Alexis Tsipras: I would like to welcome the President of Turkey, Mr. Erdoğan, once again now at a historic moment for our relations. It is the first visit of a Turkish President in Greece after 65 years.
I would like to point out, however, that the initiative of the President of the Hellenic Republic to invite the Turkish President was historic. Not because we are not aware of the issues that divide us, which, in fact, undermine our relations every day, but because we are in a critical period for our neighborhood. It is a period characterized by tension in Euro-Turkish relations. It is a period of increasingly troubling developments in our wider region, in the Middle East, but also in Europe. Developments that force us to deal with new international security challenges, the stability of our region and, of course, the developments with regard to the refugee crisis.
In these times, therefore, I believe, we believe it is rather important to enhance channels of communication. And of course, this can only happen on the basis of mutual respect. Respect for International Law and the cornerstone of our relations, which is the Treaty of Lausanne, which refers explicitly to the issue of the Aegean as well as the issues of minorities. The mutual respect, so that we can talk without provocation. And, of course, to be able to talk substantially, building a relationship of trust, which is perhaps the most difficult.
There is the need for our relations to be modernized. They need to be relations between two neighboring countries of the 21st century. Certainly there is this need. They should be relations that also meet the needs of our peoples. Relations that will contribute to peace, stability in the wider region, the Aegean, and the wider East Mediterranean region.
There is no doubt about that. But this modernization can only take place in the context of respect for the International Treaties, International Law, the Treaty of Lausanne and of course not its revision. And with regard to this I wish to be, absolutely clear once again.
On this basis, we discussed openly today with the Turkish President, in our effort not to hide behind disagreements, to identify them, but to set misunderstandings aside, and understand what the other person means.
We talked about the wider region, we discussed about the Aegean, and the tension in the Aegean. From my side, I emphasized that the infringing Turkish aeronautical activity must be brought to an end. The increasing violations of Greek airspace and especially the conflicts in the Aegean Sea are a danger to our relations and, above all, are a danger to our pilots.
I, also, added that it is inconsistent with the positive climate that we are trying to create between the two countries, the fact that in 2017 the concept of casus belli is imminent. And with regard to the need to approach as realistically as possible the need to ease tensions in the Aegean, we have agreed to resume, under our supervision, the talks on confidence-building measures and security, as well as exploratory talks on the continental shelf.
At the same time, we stressed with the President the importance of a fair and viable solution of the Cyprus issue for the people of Cyprus, for our relations and for our region.
Personally, I have underlined our standing for a reunited federal Republic of Cyprus without guarantees and foreign troops, where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will live safely.
I pointed out that this solution should be based on the framework set by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
We hope all sides, and Turkey, move in that direction in the next period so that the talks will resume as soon as possible.
At the same time, we were particularly concerned about the refugee crisis. We talked extensively about the implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement. A difficult agreement on its implementation, but a major one, due to the enormous efforts of the Turkish and Greek authorities, has led to a drastic reduction in flows and, most importantly, has led to a drastic reduction in deaths in the Aegean Sea.
In this context, we have agreed on measures for even more effective cooperation between our authorities. I welcomed the great effort which the Turkish people are making to host more than three and a half million people of Syria, in these times in Turkey. I, also, stressed that our peoples give humanitarian and solidarity lessons daily to these forces in Europe who believe that our future can be built on the logic of barriers and fences that will hinder refugees fleeing war zones.
In this context, we discussed with the President about the importance of Euro-Turkish relations. I stressed that Greece supports Turkey’s accession course as a strategic European choice, with mutual commitments and mutual benefits. These benefits are in terms of both the development of good neighborly relations and, of course, the need to promote democratic reforms in the neighborhood.
I underlined, in this context, that Greece is firmly supporting a democratic Turkey that is looking towards Europe. After the terrible coup attempt that it faced, we hope Turkey return as soon as possible to the democratic reforms that I believe the current government and President Erdoğan has already begun and need to be accelerated.
At the same time, we discussed with the President about deepening our cooperation in the field of security. I emphasized, as I always do, that the basic principle and value of Greece is the respect for democratic processes. Greece is the country in which democracy was born. It is the country of Democracy and Freedom. Therefore, it is not a country that can support anyone who attempts a coup. I stressed, however, with absolute clarity that Greece is a European country, a rule of law. A basic principle of this rule of law is the separation of powers. Therefore, in Greece, Justice is independent and its decisions are fully respected by us all.
We also talked about our cooperation in economy, energy, transport, culture, tourism, and cultural exchanges. We stressed the importance of the completion of important projects. A few of these projects are the Smyrna-Thessaloniki coastal connection, the second cross-border road bridge in the area of Kipi-Ipsala and the reopening of Thessaloniki-Istanbul railway interconnection.
We, also, agreed to reactivate the Joint Economic Committee and to prepare for a Senior Cooperation Council in the following period.
