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Rice Remarks with Greek FM Bakoyannis

Remarks with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodora Bakoyannis After Their Meeting

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
March 23, 2006

(4:20 p.m. EST)


SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. I would like to welcome Greek Foreign Minister Bakoyannis -- Dora -- to the State Department and here to Washington, D.C. This is her first trip to Washington, D.C. as Foreign Minister. I have to say that I'm a great admirer of the work that she did as the Mayor of Athens, a city that is near and dear to the hearts of most people around the world, and she has been Foreign Minister now for a little over a month and it's delightful to have her here in Washington.

We've had a great opportunity to discuss our strategic partnership with Greece. This is a relationship that is first and foremost, of course, based on values. It is a relationship that recognizes the seminal role of Greece as a cradle of those values and recognizes that in the modern era in which we find ourselves now with so many challenges that Greece is a stalwart partner in the spread of democratic values, whether it be in Greece's work in the Broader Middle East Initiative, in which we've all been involved, promoting stability and prosperity in the Balkans, fighting terrorism and, of course, seeking the reunification of Cyprus on the basis of democratic values.

We have had a very useful discussion of these issues, as well as the concerns of NATO in Afghanistan, in the training mission in Iraq, in Sudan. In other words, it's been a very broad and good discussion and I look forward to many, many more with Dora over the years.

So welcome and the floor is yours.

FOREIGN MINISTER BAKOYANNIS: Thank you, Condi, and thank you for the nice words about Athens. We had a very fruitful and constructive meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and I thank her for this invitation. The U.S. and Greece enjoy an historic relationship. It is the relationship between the world's most powerful democracy and the world's oldest democracy, the birth place of our shared values and ideals.

In our talks we sought effective ways of enhancing this relationship. We discussed developments in the western Balkans, a region of strategic importance for Greece, where we have a strong political and economic presence. We agreed that the future of the western Balkans lies in Europe, that any solution to the problem of Kosovo may take into account all parts concerned and the stability of the region.

We believe in a united bicommunal Cyprus. As I had the opportunity to stress to my colleague a solution to the Cyprus problem will only be viable if it is based on relevant Security Council resolutions, the UN Secretary General's sets of proposals and the norms of the EU to which Cyprus belongs.

We both support Turkey's European aspirations, but I must say that Turkish European future lies in its own hands on the application of the European norms and practices, both inside Turkey and in their relationships with the neighbors, particularly Greece and Cyprus.

We discussed all major international issues, especially the Middle East, Iran and, naturally, Iraq. Greece enjoying a 14 centuries-long relationship with the Islamic world is well suited to play a role in the better understanding between the West and Islam.

Let me conclude by saying that I had the pleasure of inviting Secretary Rice to Greece and she -- and I was very happy that she accepted my invitation. Thank you very much.

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll take two questions a side. The first question to Anne Gearan from Associated Press.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. A double-barreled question on Iran, Madame Secretary. First, are you any closer today to winning the support of Russia and China for a statement at the Security Council? Are you looking for an alternative to that statement if you can't reach consensus?

And secondly, is there anything new to report on whether or not the United States will hold talks with Iran on Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Anne. Let me start by saying that the United Nations Security Council now has the Iran dossier. That was the agreement of the ministers when we met in London, the P-5 + 1 when we met in London at the end of January. We agreed to wait for the report of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, at the Board of Governors meeting March 6th through 8th, and then we are now taking that up in the UN Security Council.

There is no time for delay in taking up this issue. A presidential statement which will reaffirm the understandings that we had at the London meeting, the understandings that under-girded the February 4th resolution in the Board of Governors for which a number of countries, including Russia, voted. We need to have this statement and to make clear to the Iranians that the international community is united in demanding that Iran return to a posture that is consistent with its NPT obligations and consistent with the international community's need to know that Iran is, indeed, conducting a peaceful nuclear program. There is an erosion of confidence in Iran on this point because they lied to the IAEA for 18 years. They do want a civil nuclear program. That's fine. They can have one, but not with enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian territory. They need to suspend the activities in which they're engaged and return to negotiations.

There shouldn't be any delay. There can't be any stalling. The international community has got to act. People are looking to the international community to show that this can, indeed, be dealt with diplomatically. And we are committed to a diplomatic solution, but it has to be dealt with.

