Interview With Fanis Papathanasiou of Greek Public Television

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Corfu, Greece
June 27, 2009

QUESTION:: Mr. Steinberg, thank you for this interview to the Greek Public Television, we hope that Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton recuperates after her accident. We are here in Corfu, in a tranquil setting but you have to deal with a lot of red hot button issues.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG:: Well, thank you for having me and for your greetings to Secretary Clinton who regrets she can’t be here. She is recovering nicely, and she’s starting to get back to work, but she’s got a long way to go and she appreciates all the good wishes that she has received. And we are grateful to the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister for organizing this very important gathering because I think it’s a great opportunity to have dialogue among all the countries of Europe and the Euro Atlantic area to deal with the big challenges that we are facing. We have tremendous opportunities to work together to meet these challenges but we have to find ways to take advantage of the tools that we have to deal with the big challenges of the day, whether it is dealing with issues of regional security or proliferation or terrorism or also the economic issues, the people to people issues, all the things that make this a very special part of the world.

QUESTION: On this summit that is hosted by the Greek presidency, are there specific targets that can be achieved?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think what the meeting has achieved is an opportunity to have a more reflective discussion. So we’re not here to solve specific problems, but rather to talk about how we can find ways to strengthen our cooperation, both through the NATO-Russia Council and also through the OSCE, to deal with not only today’s problems but tomorrow’s problems and make sure that we have the tools and the opportunities for cooperation that will serve the interests of all of our people.

QUESTION: On the bilateral front now, between Athens and Washington, at the partnership between the two sides there is strong political will from both sides, from the Obama Administration and the Karamanlis government, to take their cooperation to another level. What are the concrete steps to take this and to realize it into action?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: As you said, we have a very strong commitment to building this bilateral relationship. The President sees Greece as a very important partner for the United States, we share values, we share interests, and the ability to work together and to take advantage of Greece’s very special sets of relationships that can be an important partner for the United States, whether it’s dealing with the Middle East and the Mediterranean, whether it’s dealing with the Balkans, whether it’s our work together on counter terrorism, in dealing with proliferation, but also on our people to people work. So as we deal with these common challenges, we also want to also strengthen our bilateral ties. One of the things I’m very excited about, is the progress we’re making, moving towards the completion of the Visa Waiver Program, and I think that will have such a very powerful signal to our two people about our close cooperation.

QUESTION: Do you think now that this issue can be finally resolved?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I’m very optimistic. We have a few more steps to go, but I expect we’ll be able to complete it this year and it will be a great step forward to what is already a very strong relationship.

QUESTION: On the issue now of increased illegal immigration, there is a sense in Europe that this is because of Turkey’s disregard of various treaties dealing with this issue. What do you suggest that Turkey should do on this front?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think we certainly understand Greece’s concerns about illegal immigration, something that we have to deal with in our own country. We have to worry about the security implications of people coming in, as a gateway to Europe, they can pose a threat not only to Greece but to others. But we also care about the humanitarian dimension; we know that many of the people come, they are victims of traffickers, and we want to work together to make sure that people are not exploited, that they are treated humanely, and that we find ways not only to address the problem as they arrive on Greece’s shores, but really, at the source. So our cooperation on issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan is an example of how we can work together to help alleviate this problem and not have to deal with it right on your doorstep.

QUESTION: Another issue that is an issue between Turkey and Athens and creates tension in the Aegean from time to time, is the Turkish practices, Ankara’s practices with flights over the Greek islands which violate Greek national airspace. Do you think such actions are in line with right behavior and NATO alliance against a country, Greece, that supports Turkey’s European Union process?

D/S Steinberg: Well, we’re very concerned obviously about this escalation of tensions and we believe, at the end of the day, that the best way to resolve it, is through direct diplomacy and contact between Greece and Turkey. You’re the neighbors who found ways in the past to work these things through. We want to be supportive of that engagement between the two of you and I think it’s important that we’ve seen some steps by Greek leaders to try to reach out and look for ways to engage the Turkish side and make your concerns clear, we want to be supportive of your efforts to engage directly with the Turks so that you can effectively find a way together to solve this problem.

QUESTION: On the Cyprus issue, there is a momentum now with the talks between the two sides. Do you think during the Obama Administration this issue can be resolved?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, we are always hopeful and we are very encouraged by the recent decision to open a new border crossing. I think that’s a very positive sign, that’s an issue that has long been worked, and it really reflects, I think, a willingness to try to find very practical ways to see this forward. I think that the aspirations of the people through the island are to find a peaceful way to resolve this issue, and we are very positive about the momentum being developed, we know there is a lot of work to be done, but the United States wants to stand behind the two parties as they try to work through these issues.
Q: On the name issue with FYROM, there are new efforts now, what are the necessary steps that can lead to a solution?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I feel that the first step which I know both sides feel is to recognize that a resolution of this issue will serve everybody’s interest. It’s in Greece’s interest to see the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be integrated into the European structures, both NATO and the European Union, to become a more stable country, a more prosperous country, and integration will achieve that. So, we hope that this effort can go forward, that both sides will understand their mutual interest and try to find creative answers to the problem and to recognize that in the end there is something for everybody to be gained in this. We’re very supportive of the efforts of the UN special envoy on this issue, Mr. Nimetz, and we really encourage both Skopje and Athens to work hard and to find creative solutions so that they can take the steps forward that serve everyone.

QUESTION: And finally, what is your Administration’s view on the reappearance of some terrorist groups that cause concern in Athens?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think that we certainly share the concern here about terrorism. We express condolences to the family of the Policeman. I think it’s a situation where we very much understand, as Americans, the impact of these kinds of terrorist activity and that’s why it’s important that we continue to cooperate both bilaterally and through our international connections to deal with this problem. It’s a threat to all of our citizens and we have to work together and Greece has been a very important interlocutor not only in dealing with the direct perpetrators of terrorism but also helping to get at these underlying causes of instability that produce terrorism in the first place.

Mr. Secretary thank you very much for this interview to Greek Public Television

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Thank you for having me