Therefore, I would like to thank the President for our substantive talks, which have lasted quite a while, and I want to say that for Greece, of 2018 is a milestone. It is a milestone, because after a long-term economic adventure, Greece starts a new chapter, is exiting the bailout programs and regains its economic self-reliance and overall its momentum.
So, I invite you, to start a new chapter together. This means a new chapter in Greek-Turkish relations, which will not be based on mutual suspicion. It will not, of course, be based on challenges that are easy, but on the difficult and painful efforts to build bridges on solid foundation. And I am certain that you will accept this. If you do not accept this, it will be at the expense of our peoples, of our region and of course at the expense of not only Greek-Turkish relations but Euro-Turkish relations.
I am convinced, however, that we can achieve this. And I am positive that this visit, here, makes possible to start a positive chapter in this direction.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I would like to warmly thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. First of all, I would like to say that after 65 years I am here at an official visit in your country, as President of the Republic of Turkey, after the first official visit of the late Celâl Bayar in Greece in 1952.
This country is known to me and rather familiar because I have been here many times as Prime Minister. Now, it is the first time that the Turkish President of the Republic is making an official visit, 65 years after the first visit by Celâl Bayar.
Of course, the steps we have taken are very significant. And during the talks we had, we addressed issues such as the Supreme Cooperation Council, became an institution when I was Prime Minister, and this year we hope that the 5th meeting of the Supreme Cooperation Council will be held in Thessaloniki in the following months.
With regard to trade, allow me to tell you that the volume of these transactions has reached $ 2.6 billion this year. This is a decline compared to previous years and we must set higher goals to increase this volume of trade.
We also talked about the fast railway link connecting Istanbul with Thessaloniki and the coastal connection between Smyrna and Thessaloniki.
Addressing issues in tourism, we mentioned that 800,000 Turkish people visit Greece, while 600,000 Greek people visit Turkey respectively.
We want to further enhance our cultural relations, preserve the cultural heritage that each country has in its land and restore existing pieces and monuments of culture.
Regarding the issue of terrorism, I want to tell you that we, Turkey, is giving a huge fight with bloodthirsty groups, such as PKK and others. We know that the counter-terrorist struggle is an issue that Greece knows well. We had 250 victims during the attempted coup d’état on July 16th last summer, and of course we recognize the support that Greece has provided us on this issue.
We, also, talked about the issue of those who attempted this coup and fled to Greece. What I said to Mr. Tsipras is that these people can be returned to Turkey, a country that has abolished the death penalty, and not a country where torture is taking place. And therefore, I believe that the Greek Justice will also listen to this appeal for the extradition of these ten officers.
I would also like to mention the following: In recent times there has been much debate in Greece on the issue of the Lausanne Treaty for the recognition of this treaty. It is an important discussion of reform, reformulation and change. The Treaty of Lausanne is a treaty signed by 11 countries. You know that Japan has signed the treaty – it may surprise you – as well as Bulgaria, France, and England. All of these countries have signed the Treaty of Lausanne.
So, in the Treaty of Lausanne, there are predictions only for the Aegean. There is nothing about our minority issues about the legal status of both minorities. In Western Thrace, we have a Muslim minority, which can be Turkish, Pomak or Romani. And we believe that some new thoughts and ideas about the Treaty of Lausanne should be expressed on this subject.
We, say, on the issue of the minority, say that GDP per capita income in Greece reaches 15,000 Euros, while in Western Thrace it hardly reaches 2,000 to 2,200 Euros. There is, therefore, a financial gap.
There is also the issue of Mufti. The Grand Muftis we see that is an appointed civil servant. The Treaty of Lausanne predicts that Mufti is to be elected. In Turkey, the Ecumenical Patriarch is elected by the Holy Synod. And the Holy Synod must have a certain number of members to be able to elect the Ecumenical Patriarch. And when there was a reduction in the number of members of the Holy Synod, I sent a message to the Patriarch and told him “suggest names of priests, to whom we will offer Turkish citizenship so that they can be members of the Holy Synod.” Of the seven who were, following the suggestions of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Holy Synod now has 17 members, that is, it can elect a new Patriarch.
Also, there was a provision that in the travels abroad, the Ecumenical Patriarch must have the approval and licensing of the Hipparchus of Phanar. We have abolished this provision of the Treaty of Lausanne.
For 15 years now, to all my Greek friends, to the Prime Ministers, to the ministers, I say that we must do something to see to modernize this treaty. I did not get any answer. There are also other Institutions.
Issues on territorial integrity are raised. We do not covet the territorial integrity of any country and of a neighbor country.
