April 25, 2024

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at a Joint Press Availability

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at a Joint Press Availability
Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at a Joint Press AvailabilityFOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: (Via interpreter) Dear Minister, for the second time today I’d like to welcome you to Athens. Ladies and gentlemen, we have just inaugurated with the – my U.S. counterpart the Fourth Strategic Dialogue between Greece and the U.S.  We also held a constructive discussion on the overall framework of our bilateral relations....

FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS: (Via interpreter) Dear Minister, for the second time today I’d like to welcome you to Athens.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have just inaugurated with the – my U.S. counterpart the Fourth Strategic Dialogue between Greece and the U.S.  We also held a constructive discussion on the overall framework of our bilateral relations.

Strategic Dialogue concerns seven key areas.  It is a tangible piece of evidence of the dynamics in – of our relations with the U.S., strategic relations.  We have reached the highest point, and with certain prospects.  A solid base of our – a solid foundation of our bilateral relations are our shared values and principles:  freedom, democracy, human rights, our focus on the international law and the principles of the UN Charter, as well as the dynamic presence of the Greek diaspora in the U.S.  Greece – the U.S. Ambassador to Athens Mr. Tsunis is such a bright example of the successes of the Greek diaspora.

Dear Tony, dear Secretary of State, today’s visit of yours comes after the visit of the Greek prime minister to Washington in May 2022.  The rising dynamics of the – our strategic bilateral relations has been sealed by the two defense agreements between our countries, and I had the honor of signing both such agreements.  The signing proves that in a constantly changing political environment, Greece is acknowledged as a pillar of stability and security.

Us and the U.S. have fought shoulder to shoulder in major historic challenges of the 20th century:  the first world – World War I, World War II, and in Korea, when totalitarian regimes attempted to impose their will through threat of using force and through the use of force.  Unfortunately, today, in the 21st century, we are witnessing similar behaviors.  Such an example is the Russian invasion or aggression on Ukraine.

I repeat on every occasion that the Greek foreign policy is based on the full implementation of laws, international law, and the International Law of the Sea.  It relies on respect for the principles of the UN Charter, protection of human rights, and a condemnation of threat or use of violence.

From the very first moment we offered our help to Ukraine, we aligned ourselves with the decisions and sanctions against Russia in the context of our memberships in the EU and the UN.  The Greek Parliament ratified very quickly the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, two countries which are also our partners in the European Union.

Today we had the opportunity to discuss developments in the broader area as well.  We agreed on the need, the necessity, to keep the Euro-Atlantic course of Western Balkans alive.  I informed my dear Tony about my visits to the Western Balkans, the efforts made by Greece to avoid a new crisis in our region.  I also informed him about developments in the Aegean and Southeastern Mediterranean.

Our neighboring country, Türkiye and Syria, were mercilessly hit by the recent earthquakes.  I had the chance to witness the magnitude of this unprecedented disaster during my visit to (inaudible) in last week, accompanied by my friend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.  It was the first visit of a European minister of foreign affairs in the affected areas.

And yesterday I had the opportunity to inform the Foreign Affairs Council in the EU, in Brussels, requesting help for the earthquake victims.  Greece was the first country to send special rescue sources – forces to Türkiye, and the Greek society has been assembling tons of humanitarian material to be offered to the Turkish and Syrian peoples.

We also agreed with the Turkish Foreign Minister that we don’t need to wait for disasters in order to – smoothing out our relations.

Today we’ve had the opportunity to discuss with Tony Blinken about our collaboration within the international organizations, and the multilateral programs such as the 3+1 co-partnership and the prospect of strengthening it further.

Another issue that we discussed was that of energy, specifically the steps that need to be taken in order to gain independence of the Russian fossil fuels.  I stressed the role that Greece may play as an energy hub from south to north.  The floating LNG storage facilities in Alexandroupolis and Revithoussa, the Greece-Bulgarian Pipeline are only a few of the schemes that are going to strengthen this role.

We also welcome the U.S. support of the electric Interconnection between Greece and Egypt.  This Interconnection will allow the transportation, the transmission of clean energy to the EU.

We also discussed about collaborations in the areas of renewable energy sources and investments.  The U.S. is our greatest partner outside the EU in trade, investment, and tourism.

Today – concluding, rather, I would like to say that today is yet another important day for Greek-American relations.  Dear Tony, I’d like to thank you warmly and wish you a nice day in the birthplace of democracy.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Nikos, my friend, thank you so very much.

