms. Rigou: A question on the resolution on the ‘Aegeans’ adopted by the Skopje Parliament. It was a move that began early this summer, provoking a reaction.
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: This resolution points to a sterile devotion to an extremely distorted reading of the past.
At the same time, it is obvious that there is an inability to meet the challenges and needs of building a better future for the region. And I think this is apparent in the tactics being followed throughout this time by the leadership in our neighbouring country; tactics aimed at delaying and undermining the negotiations.
I would like to take this opportunity to stress that the Greek negotiator on the FYROM name issue, Ambassador Mr. Vassilakis, called a briefing yesterday and presented Greece’s positions regarding developments in the Skopje issue to the NATO and EU member state ambassadors – as well as the ambassadors of China and Russia – accredited to Greece.
Mr. Santamouris: There are statements from officials and people present on the Skopje political scene according to which it would be good for our neighbouring country to orient itself towards a name for the resolution of the name issue; that a return to the rationale of two names, etc., is a lapse in the negotiations. Do you think that these statements can substantially influence Skopje’s approach to the negotiations or not?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Right now, when there is so much that is tangible coming from the leadership of our neighbouring country, I don’t want to go into assessments or speculation that may or may not have any gravity. What interests me it that we take a stance based on publicly expressed positions and the messages clearly being sent by the Skopje leadership; a message of intransigence and an effort to undermine the negotiations.
Ms. Fryssa: What stance will Greece take on the Caucasus issue at the Summit Meeting?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: I think that throughout these past days and in the Minister’s speech yesterday, the basic parameters of the Greek position have been made clear. I want to reiterate that Greece, as stated in the Minister’s speech yesterday, is in this case – as in its foreign policy overall – following the difficult path of consistency. And this consistency concerns the fundamental principles of our foreign policy, our participation in alliances and organizations such as the EU – it concerns bilateral relations.
This path of consistency is a difficult path. And for countries like Greece is becomes even more difficult at times like these, when tensions and antagonism are being manifested in new forms and with new emphasis.
Mr. Sourmelidis: What is Greece’s contribution to the NATO naval force in the Black Sea? Has it been requested?
Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: I am not aware of anything like that. Thank you.