Another issue was the Athens Mosque. We had an issue with the Fethiye Mosque in Plaka. There is the mosque of Athens. Correspondingly, in Istanbul, there was not – and generally in Turkey – no matter, nor the restoration of religious buildings, nor anything. At present, restoration work is being carried out at the Soumela Monastery. And these works will be completed, so that everyone who so desires can pray. For example, in the Palat region, near the Patriarchate, there is a church called “the Iron Church” and on January 7, 2018, the doors of the church will be openned. We have no fear, no problem with the freedom of faith and I think there are issues in Western Thrace. These issues should not remain on the table. We no longer have to discuss about it.
Also, with regard to the Cyprus issue, I want to say that I, who actively participated in the negotiations on the Cyprus issue, remember, for example, in Davos, where Kofi Annan pleaded with me and told me, asking what I was thinking. I also replied to him that I want to ask you, for your thoughts, that we must move coordinately at this stage of the negotiations so that we can come to a conclusion. We are two countries that are motherlands and guarantors for Cyprus, and that is what we should bear in mind. So we assign the issue to the Foreign Ministers, as always. And then we met in Davos, then Prime Minister Karamanlis was there, and when the talks, the negotiations were over, the Greek Cypriot side at the last minute asked to leave from the talks. I said ‘no, here we have to complete this work and sign an agreement’. Then the referendum took place where the Turkish Cypriots were in favor of the solution at a rate of over 60%, while the Greek Cypriots were negative in this Annan Plan by 60%. There, in Davos, the Greek Cypriots promised us that we would reach the solution of the Cyprus problem and did not do so.
Recently, we had another meeting in Switzerland on the Cyprus issue. And who was the one leaving? Again, it was the Greek Cypriot side. Our Foreign Ministers are here, and they were also present there, and they can tell you what happened in Crans-Montana. We want a fair and lasting solution, a viable solution, and that is what the Greek side wants as well. But there are issues that can be described as last-minute evasion, so that we do not reach a conclusion. We must move forward and be able to take the steps that are consistent with the realities of the island.
Regarding the issues of the Aegean Sea, which we discussed: I have here with me, the Turkish Cypriot Chief of Staff, accompanying me on this official visit. The issues of the Aegean are difficult, but they can be solved. And they can be resolved by negotiation talks, which must be done. We should focus on the full part of the glass. We cannot keep looking and highlight the issues of the past, the mistakes, the errors, that is, the empty part of the glass.
As for the refugee issue, which was also on our agenda: At present, Turkey hosts 3,000,000 refugees. And the investment made from its budget reaches 30 billion dollars. What does the European Union provide us as support? 850,000,000 Euros, which is given to the Red Crescent, and not to us, is not our budget support. Who promised for 3 billion + 3 billion? The European Union. What have they given so far? These 850,000,000 Euros, as I told you.
At a working meeting as the one we did, and at this press conference, I want to refer to the decision of the US President, Mr. Trump, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And the US is perhaps the only country that talks about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the spiritual center, the capital of the three monotheistic religions. There is no one else to welcome the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. I made some announcements after pressure and discussions I had. I am President of the Summit of Coordinators and we will hold a Summit early next year. There is also the Arab States’ Summit, which will also decide on the Trump decision on the recognition of Jerusalem [as the capital of Israel].
But I would like to close now, and I would not wish to speak any longer, and I would like to thank you for this excellent reception and hospitality. I wish to continue the commercial, economic, tourist, military cooperation of the two countries and continue our work.
Nikos Lionakis: You talked about agreements in order for a more effective management. Could you tell us if there is something new about this? How do you assess the cooperation so far and do you believe that it could be a springboard – meaning the cooperation regarding the refugee issue – for cooperation in other areas in the future. I would like, as President Erdoğan has already mentioned, the views of the Greek Prime Minister as well in relation to the US move regarding Jerusalem. And a more specific question to President Erdoğan: You said, you are not afraid of religious freedom. Why has not the Halki Theological School opened so far? Thank you.
Alexis Tsipras: I would like to answer your questions, since President Erdoğan has sincerely revealed the whole agenda of the discussion and I think this is positive and fair. We have nothing to hide. Two friendly countries, two neighboring countries, and we are neighbors, who have to discuss where they agree and where they disagree. I would like to say that today with his statements here, I realize that in previous times probably it was not fully understood what he meant in relation to the Treaty of Lausanne. Because what I understood from what was said is not that he is asking for a review. And if he did ask for a review of the Treaty, we would have to find Japan and the other nine countries to sit down and discuss. And I understood something very important and we need to emphasize on this, that there is no question about territorial integrity; our borders are defined by this Treaty. At least, this is what I understood and I think it is very important to note.
The truth is that I am a little confused about whether the issue for discussion is modernizing, updating or properly observing the Lausanne Treaty, because even in the issue raised for Thrace in relation to the Mufti, it referred to correct adherence rather than revision. I would like to repeat this with regard to Thrace: The Muslim minority in Thrace and the Greek minority in Turkey must be a lever the two countries to come closer. The one thing that will bring us closer and not the one that will divide us. And I now I have the opportunity to say that our government share a special concern for Greek Muslim citizens and is particularly sensitive to all kinds of minorities and religious ones. And of course I share the view that further steps have to be taken in relation to the standard of living in relation to the upgrading of the Treaties.
