The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss a flurry of diplomacy and counter moves from the Greek government aimed at foiling aggressive Turkish claims in the Eastern Mediterranean, including signing deals to demarcate Exclusive Economic Zones with Italy and possibly Egypt next week.
Support Free Speech:
June 8 was a national holiday for the Greek public sector, but officials from Greece’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs were busy discussing several issues with their Italian counterparts just one day before Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was scheduled to visit Athens.
A deal was reached just before midnight on June 8, which ended more than 40 years of negotiations and disagreements between Athens and Rome, which now also includes an agreement for an Exclusive Economic Zone.
According to the EEZ deal with Italy, the Greek islands have a confirmed right to a maritime zone, an important parameter that is especially useful for Greece given its long-standing standoff with Turkey. The provision is a clear message to Ankara, which disputes this reality.
In this spirit, the agreement recognises sovereign rights in all territories, including both the Greek mainland and the islands.
“It remains our country’s firm pursuit to demarcate the maritime zones with all of our neighbours, within the framework of international law,” Dendias said in an interview following the talks with the Italian delegation at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For Italy, there is an important element in the deal which gives Italian fishermen the right to fish in Greek waters, while at the same time assuring Athens that Italy will always guarantee Greece’s sovereign territorial rights.
During previous rounds of negotiations, Italy had stalled on an agreement with Greece over the fishing of the prized Mediterranean red shrimp, a main source of income for many Italian fishermen. Having reached a breakthrough regarding the matter, the road for a historic agreement was wide open.
On to Egypt
The Greek-Italian accord is significant for another reason, according to high-level Greek officials, as it will likely act as an impetus for more agreements with Greece’s neighbours when it comes to the demarcation of maritime zones.
The majority of the Mediterranean littoral nations are anxious to sign deals concerning territorial waters at a time when Turkey is trying to exercise dominance at sea, after the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Libya, based in Tripolis.
Greece already had a deal on an EEZ with Albania that dated back to 2009. However, after Edi Rama came to power and a controversial decision by Albania’s Constitutional Court, the agreement was overturned and the EEZ was cancelled. Since that time, there has been a willingness to kickstart the discussions, though no headway has been made. Not that an agreement with Italy is in place, however, Greece hopes that negotiations with the government in Tirana will begin again.
Despite the genuine interest of the Greek side regarding a potential Ionian Sea accord with Albania, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is focusing its attention on Egypt. A deal on demarcated maritime zones with Cairo has been close for many years. Greece is particularly interested in an agreement that would legally counter the memorandum of understanding between Turkish and Libya, which Greece and most of the international community have rejected as illegal and illegitimate.
Greece is also open to a partial demarcation of the maritime zones as a starting point, despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threats that Turkish vessels will conduct research and drilling operations in the areas based on the aforementioned memorandum with the Libyan government in Tripoli. Greece, quite obviously, considers any such action a violation of its territorial integrity and has warned the Turks that it will respond accordingly.
An agreement with Egypt would create a powerful deterrent against Ankara’s actions.
High-level Greek officials, in a discussion with New Europe, warned that a final agreement, even a partial accord, with Egypt is not close to being signed at this point. Earlier this month, Mitsotakis talked with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss the issue of the EEZ.
Dendias travelled to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart Shameh Shoukry. The EEZ was, of course, on the table. However, as diplomatic sources put it, there were political obstacles that first need to be overcome before any technical work on the basis of maps can begin.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.