Minister of Foreign Affairs George Gerapetritis’ interview with “TA NEA” newspaper and journalist Maria Mourelatou (02.03.2024)

Minister of Foreign Affairs George Gerapetritis’ interview with “TA NEA” newspaper and journalist Maria Mourelatou (02.03.2024)JOURNALIST: Two years have passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. How did you evaluate the results of the conference organized by President Macron in Paris to support Ukraine? Is there indeed a possibility of sending European troops there? How can Greece contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine in the coming period?

G. GERAPETRITIS: From the very first day of the unlawful Russian invasion, Greece stands in solidarity with Ukraine and its fight to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The defense of the values of liberal democracy and Interna-tional Law against aggression and revisionism is a stance of principle for us. In Paris, ways to enhance aid to Kyiv were examined. I want to be clear though: for Greece, the issue of sending troops does not exist. Last August, we hosted Presi-dent Zelensky in Athens and expressed our support for his country’s European perspective. Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Eu-ropean Investment Bank, organized an international conference on the reconstruc-tion of Ukraine, where we evaluated ways to rebuild a truly devastated country.

JOURNALIST: During your speech at this year’s Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, you referred to 2024 as “a year in which more than half of the global population will vote to shape the world’s tomorrow”, emphasizing that “democracy must suc-ceed”. Which elections should concern Greece the most, and what scenarios should we be prepared to manage in case of results that are not favorable for our country and humanity?

G. GERAPETRITIS: We live in an era marked by multiple disparities and profound challenges. In terms of disparities, intersections between North-South and East-West are being sought, with centrifugal rather than centripetal forces. As for the challenges, the spillover effects of crises – climate, food, health – call for universal solutions that transcend borders and time horizons. In such a complex globalized environment, a functional democracy must be cohesive and inclusive, being for-ward and outward-looking. Democracies have been cruelly proven to being vul-nerable to populism and demagogy. However, the price in such cases can be heavy and have a multiplier effect on individuals, communities, and countries. We cannot realistically anticipate linear developments, particularly in a year when half of the global population is going to the polls. It is the duty of a cohesive foreign policy to process all possible scenarios and engage in a forward-looking explora-tion in order to manage any asymmetry. And that is what we are doing. With seri-ousness, professionalism, and healthy patriotism.

JOURNALIST: How do you envision the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corri-dor (IMEC) healing the wounds in the wider region, and what are the expected practical benefits for our country?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Greece aspires, through the IMEC Economic Corridor, to serve as India’s gateway to the European market. We are the closest European state to India, with the longest coastline in Europe and the strongest commercial fleet. The Economic Corridor promotes interconnectivity, international trade, and regional and energy cooperation, with obvious economic benefits for our country. For this purpose, we are also in contact with the transit countries of the Corridor, in an effort to build synergies for the development of necessary infrastructure. We do not overlook the problems that arose with the war in Gaza and its serious spillo-ver consequences. Nonetheless, the destabilizing impacts cannot negate the strong logic behind the Economic Corridor. It is a visionary project that goes be-yond trade, communications, and energy. My assessment is that it can evolve into a vehicle for peace and cultural interaction, in which Greece naturally and by virtue of its position has a significant role to play.

JOURNALIST: How much should Greece be concerned about the crisis in the Red Sea, and what exactly do you mean by conducting “a global operation in order to protect maritime security,” as you suggested in a recent interview?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The maintenance of maritime security is of paramount im-portance. It concerns the lives of our seafarers, Greek shipping, the global econ-omy, the supply chain, as well as international energy and food security. It is a challenge that no country can face alone but requires multifaceted international cooperation. Especially in the Red Sea, Greece has a strong presence both at an administrative and operational level. When you are a leading power in a field, as we are in global shipping, you cannot hide but must always be at the forefront.

JOURNALIST: During the visit of your Palestinian counterpart to Athens, you stat-ed that our country “is deeply concerned about the escalation of tensions in Gaza and its potential spillover to the West Bank, southern Lebanon, Syria, and the Red Sea.” What chances do you see for diplomacy to succeed, and what initiatives could the International Community undertake? Can Greece play a role?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The situation in Gaza is extremely critical. Moreover, any oper-ation in Rafah, due to its unique geographical and population features, entails se-rious further humanitarian risks. It is imperative to immediately cease hostilities and ensure unimpeded humanitarian aid. Parallel diplomatic efforts are currently underway, in order to bring peace to the region. It is important for these efforts to be coordinated to achieve sustainable peace. Greece is one of the few coun-tries that communicates with all sides, and for this reason, we can play a substan-tial and constructive role.

JOURNALIST: During his speech in parliament on the bill for same-sex couples, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras attacked the government over Greek-Turkish relations, using the signing of the “Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good Neighbourliness” as an opportunity to accuse it of “excessive self-confidence that could lead it to lose touch with reality.” How do you respond to this viewpoint? Should the recent Turkish Navtex and the relative note verbale de-livered by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Turkish side be interpreted as an indication of the rekindling of tension in the Aegean? If such an atmosphere is maintained by Ankara in the coming weeks, are you concerned that it may af-fect the next steps of the Greek-Turkish dialogue?

G. GERAPETRITIS: Confidence, as well as prudence and an accurate understanding of events, constitute essential qualities in a dialogue with complex features and historical weight. In this spirit, we will approach the next steps of our strict time-line concerning the political dialogue on March 11th, the confidence-building measures on April 11th, the positive agenda on April 15th, and of course, the Prime Minister’s visit to Ankara in May. I do not believe that longstanding issues can be resolved overnight. And, of course, I understand that the two countries maintain their fundamental underlying positions, a fact that was explicitly stated in the Athens Declaration. This does not prevent the existence of a more moderate rhetoric and fewer sources of tension. We ought to make a fundamental choice: whether we will continue, as in the past, to be in a state of constant tension in our relationship with Türkiye or whether we will discuss with sobriety and a consulta-tive spirit, seeking areas of convergence rather than allowing every disagreement to escalate into a crisis. On this dilemma, we must all stand with responsibility. Because it concerns the peace and prosperity of our homeland for the present and the future.

JOURNALIST: On March 1st, 2023, by decision of the Prime Minister, you took over the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation following the railway acci-dent in Tempi. How do you see this particular case progressing today and what are your thoughts on the current state of Greek railways regarding the safe transport of citizens?

G. GERAPETRITIS: The tragedy in Tempi constitutes an unspeakable national tragedy. No one can feel the pain of those who lost their loved ones in such a tragic way. The judicial investigation of the case, which is proceeding rapidly, is only part of our obligation for catharsis. In addition, the railway infrastructure must be adequately maintained and continuously upgraded, safety measures must be strengthened, and services must be staffed with qualified human resources. Indeed, a laborious effort is being made by the competent bodies, despite the prevailing adverse conditions, such as the devastating floods that hit Thessaly last autumn. The dark page of Tempi will haunt us all and remind us of our responsi-bility. So that we never again mourn the loss of human life on Greek railways.

JOURNALIST: What is your vision for Greece, particularly the Greek foreign policy of tomorrow?

G. GERAPETRITIS: I envision a country where citizens feel safe for themselves and proud of their homeland. A model country in addressing global challenges, with a strong rule of law and significant international capital. For this Greece of re-liability and confidence, we are working with seriousness and methodically. Recog-nizing that sometimes we must make difficult decisions, not only for today’s socie-ty but also for the next generations to whom we must leave a strong Greece and a peaceful neighborhood as a legacy. In this regard, I am not concerned with be-ing popular for myself but beneficial for my country.

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