Key points of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ remarks at a conversation with students and alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (Athens, 25.08.2022)

Thank you so much for the opportunity; it is really a great pleasure for me to meet future leaders of this world.

The one thing we need more than anything else in this world now, is human capital. So young talented people that care about humanity, care about the world is, I think, the number one issue we should address.

Having said that, I also thank you for the honor of coming to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and having this discussion.

Well, Greece is a medium-sized European democracy with a huge history, important history.

I will just give you a very quick overview; I am seeing the Greek foreign policy as the symbol of the Olympic Games with intersecting circles.

Circle number one is our European neighborhood, mainly partners within the European Union, but also, obviously, the United Kingdom.

Second circle is to our south. It’s rather a big circle and an expanding circle, it is the Middle East, it is the Gulf and it is also North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. We see these too as] quite well connected with our neighborhood.

In Northern Europe, if you have the same discussion in Brussels, many people see the Mediterranean as a border. That has never been the case in history. The Mediterranean has always, since Ancient Greek times, been a bridge.

And why am I saying that? Because many challenges now come from Africa and especially Sub-Saharan Africa, and we have to pay very close attention to that bridge.

A third circle is the Balkans, especially now, the Western Balkans. Greece has been extremely successful in helping the Eastern Balkan countries become members of the European Union. The Western Balkans is a challenge; difficult cases, no way for stability, peace and prosperity unless they eventually come into the European family.

Fourth, extremely important for us, the United States, our number one military ally for the last half century. Our relations with the United States are now at an all-time high.

I have myself signed two Agreements with the United States, and also we cooperate very closely, even in the current crisis we are facing after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The fifth circle is what we call “beyond the horizon”, which means East Asia. I was a few weeks ago in Phnom Penh signing an Agreement with the ASEAN; Vietnam, for us a very important country, China, an extremely important country for Greece as well, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

But also, the rest of Africa; Africa is the fastest expanding continent in the world economically but also population-wise; South and Central America.

There is a sixth circle, which has to do with issues. On top of this circle, for us there are two things: International Law, a rules-based order- and the environment.

There are other things as well. For example, the Francophonie. We have been members for years, we have a very active role in the Francophonie. The Lusophony, the countries who speak Portuguese. We have signed an agreement with them.

But also, the environment; we care a lot, we care dearly. We are a conservative government but we think that unless we address the challenge of the environment, all the other challenges mean nothing. We destroy our world as we proceed.

I am going to meet Secretary Kerry, on Sunday, he is coming to Athens. We are organizing in consultation] with the United States the “Our Ocean Conference 2024” to help preserve the maritime environment. We care a lot, we are the biggest merchant maritime power in the world.

But also, on the issue of International Law, we are conducting three campaigns in the United Nations because we would like to be relevant, we would like to advocate for international law.

We are trying to be elected to the United Nations Security Council for 2025-2026. We would like to become a member of the Human Rights Council for 2028-2030, and also, we would like to get the Presidency of the General Assembly early in the next decade.

So, that’s a very concise presentation of what we are trying to do. But I am looking forward to your open questions and I will try to answer them the best way I can.

Again, I am really thankful for the opportunity you gave me.

QUESTION: Minister, thank you so much for meeting us today, it’s a great honor.

There are a few of us in the room who are very interested in U.S. foreign policy and who will actually join the U.S. Foreign Service as diplomats upon graduation and -we posed this question to a few of the leaders we’ve already met-  but I am just curious as to what your thoughts are as to how the U.S. can better support Greece and its future endeavors, including joining the Human Rights Council,  U.N. Security Council, and why you think that’s something the United States’ foreign policy objective should focus on, in this relationship.

N. DENDIAS: Thank you.

We are very happy with the Greek-US relations. It has never ever been that good. But having said that, that does not mean we cannot do more.

And we are very much aligned with the U.S. foreign policy on the approach to a rules-based society. We believe that a revisionist policy, no matter who is the actor, has no place in this world. The strong one cannot impose its views and its opinion on the weak one. That’s not the world we aspire to create.

We are not in the 16th century anymore. Humanity has struggled for centuries to get beyond the Machiavellian approach to international politics.

So, what we would like from the United States is to support medium and smaller countries to become more involved on the international stage on this agenda, on the agenda of International Law.

And we believe that -if I am reading the United States Constitution well- that serves the American long-term interest as well. Because the main part of the American foreign policy throughout the ages was in favor of the rules-based international order, in favor of principles and in favor of ideals.

So why not subscribe to this effort by a country that was the first country that created democracy in this world.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you again, Minister, for hosting us.

