Monday, 21 March 2011

 

Q: We are happy and honored, ladies and gentlemen, to have on the phone the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Evangelos Venizelos. Good morning, Minister.

Ev. Venizelos: Good morning.

Q: How do you see the situation in Libya evolving?

Ev. Venizelos: We still have a lot of ground to cover, I must say. The situation is not at all simple and no-one can safely predict what will happen. The truth is, however, that an international correlation is now in force, applying strong pressure in the internal affairs of Libya as well.

Besides, the goal of the international community’s intervention, as described and defined by Security Council Resolution 1973, is to protect the non-combatant population, to facilitate the humanitarian operations that must take place to protect, primarily, the people who are forced to relocate and of course to ensure a process that will allow Libyans to express themselves democratically and install democratic institutions and a rule of law.

Q: Minister, there is some vagueness concerning the ultimate objective of this war. I mean that [the war] started with a UN mandate for a no-fly zone and it is turning into a bombing campaign. We have witnessed divergent views within the alliance leading this campaign, it is not entirely clear what everybody want; do they want Qaddafi out, what do they want?

Ev. Venizelos: This is a valid journalistic question and an accurate journalistic assessment. Everyone has to move within the framework of the UN Security Council decision which constitutes the sole legal basis of this intervention under the auspices of Chapter VII of the UN Charter that allows for the use of force in order to meet clearly defined –by the Security Council- goals. So, the answer to your question, in terms of the rules of International Law, is the one I just gave you.

Q: Yes, but the point is that some kind of reality is taking shape.

Ev. Venizelos: The reality, undoubtedly, is the use of strong military pressure. Whether there is a general agreement on that matter is something that is not yet very clear, given the public statements of the countries leading this campaign so far. I repeat, therefore, what the Security Council says, because it is obvious that this will be and this should be the international community’s common denominator.

Q: Who leads the military operations after all, Minister? Is it clear? First it was the French then the Americans and afterwards the British took some initiatives…

Ev. Venizelos: Look, the country with the experience, the infrastructure and the capabilities to exercise an operational command that, at the moment, is not being exercised by the existing, experienced senior NATO structures leads.
That is why, as you have already read, Greece has stated that it does not participate in this operational phase, taking place by coalitions of countries, because our country believes that its regional and conventional obligations are linked to NATO and the EU. In fact I would like to now tell you that –and I don’t know whether you have broadcast this information so far or not- the EU already has some kind of operational activity in the works for humanitarian purposes and asks for help by member-countries to impose the arms embargo and to facilitate the humanitarian operations.
There are people concentrated in neighboring countries, for example in Tunisia, where thousands of Egyptians have fled to, people who were working in Libya, as well as thousands of Bangladeshi nationals. That’s two characteristic examples.

Q: As far as Greece’s help –not its participation- is concerned: What is its exact nature at the moment?

Ev. Venizelos: At this stage, when neither NATO nor the EU (because its operation is currently being planned) participate yet, Greece accepts requests by friendly and allied countries.

Also, in the framework of the UN Security Council decision, which Greece is obliged to accept and implement, our country meets those requests. Those requests abide by, if you’d like, Greece’s own legal rules which are based on providing facilitations of a supportive nature.

For example, redeployment and refueling in Souda Bay, or the housing of an aircraft squadron in Araxos airfield: The latter is an actual example, because fighter jets from Belgium, participating in a training exercise with the Hellenic Air Force, happened to be there.

Greece accepts such requests because it is obliged to offer such support to countries with which it has good relations and wants to maintain them. And the list is not made up solely of western countries, but also of Arab ones which, as you know, actively participate. [The Arabs] do have, however, some reservations that have been expressed in a diplomatic and political manner by the Secretary General of the Arab League. On the other hand, there are Arab countries, such as Qatar for example, that actively participate in current operations even now, during this preliminary or initial phase of operations.

Q: Minister, allow me to ask you about something that has created some confusion and goes beyond the presence of the frigate and the other facilitations offered by Greece, as has already been stated. Initially, there was information, which had not been denied and was broadcast by public media too, that at least four Greek fighting jets would also participate [in the campaign]. Was there any such decision, which was later being retracted?

