Joint Press Availability With Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Athens, Greece
December 4, 2015

FOREIGN MINISTER KOTZIAS: (Via interpreter) Good morning. I would like to welcome dear U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom we’ve been working very closely, and I know that there are traditional friendship ties that join the two countries. I would like to welcome him and hope to see him again in the future, because he is a man who loves sailing, who really loves the sea, and the Greek islands will expect him in the future.

Mr. Kerry is a great Secretary of State. He is known for his rational thought, thinking, his realism. He shows where the contrasts lie and where there’s also controversion. U.S. – we have a Greek diaspora in America, and the road of the Greek diaspora is known as a bridge because the Greek diaspora forms a bridge between Greece and the U.S.

We also recognize the contribution of the U.S. during the recent negotiations on the financial crisis. And we really appreciate the open spirit shown by the U.S. on matters such as debt management, the management of the Greek debt. And I think that this is a constructive way of looking at things and resolving the problems facing Greece.

So Greece is in a triangle of instability. And this triangle is formed by Ukraine, Libya, and Syria. But Greece is a country of stability. It is a beacon of stability. We know the area and I think that we can contribute to any form of negotiations and consultations, and, if need be, even mediation or arbitration between the two warring parties. We know, of course, that the problem – the war in Syria has created many problems. Greek foreign policy is in favor of the Vienna process. We believe that a political solution should be sought for Syria. What we need is a democratic constitution and democratic elections in Syria, and we support this not just for any general reasons, but we know that a large part of the refugee crisis is due to the war in Syria.

So I think that the consequences of the crisis in Syria must be looked at very carefully. We have to show humanity, but we also have to work closely with our friends and neighbors and partners as well. So we need to have good neighborly relations; we have to have respect for international law and national sovereignty. And of course, our priority is to provide financial but also other forms of support to reception countries such as Georgia and Lebanon, but also to enhance stability in Egypt, Libya, and Somalia. I think that there should be a fair burden-sharing to keep up the burden resulting from the refugee crisis. But in order for us to be able to do all this, we need to be able to effectively deal with the problems that are caused by ISIS. This is why we wholeheartedly support the Vienna process.

With John we also talked about another problem in the area where we have some first optimistic signs. And I’m talking about the Cyprus issue. We support all efforts – and I’m talking about the talks on the Cyprus issue – which are being carried out under the UN and its mediation. We have stressed in every possible way that in the 21st century, we can’t have a country that is a member of the UN and a member of the EU which is based on anachronistic, if you like, schemes such as guarantees on the presence of foreign troops.

We also discussed other matters. We talked about investment, we talked about energy. And I would like to say that we always hope that Greece and the U.S. will be able to work in favor of regional stability.

I would like, dear John, just one last thing. I’d like to invite you, dear John, to the Aegean Islands. Come sailing to the Aegean, and please come to Alonissos, which is the island I truly love, and then you’d see how beautiful the Aegean Sea is. And you will be an ambassador – an ambassador of U.S. tourism. And then many tourists will flock to Greece from America. And I know that people are watching carefully in the States.

That’s all I had to say. Welcome to Athens, dear friend, dear John. It’s nice to have you here.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. I accept your invitation; the only question is when. (Laughter.) I’m not sure my job allows me the luxury of such a wonderful few days, but I can guarantee you I’ve been dreaming about the islands for years and I look forward to taking you up on that invitation, all right? Thank you.

Minister Kotzias and Nikos, thank you so much. Thanks for a generous welcome here in Athens, the birthplace – obviously, the birthplace of democracy. And it is particularly pleasing for me to be able to be here to reinforce the enduring alliance between our two countries. We were talking about Boston, where I come from; we have a very large Greek American population there, as many of you know. In many parts of America, Greeks are continuing to make enormous contributions to the life of our country and they continue to express their deep ties and affection for their native country.

Put very simply, the United States-Greek relationship is really unbreakable. It is a good example of countries that can weather the storms together. There have been good moments and there are moments where there have been difficulties, as with any relationship. But at its core, our relationship is rooted in values and the deep ties of culture and family. And that gives our partnership a very special strength.

With my visit today, I want to commend the resilience and the warmth of the Greek people. As you work your way out of one of the worst economic crises in your history, Greece has opened its doors to refugees and migrants escaping the fighting in Syria and neighboring countries. And the United States is very proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as partners and as friends. Every day, our countries stand together to address issues of regional stability, of trade and investment, and the diversification of energy resources which is, in the end, a major strategic interest that we share. It is a security interest.