As you can all hear, I left my voice in Washington.  But I will probably leave my heart in Athens.  It’s hard not to.

We do meet at a time when the partnership between our two countries has never been closer and never been more consequential.  And that’s a reflection of the high priority that President Biden and Prime Minister Mitsotakis put on this relationship, this partnership.

Before coming here I was in Türkiye, as Nikos was recently.  Everywhere I went, among all the people I met, to include some American first responders, search and rescue teams, Turkish military families, our locally employed Turkish staff at our embassies and consulates, I saw the immense, heartbreaking toll of this earthquake throughout Türkiye in the southeast and as well, of course, in Syria.  I had a chance, like the foreign minister, to be with our colleague from Türkiye, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and fly over the affected area.

So I really want to thank you, Nikos, and the Greek people for the immediate and significant assistance that you’ve been providing to people in need in Türkiye in this moment of need.

Later today I’ll have an opportunity to express my appreciation to some of the Greek first responders who came to the aid of the Turkish people.  Their contributions are a strong demonstration of who Greeks are:  compassionate, effective, committed to helping others.  And it’s resonating around the world.  This is an ethos.  This is their (inaudible).

Last spring we were together when we celebrated the historic visit of Prime Minister Mitsotakis to Washington.  Standing before a joint session of our Congress in the United States Capitol, the heart of our democracy, Prime Minister Mitsotakis spoke about our countries’ shared history, how the ancient Greeks inspired America’s founders, who, in turn, were an example for Greeks when they fought for and won their own independence decades later.  And he spoke about how our values resonate to this day between us, how we are two democracies that are dedicated to trying to be on the right side of history, standing with allies and partners, defending democracy in our countries and around the world.

One of the things that President Biden likes to constantly remind us of is that in the United States we were founded not on the basis of an ethnic group or religious group or racial group; we were founded on the basis of an idea.  And as it happens, it’s a Greek idea.  It’s hard to think of a more powerful bond between peoples than the bond that exists between us.

Over the past year, Greece has demonstrated its commitment to the principles at the heart of our relationship, including as Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, and democracy through its brutal war of aggression.  Now, no one wanted this war, no one likes this war.  Everyone wants it to end as quickly as possible.  But so long as it isn’t, so long as Russia’s aggression continues, it’s vital that together we stand up for the basic principles that are the victims of this aggression, along with the Ukrainian people.  Because if we don’t, if we allow this to go forward with impunity, then we will open a Pandora’s box around the world where might makes right and would-be aggressors say, “Well, if they can get away with it, we can get away with it, too.”  And that is not a future that any of us want.

One year after President Putin attacked Ukraine, it’s clear that his war has been a strategic failure in every way.  That’s because of the courage of the Ukrainian people, but it’s also because of the strength and unity of allies and partners around the world who have come to support Ukraine and help it in its defense.

Since President Putin’s invasion, Greece has been a strong, outspoken voice in supporting Ukraine.  As a matter of fundamental principle, you’ve opened your doors to 20,000 Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes.  You were one of the first EU countries to send humanitarian support and vital security assistance.  You’ve helped reinforce NATO and strengthen the Alliance’s eastern flank, including by facilitating shipments through the Port of Alexandroupolis, whose strategic importance has grown dramatically.

Earlier this morning, as Nikos said, we launched the Fourth Strategic Dialogue between our countries, during which we discussed the progress that’s been made under our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, the backbone of our security cooperation.  Just over a year ago, the two of us signed an amendment to that pact.  And since then, our troops have been training more closely in more places than ever.  And that’s strengthening our joint preparedness, our – and security, and it offers to advance peace and stability across the continent.

We’re also working together, as you heard, on a clean energy transition, where there is enormous appetite among American companies to invest in Greece’s very significant move toward renewables.  And Greece’s surging tech sector is also a major source of our investment and a key focus of our efforts to expand economic cooperation between our countries.

We’re also working together to strengthen energy security across the region, and you heard Nikos talk about that.  We’re both taking steps to help Southeast Europe countries reduce their dependence on Russian gas, diversify energy sources, and deepen integration into the continent’s broader energy market.  That’s both an economic and a security imperative.  The United States welcomes the leadership role that Greece is playing, including through the newly constructed Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, which is putting Bulgaria on a path to import nearly 100 percent of its domestic gas needs through Azerbaijan and through the United States.

