Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview on CNN, with journalist Christina Macfarlane

Christina Macfarlane: Prime Minister, thank you for being with us during this busy time. Can I begin by asking you what type of aid Greece has been providing to the region and where that aid currently is?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, Greece, Christina, was one of the first countries to respond to a request by Turkey, mobilizing European Assistance Mechanism in case of natural disasters. We already have a crew of rescuers in place operating in the region of Hatay. And I presume, because I don’t have access to the video that you showed, that the photo of the seven year old girl that you showed. This is actually a girl that was saved by a Greek crew operating in that region. So our teams are already on the ground.

As you know, Greece is a country that has significant experience in dealing with earthquakes. And we know that in these critical times, time is of essence. We need to get our crews out as quickly as possible if we are to save people who are trapped under the rubble in horrible conditions for many, many hours.

Christina Macfarlane: And, Prime Minister, as you’re speaking, we’re seeing some images of Hatay completely decimated, actually following the earthquake. And Hatay as we know, has been one of those areas where there has been no help up to now. What are your crews telling you or what are you hearing about the conditions they are facing on the ground, given that we know it is bitterly cold, it’s freezing temperatures, and people have nowhere to shelter.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well these are incredibly difficult and challenging conditions. First of all, I do need to point out that we’re talking about essentially two separate huge earthquakes. And it is difficult to sort of convey to your viewers, those of you who have not experienced what a strong earthquake feels like, how powerful these events can actually be. So the conditions are very challenging, but we are cooperating extremely well with the Turkish authorities. I understand there has been a very significant mobilization on the part of Turkey.

Again, the first priority right now is to save people who are trapped in buildings that have collapsed. Immediately afterwards, I’m sure that the authorities will focus on questions of housing, feeding those people who cannot return to their homes. And of course, we will start the painful process of reconstruction. Let me point out that this earthquake has not just affected Turkey, it has also affected Syria. There the situation is even more complicated because essentially there is no official interlocutor. So we have to work through international organizations.

And a significant amount of the international assistance that was directed to Νorthern Syria even before the earthquake inevitably has been disrupted, as a result of the quake. So I think we’ll have some very challenging days ahead of us dealing, first of all, with the short-term emergencies until we will try to help Turkey with the longer term consequences of this horrible event.

And can I ask you in particular about Syria, because we are so focused on trying to understand how aid is getting into that region, especially in the northwest. How are you trying to access that part of the country? Have you had any success in getting aid in?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Not so far, but we try to work with international organizations. And of course, my suggestion will also be when we meet at the level of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, that any aid towards Syria needs to be coordinated at the European level in order to ensure that the aid needs to get to where it will be most valued. Again, at this point, this is not about – I want to stress this – this is not about geopolitics. This is not about sort of recognizing any regime. This is about saving people in horrible conditions who desperately need our assistance.

Christina Macfarlane: You say that this is not about politics, but at this point, can you trust that if you send aid into Syria, that it will reach its intended target, that President Assad will allow safe passage for that aid?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No. That is why I think that no country on its own has the ability to actually make these sorts of arrangements. That’s why I think it is important that these negotiations could take place either through the UN or the European Union by pulling resources at the European level. I would not feel confident having these sort of discussions at the bilateral level.

Christina Macfarlane: So you have, to date, had no communication yourself with Damascus?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No. We are focusing all our help on Turkey right now.

Christina Macfarlane: Okay. When you talk about having these diplomatic conversations later this week to try and create some bilateral support for sending aid to Syria, will you be calling for sanctions to be dropped, at least temporarily, against Syria so that aid can get into the country?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Again, Christina, this is sort of a very delicate and complicated situation. I don’t think I’m in a position right now to offer any sort of additional comments on how we will deal with this situation. But one thing is for certain. We need an international response and we need to agree amongst each other how we are going to help Syria, taking into consideration the massive complexities, given both the status of the regime, the sanctions have been imposed, but also the fact that we’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed.

Christina Macfarlane: I know that you spoke to President Erdoğan yesterday. In fact, it’s the first time the two of you had spoken in many months, I think, due to diplomatic tensions. How did that phone call go? What was discussed between you?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I think in these times of crisis, what is important to understand is that at the end of the day, we are neighbors and we need to help each other through difficult times. And it is not the first time that earthquakes have struck our countries -we had a big earthquake in Turkey in 1999- Greece offered its assistance. We had earthquakes in Greece, where Turkey has offered its assistance. At the end of the day, this is a time to temporarily set aside our differences and try to address what is a very, very urgent situation. Again, both countries are in a geologically active part of the world, so we have to deal -on top of issues related to climate change- we also have to deal with earthquakes.

And again, I will repeat to you what I’ve said publicly, that Greek and Turkish people are friends. We may have our differences politically, but at the end of the day, we have nothing to separate with the Turkish people. And these are times when I think there is an outpouring of sympathy and goodwill towards Turkey, which is perfectly understandable when you’re faced with these types of images. And at the end of the day, I can’t imagine of a more powerful image than the image -maybe you have shown- of a Greek rescuer and a Turkish rescuer saving a seven year old girl. These are very powerful images and at the end of the day build bridges between our people.

Christina Macfarlane: And as you speak, Prime Minister, I think we may be seeing that very image of a Turkish rescue worker and a Greek rescue worker rescuing that young girl you mentioned in Hatay. We are seeing that on our screens right now. And as you say, it is so important at this time that nations set aside their differences to come together and help those who desperately needed it. We thank you very much for your time, Prime Minister, and wish you the very best in your efforts moving forward.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you Christina.