The signed agreement on maritime boundaries was seen as a clear message to Ankara regarding Greece’s diplomatic clout and its determination to move ahead with its plans on the basis of international law.
Anastassios Tsiplacos - Editor in Chief
Greece and Italy signed an agreement on maritime boundaries on June 9, delimiting an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between the two neighbouring countries, ending a 40-year pending issue. The agreement, which is an extension of a 1977 accord, paves the way for Greece and Italy to explore for and exploit marine resources and must be ratified by both national parliaments. It also paves the way for Greece to reach a similar deal with neighboring Albania.
The deal, which was signed by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio during the latter’s visit to Athens, follows a long period of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where Turkey has signed a controversial maritime delimitation agreement with Libya and has commenced offshore drilling, provoking Cyprus Greece and Israel.
“The delimitation of maritime zones is achieved in accordance with International Law, through valid agreements. Not through null and void agreements, like the Turkey – Fayez al Sarraj agreement. And, of course, not through the unilateral submission of coordinates,” the Greek Foreign Minister said. “In combination with Turkey’s hostile rhetoric, these actions are indisputable proof of Turkey’s destabilising role,” Dendias said, adding Greece is responding to the provocations methodically.
Turkey’s rather awkward and tense reaction to the agreement came from the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who on Wednesday, said he was certain that Greeks would not want an armed conflict with Turkey over maritime dumpsites in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. “I want to underline in a mathematical certainty that Greeks would not want to stage a war with Turkey,” Akar told the private broadcaster A Haber in an interview on June 10.
Akar was responding to comments made by Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos who said last week that his country was ready for a possible military conflict with Turkey to defend its sovereign rights in the Mediterranean. He also called on Athens to resume technical talks for the resolution of bilateral problems.
The two Foreign Ministers also talked about the Eastern Mediterranean, where Italy and Greece participate to the East Med Gas Forum, as well as the EastMed natural gas pipeline project, intended to transport gas from Israel and Cyprus to Greece, Italy and other southeastern European countries. Dendias and Di Maio had met in Rome in February to discuss further cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector in the eastern Mediterranean (see: REPORT #6 EASTMED: A pipeline of Peace or War?).
The escalation in Turkey’s illegal conduct against Greece, manifested most recently in the publication of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation’s applications to carry out drilling on the Greek continental shelf, as well as in the wider region, against the rights of the Republic of Cyprus, Syria and Libya.
With regard to Libya, where the two countries participate in the controversial European Union Operation EUNAVFOR MED “IRINI” to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, they reiterated the need for a political solution to be found through the UN and the Berlin process.
The long-awaited agreement on the EEZ between Greece and Italy is very significant, especially in the present time frame. It came after the US State Department has called recently the Turkish-Libyan memorandum of understanding, regarding the delimitation of sea borders in the Mediterranean Sea “…provocative and counterproductive”, reiterating previous statements made by US diplomats, Assistant Secretary Bureau of Energy Resources Francis R. Fannon and Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt that the the agreement between Turkey and Libya was illegal, and that all the islands have the same rights as the mainland of Greece, as defined by international maritime law, effectively supporting the Greek positions.
In parallel, last week, the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, a group dubbed the Med7, issued a joint declaration calling on “…all countries of the region to respect international law, including the law of the sea, and in particular the sovereignty and sovereign rights of EU member-states.” The declaration followed a teleconference between the seven countries’ foreign ministers, during which France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain expressed their continued support for Greece and Cyprus vis-a-vis Turkey’s ongoing violations in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The agreement with Egypt is of paramount importance
The Italy-Greece delimitation of their EEZ was the first step. The next to follow should be EEZ delineation agreements with Egypt and Cyprus. Greece must first declare its complete EEZ before it can enter into any future, meaningful, negotiations to resolve East Med maritime disputes. Immediately afterwards, must follow up on the agreement with Italy, during its discussions with Egypt. The two countries agreed on December 1 to accelerate the process of delineating their EEZs, that is why the Greek Foreign Minister plans to travel to Egypt soon to restart talks for a maritime agreement between the two countries.
Especially now that Turkey, on Wednesday, dismissed Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire in Libya, saying the plan aimed to save Khalifa Haftar after the collapse of his offensive to control the capital Tripoli, and things are heating up between the two opponents. More specifically, this past Saturday Egypt called for a ceasefire starting on Monday, as part of an initiative which also proposed an elected leadership council for Libya. Russia and the UAE welcomed the plan, while Germany said UN-backed talks were key to the peace process.
Mr. Cavusoglu said Turkey will continue talks with all parties for a solution in Libya, but that such a solution would require the agreement of both sides. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump discussed Libya in a call on Monday, with the former saying the two agreed on “some issues” on Libya, and that the GNA would continue fighting to seize the coastal city of Sirte and the Jufra air base further south.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s announcement of the Cairo initiative to resolve the Libyan crisis, was soon followed by a massive deployment of troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border. This contained a message for Turkey. In its message, Cairo basically said that Egypt is ready to work for peace in Libya but is also ready for the option of war should Turkey and its Islamist proxies choose obstinacy.
More specifically, an agreement to demarcate maritime zones between Greece and Cairo would remove any semblance of international legitimacy stemming from Ankara’s memorandum with Libya. Furthermore, an agreement would significantly change the terms of the game in the Eastern Mediterranean and render Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s incendiary rhetoric concerning Ankara’s intention in the region as empty threats.