The question I have is what do you think is relevant for countries such as Greece when you are dealing with asymmetric relations with countries that are larger in terms of positioning their national interest in the global sphere?

N. DENDIAS:  When I first came here, I was initially thought that problems are solvable when you treat them in a rational way. If you understand the interest of the other side and you accept, you respect what is legal and you act accordingly. And I couldn’t have been proven more wrong in the case of our big neighbour, Turkey.

Because all these three years I have to tell you we are living under a constant crisis with ups and downs, but all this time our relations with Turkey have been crisis at a crisis level. And that has never been the case after 1974.

After 1974 –1974 was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus– we had ups and downs, crises, very big crises, but then there was almost immediately a de-escalation. In this case, in all the three years, we are facing a constant deterioration of this.

And I will show you why, and what is the basic reason. I can show you a few maps. This is a turkish map, you see where the dividing line is and you see that Crete is also colored red.

Now, if Turkey starts from that point of view, how can we ever have a good understanding with Turkey? I suppose it is quite similar to President Putin’s dreams of how an “acceptable” Ukraine would look in the future. No.

If you think I am exaggerating this is called «the Blue Homeland», in Turkish “Mavi Vatan”, the idea that Turkey is entitled to what is painted blue.

And just to prove to you that we are not daydreaming; this is President Erdogan speaking in front of that map to the cadets of the Turkish Naval Academy.

So, I have to say, in my humble opinion, the problems we are having with Turkey and the problems smaller countries have with bigger countries are solvable. But the way to solve them and the way to address them is to accept a common set of rules.

And what are the rules? They are not rules by choice, they are not rules a la carte, it is international law. And this case is international law of the sea.

If we both accept this as the basis of our discussion our problems are very easily solvable. And we have a huge respect for our bigger neighbor. But if, for example, we are trying to solve a geometry exercise together and you are implementing Euclidean geometry in which parallels exist, and I am implementing para-elliptical geometry in which parallels do not exist, how can we ever solve this exercise together? We will never do that.

So, the answer is smaller countries and bigger countries have to accept international law if we would like humanity to progress.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister, I wanted to maybe touch on ring number 5 and number 6 of your presentation, which is around Africa, the broader emerging world, and ring number 6 which is around international law and climate change which you mentioned. And I think one of the questions I have is around meeting the long-term commitments that have been made for climate change to the developing world, this 100 billion dollar commitment that’s been made for climate change mitigation and financing.

And how you see at your level and also at European level these commitments being met in light of the challenges that we are seeing on the energy side and the inflation side. Also, because I think what the Prime Minister highlighted to us two days ago is the end of enhanced surveillance for Greece in terms of the fiscal side. So, I am imagining that one of the things that Greece wants to do is really step out into the world and show leadership, I think, especially on the climate change side.

So I just wanted your thoughts about how you are approaching the forthcoming COP27 meeting which is being hosted in Africa which has parallel to ring number 5 of your presentation.

N. DENDIAS: Thank you. First of all we are very happy that Egypt is hosting in Sharm El-Sheikh the COP. As I told you before, for us Africa is extremely important.

But you also addressed this through another angle that is extremely interesting, and this is the economic situation around the world after the Russian invasion.

We are having at the same time two huge challenges.

The first one is climate change which, honestly speaking, is getting beyond control.

So, we have to address this phenomenon or we will destroy humanity. And huge resources have to be used. And, I have to say, 100 billion is too small an amount and I am stating the obvious.

At the same time, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have the huge raise of energy prices, reignition of inflation – which we have forgotten for the 4-5 last decades – and need to re-address the internal balances in the European societies and in western countries, societies and democracies. Where, at the same time, we have the problem of internal inequality, which is again a problem which disrupts the normal functioning of a democratic society.

You cannot throw one part of your population under the poverty line. You have to help them, that is the meaning of the modern state and the modern society.

And in order to address one challenge you are opening yourself to problems in the effort to address the other challenges. And I am sorry to say: there are no quick fixes on this.

In my humble opinion, the best thing democracies can do is to be absolutely open towards the societies on how huge the challenges we are facing are and prepare our societies, for what is coming. Because this is not going to be easy.

QUESTION: Thank you, for having us today. I was wondering if you can walk us through the process of essentially balancing out your allies and the priorities. That would be the US, China, Iran. How do you serve a balance of priorities between very important allies to you.

N. DENDIAS: And I think for China, Greece is an important country.

I have served a few times as a Minister of a small-medium sized country. Yet again, I have seen President Xi three times in my life. That cannot be by coincidence. It is clear that in the Chinese Silk Road map Greece has a role.