We’re working together as well across an incredibly broad array of issues, as you heard Nikos say:  security and defense, trade and investment, energy and the environment, education and culture, law enforcement and counterterrorism, humanitarian challenges, disaster relief,  through the Strategic Dialogue – reflecting, again, the breadth of this relationship.

But I think, when it comes down to it, the heart of the relationship is what it has always been, and that is the ties between our people.  Our people have been linked by a shared history, by common ideas, by common ideals, and the unique bond about being the world’s oldest and strongest democracies.

So Nikos, I am grateful to you and grateful to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, who was so generous in his hospitality and conversation last night, for the opportunity to be here to celebrate a friendship but especially to strengthen our partnership for years to come.  We both believe that that is profoundly beneficial to our people.  And ultimately, the challenge for both of our countries is, in this era, to continue to demonstrate that democracies can deliver for their people.  That’s why we’re here.  We’re here to try to help our fellow citizens in any way that we can.  Governments are here to try to make a difference in helping meet their needs and aspirations.  That’s also profoundly what unites us.  Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We are going to take four questions in total, two from the U.S. journalist team and two from the Greek journalists.  We will – are going to start – we will take the first one from a Greek journalist.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  A question for both ministers regarding Libya.  The situation in the country remains unchanged.  There are forces, military forces and diplomatic forces, that take action there to the detriment of any effort – of any stabilizing efforts in the country and is to the detriment of the elections there.

Greece (inaudible) the Turkish-Libyan agreement, which is illegal, according to the International Law of the Sea, because it divides the West and the East Mediterranean.  So do you see any developments in the forthcoming period, and in what direction would such developments be?  Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Whom is this question for, Mr. Tzanetakos?

QUESTION:  Both ministers.  This is for both ministers.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So let me take this off, thank you.

As I said earlier, first I just came from Türkiye before being in Greece, and I think we’re reminded in this moment of what brings us together as human beings, and that ultimately is much greater than any of our differences.  And that is our common humanity and the desire that people have in both countries to help each other in a time of need.  And that’s a very powerful thing that’s resonating very powerfully in Türkiye, and I heard that from Turkish officials as well as from the Turkish people that I met.

Look, that doesn’t resolve differences that are longstanding, but I think it’s a reminder of all the positive, that ultimately we’re human beings before we’re anything else.  And my hope would be that at an appropriate time that would create an even stronger foundation for both countries moving forward to resolve the differences that exist between them.

Now, it’s not exactly a secret that both Greece and Türkiye are heading into an election period, and that’s usually a pretty complicated time to engage in these kinds of issues.  But for the United States it’s really quite basic:  Greece and Türkiye are partners, are Allies, are friends.  And we continue to engage with them, to work together, including through NATO, to maintain peace and security in the region, to resolve any differences diplomatically, and of course to avoid any threats or provocative rhetoric that will only raise tensions.  And that can be more difficult in an election period, but it’s certainly our hope and expectation of both.

And then I would just say this in conclusion.  If you’re – if you look at the region as a whole and you look at what Greece is already doing – for example, to be becoming an energy hub for the region, to connect through the Eastern Mediterranean to connect Africa to Europe, to bring countries together through cooperation – that’s an incredibly powerful thing, as is the innovation Greece is doing, for example, on climate.

But at some point, were the differences to be resolved, I think that opens an era of incredible opportunity even greater than we’re seeing today for the people of Greece, also for the people of Türkiye.  So that’s certainly our hope, but meanwhile it’s important that our friends, partners, and Allies manage their differences diplomatically, peacefully.  And we’ll support those efforts in any way we can.

FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS:  (Via interpreter) If understood well, you would like some comment on Libya.  Well, listen, our position – I think the position of the U.S. as well, but Mr. Blinken is here to say otherwise – is that this Turkish-Libyan MOU adds no value.  On the contrary, it’s totally illegal, therefore unsubstantiated, unfounded.

Now, as regards the efforts made on many sides, including the U.S., in order to find a mechanism to lead the country to elections, well, Greece in this respect is ready to offer in any way possible.  This is our general position.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I apologize; I misunderstood your question, and I’m sorry about that.  And let me just simply add that I agree with my friend Nikos on this.  And when it comes to Libya and its trajectory forward, I think it’s important to get to elections as quickly as reasonably possible to have a government that has the legitimacy of having been selected by the people.

