‘Greece aspires to become bridge between Middle East and Europe,’ Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis tells Arab News

Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis supports reform of the UN Security Council and backs calls for a permanent seat for the Arab world. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 October 2023
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‘Greece aspires to become bridge between Middle East and Europe,’ Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis tells Arab News

  • Greek FM says his country seeks to cooperate with Saudi Arabia and wider Gulf who are “at the forefront of green projects and renewable initiatives” 
  • Gerapetritis explains the motivations behind Greece’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council 

NEW YORK CITY: Greece is boosting its cooperation with the Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, which are “at the forefront of green projects and renewable initiatives,” Giorgos Gerapetritis, the Greek foreign minister, has told Arab News.

He also said that Athens has ambitions to transform Greece into a “bridge” between the Middle East and Europe, with a view to becoming a trans-regional meeting point for energy, communications and logistics on the cusp of two continents. 

“Our efforts to become an energy hub, connecting the wider region with European markets and promoting energy diversification and autonomy, are underway,” Gerapetritis said.

Greece is also exploring “prospects for cooperation with the Arab world, including the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, which have led the way in green projects and renewable initiatives.

“Greece aspires to become the ‘bridge’ between the Middle East and Europe in energy interconnection,” he said.

In his wide-ranging interview, which covered Greek motivations for seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council during the 2025-2026 term, Gerapetritis said that his country’s bid reflects a commitment to addressing the world’s shared challenges.




Calls for reform of the UN Security Council centered on opening more countries or groupings as permanent members. (AFP/File photo)

These include the peaceful settlement of conflicts, the promotion of international law and good governance, and the collective response to climate change, from cutting greenhouse gas emissions and switching to renewables to living more sustainably.

Recognizing the urgency of addressing the climate challenge, especially in the Mediterranean region, which has recently experienced a devastating toll of wildfires and extreme weather, Gerapetritis reiterated his country’s commitment to the green transition.

“Climate change affects Greece enormously and the entire Mediterranean region,” he said. “This summer, we were struck by the effects of the climate crisis, first by wildfires and then by floods. This obliges us to act on a national and global level.”

Greece aims to achieve its national target of sourcing 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2027, while it continues to “actively” implement the Paris Agreement and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Gerapetritis said. 

Last week, during the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced two climate initiatives. The first of these was a regional initiative focused on prioritizing short-term adaptation efforts among the EU Med 9 countries. 

The second was an international initiative to establish a “global climate adaptation alliance” for knowledge-sharing on innovative technologies that can predict extreme weather events, with plans to include it in the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai.




A fire fighting aircraft drops water over a wildfire close to village of Vati in the southern part of the Greek island of Rhodes on July 25, 2023. (AFP)

Another major feature of the climate response is energy cooperation, particularly in relation to sources of renewables such as wind and solar or cleaner fuels such as green hydrogen — an area in which Saudi Arabia has made significant strides. 

Gerapetritis said that last week’s agreement between Greece and Saudi Arabia to establish a jointly owned company to look at linking the two countries’ power grids was the first step in a plan to provide Europe with cheaper clean energy. 

The joint venture, dubbed Saudi Greek Interconnection, is tasked with “examining the commercial viability of the power interconnection,” Gerapetritis said. “This is the first step of our joint plan to supply Europe with green energy.” 

The deal was signed in Athens on Sept. 27 by Manos Manousakis, CEO of Greece’s Independent Power Transmission Operator, IPTO, and his Saudi counterpart, Abdullah Waleed Al-Saadi, of National Grid SA.

A memorandum of understanding was also signed between the two countries, covering the areas of energy efficiency, oil, gas, petrochemicals, the circular economy and decarbonization.

At the signing, Alexandra Sdoukou, Greek deputy minister of environment and energy, and Nasser Hadi Al-Qahtani, Saudi assistant energy minister, highlighted hydrogen, renewables and electricity infrastructure as priority areas for energy cooperation.