And China for us is important because China has invested in Greece in the time of crisis in the Piraeus port. And also, China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Because of the challenges we are facing we need good relations with all the United Nations Security Council members.

Having said that, for us it is clear where we belong. We belong to the western world, we belong to the world of democracies, we are a proud member of NATO since the early ‘50s, and we are a strong and committed ally of the US and a member of the European Union.

So, Chinese investments and good relations with China in a rules-based international order are more than welcome.

In Phnom Penh, I met Minister Wang Yi and I am going to Beijing this autumn. We will continue cultivating our relationship with China.

But that does not mean that we will ever, under any circumstances, compromise our values, our principles and our allies.

QUESTION: Minister, thank you so much for your time. I’d like to ask you about the current energy crisis. On one hand, this winter, threatens to stress a lot of relations between EU countries. So, I’d be curious about what you see as challenges and the foreign policy approaches to mitigating some of these stresses.

And on the other hand, Greece is under construction on the new LNG terminal and is potentially set to be a center point for importing energy into the greater European area.

So, where do you see the opportunities from this current crisis as well?

N. DENDIAS: There are a number of issues that work to our advantage. Number one, is our geographical position, we don’t have that cold winters. Number two, our level of imports, energy imports from Russia are not that big. But that is not the case for most of our European friends and partners.

And on the other hand, we are adamant on issues of principle, on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have implemented all packages of sanctions and we will continue doing so, we will continue to help Ukraine.

For us, it is more difficult than it sounds, because historically we had a close relationship with Russia. The Russian fleet was one of the three fleets that defeated the Ottoman fleet and was the turning point in the Greek war of independence. But again, principles are principles.

The invader cannot ever be accepted as something that for us is a matter of discussion.

The clever thing we have done in the past, you were kind enough to mention it in your question, is not only balancing our imports but also creating sources for LNG. And we have the Revithousa LNG terminal which is right next to Athens. But also, we have Alexandroupolis which is the second entry point.

And as you see on the map, the distance between Alexandroupolis and Odessa it is smaller than the distance to the straits of Bosporus to Odessa.

Alexandroupolis, which is part of the two Agreements I have signed with the United States, is potentially the main entry point for energy in Central and Eastern Europe. Distance-wise it is much closer, for example, to Vienna than Rotterdam.

So, we have really chosen wisely, or reality has proven us right in creating alternative sources. But of course, this needs a lot of pipelines and other projects that are progressing as we speak.

But at least the right choices have been made before this crisis.

QUESTION: Thank you, Minister, again for taking the time to speak with us today.

One of the core cases that they teach all the HKS and PP1 students is about the Syrian refugee crisis and giving that, you know, the impact of climate change will affect not only the environment but also conflict, food security, therefore drive greater migration and we also see that geopolitical tensions would drive migration as well, we saw that with the invasion of Ukraine.

So, my question relates to how do you think Greece, the European Union and the international community as a whole must work together to deal with issues of forced migration.

N. DENDIAS: Yes, that’s also an interesting one.

I will add up to what you say. Something that was not part of the challenge we were facing before is the instrumentalization of migration, using migration as a weapon.

And we have seen that in two cases in recent years, one by Turkey against us and the European Union in 2020 where thousands of people were literally pushed towards the European border. And also, by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus sending people to Lithuania, again, in order to blackmail Lithuania and the European Union.

And those two are partly interconnected, I’ll give you an example. When we saw the Lithuanian crisis evolving, we were trying to figure out how migrants would arrive in Belarus. Because Belarus is not the obvious destination of migrants coming from Africa or from Asia, Central Asia etc.

And we realized that there were 35 flights per day from Turkey to Belarus. Suddenly it seems that Belarus became the favorite tourist destination from the Ataturk airport and the new airport in Istanbul.

So, we have to address the challenge of the instrumentalization of migration. At the same time, we in the European Union are very proud because we have a regime of protecting human rights and that is at the core of what the European project is.

So, if we compromise that, then we compromise the whole project and it’s a very fine balancing act not always easy to make, because we are speaking about huge numbers. Europe has now to address hundreds of thousands, million cases per year.

So, we have to find a balance between protecting our borders, protecting our societies, not allow instrumentalization of the effort of poor people to gain a better future and at the same time preserve human rights.

And if I have to say what is the top priority; is always human rights. At the end of the day that’s what it is.


Thank you so much Minister, it was an honor.

N. DENDIAS: Thank you. I am sure it was not an honor, I hope it was a small pleasure.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic

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