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The security architecture in the East Mediterranean at the heart of the Rhodes Conference (22-23 May)

The security architecture in the East Mediterranean at the heart of the Rhodes Conference (22-23 May)
On 22-23 May the 2nd Conference on Security and Stability will take place in Rhodes, following the successful inaugural conference on the island in September last year, and the equally successful first Ministerial Conference of the Ancient Civilizations Forum in Athens.

Within a month, Greece is hosting two highly significant international forums for cooperation, both of which emerged on the initiative of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

Overall, the Greek government has currently rolled out 12 international initiatives to build peace and cooperation networks in the region - apart from the Conference of Rhodes and the Forum of Ancient Civilizations – which include: the Conference of Athens on Religious Pluralism in the Middle East; the new tripartite meetings of Greek-Cypriot cooperation with Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine and the qualitative upgrading of these shapes with Israel and Egypt; the Quartet of Thessaloniki for inter-Balkan cooperation; measures building confidence with Macedonia; the coordination of 4 Balkan EU member-states, etc.

The objective of all the initiatives of Greek diplomacy is to highlight the elements that unite peoples and to build networks of cooperation on the solid basis of mutual benefit, networks contributing decisively to the consolidation of stability and creating prosperity in the troubled region of Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere. These are initiatives of a multidimensional foreign policy that exploits every comparative advantage of Greece, highlighting its key role and importance as a factor of cooperation, security and stability at every level.

"When discussing at bilateral meetings and multilateral fora for the Middle East, talks are about conflict and wars. We want to move on to a positive agenda that also concerns cooperation in culture, economy, education," Nikos Kotzias recently stressed in an interview.

It is no coincidence that this endeavor to promote a positive agenda in international relations is now known as the "spirit of Rhodes", as it was the fundamental feature of one of the most important initiatives of Greek foreign policy, the Rhodes Conference on Security & Stability.

The opening conference of Rhodes in September 2016 produced tangible political results in this direction. With Greece in the crucial role of bridge-maker, the Conference gathered 11 European and Arab states around a table, not only to discuss the known challenges facing the region, as is the case in all international fora, but mainly to co-decide how the positive agenda of relations between them can be promoted.

For example, how can they enhance cooperation and networking in the field of education. The cooperation of universities and research centers from all these countries and the launching of joint initiatives targeted primarily at groups of young people being subjected to extremist and hate speech have been the focus of the conference, along with security measures against terrorism. Why? Because measures to suppress extremism are necessary, but they do not address the problem at its root.

This was the aim of the Rhodes Conference: to bring together, as never before, States with different standpoints but with a common vision for the future, to discuss the real causes of common problems and how they can be addressed in a positive and cooperative way.

The 2nd Rhodes Conference on Security and Stability (May 22-23, 2017) again finds the participating states facing multiple challenges. In the context of the "spirit of Rhodes", the theme of the second Conference will be "Living and Working Together in Peace and Stability". The participating Ministers will have the opportunity to exchange views on both the main issues of security and stability in the region as well as the possible collective responses to them.

The Greek Foreign Minister has been clear that Greece wants to shape a new security architecture in Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. He even publicly argued in Potsdam, at the OSCE Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting in September 2016, that "in the same way that we created a security structure in Europe even during the Cold War, when we had the Helsinki decisions that led us to the OSCE, today we seek a similar security structure in the Eastern Mediterranean."

At the OSCE Ministerial Council in December 2016, Nikos Kotzias reiterated the proposal, as the historical acquis of the Helsinki Final Act, particularly with the global concept of "security" (political / military, economic / environmental and human, a perception which identifies with the concept of the "spirit of Rhodes") and mutual respect of borders, can also be a guide even in the most unstable region of the world today, the Middle East.

"We believe we should discuss with all the Arab countries, and of course with Israel, how we can create such an institution. We are trying to create a preliminary structure: we organized the Rhodes Conference, where European and Arab states met and tried to establish a similar institution together," the Greek Foreign Minister stressed in Hamburg.

Finally, the following topics will be at the heart of the discussions at the 2nd Conference of Rhodes:

- The common geopolitical challenges in the region. Extremism, terrorism, human trafficking, weapons trade and piracy are phenomena that are very closely intertwined. Addressing them requires a thorough knowledge of what is happening and, on the other hand, co-ordination of countries with a common understanding of the problem, which will allow for a coordinated and holistic approach to all the factors threatening stability in the region.

- Education and culture. The importance and priority of Education in building trust, prosperity, peaceful coexistence and the fight against violence and fanaticism have already been recognized by the inaugural Rhodes Conference. Building on the positive achievements of the Forum of Ancient Civilizations, the Conference is expected to deepen cooperation, promote common cultural values that promote the peaceful coexistence of people, regardless of their origin or religious and other beliefs.

- The environment. The sea, the blue road of prosperity that connects the fortunes of the peoples of the region, provides a great potential for growth and innovation that is sustainable and can be utilized in a coordinated manner, in the areas of marine biotechnology, aquaculture and marine / coastal tourism./IBNA

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