Ev. Venizelos: Mr. Papapanagiotou, there was no such decision. Simply put, the pace of journalists and that of governments is not the same. Governments handle diplomatic and political matters responsibly.

In any case, during a meeting of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) with the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs involved, in the presence of the Chairman of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff and under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, the government weighted all the facts and saw what its military capabilities were.

Greece never declared that it had decided to make available fighter jet squadrons, or even a squadron of four F-16 fighter jets. If we wanted, we could have made those jets available. What took place was that the capabilities of the Armed Forces were assessed for internal purposes. Never did we make a political decision to make such a force available and never did Greece convey such intent to NATO.

So, those journalistic assessments and broadcasts were hasty. When the time came, the government formally announced to NATO and the public opinion exactly what kind of forces it made available. In yesterday’s press release we specifically referred to: The Souda Bay facilities, Andravida and Aktion airfields, a frigate that’s been in the area [between the island of Crete and Libya] for the past three weeks, an ERIEYE Aerial Early Warning System on an Embraer airplane that we have of course and a Search and Rescue helicopter. I will explain the reasons…

Q: Yes, please go ahead.

Ev. Venizelos: Can a country like Greece not be interested in the naval monitoring of the area between the island of Crete and Libya? Of course we are interested and that is why, for weeks, a Greek navy frigate is there switching places with another navy frigate from the Crete Naval Station. Greece has a vital interest in the region’s monitoring, also for reasons of cutting the illegal immigration flows.

Secondly, the radar: Greece believes this is very important because the radar transmits its images to the Larissa CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) which for us is always very important for the NATO command structure. Lastly, aspects of Search and Rescue, for which we made the helicopter available, are always very important in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean Region because of jurisdictional issues concerning Search and Rescue.

So Greece must enforce its own jurisdictions. Hence, Greece’s yardstick is the protection of its national interest, the protection of its sovereign rights and jurisdictions.

Q: Allow me now to ask you this: Qaddafi said that through this development, in reality, the whole Mediterranean is a war zone. Some already talk about the risk of retribution. The island of Crete is perhaps the [Greek] area closer to Libya. Are you worried about such an eventuality?

Ev. Venizelos: Mr. Papapanagiotou, the island of Crete is closer relative to other European areas but it is far away for the range of Libyan weapons systems.

Q: Well,a few years ago [Qadaffi] had launched a missile against Italy.

Ev. Venizelos: Libyan does not possess such weapons systems anymore, neither air-defense ones not of any other kind. Also, Libya does not have aircraft capable of such range. So, Greek soil is outside the range of Libya’s weapons systems, the island of Crete notwithstanding.

Q: Do you have any assessment in regards to the timetable? I know it’s hard to ask such a thing right now but

Ev. Venizelos: No, I don’t and I can’t. The developments are underway, the situation is fluid. We monitor the situation closely, according to certain principles that we must apply. We have to find balance points that are strategically valid.
Greece is a country that participates in the key western institutions: A member-state of NATO and the EU. Greece ought to participate in the mainstream of western countries and to respect the UN Security Council which we constantly evoke for the Cyprus issue or for other major issues of concern, such as, for example, the name issue with FYROM.

Second, we have amicable relations with the entire Arab world, from North Africa and the Middle East to the Gulf. Those are countries, such as Qatar or the UAE which Greece, for a number of reasons, has close ties with. Therefore, we have to cultivate and respect this historic and active relationship with the Arab countries.

And third, Greece has a geographical proximity to Libya that renders us extremely important, military speaking. On the other hand, of course, it makes us cautious and guarded because this neighborly relationship is constant, regardless of the political changes in Libya.

Last but not least, Greece shares some beliefs that are universal and have to do with democracy and the rule of law. Greece should have a principle-based policy. We are a medium-size country that benefits by being principled and by thinking strategically. That is the only way to survive in a fluid and dangerous world.

Q: Mr. Venizelos, thank you very much. Have a nice day.

Ev. Venizelos: Thank you.

Tags: Interviews