And we stand together in the counter-ISIL/Daesh coalition, and I am absolutely convinced, based on decisions that President Obama has been making over the course of the last months together with our allies – France; England, just the other day in a vote in the parliament; Germany, in the vote in the Bundestag; other countries in the region; the Gulf states – all of them have been stepping up in their commitment, which makes me certain that over the course of time we are absolutely going to defeat Daesh and violent extremism.

We stand together here today and in the days preceding this and in the days ahead as NATO allies in the defense of the Euro-Atlantic area, and wherever security is, frankly, challenged, from Afghanistan to Kosovo. The United States has been also proud to support Greece on its journey to economic recovery. And that has required some very tough political choices and difficult sacrifices by the people of Greece.

We welcome the agreement that was reached this summer between the Greek Government and its European creditors, and the very hard work since then to implement it. And I had a very good meeting a little while ago with the prime minister in which we discussed some of the needs on the road ahead for economic recovery. Obviously, more effort is necessary in the months ahead. But I am absolutely confident that Greece’s leaders will continue to implement the reforms that are necessary in order to restore competitiveness to improve market confidence and to attract responsible investment.

Also, the steps that are going to be necessary to maintain access to credit and to establish the foundation for job growth, for economic development, for a prosperous future. In that effort, you can count on America’s continued support.

At the same time, we all know that in the 21st century, countries have to look beyond their borders in order to carve out a strong position in the global marketplace. It’s no longer satisfactory to trade within a nation or just within a few nations. It is a global marketplace, and it is a competitive one at that. And that is why the United States is enthusiastic about Greece’s growing role in European energy security. In particular, we applaud the Greek Government for moving forward on the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector.

These are very important energy projects, and they will not only strengthen Greece’s economy, but they will help advance regional stability and prosperity. And these projects will also create, I am confident, new opportunities for United States investment in Greece. And one of the priorities that Prime Minister Tsipras said to me today is he wants to see foreign direct investment, which is the key to making up for the absence, obviously, of available domestic funds because of the pressures that Greece has been under.

So that’s the way to do it, with projects like this energy development project and other projects. As the government takes further steps to improve the investment climate here, I guarantee you we’re going to do everything we can to help spread the word to our companies that Greece is open for business.

Now, just as Greece takes steps to revitalize its economy, this country is also on the front lines, obviously, of the refugee crisis. Greece is working hard – under difficult circumstances, I might add – to process arrivals from Syria and from other countries, and to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance. I want to emphasize this is not solely a Greek crisis, it is not solely a European crisis, nor even a Middle East crisis. It is a global crisis for which we must all share responsibility.

To that end, we welcome the decision by the European Union to commit $3.1 billion to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey. And we are committed to doing our part as well. The United States – and I’m proud to say – is perhaps the largest donor to date to the refugee relocation issue, having put in more than $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the Syrian civil war. And today, I’m pleased to announce that we will put another 24 million directly in additional assistance with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. And this new funding will support UNHCR’s activities here in Greece, in the Balkans, and in other immediately impacted parts of Europe, including it will help support the creation of reception facilities for refugees and migrants and the provision of lifesaving aids such as food, water, temporary shelter, and healthcare.

We will also facilitate training visits to the United States by representatives from Asante as well as Almasar. And these are two groups that have been working here to educate migrants. And we will support and build on the remarkable work of Greek organizations like the one that I visited this morning downtown, the Melissa Network. I was just really very touched and moved by the women and one young girl who were working there in order to help migrant and refugee women integrate into Greek society or be able to find the help that they need as they move on to yet another country and another future.

Even with the best possible strategy, though, my friends, the real solution to the refugee crisis for all of Europe is to bring the earliest possible end to the war in Syria. And that is precisely the work that I and others have been engaged in over these last weeks with the two meetings that we held in Vienna and the work that we are doing now to build on that in order to try to rapidly bring the opposition to the table to have a negotiation with the Assad regime for the purposes of a transition, to which we now have Russia and Iran at the table together with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and other Gulf countries, as well as European nations and the United States. And we are committed to try to accelerate this diplomatic initiative to achieve a ceasefire and to press for the political transition in Syria.

That is the single best way in which we can not only resolve the problem of refugees, but frankly, do the most to encourage the prosperity and the stability of this region and to be able to bring in a greater security to the citizens of this country and others. We are going to do everything in our power to push that over the course of the next several weeks.

