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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Interview of the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos with the "REAL NEWS" Newspaper

Interview of the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos with the "REAL NEWS" Newspaper
Interview of the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos with the "REAL NEWS" Newspaper

You recently talked with your Turkish counterpart. Is it possible for the provocations in the Aegean and the EEZ of Cyprus to stop? If the Turks carry out their threats, how will the Hellenic side respond?

The telephone conversation I had with my Turkish counterpart, Mr. Hulusi Akar, confirms the responsible stance of the Hellenic government on all issues and in particular the Greek-Turkish issues.

Beyond the different views we have with our neighbours, we are responsible to our peoples and the peoples of the other states around us to maintain communication channels to discuss honestly and with good will the matters of mutual interest. This builds trust and confirms the role of Greece in the broader region as a pillar of peace, security, and stability.

Each of us knows the capabilities, the effectiveness and the power of his deterrence mechanisms, beyond the various communication games for the public. We must maintain open communication channels, have mutual respect of International Law, as well as consensus based on reason. Within this framework, we are preparing the meeting with Mr. Akar in the end of the month during the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence.

It seems that, during the Mitsotakis – Erdoğan meeting in New York, Turkish provocations in the Aegean were not discussed. Why?

The provocations you are referring to are an aspect of Turkish behaviour not just to Greece, but also to other states to which Ankara demonstrates a peculiar revisionism. Against these views and behaviour of the past we respond with steadfastness, firmness, and responsibility.

According to the guidelines of the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, we implement a policy based on good neighbourly relations and respect of International Law and International Treaties. We believe that Greece and Turkey can and should cooperate in mutually beneficial areas. Signs of good behaviour by both sides play an important role.

Concerning the provocations in the Aegean, we send a clear message in all directions: just as our ancestors fought for our country's independence and integrity, we too, first and foremost the Armed Forces, protect national vital interests.

I have already undertaken the intensive and systematic briefing of Ambassadors I meet in private. So far, I have met with fourteen Ambassadors from friendly countries.

Concerning the Migration issue, will the Ministry of National Defence be further involved?

The management of the Migration issue is led by the Ministry of Citizen Protection. Beyond that, the Ministry of National Defence greatly contributes to surveillance and with the contribution of assets, especially Hellenic Navy ships. We are also examining the possibility of using inactive camps in a new, stricter, and more binding framework for a certain (short) time period.

Greece carries a heavy burden, this must be understood by our EU partners, our allies.

In any case, flows have recently increased a lot. Why? Did the government underestimate the issue?

The Government did not underestimate the issue with the increasing flows of illegal migrants and the way in which other state and non-state systems use them as leverage and tools of social tension. That's why the Governmental Council on Foreign Policy and National Defence has convened repeatedly, that's why there is a comprehensive approach and mobilisation for an issue that requires delicate handling and seriousness. But now the overall political management of this complex issue changes. Soon, society will understand the different approach of this Government.

We have come to this situation due to the frivolity, inadequacy, and shortfalls of the SYRIZANEL government with its statements, stance, and views, which caused even the intervention of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). For four years, everyone knew that the country's borders were open for anyone who thought he'd find the promised land.

What does the defence agreement with the US include? Will it be for one year or more and what does our country get? Is it just for Souda base?

The Greece – US Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) aims at a strategic upgrade of the relations and cooperation between the two countries at political, diplomatic, military, and geopolitical level. This confirms the role of our country as a pillar of peace, security, and stability in the region.

The expansion of the use of Souda base is a main point in the excellent cooperation, effectiveness, and enhancement of the strategic bonds between Athens and Washington. In this new spirit, we have plans for cooperation with the US with the provision of facilities and infrastructure in Stefanovikio, Larissa, and Alexandroupolis. It is a union of interests that is mutually beneficial for both sides.

These plans are not time-restricted, they have a strategic perspective, something that was confirmed during my recent joint visit with the US Ambassador and the leadership of the Ministry of Shipping to Alexandroupolis for the removal of a sunken dredger in order to proceed to important port construction projects.

What message does the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Ministry of National Defence send?

This was the first time that a US Secretary of State visited the Ministry of National Defence. This means support of the Government's efforts in its difficult work, as well as acknowledgement of the important geostrategic and geopolitical role of Greece in Southeast Europe and the East Mediterranean.

Furthermore, it is an obvious acknowledgement of the constructive role of the Ministry of National Defence in the MDCA signed with the US at Minister of Foreign Affairs level.

Is the Prespes Agreement implemented by the other side? The opposition accuses you that this government has changed its stance and accepts the Agreement. How do you respond?

The current opposition should reflect on what it did and the accomplished facts it imposed on the country as "SYRIZANEL system". Before criticising the New Democracy government, they should do some self-criticism about the impasses and mistakes at all levels of the policy they implemented. That's what the Greek people expect.

Concerning the Prespes Agreement, we proceed respecting International Law and expecting the same from our neighbours. In this direction, just the previous week, our Air Force approved and started implementing the bilateral agreement for the Air Policing of this Republic's airspace.

If we didn't do it, there were others willing to do it, both Bulgaria, who is very critical to the Prespes Agreement, as well as Turkey, who is on the lookout for any opportunity to increase its influence in the Balkans.