COMMENT

Canada willing to play role of honest broker, FM tells Kathimerini

TOM ELLIS

As a member of the G7, the G20 and a friend of both Greece and Turkey, Canada can help de-escalate tension between the two countries and ensure the unity that is needed within NATO, says Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne. [AP]

TAGS: Interview, Diplomacy

Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne expresses his country’s willingness to play the role of honest broker between Greece and Turkey in an interview with Kathimerini, shortly before the meetings he will have on Tuesday with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his counterpart Nikos Dendias.

In the first visit of a Canadian foreign minister to Athens in 30 years, Canadian investments will be high on the agenda, mainly the course of Eldorado Gold’s investment, regarding which Champagne expresses satisfaction but also the desire for rapid implementation of the procedures, as well as the prospect of other Canadian investments, including at Athens International Airport.

- Why are you visiting now? What is the purpose?

My visit, the first after 30 years, aims to give a new impetus to bilateral relations. Our historical relationship, our trade, our shared values, and our alliance with NATO are the foundation for building an even closer relationship in the future. And to talk about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

- How do you assess the tension caused by Turkey’s behavior?

We have been dealing with the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean since day one. I am in contact with the secretary-general of NATO to explore what possibilities there are for Canada to play a role as an honest broker. I spoke with your foreign minister last week – he did not expect me to come so soon – and we analyzed the situation. We want a Turkey that is firmly committed to the Euro-Atlantic relationship and that is why the discussions I had with Mr Dendias, as well as with my Turkish counterpart with whom I spoke before I left Canada, focused on how Canada, as a member of the same alliance, can consult with the two countries for de-escalation. I was pleased to see the mechanism put in place by NATO. I spoke with Jens [Stoltenberg] about it and we looked at mediation possibilities. As part of the political review of NATO’s mode of operation, Canada has proposed a mediation mechanism. So, whatever role we can play we will play it. NATO is the most successful alliance. Seventy years of peace and security in Europe that have brought stability that has led to prosperity. That is why we must support the Alliance.

- So, does Canada really feel that it can mediate between Greece and Turkey?

I do not pretend that Canada is the only country that tries. But as a member of the G7, the G20 and a friend of both countries, I think so. That is why I offered in my discussion with Nikos Dendias to see how we can help, how we can have a mechanism that contributes to de-escalation. What is happening in Greece also concerns Canada. The Greek community in Canada has played a key role in building what Canada is today. That is why we are interested, and my presence here confirms that.

- What was the response of the Greek foreign minister?

We will discuss this [today]. The message is that Canada is ready and willing to help as an honest broker to de-escalate, and to help ensure the unity that is needed within NATO.

- However, the recent threats from Ankara do not help.

Disputes are not resolved by threats, but at the negotiating table. The solutions come not through conflicts, but through political means. If Canada can play a positive role, we would like that to be the case. We want stability in the region. We have several crises around the world. We want to do more with Greece. In a polarized world there are things that countries like Canada and Greece can do. We work with the EU. We want to highlight human rights, core democratic values and liberties.

- I am not sure that Turkey also belongs to this category of countries, as shown by the recent conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

This was a move that surprised us. That is why we intervened to the UNESCO secretary-general to ensure that the monument remains accessible to all, and that the spirit of universality it exuded is protected. But the move surprised us all.

- How do you view the behavior of a NATO country against other members, not only Greece, but lately even France?

I always believed in dialogue. The only way is to ensure that Turkey remains firmly committed to the Euro-Atlantic course. Its actions do not help.

I spoke openly, for example, about the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and the need for third parties to not be involved, and that obviously includes Turkey. I spoke with the Turkish foreign minister before leaving Canada, and I conveyed this message to him, that we must work to de-escalate. And that the tones must be lowered so that we can return to negotiations. Whether it concerns the delimitation of the continental shelf or other issues where we see positions being adopted and anchored. In order to move forward, things must be said by name.

- How do you assess the evolution of the Eldorado Gold investment?

It is something we will discuss with the prime minister. We want the transfer agreement to move forward. Eldorado Gold is one of the largest foreign investments in the country. And we want to see other Canadian investments in Greece, such as 30% of [Athens International Airport]. You are a country that offers what every investment needs: stability, predictability and the rule of law. And Eldorado Gold is a good example.

- So, are you satisfied with the way the case is going?

Obviously, we want things to go faster. But I understand that in a democratic society like Greece, some procedures need to be followed. It must go to Parliament. I realize, however, that it is moving forward and we are watching. We are moving forward in other areas too, like in education. There are opportunities in innovation. Obviously, Greece has vast experience in matters related to the sea, as does Canada. The whole case of the blue economy. We can learn a lot from each other. And the digital economy.

- How do you view the election process in the US?

The US and Canada are united by geography, trade, but also human relations. Trade in goods and services is estimated at $2 billion a day. Before the coronavirus we had hundreds of thousands of people coming and going between the two countries. For us this is a very special, unique relationship. We work with both Democrats and Republicans, without ever getting involved in the electoral process in our neighboring country.

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