Confrontation between Dendias & Cavusoglu at the press conference

15 April 2021
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Diplomatic etiquette was cast aside in an astonishing joint press conference between Greek Foreign minister Nios Dendias and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Thursday afternoon.

The press briefing between the two top diplomats, which took place after Dendias had already met with Turkish President Recep Erdogan earlier, turned into an open public confrontation where the two men pulled no punches.

What became abundantly clear after the extraordinary open ‘debate’ between the two, was that it would be extremely difficult for the exploratory talks for the resolution of the problems to continue.

The Greek Foreign Minister said that Turkey was constantly provoking Greek sovereignty, citing 400 violations of Greek national air space. “Turkey has made 400 overflights above Greek territory. Mevlut there is no provision that allows flights over Greek territory.”

Nikos Dandies continued: “If Turkey wants to become a member of the EU, it should also accept UNCLOS, on the basis of which Greece can expand its territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles.”

Taking the floor first, Mr. Cavusoglu stated that “we believe that the issues between us can be resolved through a constructive dialogue” and added that “aggressive statements are things that can be avoided”.

The Turkish Foreign Minister described the resumption of exploratory contacts as very important and announced that Erdogan was proposing a meeting on the Eastern Mediterranean issue.

Regarding the informal five-party talks on the Cyprus issue in Geneva, Mevlut Cavusoglu said that all parties must take part in the most positive and constructive way.

Cavusoglu called for the continuation of the “anti-terrorist fight with organizations such as FETO and PKK” and for the treatment of illegal immigration to be done with a view to cooperation and not competition.

“We talked about the ‘Turkish minority’ living in Thrace”, said the Turkish Foreign Minister, adding that “for the Greek minority living here, from the first moment we were able to implement best practices.” “Both minority groups must be treated in a way that will lead to prosperity and peace,” he added.

He stated that “we are ready to provide any support to protect the cultural heritage for the Ottoman monuments in Greece, the same for Christian monuments in Turkey with mutual cooperation”. To resolve our differences, we believe that we must continue the dialogue that you started today with your visit, said Cavusoglu addressing Mr. Dendias.

The Greek Foreign Minister said that a necessary condition for improving bilateral relations between the two countries is de-escalation and the avoidance of provocative actions, stressing that in the past these had increased significantly.

Mr. Dendias stated that “there is a Muslim minority in Greece, it is recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne, this is the view of the Greek state. There are statements that do not help the positive climate that we have agreed to promote”.

He added, “the only solution that is accepted by the entire international community is the bi-zonal-bi-communal federation in Cyprus. There must be an abstention from actions that violate the rights of the Republic of Cyprus”.

“Greece supports Turkey’s accession process as long as Turkey wants it. As in any candidate country, there is an inviolable rule: respect for the territorial sovereignty of a Member State”, the Greek minister added.

He also added that, “the possibility of action [against Turkey] is always on the table if there is an infringement to the detriment of the territorial sovereignty of a Member State.

“The issue that negatively affects our bilateral relations is the threat of war in the event that Greece implements the UNCLOS provisions. The casus belli [for the extension of our territorial waters] to 12 miles must go. This right is part of the European acquis.

“The so-called Turkish-Libyan memorandum has been condemned by the European Council because it is not in line with the law of the sea”, he stated.

Regarding Hagia Sophia, Mr. Dendias said that a reversal back to its previous status is in the interest of Turkey in general.

“On this occasion, I would like to extend to my friend Mevlut the invitation to visit Athens and to prepare for the meeting of the President of Turkey with the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said the Greek foreign minister.

Mevlut Cavusoglu then spoke (while it was agreed that they will each talk only once), saying:

“I did not make any provocative or negative statements about Greece. But in his speech, my counterpart has made statements that are negative.

“We cannot accept that Turkey is violating Greece’s rights in the Aegean. We accept the minorities of the city as Greek Orthodox, but you cannot accept those who say they are Turks. This is an oppression and a violation of human rights”.

The Turkish Foreign Minister also accused Greece of “push back” operations of 80,000 refugees and immigrants.

Responding to Cavusoglu’s reports, Nikos Dendias said that “if you express such provocative accusations, I am obliged to answer”.

“Turkey has made 400 flights over Greek territory. Mevlut, there is no provision allowing flights over Greek territory (…) If Turkey wants to join the EU, it will also accept the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (…) Regarding the “immigration issue, Turkey should not be lecturing Greece especially after the events of March 2020”.

“Greece is ready to start slowly on a positive agenda with Turkey. This does not mean abandoning international law and the European acquis. The EU is not a third party but it is our family. It is the proudest example of the coexistence of states in the history of the human race (…) I would suggest that we do not lead to an endless dialogue on what we know we disagree about”.

Cavusoglu then spoke for the third time to say that Turkey is a free country and everyone can express their views and that Turkey insists on the principle of fair sharing.

“You refer to what suits you but you do not refer to what the Treaty of Lausanne provides for the demilitarization of the islands (…) We have agreed to discuss the problems through exploratory contacts. In the process we are going through we must always be aware of what each member is aiming for. You have to decide whether we will continue this quarrel in this way or whether we will continue the dialogue”.

Nikos Dendias took the floor for the third time too, saying characteristically that if we continue like this we will miss dinner and concluded by saying, “the army costs money. We do not want to waste money on anything. Why is there an army on the islands, Mevlut? It’s there because they are threatened by someone. Can anyone say that there is no threat or that there is no amphibious forces opposite of the islands?”.

The Turkish foreign minister answered: “Mutual understanding means being able to get into each other’s shoes. But we will not be able to continue the dialogue if we proceed in this way”.

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