UK Ambassador Smith: Britain closely following case of the two Greek soldiers in Turkey

Britain is closely following the case of the two Greek soldiers held in Turkey, the British Ambassador in Athens Kate Smith said on Wednesday, in an interview with the state broadcaster ERT.

“We share the concerns about Turkey expressed in the European Commission’s report released yesterday and these were also expressed at the European Council two weeks ago,” she noted, adding that Britain raised these issues in its talks with Turkey.

The UK also understood Greece’s concerns regarding Greek-Turkish relations and advised restraint and avoidance of tension, she said. Any actions, behaviours or rhetoric that might increase tension should be avoided by both sides, she added.

Citing her contacts with Greek diplomacy, she said that a serious effort for deescalation was being made, adding that this was very important and stressing that the UK defends international law.

Smith also noted that, in spite of everything, Turkey remains an important partner for Greece and the UK, as well as Europe.

“We believe that the channels of communication must remain open,” she noted, pointing out that it was necessary to cooperate with Turkey on a very broad range of issues, including regional security – for example, in Syria – or the fight against terrorism and on migration. “It is, also, a major economic partner for us,” she pointed out.

On the military operation in Syria last Saturday, Smith said this was a “targeted” operation that aimed only to avert further use of chemical weapons, making it clear that the UK and its allies were not becoming involved in the Syria civil war and will contribute to efforts to negotiate a peace in Syria.

Asked about the name dispute with FYROM, she described this as a bilateral issue, noting that the UK’s priority was stability and prosperity in the region while noting that a solution would improve economic relations between Greece and its northern neighbour.

Regarding Brexit and its possible impact on Greeks living or studying in Britain, Smith noted that the rights of those living in the UK were protected while those going to Britain during the transitional period will have the same rights as those living there for years. For students enrolling in 2018-2019, she said they would have the same fees and access to student loans until graduation.

Finally, she expressed her excitement over an upcoming official visit to Greece by Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, who are due to visit Athens and Crete on May 9-11.