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Foreign ministers of Czech Republic, Greece, agree to move past diplomatic row

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Dec 23 (CTK) – The diplomatic rift that broke out between the Czech Republic and Greece over President Milos Zeman´s critical statements about Greece is settled now, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said after a phone conversation with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias yesterday.
On Tuesday, Kotzias recalled the Greek ambassador from Prague to Athens for consultations in reaction to Zeman´s words that the Czech Republic would enter the euro zone only after Greece´s departure from it.
The Greek ambassador, Panayotis Sarris, will return to Prague after Christmas, Zaoralek (Social Democrats, CSSD) wrote on Twitter.
Zaoralek´s spokeswoman said said he invited Kotzias for a visit to Prague.
“The diplomatic rift with Greece is settled. My phone call with my Greek counterpart was held in a friendly atmosphere,” Zaoralek wrote.
He said he and Kotzias agreed that it would be unfortunate if the rift further escalated. They want to focus on more important issues.
“We have agreed with my colleague Kotzias on intensifying bilateral contacts, because we face more important joint tasks within the EU,” Zaoralek wrote, referring to the fight against Islamic State and the solving of the migrant crisis.
Asked by journalists whether he has apologised to Kotzias for Zeman´s statements, Zaoralek said they did not talk on that level.
“We did not talk about concrete people or concrete statements. The minister simply told me that he dislikes it – and he even spoke about Europe, not about the Czech Republic only – when accusations and attacks are targeted at Greece,” Zaoralek said.
He said he told Kotzias that the Czech government is aware that Greece did not cause the financial crisis but it is far more a victim of the world and European developments.
“I felt that Greece is definitely not interested in further escalating the dispute. [On the part of Greeks] it was rather a way to make it clear that they disagree with certain types of statements,” Zaoralek said.
In an interview with Czech Radio earlier yesterday, Zaoralek said he does not expect Czech-Greek relations to be negative. On the other hand, it is impossible to assert that nothing happened, he said.
“The affairs cannot be completely deleted or erased. On both sides, we feel that it is important to cooperate,” he said.
Asked by Czech Radio, Zaoralek said he would not meet Zeman over the Czech-Greek rift now.
“I do not feel an urgent need to do so. I and the president have regular meetings and we may touch on the issue later,” Zaoralek said.
“I think the whole affair has been settled now. I have been taking permanent efforts to coordinate my [positions] with Mr Zeman´s and prevent similar situations. Sometimes [the coordination] is successful, but sometimes not, as you can see,” Zaoralek said.
The Greek ambassador left Prague on Tuesday. The embassy confirmed for CTK that he left over the statement Zeman made about Greece´s euro zone membership last week.
When commenting on a possible Czech introduction of the euro, Zeman said he regrets it that Greece has remained in the euro zone. He said he would not like the Czechs to be forced to cover Greek debts after joining the euro zone.
According to CTK´s information, Kotzias, too, previously complained about certain countries´ rhetoric targeting Greece. The Greek ERT television mentioned Hungary and Slovakia in this connection and said the gesture towards Prague was an attempt to solve the problem.
Greek-Czech relations have reached “the freezing point” following Zeman´s statements, ERT said and referring to Sarris, it said they are now at the worst level in history.
On Tuesday, Greek media said Athens is one step short of complete severance of diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic. The relations can again improve if the controversial statements are “corrected,” the media said.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the affair, as has Zeman´s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek.
Ovcacek previously dismissed the possibility of Zeman correcting his statements.
“The President publicly stated his opinion in the past months. He has insisted on the opinion and he will continue to present it publicly,” Ovcacek said on Tuesday.
Zeman commented on the situation in the euro zone in an interview with the Slovak news agency TASR a week ago and said the Czech Republic should introduce the euro.
“My only apprehension about the adoption of the euro amid the present stabilisation mechanism is that Czech taxpayers would have to cover the Greek debts. I was very disappointed by the outcome of the [summer] negotiations that were close to ‘Grexit’, but finally resulted in Greece’s remaining in the euro zone,” Zeman said.

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