The UN special envoy is working in that direction, and building on the work that’s actually been done already to try to bring the parties together to decide on an appropriate path forward for elections.  That’s something that we support, and we think offers the best prospects for moving Libya forward, and I think we’re in full agreement on that with our partners here in Greece.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to the question from Courtney McBride of Bloomberg News.

QUESTION:  Thank you both.  A question for each of you.

Mr. Minister, Greece has provided military equipment to Ukraine while receiving some updated equipment to replenish its own stocks.  What more does Greece envision providing, particularly in the areas of greatest need:  artillery, ammunition, and air defense?  And how can you seize this opportunity to improve relations with Türkiye?  I know that you’ve provided and continue to provide assistance there.  Are there concrete steps that each country could take to help pave the way to smoother relations?

And to Mr. Secretary, what plans are there to expand U.S. investment and presence in Greece?  I know you’ve talked about the port that has helped to facilitate some assistance to Ukraine.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS:  (Via interpreter) If I understood fully, you asked me two things:  first regarding weapon systems that Greece could offer to further help Ukraine; and the second question has to do with the improvement of the Greek-Turkish relations.

Well, regarding the strengthening of the Ukraine from Greece, I have to tell you the Greek foreign policy.  This is an easy choice because our foreign policy is about supporting the rules of international law.  In the case of Russian invasion to Ukraine there is – it’s a case of black and white.  There is an aggressor and the victim.  So the Greek foreign policy is on the side of victim, the one who is subject to this aggression, and banishment of all rule of – rules of law.  So we will do everything in our power to help the country that suffered this attack.

As regards the Greek-Turkish relations, please allow me to tell you that we do not in any way combine the assistance that we’re delivering, we will be delivering to the Syrian and Turkish people, with an overall foreign policy.  It is our obligation towards our fellow people who are suffering to help them, and I will – we will continue doing so.

Now, if through this contact between the two peoples the climate of our relations is improved, this we’ll happily to call ramifications.  We all know that.  But again, let me reiterate Greece is not looking for any – is not asking for anything, for anything in exchange for this assistance and help is delivering to the Turkish and Syrian peoples.  It is our obligation to do so.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I had a chance a little bit earlier as we were starting the Strategic Dialogue to talk about some of the recent investments that we’ve already made here in Greece, including well over $100 million when it comes to ports.  But I think what’s as compelling, at least to me, are the tremendous opportunities to work together, including through significant U.S. investment from the private sector in things like energy security, climate change technology.

Greece is a remarkable hub itself of innovation.  I think, from our soundings and from talking to Ambassador Tsunis, there is tremendous interest on the part of American companies that’s already manifested itself in these kinds of partnerships here in Greece.  And this is something that we talk about through the Strategic Dialogue.  From the perspective of governments, the question for us is always:  What, if anything, can we do to create the most favorable climate possible for those investments to go forward?  How can we enhance bilateral investment and trade opportunities?  And that’s part of the Strategic Dialogue work that’s going on today.

In addition – and I think it’s related, and we’ll talk about this a little bit later this afternoon – we continue to work to strengthen our cultural and educational ties.  The more that we create these connections, the more we bring our people together around common interests, common pursuits, I think that also brings with it the kinds of connections that will lead as well to more trade, more investment between us.

So we see a tremendous amount of upside in Greece.  You see here an economy that has grown at about six percent, which is quite remarkable; that has more than weathered the deep economic difficulties of years past and offers, I think, tremendous potential for greater investment, trade between our two countries.  It’s something that’s very much a focus of our efforts here and through the Strategic Dialogue.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Ms. Tasouli from OPEN Channel.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, welcome to Athens.  You mentioned before that you had the opportunity to talk to people of Greece and people of Türkiye.  My question is:  Do you believe that the earthquake diplomacy and that the claims of Türkiye that they are willing to start the dialogue again between the two countries, is that something that you ask for?  And do you estimate that Türkiye sooner or later will embrace its old rhetoric by threatening Greece and by reminding that casus belli is still on the table from them?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  And because I more or less inadvertently answered that question before, since I misunderstood the first question, I don’t want to repeat  myself except to say, look, as a close friend, partner, ally to both countries, it’s profoundly in our interest and I believe in the interest of both Greece and Türkiye to find ways to resolve longstanding differences, to do it through dialogue, through diplomacy, to do it peacefully, and in the meantime, to not take any unilateral actions or use any charged rhetoric that would only make things more difficult and more challenging.

