Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hellenic Republic
President and Chief Executive Officer, EastWest Institute
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias discusses Greece's political and economic challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as energy issues, the Cyprus dispute, and developments in the Balkans.
MUNTER: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll dive right in. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Cameron Munter. I am the president and CEO of the EastWest Institute here in New York. And here we have the opportunity to meet with the minister of foreign affairs of Greece, Mr. Nikos Kotzias.
I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. You have his biographic information and you can take a look at his past. So what I’d like to do to kick off is to invite the minister to say a few words to start before we have a conversation, and indeed a conversation with everyone in the room.
Mr. Minister, can you please come? (Applause.)
KOTZIAS: We found out with Mr. Cameron that we have something in common: He has made his Ph.D. at the University of Marburg in Germany, and I was professor there. My problem is always that I am speaking better German than English, but—(laughs)—warily in English. I’ll try to be short so much as possible.
I will say we live in a time where Western, in a way, is declining, slowly but it’s declining. That’s my view. And the United States of America is declining inside this Western which is declining. And the big question for us in politics is how to come back and how to find ways to strengthen the Western world again. It means to strengthen the values of democracy, freedom, and liberal political systems.
And the second thing what we are saying, because the world is in transformation. We have many phenomena of instability and insecurity, so we have to find a way how we can make our world more secure and more stable.
So third point is living inside a triangle. I have a famous map, but not with me—(laughs)—which is on the top is Ukraine, left down is Libya, on the other side is down—right down by the map is Iraq and Syria. And by this triangle, they are coming inside this area, the region, a lot of waves of instability, from Israel to Western Balkans. And the duty of the Greece foreign policy is to find a way to create anti-waves of stability and security, and we are doing that. We are doing that.
We try to do that with a lot of triangle cooperations. We have the ability. In the last three-and-a-half years during (named ?) minister of foreign affairs in my country, seventy new regional smaller or larger organizations. We have a triangle with Greece, Cyprus, and six countries in the Middle East-Eastern Mediterranean area: it’s Egypt, it’s Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Armenia. And today we will found—we will make a new triangle cooperation with Bahrain. And we have a lot of cooperation on the Balkan region, which is the second-most important region for us after Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. We have the so-called borders cooperation with Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece. And we have then the cooperation of the four Balkan countries—they be four up there; this is not “before,” it’s be four—there are the four countries of—in Southeastern Europe that are members of the European Union.
What we are doing is to take initiatives—stabilization and security initiatives—and one point is always to try to find a positive agenda. If you look in our region, for example, and you are discussing about the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, everybody’s thinking about conflicts: war in Syria, war in Iraq, Israel-Palestine conflict, what Hamas and Hezbollah is doing—they are terrorist organization. So we are trying to create institutions that their substance is to bring on positive agenda.
For example, we have founded an organization which I wish and I hope it will create a security structure for Eastern Mediterranean. That is the so-called Rhodes Spirit. Rhodes is a beautiful island in Greece. You are welcome. Please come. And in Rhodes we have always a meeting between twenty-two Southeastern European countries and all the Arab countries and Arab organizations, trying to find a way to develop positive cooperation on transport, education, research, culture, and so on, not to discuss—that’s very important—not to discuss only about conflicts. And that is our tradition in our region.
The positive agenda has to do, and we add to that, a strategical planning. For example, we have, in cooperation from the seven south members of European Union, which we call this cooperation Euro-Med. And that belongs Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus. And we are trying to put other kind of agendas in European Union, not only Brexit—well, on Brexit and so on, but things like social cohesion, cohesion of land, and so on.
Then our experience—my own experience in the region was that we have so many conflicts that many people are not thinking on compromising on consensus. And so it’s very important for our foreign policy to bring in in this region the cultural, as we call it—the cultural consensus and compromising. And I think one of the most famous project of this culture is Prespa agreement, the agreement between Greece and what we will call after Sunday, I hope so, North Macedonia. It was easy to do it at the end, and sometimes you have to smile or to laugh the question why we hadn’t done it since twenty, thirty, forty, or a hundred years before. But you need to have experience and to—that all the sides are led in this culture of compromise and consensus.