Foreign Minister Kotzias and I also discussed Greece’s role in the coalition today, along with other regional issues of which we’re going to cooperate. And one of them, obviously, is Cyprus, where I just visited, but also the Balkans and the implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement.

In all of the challenges that are faced by Greece, by the United States, by the world right now, I am absolutely convinced that our countries are going to remain close allies and friends. It was – after all, I mean, you could pick almost any remarkable and well-known piece of wisdom through the ages that were left to us by the great Greek philosophers and by the history of this part of the world. But it was Aesop who first advised us with a very simple piece of advice: United we stand, and divided we fall.

And with that wise counsel in mind, let me make it clear that the United States stands with Greece, and I’m confident Greece and the United States stand together with our European friends and other countries in this region in order to reserve – resolve the serious security challenges that we face at this point in time.

I’d just say quickly (in Greek). (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We only have time for two questions – one from the U.S. media, one from the Greek media.

Ms. Morello from Washington Post.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, you mentioned once again your quest for political transition in Syria. In your mind, does President Assad have to go before you focus on Daesh, or can you convince the rebels and the Syrian army to do it simultaneously?

I’d also like to ask you if you think it sets a bad precedent for Iran to get away with not coming totally clean to the IAEA about its nuclear history. And what’s – given the fact that Jason Rezaian just passed 500 days in Iranian prison and three other Iranian Americans are in there, do you think it’s safe for dual nationals to visit Iran and to invest there?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying that I’m not sure I would characterize it as my quest, though this is a part of the world where quests have written a certain part of history.

This is a shared goal and objective of many countries and all of us who have thought hard about the crisis in Syria. President Obama has set the goal of always, from day one, believing there is only a political solution to the civil war/proxy war of Syria, and that it would require, yes, some military options in order to leverage and have an impact on diplomacy, but no matter what military pursuit there is, ultimately it would require a political resolution to resolve the differences that exist there.

So what we are doing is, I think, methodically, with discipline and intensity, trying to push the diplomatic process because Russia has indicated that it is committed to that political solution, Iran has committed that it is seeking that political solution. All of the surrounding neighborhood and states have committed that they seek that political solution. And so we are united in this moment because we believe it may be a ripe moment to try to see if we can bring countries to the table and find a rational approach to this challenge.

Now, with respect to Iran – excuse me, with respect to the question of Assad and the timing, I think the answer is – to your question, it is not clear that he would have to, quote, “go,” if there was a clarity with respect to what his future might or might not be. And the clarity with respect to that could come in the form of any number of things which give certainty to the people who believe you cannot resolve the issue while he’s there that, in fact, there’s going to be a resolution, and therefore they could begin conceivably to cooperate more fully.

But it would be exceedingly difficult to cooperate without some indication or confidence on the part of those who have been fighting him, that, in fact, there is a resolution or a solution in sight. I don’t see how you could cooperate because under those circumstances, it would be interpreted as ultimately supporting him and helping him and entrenching him, and that is completely unacceptable, obviously.

So with that said, with regard to Iran and the IAEA, first of all, the report is not out and it’s not official yet. I know there are leaked – somebody’s working off of some components of it, but there’s a process in place. And the joint commission will meet – we have a team going to Vienna to meet on this. In addition, the board of governors has to meet, there’s a process, the P5+1 have a role to play in this. So I think it’s premature to comment except to say that nobody has had any doubts whatsoever about Iran’s past military endeavors. From the get-go, we have consistently said we know that Iran was pursuing a nuclear project, we know that it was engaged in activities prior to 2003 and subsequently on occasion, and we have never had any questions about whether or not there would be ambiguities that come out of this process. We have predicted that.

Now, the real issue here is going forward, making certain that none of whatever happened in the past can happen going forward into the future. And that is why the implementation of the JCPOA is so critical. That is why access was built into the JCPOA the way it was. That is why we have a team led by Ambassador Steve Mull and others working jointly interagency to follow on a daily basis the full implementation of this agreement so that we aren’t left with any questions – not about the past, but about what’s happening today and tomorrow and every day into the future. And I’m not going to comment further on a report that I haven’t yet been able to personally read or that isn’t even complete yet because the commission hasn’t met and the IAEA hasn’t formally released it, in my judgment, in its final form.

