Greek Foreign Minister responds to criticism by the main opposition

It is in Greece’s interest to persuade Turkey to talk with Greece on international law terms, not on terms of might, Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos said on Friday, responding to criticism by the main opposition for statements he made Thursday in Antalya over Turkey’s rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

In an interview to News 247 radio, Katrougalos said, “When we move to action that is not yet fully accepted by the other side, it is in the interests of Greece to speak in terms of international law, and to recognise all rights the other side is granted by the Law of the Sea and international law.”

He added that the statements in Antalya he made were no different from the usual statements made on the issue, and he accused New Democracy (ND) of petty party politics. “I don’t understand how there can be any doubt about what the set national policy is. There is no deviation in what I said from what we have always been saying,” the minister pointed out.

Expecting to resolve issues with Turkey overnight is unrealistic, he said, explaining that Greece “is taking very small steps of a wide agreement that relate to low-intensity political and bilateral issues, mainly in economy or in confidence-building measures, so that we may progress ever slightly towards a positive agenda – to de-escalate tension and create conditions conducive to talks.”

Katrougalos did not rule out collaboration with Turkey in the East Mediterranean on energy issues, but affirmed that “this prospect is only possible (…) when Turkey decides to respect international law, instead of casting doubt on it and acting provocatively.”

He cautioned against populist talk in Greek-Turkish relations and underlined the importance of a strong foreign policy based on diplomatic initiatives, “to avoid a show of might by the other side”. Trilateral collaboration agreements has proven successful as a model, he said, referring to the meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday among Greece, Cyprus and Israel with the participation of the United States.

The US, he said, confirmed Greece’s role as a factor of stability in the area. “What is crucial is to deflect and restrict the policy of the other side when it wants to project might – to persuade Turkey to negotiate within our own framework, that of international legality,” the minister told the radio station.

Among other issues Katrougalos mentioned in the interview were the building of confidence measures between the Greek and Turkish National Defence Ministries to prevent a crisis in the Aegean Sea; the acknowledgment by the Turkish president that the Muslim minority in northern Greece is recognised as a religious minority by the Lausanne Treaty, and that its members are Greek nationals; Greece’s continuing support for Turkey’s EU accession; and the efforts made towards restarting talks on the Cyprus issue.