What is very important in our region, too, is to have a proactive foreign policy, not to try always to find a solution inside a conflict but to try to have a peaceful politics that is not letting conflicts come on.
And last but not least is we believe very hard on international institutions and the international law, the rule of law, and that is the framework where we are always discussing with Turkey and we try to find consensus and compromise.
So we have created a lot of institutions in our region in the last four years, seventy as I told you. They are multicultural or they are trilateral, four-laterals. We have even we are working on more as in the past on cultural diplomacy. We have created this—not famous here in New York, but in other countries—forum from Asian cultures which—(inaudible)—still there. And in this organization are countries like China, India, Iraq, Egypt, Italy, us for sure, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and so on. We have just passed two months ago the presidency to Bolivia. Because this field where we have to do a lot of work, and culture is always helping promote understanding between people and make common values and consensus easier than—(inaudible).
Thank you. I hope that was enough, sir. (Applause.)
MUNTER: You were very disciplined. Could you please join me on the podium here?
KOTZIAS: Although I like to stay here as a professor. (Laughs.)
MUNTER: If you could, watch your—
KOTZIAS: Thank you, Cameron.
MUNTER: Sure. Thank you.
And if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask just a couple of questions before we get to the members in the audience, who will be much tougher.
KOTZIAS: Before they wake up and they can put—(inaudible)—(laughs)—questions.
MUNTER: They’ll be—they’ll be much tougher on you than I would.
I’d like to follow up on the role that you mentioned that Greece has in the region, and particularly a troubling yet potentially good neighbor, Turkey, that is—has its—definitely has its domestic issues, but it’s also the key to a number of issues that the Europeans care about: migration, things of this sort. How do you assess what is happening in Turkey, Greece’s role in the region and in dealing with these issues, and perhaps a comment about the future of NATO and your respective roles?
KOTZIAS: First, about NATO, I think the enlargement of NATO will bring more stability and security in our region.
Second, you need this kind of organization in other region of the world. You remember in the ’50s you had special security structures with Pakistan, Iraq, SENDOSEAT (ph) and so on. Maybe we have to rethink about it. I’m always saying that NATO, some years before they have been always—(inaudible)—but I thought with a vision of the organizations.
Now, about Turkey, I will tell my feelings. I know I’m not going to make a scientist analysis. The first is I am—always, as minister of foreign affairs, I have a very concrete problem. Turkey has sometimes a very aggressive politics. So what has Greece as part of the Western world to do? To calm Turkey down. So now you are trying to calm Turkey down, but Turkey is not seeing our politics the way we are thinking that we have to do. They are reading our politics in another way. When you try to calm them down, they think that you are weak. So when they are thinking that you are weak, they became more aggressive or they think they can get things they cannot get via us. And so one of the most difficult things in my experience as minister of foreign affairs in the last four year(s) was how to find a combination of calming down Turkey, but giving them the feeling that we are doing that because we are strong and not because we are weak.
The second is—and that is my personal experience with Erdogan and other people, who are great leaders; never underestimate people with which you have problems; you have problems because they have their own personalities and their own charisma—is that Turkey was always a country with—since the eighteenth century, before too, but with very specific contradictions. These contradiction(s) are in all the fields and all the levels. You have contradiction—nationality contradictions. You have more than eighteen, nineteen million Kurds there. You have contradiction on the—about the region. Then you have the Alawites, who are thinking not in the same way as the majority of the leadership in Turkey. You have formations, social formations, contradiction. You have part of Turkey in Anatolia which (remember more feudal structures of ?)—(inaudible)—and you have parts of Turkey which are very high modernized. So you have a country with many forms of contradiction.