That said, I think you had one other component in that question, which is, yeah, Jason Rezaian. Yesterday marked a sad day, obviously, 500 days of his incarceration which we believe is illegal, unjustified, and we have called on Iran again and again to release Jason and to release the other Americans who are being held. I will simply say to you that in our meetings with Iran, every time we meet and have met in the last weeks, the names of each of those Americans being held are on the – are at the front of our discussion. And I would simply say to people that we are working very hard to get those Americans back home, and I call again on Iran to facilitate that process by releasing them as soon as possible.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next question, Mr. Meletes from (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Minister, apart from the aid given for the refugee crisis, I’d like to ask whether in the burden-sharing and the role of the U.S. – and I’m talking about the refugee crisis because the refugee crisis is being – is putting the Greek economy and society to the test – can you hear me? Do you want me to repeat the question? Did you get the first part of the question? I can repeat the question. I can repeat it.

So I start again: So if apart from the (inaudible) aid, the U.S., in assuming the responsibility that it has to deal with the refugee crisis, which has put the Greek economy and society to the test – so apart of the financial aid provided, do you intend to do something to stop these waves of migrants and refugees coming from the Turkish shores and who end up drowning in the sea before they can cross the Greek islands? So does Greece have the right to protect its borders? And I’m talking about violation of Greek airspace, just like in the case of Turkey. Or are there two standards in this? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, of course there shouldn’t be two standards, and let me just say that Greece and Turkey obviously have long-established diplomatic channels for addressing Aegean issues. And I’m not going to try to change those channels here today. I simply encourage Greece and Turkey as NATO allies – both of them – to work together to maintain good neighborly relations and to encourage peace and security in the region by cooperating together. And I’m confident that they will and that that issue can be resolved.

With respect to the refugees, I’ve seen many videos, some documentaries on television tracing the path of these refugees, and I have watched them get into these little rubber boats and cross over to one Greek island or another and try to find a future and find their safety. We all saw the photograph of that three-and-a-half, four-year-old child limp in the arms of the father, being carried across the beach. So nobody is not moved by the plight of these refugees. It’s a human catastrophe on a gigantic scale. And it is one of the reasons why so many people feel so strongly that Assad couldn’t find legitimacy in the future to govern when three-quarters of his country has already voted with their feet and has had to go somewhere else to avoid barrel bombing, to avoid gassing, to avoid starvation, to avoid the terrible consequences of torture, imprisonment, and other things that have taken place there.

So this is something – this is why I said this is not Turkey’s plight alone. This is not a Middle Eastern challenge or a European challenge. It’s a global challenge and it’s why we have put $4.5 million into the refugee camps in order to help try to – $4.5 billion to try to help cope with the immediate problem. But we don’t want to just be writing a check and putting people into another refugee camp. That’s not a solution.

The solution is to end the war, and the best way to deal with this crisis, as we have said again and again, is to make every step possible, as fast as possible, to bring about a ceasefire, get into the political discussion, and let Syrians decide the future of Syria through that discussion. That’s our goal, and that is, in the end, the best way to restore peace and to end this terrible, daily, haunting reality of people who feel they have to risk their lives to actually save their lives and go across bodies of water under difficult circumstances – not able to swim, not knowing where they’re going, and it’s an enormous challenge. I admire and respect the way Greece has stepped up. It is the best statement of honoring values under the toughest circumstances that one could define. And Greece is to be applauded for that and other countries too on the path as these people move to try to find a future.

But all of us have an obligation to do everything in our power to destroy Daesh and find a peaceful resolution in Syria. That’s the way you solve the refugee crisis and build a future for everybody at the same time.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOTZIAS: (Via interpreter) As I actually told Mr. John Kerry, the U.S. State Secretary, we fully agree with the view held by the U.S. that the refugee crisis is not a national issue, it’s not a Greek issue. It doesn’t only concern Europe either. It’s a global issue, a global problem. So Daesh has to be defeated in Syria. A political solution has to be sought. Fair elections need to be carried out with the participation of Syrian refugees, meaning Syrians who have fled the country. We believe that the latest developments in the borders of eastern Turkey actually reinforce the need for us to carefully learn from the relations between national rights and violations and territorial sovereignty.

I think that Turkey is actually thinking about all these matters very carefully. We always want international law to be upheld. We always want to defend and we always stand up for human rights. The Greek word, philoxenia – hospitality – is self-explanatory.

And I’d like to ask you for reasons of hospitality – philoxenia in Greece – not to get up so that the U.S. delegation can leave the building with me calmly and quietly and in an orderly fashion, and then, of course, you can also leave. So please stay where you are and let the U.S. delegation depart. Thank you.