On the matter of what we might do with the Iranians in terms of talks, as I've said a number of times, this authority for Ambassador Khalilzad has been a standing authority for some time and we have found it useful from time to time to talk about concerns on the security side, to raise our concerns on the security side, and he has that standing authority. Those talks would be limited to Iraq and limited to security issues. Ambassador Neumann has similar authorities in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good afternoon, ladies. I have a question for Madame Secretary. In one way this is a follow-up of a question I put last year of this day. We are talking about strategic partnership between the two countries. Last year, the same expression in answer to me. Could you please give me the substance of this partnership, of this strategic (inaudible)? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. What does it mean to be a strategic partner? It means first and foremost that you share the desire to solve problems in the international system and to come up with solutions and to execute those solutions together on the basis of shared values, on the basis of common concerns.

It doesn't mean that we always agree on every element concerning a particular problem. But it does mean that Greece and the United States, from the strongest possible basis of shared values, from our alliance in NATO, from the work that we are doing together in the Balkans, that we are now reaching past that to the broader Middle East where, as Dora said, Greece has a long history of relations with the Muslim world and is therefore an anchor for any outreach to the Muslim world and the efforts to help to support those who want a democratic future.

It means that we work together on the NATO efforts in Afghanistan. It means that we work together on the NATO efforts for training in Iraq. So I see it as a declaration of, first and foremost, our shared values but also our desire to use that very strong basis to solve common problems together. Even if from time to time we may not agree about everything, this is an excellent relationship and the United States is delighted to have such a good friend and partner in Greece.

QUESTION: Thank you. Next year I am not going to --

SECRETARY RICE: Next time you can ask the same question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you spoke with Afghan President Karzai today regarding the case of Abdul Rahman. What assurances did he give you on this? Are you -- have you been assured that Mr. Rahman's life will be spared and what would be a satisfactory outcome as far as the United States is concerned? And some European governments have weighed in on this as well. I'd be interested to hear the Greek view, if you care, Madame Foreign Minister.

SECRETARY RICE: Let me start from the point of view that there is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience. This country was founded on that basis and it is at the heart of democracy. People must have a right to conscience and religious conscience.

This is a very deeply concerning development in Afghanistan and we have raised it at the highest levels. As you said, I called President Karzai and we've raised it in the strongest possible terms to make clear that it is our great hope and desire that Afghanistan will reaffirm what is already in its constitution, that the universal -- that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights will be respected and that this will be resolved in a way that is consistent with those principles. That is what would mean -- a satisfactory outcome would mean.

I've talked to President Karzai. I've talked to the Afghan Foreign Minister. We will make other representations as well and we look forward to, hopefully, to a resolution of this in the very near future.

FOREIGN MINISTER BAKOYANNIS: Well, I agree. I think religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of the democracy which is being built up. It will take time. Societies don't change from one day to another. But we have to stick to those values. We have to believe in them and be very consistent if we really want to see the results we are expecting. And I believe that there might be some setbacks. There might be and there will be problems, but at the end of the day this kind of new democracy, which is a very new thing for the Afghan society, it will prevail.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Greece has taken a number of courageous and positive decisions in supporting Turkey's European perspective, though Ankara seems not to follow constructive policies in a number of issues like Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul or the Halki religion and et cetera. Would we have, please, a comment of you on these issues? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Well, the United States has strongly supported good relations between Turkey and Greece, the effort to work out -- to reach out. I remember at the time of the earthquake the very helpful efforts that took place on a humanitarian basis that demonstrated that Turkey and Greece have come a very long way in their relations.

We are asking both parties to do as much as they can. I do know that a lot of courageous steps have been taken. The Minister raised Halki with me and we, of course, raised Halki with the Turkish Government on a number of occasions, including at very high levels.

And so we have a common view that -- we have a view that Turkey and Greece have a great deal in common -- in their NATO membership, in their desire for a stable Balkans, their desire for a stable Iraq and indeed, as Turkey has become more and more democratic over time, in shared values. And so there's a lot to work with here and I'm sure that with goodwill and effort on both sides, they will be able to succeed in improving the relationship.

Before we go I wanted to take one other opportunity and that's to congratulate Greece. It will be the 185th anniversary of independence on March 25th and so congratulations. And I also noticed, Dora, that when you said that I'd accepted the invitation to Greece, I had a lot of smiles among my press corps, who are now looking forward to that trip to Athens. So thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER BAKOYANNIS: You're all invited.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BAKOYANNIS: Thank you very much.

2006/302

ENDS


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