After the coup d’état in the summer of 2016, I will say that we have a very deep political contradiction in the soul and in the mind of the Turkish leadership. They have been very afraid. They have learned the feeling of fear and to be insecure because of the coup d’état. From the other side, they have won against a coup d’état and they have—(inaudible)—in Syria and before in Iraq. So you have personalities who have very deep contradictions and conflicts in their own soul and mind, which they are—from the one side they are arrogant, with a feeling we can do whatever we want in this region with the security we have won against a coup d’état; but on the same time being insecure that maybe by the next corner a new coup d’état is waiting for them. And that is—this mix of feelings can be sometimes very explosive. So you have always to rethink how you are criticizing them.
MUNTER: So it sounds like a challenge—a challenge you can deal with, but a challenge. And then next door you have an enormous opportunity, which is—which is, of course Northern Macedonia, something where you’re showing great courage and people are very positive about. Different kind of challenge. What do you think will happen? Will the referenda pass?
KOTZIAS: Not many questions. (Laughter.)
I will say first that, for me, the difference between Turkey and North Macedonia is the difference between geopolitical questions and identity questions. With Turkey’s—I will say in traditional language—form of classified—on the class on the level of states—
MUNTER: It sounds like you studied in Marburg.
KOTZIAS: (Laughs.) Yes, like you.
And in the—on the level of Macedonia I will say that it’s more like culture wars, identity wars, you know? In America you have long tradition, but in Germany they have the same in the nineteenth century until Social Democrats Party has been (beating ?). Under—(inaudible)—you remember Bismarck and the Catholic Church have been in culture wars.
So what is the specific, the culture wars, is that city, states, elites do not have so much problems with that. But the individuals, the people, they care more about their identity than about geopolitics problems. Maybe this institution where we are discussing geopolitics is playing a larger role. But where the people’s identity a bigger problem.
So we have this problem about Macedonia name, language, dispute and so on since more than 120 years. And it has been organized in the form of a state conflict in—not in a hard way, more than twenty-eight years. And we have make a decision as government and me myself—and I wrote most of the treaty, the drafts of the treaty—that we have to find a way to compromise. And to do that, we have started immediately as we became government with confidence-building measures. We started with eleven confidence-building measures; now we have more than twenty-five. That means cooperation of university, of security. We have created a new or we are creating new pipelines for gas, for oil for them coming from the Greek sea. And so on. And I think that has helped to create more trust and confidence, and you need that.
And then we have start last September the discussion on how we can build a treaty based on this trust. And my own tactic was very specific. I never had done it in a negotiation before, but I thought we have to do it in this negotiation. I have asked the other side what is for you more important? They said, one, two? I said, then, OK, you have it. Normally, you cannot do that in a negotiation. Normally, you have to fight point to point. But have done it to create trust. Then I said: You need that? I will give to you. But I need this. You have to give to me. What I needed was a change of the name—(inaudible)—so the name is—(inaudible)—internal and external, and the constitution changed to be secure that this new name will be—will stay there for a longer time. They have had some problems with it, so we have done it (seven ?) months longer negotiation. And at the end came a good treaty for them.
I think my experience with this negotiation is the stronger power—we are a small, very small country for the world affairs, but for the region we are very powerful. We have a lot of capacities and capabilities. But the power which is stronger in the region has not to use this strength against somebody, but has to see the strong—the strength more as a responsibility. The one who is stronger has more responsibility, not more rights. And that is what we have try to show.
So I think we have make a good compromise. And as you know from the history, especially after the First World War—we have many examples—if you put—if you press somebody to accept a treaty which is not the best compromise for him, after some years he will come as a—(inaudible)—power in the region and try to change what happens some years back. So it is a good treaty. It’s a good compromise.
I understand that in Greece not everybody likes it, because if you write alone a treaty and you are voting alone about it, it can be much more better for you, but the same is for the other side too. If they are making their own treaty—(laughs)—that will be much more better this treaty we have done together.