Alexandra Sdoukou, Greek deputy minister of environment and energy, and Nasser Hadi Al-Qahtani, Saudi assistant energy minister. (X: @ASdoukou)

They also noted the significance of energy cooperation in the development of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, or IMEC, which was unveiled during the G20 summit in New Delhi last month, and is backed by the US as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

At the UN General Assembly in New York, Gerapetritis said he highlighted the importance of a multifaceted foreign policy based on international law and the principles enshrined in the UN Charter in an ever-changing international environment. 

“I conveyed to all my interlocutors that we are determined to work closely with our EU partners, neighbors, allies and friends to create conditions for the prosperity and security of our nations, our region and the world,” he told Arab News.

“Greece is a pillar of stability in a region where some of the most pressing problems prevail: Conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean, the MENA region, the Sahel and the Balkans, the refugee issue, human trafficking and terrorism.

“It is safe to say that world affairs are increasingly becoming more complicated. New challenges arise: Climate change, aggressiveness in international relations, large migratory flows, public health emergencies and food crises. 

“These challenges demand concerted efforts both at a regional and a global scale. Our main message at the UN General Assembly was that unilateral actions lead nowhere. We must get back to basics: Dialogue, democracy and the rule of law. 




This picture taken from a rescue helicopter of the Greek coast guard shows migrants onboard a fishing vessel in the waters off the Peloponnese coast June 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)

“Forging a more deliberative, representative and participatory global governance, regulating global challenges, building on global solidarity and considering the needs of future generations should become the keywords in today’s international policymaking.”

One of the pillars of Greece’s candidacy for a seat at the UN Security Council is the commitment to promoting the peaceful settlement of conflicts. 

With many such conflicts blighting the Middle East and North Africa, and given Greece’s strong relationship with several Arab states, Gerapetritis said Athens is well placed to facilitate initiatives that promote cooperation between the EU and the Arab world.

He raised the example of last April’s “Retreat on Syria” in Athens, attended by Geir Pedersen, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Syria, and organized with the assistance of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Gerapetritis also described Arab aspirations for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council as “legitimate” and expressed his support for continuing discussions on the body’s proposed reform.

“The UN Security Council is the world’s leading body for maintaining international peace and security. The impulse of reform is understandable and the Arab aspirations legitimate,” he said. 

“Greece maintains strong and enduring relationships with all Arab countries and works closely with the Arab League.

“In addition, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, I had the opportunity to hold a productive meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general, and I am very much looking forward to attending the EU-GCC Ministerial Meeting in Oman (Oct. 9-10).”

Gerapetritis said that Greece’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council is guided by the motto “Dialogue-Diplomacy-Democracy” — the 3Ds — in response to a growing trend of global revisionism, polarization and unilateral actions.




Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis supports reform of the UN Security Council and backs calls for a permanent seat for the Arab world. (Supplied)

In addition to the peaceful settlement of disputes, Gerapetritis said the other key priorities for Greece’s UN Security Council candidacy are respect for international law and the UN Charter, and support for the women, peace and security agenda, recognizing the vital role of women in conflict prevention and resolution.

Its other key priorities include integrating climate change concerns into the UN Security Council’s agenda, the protection of children in armed conflicts and the mainstreaming of cooperation on maritime security.

“Being a maritime nation by tradition and the world’s leading ship-owning country, Greece attaches great importance to maritime security and respect for the international law of the sea,” Gerapetritis said.

“Illegal activities at sea — such as piracy, terrorist acts, arms trafficking, human trafficking of migrants and illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing — constitute major maritime security threats.” 

Greece will further promote the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the sole legal and institutional framework governing the world’s oceans and seas.

Gerapetritis said: “In 2024, we will host the 9th Our Ocean Conference in Athens on all the significant issues concerning oceans and seas, including ocean health and security, climate change, biodiversity loss, overfishing and marine pollution.”

 


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 24 February 2024
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Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.