However, issues concerning the necessary reforms in Greece, but concerning Greek citizens, are not issues of negotiation between two states. Here we will apply our policy, because we wish to do so. And our program is reformist, because this concerns our affairs which we will implement.
I have, of course, listened to the discussion, the President’s views on the known differences in the Aegean, and the Cyprus issue. I think we have to make one thing clear. On the Cyprus issue, I am 43 years old and 43 years, this issue remains unresolved. Each time, of course, there is a debate about who is to blame. However, my dear friend, Mr. President, let us not forget that this issue is still open, because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.
Regarding the issues of religious freedom, I am very sensitive as well as the Hellenic Republic, as a state of law and freedom. I want to emphasize that we have proceeded throughout this time to rebuild a series of mosques in Greece, Mytilene, Chios, Mithymna, Thessaloniki, Chalkidiki, Rethymno, Rhodes, Fethiye mosque here in Athens, Monastiraki. But, you know, we did not even think for a moment in the Fethiye mosque to perform an orthodox service, as it is, wrongly in my opinion, that has happened repeatedly in Hagia Sophia. There must be mutual respect for each side. Respect for religious belief and absolute freedom of will. There is the need for freedom for the Muslim minority in Greece to perform their religious service and express their faith, as well as the Greek minority in Turkey.
Now regarding the question of the migrant issue, we both have faced this issue. On the shoulders of Turkey and Greece, the burden of the whole world, not just Europe, has fallen. It is the biggest refugee crisis in recent years after the Second World War, the largest population movement. And Turkey is currently hosting 3.5 million Syrians. Greece was found with its small population, its small forces in the need to host, to help hundreds of thousands who wanted to go to Europe, but they went through Greece, and accepted the hospitality of the Greek people. And today, of course, both of us, our cooperation is crucial for all of Europe and for the security and stability in the region.
I think that our discussion was extremely constructive in this matter and, of course, I believe that in the next period there will also be moves that will facilitate the full implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement and the decongestion of the Greek islands.
Regarding finally, the thorny issue of Jerusalem and Palestine, I want to point out that Greece’s views are clear. Greece remains firmly committed to the peace process, which means the creation of two states, as envisaged by the UN resolutions. In this direction, we will work as a country of the European Union, but also as a country with deep roots with the Arab world as well but also with friendly relations with Israel, with an extensive relations of cooperation in the region. So I think the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a decision that does not contribute to the peace process, to a fragile region, to a region already in tension.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I would particularly like to address the issue of minorities again. Above all, in Western Thrace, the question of the Grand Mufti, whether he is elected or appointed. In my opinion, it is a deep wound and I believe that the Honorable Prime Minister will ensure that this issue is resolved. Of course this is clear that it is an internal issue of the country, and we do not disagree. But if we are given permission, obviously we can formulate our plea. Because we trust the neighboring country and that is why we show our interest in their internal law.
As far as the issue of religions is concerned, it is an issue that can also be solved from a technical point in cooperation with our ministries. The steps we will take, especially on the Cyprus issue, will be in the direction of finding a fair and viable solution. Obviously, Mr. Tsipras, because of his young age, cannot understand why this problem has not been resolved while I’m used to it. But looking for the solution, I see that the experience I have gained from my engagement with this whole process is valuable. And I can, with great ease, provide the relevant information, the relevant documents, so that we can address this issue faster. It is said that Turkey has an army, as is Greece. If the Annan Plan had been properly implemented we would not have reached this point because there would be an agreement on the number of troops based on the island. However, the Greek Cypriot side stumbled and we have come to this point. However, I believe that we can continue, working together, to find a solution. Thank you very much.
TuysuzCaglarDeniz (NTV): My question is addressed to both leaders. You spoke about the extradition of those attempted the coup. What else do you have to tell us about this? And Mr. Tsipras, what did you discuss about the issue because you mentioned their extradition. What steps do you intend to take on this issue?
Alexis Tsipras: I think I was clear before. It is an issue that is handled by the Greek Justice. Greece, as rule of law and as an EU country, has an absolute separation of powers. The views and roles of the executive and the judiciary are distinct. What I can say about my political views and attitude: Greece and the Greek people as a democratic country and as a democratic people that has suffered severe consequences from the abolition of democracy in modern history can only support democratically elected governments. And the Greek people oppose any attempts to abolish the Republic. And so in this sense they are opposed and not opened to anyone who attempts a coup. What I can assure you is that Greece as a rule of law and Greek justice will do the right thing for these people to have a fair trial.