Now, on Sunday, I think yes, the referendum will be large. I hope it will be more than sixty percent. The problem is not the relation between the yes and no; the problem with this referendum is the participation. They have in their voting list about 1.8 million people by two million people; that is too much. The reason that you have ninety percent of the population as a number, not the same persons, by this voting list is that they haven’t cleaned the list from people who have died or are in paradise or whatever you want to say. That is about maybe two hundred thousand people. And then they have three hundred thousand people or more who are living abroad, but they are not living abroad in Europe, right next door. The majority of their people, they are living in Australia, in Canada. So I don’t believe that they will come back after the summer to vote on this referendum.
So the difficulty is that they need fifty plus one to win the referendum, not only by yes but by participation. And that means—(inaudible)—that they need sixty-six, sixty-seven percent of the real voters to go to vote so that they have formally the fifty plus one. And that worry. I am a little bit afraid, I have to say, that maybe it will be forty-seven, forty-eight percent, and that will be a problem.
Then, after the referendum, they have to go with two-thirds majority to—in parliament to change their constitution. Zaev has not the majority to do it by himself. The majority to change the constitution, two-thirds, is eighty plus one. He has sixty-eight, sixty-nine, (eighteen ?) from a small Albanian party. The opposition has promised that if they—if the referendum’s result will be yes and the participation will be more than fifty plus one, they are going to accept it and they will vote for the constitution changing. But if it is not, then they say that we have the right not to vote for the constitution changing.
MUNTER: Are you optimistic?
KOTZIAS: You know, my position always in the politics is I cannot influence anymore anything there, so I am an observer. But you know what, since three months the leadership of North Macedonia are making many interpretation of the treaty which are not correct, and they are overinterpreting what they win by the treaty. But I keep silent. I haven’t make any comment in three months because more important than to answer to them is that they win the referendum. (Laughs.)
MUNTER: Good. All right. We’re on the record, so very diplomatic.
One last question I’d like to ask before we open up to everyone is, you know, it’s been a long time since the economic crisis came forth in Greece, and a lot of good news has happened. There’s been a lot of developments in Greece that actually make people confident that you’ve overcome some of the worst. On the other hand, I remember reading one assessment that it’s not that the problems are solved in the long term, they’ve just been overcome in the short term. How do you assess the economic progress Greece has made and the impact that’s going to have on Greek foreign policy?
KOTZIAS: First, when I’m thinking about Greek crisis, I’m always thinking that it was the largest and deepest economic crisis in the world after the Second World War. Even in North Korea—North, not South—North Korea, which has had a deep crisis 1991-1998, it was not so deep and they didn’t lose so much on GDP as us in this nine years of crisis.
Second, I will say we are coming out of the crisis. Our data are much more better than before, but we are still ashamed about them. For example, we have had twenty-seven to twenty-eight percent unemployment. Now, after three-and-a-half years during our government times, we reduce it about ten percent, but it’s still nineteen percent. So how can we be proud about it? We have done good work. We reduced ten percent. In any country in the world, reducing unemployment ten percent will be a big success. It’s in a way a success, but we are ashamed.
Second, it’s the first time since last year that we are in growth. I think this year will be about two percent. Some people are saying something more. I’m not a prophet to say exactly how it will be. But if you have lost twenty-seven of your GDP, how can you be proud that now we have plus-two percent? But you can be a little bit more optimist that we have changed the way that things are moving.
Then, third, we have lost a lot of our young people, and nowadays the young people that we have been lost—we have lost are not people who are not educated like the beginning of the twentieth century. People moving to America, they have been coming from their villages without a high education. It means without a high human investment on them.
Nowadays, we are losing high-educated people who make good studies abroad. For many of them—thousands of them have Ph.D. or are medicine doctors. I’ve make an account as I still was at the university before coming to this position. Nowadays, only the doctors—the medicine doctors that we lost was about fifteen (billion dollars) to sixteen billions (dollars), the value of these people, their education—kindergarten, school, university, specialization. And they have moved to Germany, Scandinavia, and so on. That is a form of credit that you are—they were getting back. So we deliver them people, high-educated, without that they have pay anything for that.
