I had the pleasure to welcome today here in Athens, NATO Secretary General Mr. Stoltenberg. I have to say, that since his last visit one year ago, developments have been dense and the provocations we have had to face were frequent. The atmosphere may now be different, but I believe he is well aware of the situation in the region, as he is also well aware of our national sensitivities and concerns.
We discussed the events that have taken place in the Eastern Mediterranean in the last months, these are events that have threatened peace and stability in the region, but have also threatened the cohesion of NATO itself. It is clear that when one of its members, such as Turkey, exercises delinquent behavior against another member, such as Greece, then this goes against the Alliance as a whole.
And when sovereign rights of one member are questioned, then the road is wide open to the questioning of other members rights as well. So this is not a bilateral issue. It is an issue of concern to all Atlantic Treaty partners. It is something that goes against Europe in an area of its concern and it is happening in an area of strategic interest of the United States and for the whole western world.
A very characteristic example of choices that go against the Alliances’ own interest is the fact that Turkey has acquired the S-400 anti – aircraft missile system as you, yourself pointed out yesterday after your meeting with the leadership of our neighboring country. I have repeated to the Secretary General that while Greece remains faithful to its national rights it is also supporting and claiming the peaceful resolution of the differences on the basis of international law, the principles of good neighborly relations and on the principle of solidarity, which is the core of NATO.
At the same time, Greece is firmly committed to refrain from every use of violence, as is also stipulated in the treaty of Washington. And this is the reason why we are welcoming the first step by Turkey in the direction of de – escalation of the recent tensions. It now remains to be seen whether this is a sincere move or just a temporary maneuver, or whether it is part of a policy of respect for international law and not just a bright recess of compliance with the international obligations of that country. What we are expecting from our neighbors is persistency and consistency. We are also expecting for the immediate setting of a date for the start of the exploratory talks on the sole subject of the delimitation of the maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean as was also reflected in the conclusions of the recent EU summit.
In the same spirit, I have welcomed Mr. Stoltenberg’s initiative to set up a technical – military mechanism to avoid accidents, is what we call a deconfliction mechanism. This has come with a text where it is clearly mentioned that there is a need of respect for international law and peaceful resolution of differences. And in the same framework it was decided that a 24 hour hotline could be created between Greek and Turkish armed forces. These measures are welcome, but they are purely technical. And let me stress this point: These are measures that have come after the crisis, they have not deterred it. Because in such important choices, we need to see the political will of governments, their intention to comply with international legality, their wish to live peacefully and collaborate with the remaining states. Therefore I will repeat that it is up to Turkey to block the way to the crisis and open the way to a solution. We are ready to meet them along this road. I am sure that this is the road that we will follow because it is to the benefit of both sides.
The Secretary General and I, have also discussed the dramatic developments in Nagorno – Karabakh and the continuing bloodshed which, over and above its humanitarian dimension, is a cause of destabilization. We are in favor of an immediate termination of hostilities as well as of the foreign interventions that generate them. We are in support of the appeals of the Minsk group presidents call for a cease fire and the resumption of the peace process.
I have also had the opportunity to inform the NATO Secretary General concerning our recent decisions to upgrade the armed forces with the purchase of aircraft from France and the fact that our Navy is going to acquire frigates and to employ 15,000 experts in our armed forces in the next five years. This is very important because as we upgrade our operational capability, the NATO operational capabilities are also upgraded, and let me remind you that throughout the crisis, Greece was spending over 2% of its GDP for defence.
And of course, Greece is in favor of the Secretary – General’s initiative in a framework of consultation about the Alliance in view of 2030. We repeat that the cornerstone of NATO is the principle of solidarity.
This is where the effectiveness of this unity and the prestige of the Alliance are being tested. We should not forget that the word “Alliance” – “Semachia”, means in Greek: “together in battle”. In this case it means together in the battle for peace, for security and for cooperation.
Once again Mr. Secretary – General, welcome to Athens and thank you for the very productive talks.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis, dear Kyriakos,
Thank you for that warm welcome. It’s great to be back in Athens, great to see you again.
And Greece is really a valued Ally.You are committed to our shared security. And you contribute to NATO in many different ways. With contributions to NATO missions, from Afghanistan to Kosovo. Your jets help keep the skies over Montenegro safe. And your naval forces are an important part of NATO’s maritime posture. So we are grateful for all your contributions.
Then of course we also welcome the fact that Greece spends more than 2 percent investing of GDP on defence, and we also welcome the announcement of how you are going to further modernize your armed forces. This will strengthen NATO. All these contributions keep Greece strong. And they keep NATO strong.
We discussed the security situation in the wider region and NATO’s response.
For several years, Greece has been on the front line of the refugee and migrant crisis. NATO stands with you in solidarity.
NATO’s mission in the Aegean Sea supports Greek and Turkish authorities, and the EU’s border agency Frontex, in their efforts to cut the lines of human smuggling.
And I thank Greece for your contributions to this deployment. It also shows how NATO helps to strengthen the cooperation between NATO Allies and the European Union, dealing with an issue which is of great importance for all of us.
We also discussed the recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.Through the constructive engagement of Greece and Turkey at NATO Headquarters, we have now established a bilateral military de-confliction mechanism.
This includes a commitment to use a secure hotline between Greece and Turkey, available 24 hours a day, to facilitate de-confliction at sea and in the air.
I welcome this and pay tribute to both Allies for your efforts. And we stand ready to develop it further. The de-confliction mechanism can help to create the space for diplomatic efforts.
It is my firm hope that the underlying disputes between two Allies can now be addressed purely through negotiations. In the spirit of Allied solidarity and international law.
We also discussed concerns about Russia’s growing military presence in the Mediterranean region. This has implications for our security, so we must address it together.
Our Alliance is an important platform for dialogue, where Allies from Europe and North America come together every day to discuss issues that are of importance for our security. Regardless of how difficult some of these issues may be. Because we know that we are stronger by addressing them together. So our Alliance is strong because we stand together.
So Prime Minister, it’s great to see you again. Thank you for your important and tireless support to our Alliance. And thank you for timely discussions here today.
And thank you for your strong personal commitment to our transatlantic Alliance.
Thank you so much.