As I noted, both countries are heading to an election period.  That certainly creates sometimes incentives to engage in rhetoric that can create more problems than it solves, but that’s also politics.  We understand that.

I can’t really speak to what either of our partners will do going forward, but I do believe strongly that there is an interest and an intent in both countries to find ways to resolve longstanding differences, to find ways to make the – this part of the world that they share an area of cooperation, not of conflict.  And I have no doubt in my own mind that that would be profoundly to the benefit of people in Greece and in Türkiye, but I say that recognizing the challenges of overcoming differences.  They’re real.  But as a friend, an allied partner to both, certainly we hope that that’s the path that our friends will pursue in the future.

MR PATEL:  Final question.  John Hudson of The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you so much for hosting us in your beautiful and sunny capital.

Western unity has remained strong behind Ukraine, but what is the appetite in Europe and Greece for supporting a war that becomes protracted, extends for another year, and is measured in meters, not kilometers, on the battlefield?  At what point will Greece and other parts of Southern Europe push hard for negotiations?

Mr. Secretary, U.S. Ambassador Nides said Israel can and should do whatever it needs to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and, quote, “We’ve got their back,” statements that appeared to many as giving Israel a public green light to attack Iran.  Is this now U.S. policy?  And given the likelihood that open hostilities with Iran would drag in the United States, can Washington afford to back another conflict in a separate theater?

And on Ukraine, can you say who in the U.S. Government or at what level communicated to Russia that President Biden was traveling to Kyiv?  Was the President ever in harm’s way?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DENDIAS:  Thank you.  Thank you for your question.

(Via interpreter)  Thank you for your question.  When Russia attacked Ukraine, I believe one of the key working assumptions on the part of the – of Russia was that Europe would not remain united, that the European Union would be divided either because of the energy blackmail or due to the different approaches to the Ukrainian issue.  And I think that this working assumption was proved to totally inaccurate.  On the contrary, the European Union obtained a new uniting narrative, and the support – the EU support to the Ukraine has been ongoing and has been stepped up.  And moreover, all sanctions have been unanimously voted by the EU against Russia.

So what I would like to say is that the European Union is an area that takes pride in its values, principles, beliefs in human rights, and will firmly continue to support Ukraine.  I said earlier that for us in Greece, things are quite simple.  It is a matter of international law.  Our foreign policy is based on international law.  If we took a different stance, in fact we would be shooting against the narrative that we are in support of.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  John, the second part of your question first with regard to notifying Russia of the President’s travels.  Yes, we did in order, of course, to deconflict and to avoid any potential for accidents or danger.  Beyond that I can’t comment.

With regard to Ambassador Nides, I haven’t seen the full comments that my friend Tom made.  I’m sure they were notable, as they usually are.  From what I’ve heard, because I just got a brief description before, he reiterated what we have consistently said.  We’re committed to Israel’s security.  We are committed together to the proposition that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon.  That’s not exactly news.  The President’s been very clear that every option is on the table to do that.  And we’re also working to deepen our cooperation and coordination with Israel, as well as with other countries to deal with the multiplicity of challenges that Iran poses, including advances in its nuclear program.

At the same time, we’ve also been clear that the Iran nuclear deal, the so-called JCPOA, is not now on the table.  We spent many months to seeing if we could revive it and return to mutual compliance.  There was a proposal put forward by the European Union some months ago that was endorsed by everyone – China, Russia, as well as the United States – and Iran would not go forward with that.

In the meantime, of course, we’ve seen the provision by Iran of drones to Russia to enable its aggression in Ukraine.  We’ve seen the renewed repression throughout the streets of Iran against its own citizens simply for trying to speak their minds.  And we see Iran also engaging, for example, in plots to assassinate those who oppose the regime in third countries, including in the United States.

We continue to believe that, with regard to the nuclear program, the most effective, sustainable way to deal with the challenges it poses is through diplomacy.  But in the – in this moment, those efforts are on the back burner because Iran is simply not engaged in a meaningful way.  But the door is always open to diplomacy going forward, but a lot depends on what Iran says and does, and whether or not it engages.

QUESTION:  Does Israel have a green light to attack Iran?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Countries will make sovereign decisions for their own security.  And of course, that’s no different when it comes to Israel or any country.  We can’t make those decisions for them.

MR PATEL:  Thank you, everyone.   Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-greek-foreign-minister-nikos-dendias-at-a-joint-press-availability/