So we have a lot of problems. But that is—there are problems which we are now in a path to solve them. That’s a positive message. But we are realistic and we are keeping our head down to work, not to—(inaudible)—and not to make even how happy we are about these difficulties. But we are doing that. And I think we have a combination between coming out of crisis and the new position of our country in the international relations. I will tell you only one example. 2015, I was part of the general ensemble from the United Nations and my diplomats they had been looking after to make some appointments with third countries to find some lovely people who like to discuss with us and so on.
Nowadays, we are not asking anybody to meet. We have six times more asking as we can do. So that is a symbolic number—that our position is much more better today, more recognized that we are playing a very important role in Middle—in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Balkan(s) and Europe. But we know that we are a small country with a big history.
MUNTER: Well, you’re a small country that has great weight in many parts of the world. What I’d like to do now, if I could, is to invite members to join in the conversation with the minister. Please note, again, as I said, this is on the record and so if you want to volunteer to take part, if you can wait—get the microphone, speak directly in the microphone, and I ask that you stand, give your name and affiliation, and please keep your question short and focused questions, please. So if we can begin over at the side.
Q: Ed Cox, and for the purpose of question—oh, I’m a director of Noble Energy, which has discovered the gas off Israel and off Cyprus.
What are the interests of Greece in the huge discoveries that are now being made in offshore Mideast—gas in the Eastern Mediterranean?
KOTZIAS: I think you know more than me. (Laughter.)
But, anyway, as you know, energy is a gift of the gods but can be used by devils. That’s always a problem in the politics. It’s good to have gas and it’s good to have oil, but sometimes you pay very hard lessons with these stories.
I think we are—we have the triangle relation with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. As you know, we have excellent relation with Israel. I’m very proud for it. Well, we have an excellent relation with Egypt, too, because Egypt has gas, too. We have last week an agreement between Cyprus, as you know, and Egypt to transport gas from Cyprus to Egypt. They have two LNG stations, which hasn’t worked the last ten, twenty years.
We are thinking to create an electricity cable to bring electricity through Greece, Crete—in continental Greece to Europe. What I think is more—the most important is that we are creating together with Israel, Egypt, and Cyprus alternative ways through Greece for Western Europe so that they do not depend so much as in the past on Russian gas.
Then, in Greece, we have a plan which we’ll start now to create a second LNG station. We have a large—the one we have in front of Athens. The second will come to Alexandropoulos. That is down close to Turkish borders and in north Greece, which will pump gas from America and bring this gas to the top—to the pipelines which is coming from Azerbaijan.
Then we are creating a pipeline from Alexandropoulos north to Bulgaria and Romania and maybe to other countries. We have—we are creating this new pipeline from Thessaloniki—that’s the second-largest city in Greece—to Skopje, and from there maybe to other countries of Western Balkans. And I think that through Greece we can create alternative ways of the transport of gas, and gas which is coming not only from Iran or Russia but from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, from Syria and Iraq, in the future Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.
And I hope, last but not least, that we will find enough gas in our sea so that we will be not jealous—(laughs)—to Israel and Cyprus that they have already have found, and we will take some years now to give the possibility to research these fields. I hope and I think that you know it.
MUNTER: Very good. Thank you.
Sir, you—no, here in the front and then you’ll be next. Thank you. Excuse me.
Q: Minister, thank you for your comments. My name is David Walker. I’m visiting here from Citibank in London.
KOTZIAS: You didn’t come from London for me.
Q: Specifically for you, Minister. I assure you. (Laughter.)
KOTZIAS: That’s kind of illusion. (Laughter.)
Q: You mentioned rule of law and you mentioned the purpose of compromise. Given in the moment in the EU we’ve got discussions around Article 7 enactment for a couple of countries, I wonder if you could comment further on the Western Balkans. You know, what does this mean for the Western Balkans’ potential future accession to the EU? Will the EU accept that? Or is that just going to be importing more difficulties and trouble at a time when the EU has other—
KOTZIAS: To integrate Western Balkans, you mean, in the EU?
KOTZIAS: That’s a question that I have to answer so many times these days because everybody is asking me. You know, people like to get answers from a country like us because if they ask only Germans and French they are getting very specific answers, which behind them there are second and third thoughts. We do not have second and third thoughts.
