Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Q: We all watch worried and confused what is taking place among the allied countries that participate in the strikes against Libya; we see mainly an incapacity by NATO to reach a decision. We see that the US, Britain and other countries seeking, in vain, NATO to take command. Tell me, to the best of your knowledge, where do discussions stand at the moment and how close is a decision by NATO?

Ev. Venizelos: As NATO Secretary General Mr. Rasmussen announced, the process for conducting an operation regarding an arms embargo has been completed. The process for an operation implementing a no-fly zone is still outstanding. All parties involved believe that a decision on the latter will have been made by tomorrow, or the day after, at the latest.

It is not possible for this confusion and irregularity to be continued. I don’t think it’s helpful in terms of reaching the final goal which is a politically viable solution for the protection of the unarmed population, for the respect of the express wishes of the Libyans, for safeguarding Libya’s integrity and national unity and independence but at the same time for allowing Libya to join a group of countries that respect democracy and the rule of law.

Q: Do you think that Turkey will remove its initial reservations soon? And will there be a decision, as you say, in a couple of days after all? Because that’s not the impression we got after the phone-call of [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan with [US President] Obama.

Ev. Venizelos: I don’t think that Turkey’s reservations are the big issue here. As you heard it yourself, Turkey has expressed itself through its own Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan. I wouldn’t characterize that as the major obstacle here. There was confusion for weeks, to start with, in regards to a final and adequate UN Security Council decision.

And now, obviously, a choice has been made to have a preliminary stage outside the scope of NATO. Greece, as has declared already, will not participate in that phase. A subsequent phase, ultimately under NATO’s control, will follow. That phase will carry the institutions, the processes, the experience and the capacity to support a mission with a beginning, middle and end.

Q: You said that the reason that this intervention is Libya is taking place is the same reason invoked by the UN Security Council Resolution. However, over the past few days, there are people calling -for humanitarian reasons, to protect the unarmed population by Qaddafi’s atrocities- for regime change in Libya. Also, there is information that has yet to be confirmed, that ground forces are already on Libyan soil. What could this mean for Greece and its own, further, supportive –as the Greek government calls it- presence and participation?

Ev. Venizelos: First of all, the deployment of ground forces is not allowed by the Security Council Resolution [mandate]. On the contrary, there is a clear prohibition in regards to the introduction of an occupational zone in Libya.

Q: Yes, that is why I said that there’s information regarding its existence already.

Ev. Venizelos: The Greek government is not aware of such information. Furthermore, you previously said that the goal of the Security Council Resolution is to protect the unarmed population and to facilitate humanitarian operations. But the goal is to also reach a viable solution for the problem already in hand. And it’s obvious that that viable solution must be in accordance to the expressed will of Libyans -and they will find ways to express themselves- because the future of Libya rests on the will of its own people and by none other.

I think that everybody has absorbed the experiences from the Former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan and no-one wants to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Mistakes that can now be prevented in order to reach, in a quicker and safer way, a solution which will be necessarily political. The final solution is never military.

Q: So it is clear that the humanitarian aspect of the UN Security Council Resolution as well as the protection of the unarmed population, definitely lead to a regime change to a more democratic transition. That is not expressly included in the UN mandate, is that not so? And it is something that could possibly lead to bloodshed.

Ev. Venizelos: I said that the Security Council invokes the need of a viable and long-term solution. And that solution can only be in accordance to the will of Libyans and must be expressed somehow. We will not solve this particular problem at this stage.

Q: How can the will of Libyans be expressed?

Ev. Venizelos: Through the processes that are internationally acceptable, Mrs. Stai. Not many ways are available.

Q: Through elections possibly? Do you think that Qaddafi will unilaterally call elections?

Ev. Venizelos: You see that there was a referendum in Egypt too. Others thought it was hasty, others thought it was necessary. But some sort of process did take place. It had institutional characteristics that were acknowledged by the international community. That’s how things will be organized in Libya, at some point, too. That should be self-evident. The situation has changed. The previous situation in Libya cannot be restored. If there are people who believe that things will remain flat and that the bombing expedition is a whim, they are wrong.

Q: Who do facilitations by Greece mean for this particular operation? What are the facilities that Greece is making available? For example, what is Souda Bay’s role, the Aktion airfield’s role or the frigate’s that patrols the area between the island Crete and Libya?

Ev. Venizelos: There are facilitations that have been made available by Greece under NATO command planning and others that are being made available on a bilateral level, following requests towards Greece by friendly and allied countries.

Greece has told NATO that it will participate in this operation through the Souda Bay facility, through Aktion and Adravida airfields, through the Navy frigate (and its helicopter) that for days now patrols the area between the island of Crete and Libya and though the ERIEYE Early Warning Radar System on board an Embraer airplane which collects images and transmits those images to the Larissa CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center).

Greece also has a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter available at any time, because we want to always retain control of Search and Rescue operation within the Greek FIR. So, this is what Greece’s NATO participation includes.

Q: So Greece’s participation is of a supportive nature only? Greece does not participate directly, for example through bombing expeditions. We facilitate others in such operations, right?

Ev. Venizelos: Obviously so. And to clear any doubts regarding this matter, Greece has not made any fighting jets available; In any case they would not be bombers but reconnaissance aircraft. But again, to cast any doubts away, no Greek fighting jets will be involved at all.

Of course, countries such as Belgium, Norway, Denmark or Qatar request clearance to be redeployed and be outfitted while in a Greek airfield.

What about them doing sorties out of there?

Ev. Venizelos: There are such demands as well, if you are referring to the countries that now participate in the current operations underway, operations outside the scope of NATO. But such a thing [sorties out of Greek airfields] has not taken place.

Did NATO ask for data on what kind of support Greece can provide allied aircraft through its airfields with? Is there such a NATO request already?

Ev. Venizelos: NATO always asks its member-states to declare which airfields, what kind of infrastructures or what forces they can provide. Greece has made available the assets included in the list that I mentioned. Besides, NATO is well-aware of what the Greek airfields are. What is important is to convey some clear messages in the public opinion of Greece:

First, that there is no military safety problem, because the distance between Libya and the island of Crete and the rest of continental Greece is such that no weapons system that Qaddafi possesses can threaten it. Those systems are old and have a limited range.

Second, Greece’s criteria under which it decides about its supportive stand, are based on International Law, and the country’s obligations deriving from its participation in international and regional bodies; and above all, they are criteria based on Greece’s national interest. That means Greece combines all its options with what it has in mind in relation to the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean region. -

Tags: Interviews