For us, one of the most positive developments will be to—that Western Balkans will be integrating new Atlantic structures. But after we found a solution on the question of North Macedonia, everybody’s showing his truth phase about enlargement. I have an experience with that. May I have two minutes to say a story?
MUNTER: Please. Please.
KOTZIAS: 1997, I have been by the assignment of Luxembourg, and there the discussion was about Europe conference that was with the aides—the countries of Central Europe—Central and Eastern Europe—Malta and Cyprus and Turkey. And on this day in 1997 we have to put a veto towards Turkey—not against, but towards. Then everybody was saying to Turkey: These crazy devils from Greece, they are stopping you to become member of European Union. Press them. Make some conflicts with them. Then they will give up their veto, and after six months you will become a member of European Community and then European Union.
So I think it was a good advice on this stage to take back the veto, and in Tampere—that was—(inaudible)—secretaries that have been there together—1999, Tampere, October, we have said to all our friends that we will get back our veto. Same as—(inaudible)—told to me, what are you doing to us? Then we came to Helsinki two and a half month after, famous decision of Helsinki, and we have make this roadmap with Turkey. Since then, I think we have more than thirty-eight/six months—(semesters ?)—(laughs)—and Turkey is not yet a member of European Union, but is far—more far away from—to enter European Union than in the ’90s.
So that’s a wisdom to know that you have to make your politics in this way; that not everybody behind you is saying: he’s responsible, he’s responsible. So we found a solution with North Macedonia, and we have in July a discussion about the enlargement with Albania and North Macedonia, a long discussion. Normally, you have to speak three minutes in the council of the ministers. I have spoken thirty-five, forty minutes, more maybe, very aggressive, against the people that started to refuse to open the doors of European Union to them. So we are fighting, because not everybody has the same interests.
Now, who has not the same interests? First is a conflict between Germany and France. France is—has the worry that there will be not enough deepening of European integration. You know, Macron has—one and a half year back has make a plan how to transform the eurozone—not European Union, as we wish, but the eurozone—with a new institution and finance minister section of the Euro Parliament for eurozone, a new specific budget, and so on.
Germans didn’t answer to that, which is very interesting. The first time that Merkel has make a comment on Macron’s plan was after more than a year, and that was by an interview by Bild Zeitung. I will not say that this the most—(laughs)—the best newspaper in Germany to answer in public to the French, who are French, for Germany. So the French are very frustrated, and they think Germans are pressing for a new enlargement without deepening the integration.
Second, there are the new populists in Europe who don’t want enlargement. And their argument the whole time is that enlargement has costs. We are bringing in small countries who are not enough developed or have not—they are not (welcome ?) based on the rule of law and so on. But, for me, the time to have somebody as a candidate is a time to transform him. That is the meaning of screening and monitoring, to help you.
But the populists are making a mistake and fighting against that—(inaudible)—in the European Union. It’s not only costs for the European countries, this enlargement with poor countries, but you are getting their geopolitical position. You are getting their culture, their (multiculturality ?), their tradition, their possibilities, their capacities. They are getting a lot of things. And we have to discuss more what Europe is getting through an enlargement as discuss only what we are losing because we are making new members.
And then the third thing is that our countries do not like that Western Balkans will move to Euro-Atlantic structure because of their own security understanding. I will say Russia is not very happy about it. That’s the reason that we have had some conflicts last month. Even my friends in Turkey are not so happy because from Bosnia-Herzegovina to North Macedonia they have a lot of influence on it and even—I am not sure if Serbia would like to be a candidate by European Union, but it’s like NATO. If they want that, this country will become members of NATO. Some of them are.
So we have three factors who are working against it. But we have us. I mean, there people believes in the rule of law, on European Union, on liberal democracy who are pressing for the other way. So it’s like all it’s a conflict, and we have to win it. That’s my opinion.
In this conflict, the treaty with FYROM—North Macedonia—and the treaty that we are preparing with Albania, because we have worked with them more than a hundred years problems, will be good. I need only to make an explanation, then many peoples are not asking something that they are thinking in their deep mind, which is why we have these problems. What happens with the Greeks that they have problems nowadays? And Cameron knows from Germany, Ostpolitik—(inaudible)—and recognizing their—(inaudible)—line that (American has ?) found solution in their bilateral problems during the Cold War, like Poland to Germany, like Czechoslovakia in those day with Germany.
But the problems we have with FYROM—North Macedonia now—and Albania are problems who didn’t exist in this form during the Cold War. For example, North Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia, so it didn’t have the problem to recognize a country with this or the other name or this history or with this history or with this revisionism or not.
So, after the Cold War, the problem of the name came up. It was there 120 years, but it was not so hot and not in the level of recognition and state relations and so on. The same with Albania. Albania was a very specific, clear socialism state. Then, as you remember, that was a state with total—(inaudible)—and which didn’t have relation to anybody after the ’50s. They’ve had for ten, twelve years—(inaudible)—with Mao Zedong in China, but then they stopped even with them.
So it was impossible to discuss with them about historical problems, recognition of Greek minority in a way that we think that is modern. Or we have new problems that everybody—every countries have, like maritime zones we have with Albania. That is, these kind of problems crop up because of the development of the world society, or international society, and then development of international law. There was not sea right in this way during the Cold War or before.
So keep in mind these kind of problems is not that we are not so good like Germans with Poland that we didn’t find a solution; that a lot of these problems came up or has been created after the Cold War. That’s a very specific thing. And we tried to find a solution under other conditions than under the Cold War, which was pressing more for some kind of solutions. But now it’s sometimes easier.
MUNTER: Well, we commend your engagement on that, at the very least.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for your time. Joel Mentor at City College.
My question is more philosophical. As an academic, did you have a deeply-held belief about politics, society, or international relations that now, based on your practical experience in the Foreign Ministry, you now question, and if so, why?
KOTZIAS: (Laughs.) Thank you for this high-interest question. First, I have to say to you what is my experience with politics. I put it in one phrase: politics is something very bitter—very bitter—but never boring. (Laughter.)
I was working for more—for less than twenty years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before, and then I was professor of international relations and foreign policy. My special area is the certain—(inaudible)—I have to do. I think that it was, for me, in a way, easy to do this job because I have had the experience of the ministry. I know many of the high diplomats with whom I’m working together since thirty years or twenty-five years. Some of them have been coming to the university to lecture on their fields. And on the other way, I bring my academic background, which is not I was a physician doing now the minister for international relation; I was minister of foreign policy.
But I think from the outset you have to be very careful not to think that we have enough knowledge and experience, because that will be—(inaudible)—how we say Trump, eh? Trump. Not this Trump, but Nikos Trump. (Laughs.) You know the famous new book from—(inaudible).
Politics is going to get dirty, bitter. I don’t like politics because you give the right to everybody to attack you in ways that you don’t like to be attacked. I don’t like it. But when I’m doing good things like these seventy formations, like these treaties, like our discussions—I like our discussions; open, honest discussions—making good compromise, I’m like—(inaudible)—I have this right to do it.
But even to people, first of all, is you are like—(inaudible)—and that’s the best job in the world. Bad-paid in Greece, but it’s the best job in the world. (Laughter.) So I think I’m a lucky man. Sometimes I’m not happy with everyday life. But in the long term, I’m a lucky man because I have done everything was possible for my personality to do, from resisting in prison against fascism to minister—from a schoolboy to professor, and the love that you are getting as a professor or as minister from people who recognize your worth, it’s something that you’re not getting in every kind of jobs. So there’s the positive side, too.
MUNTER: Excellent. In the far back, please.
Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.
Could you please describe for us your expectation for the evolution in Cyprus over the next ten years, and the conclusion?
MUNTER: Cyprus. Cyprus.
Q: Describe your expectation for the evolution in Cyprus over the next ten years and the happy conclusion. (Laughter.)
KOTZIAS: Thank you. I will ask my ambassador here in United Nations, Ms. Maria, to send you a book with all my texts from the last three years as minister about Cyprus—(laughter)—and if we have time, have a look on it.
The first time I was in a demonstration in my life—I’m come from the left corner—was 1963, demonstrating for Cyprus. My generation has been politicized through Cyprus, like many people in the United States of America through wars—like Vietnam wars and so on. So Cyprus was the same, in a way, for young schoolboys and students. And then came 1974. In 1974 happens two things.
First, the Greek military junta—there was this junta—is try to make a coup d’état against the legal government of Cyprus. And then Turkey breaking down the international law. They have occupied Cyprus for forty-four years. And I say every day in my life how sorry I am that this Greek government, who put me in prison—I was not—(laughs)—a fan of this government—but this government has make this criminal action against international law, the Greek—the Greek government, and that we didn’t find those young people a way to throw them away before making what they have make to Cyprus.
I think I will have it in my whole life in my mind. I am not—I haven’t done something bad, but it was not enough in my generation smart to find ways to stop it. It’s the positive way of looking at things. It’s a way we are every day responsible for what happens in this world.
We have had a negotiation. Many of my delegation here in the United Nations have been with me together eleven days long in Crans-Montana, in Switzerland, trying to find a solution on Cyprus.
In a way, I’m happy or have been lucky to put again the core of the Cyprus problem on the table. The core of this problem is the Turkish army has occupied a third country. There are arguments why they have done it and so on. The core is that. And the core solution is what I have called—and I’m very proud that the secretary-general is using this expression—to make Cyprus a normal state. Nothing more, nothing less.
What means normal state? Member of European Union, member of United Nations, maybe member of security structures from the Western, but without occupation troops—without that third countries have guarantee rights. My first statement about Cyprus was April 2015 as I came first time as minister to the United Nations. And I said we are guarantors (now ?); I don’t want to be guarantor powers because guarantee powers is a relation between two countries which exists by colonial time, not nowadays. You cannot be guarantor from anybody.
Guarantors, you can be somebody who helps a third country—who gives guarantee that will support a third country—but not guarantor like Turkey who thinks whenever they think they can intervene in a third country. But guarantor is something—somebody will come protect us or protect a country, not which can fight and occupy the third country. That is colonialism time or Nazi time. Germans have—(laughs)—feeling these guarantor powers to Czechs, you know, in 1939 and so on. So my dream is that Cyprus will become a normal state.
Second, in the negotiation of Montana and before, I gave to the Turkish and British side a paper as a—paper for the Greek government that Turkey has to leave their guarantor status, has to take their troops back from Cyprus, but it doesn’t mean that it will be against their interest. We can create a friendship—a quality friendship—agreement between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus.
Writing this paper, I was thinking on the two treaties of Ankara, 1953 and 1954. The second one is the Friendship Ankara treaty. That is a treaty between Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia from Tito that was a(n) instrument and a way that we Western countries, Turkey and Greece on this time, helped to get Tito out of Warsaw Pact, giving him the possibility to develop relation with his next neighborhood and with countries like us, which we have had long friendly relations with them.
So I think Cyprus a normal state. Cyprus under a treaty, under an agreement of friendship with all the countries around. And, third, from the beginning I said, and I believe on it, we have to give the maximum—the possible maximum of rights to the Turkish Cypriots so that they are feeling again that this island is their island too, that they can speak with their children and grandchildren in the way that they have to stay there, that it’s their—that they have their own vision about even their families on this island, and on the same time giving the maximum of security feelings to the Greek Cypriots. I think these are the three elements that I hope and after ten years will be implement or realized. I hope. I’m working for that, but I cannot be sure that it will be so.
MUNTER: Well, with that, I think we have run out of time and we had an eloquent end to the craft—not only to the philosophy but also to the craft of the diplomat. So I’d like to ask you, first of all, to thank our guest, the foreign minister of Greece, but also the Council on Foreign Relations for making this possible. Thank you. (Applause.)