Turkey chided for East Med meddling

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Turkey was criticised by the leaders of Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus for military meddling from Libya to the Caucuses, as well as aggressive oil and gas exploration in foreign waters, during a trilateral summit in Nicosia on Wednesday.

The host Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed “grave concern” over the recent escalation within the maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean and the increased militarization of the area that threatens the wider stability, peace and security in the region.

“We strongly condemn Turkey’s illegal drilling and seismic operations in Cyprus’ EEZ/continental shelf, in marine areas already delimited in accordance with international law, including between the Republic of Cyprus and the Arab Republic of Egypt, by means of the 2003 EEZ Delimitation Agreement. “

They also condemned “the continuous violations of Greek national airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea and Turkey’s illegal activities in areas falling within Greece’s continental shelf, in contravention of international law.”

Anastasiades said that the summit showed the three countries were “pillars of stability” in the region while the Greek PM had harsher words.

Mitsotakis said the Nicosia meeting “coincided with the additional tension created by the Turkish leadership, Turkey’s aggression against the Republic of Cyprus, sending its vessels within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, as well as its actions regarding the  beachfront of Famagusta.”

Fenced-off zone Varosha had become a ghost town since Turkey invaded the island in 1974.

“After 15 years of tough negotiations we finally worked out an agreement with Egypt on maritime borders and following a deadlock in talks with neighbouring Albania, we are now resorting to the international dispute courts. This is how these issues are resolved,” Mitsotakis said.

He accused Turkey of entertaining “imperial fantasies with aggressive actions from Syria to Libya, from Somalia to Cyprus and the Aegean to the Caucasus.”

The trilateral summit, an initiative started by Cyprus to establish closer strategic, energy and commercial ties with its neighbours, is parallel to a similar trilateral between Cyprus Greece and Israel, held twice a year on a technocratic and later leadership level.

Wednesday’s Nicosia summit, the eighth between the Anastasiades, Sisi and more recently Mitsotakis also agreed to set up a secretariat in Cyprus to coordinate the practical implementation of issues agreed between the three.

The regional cooperation on establishing the East Mediterranean Gas Forum by seven participating states to jointly develop natural gas deposits as well as the EuroAfrica Interconnector electricity project connecting Egypt’s power grid to Europe, through Cyprus, were also highlighted.

In their joint declaration, they “welcomed the signing of the statute of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which establishes the EMGF as a regional organisation, based in Cairo, open to all countries that share the same values and objectives and willingness to cooperate for the security of the whole region.”

The three leaders extended a hand of cooperation to Turkey saying that it, too, could someday join the forum, as long as it shared the same principles and values of the founding members.

EuroAfrica project

Anastasiades, Sisi and Mitsotakis reaffirmed “the importance of the EuroAfrica project, as an electricity interconnector between the grids of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, that promotes the trilateral cooperation and enhances the security of energy supply, not only of the countries involved but also of Europe.”

They said the 1,396km subsea cable, with a 2,000MW capacity costing over €1 bln to build by December 2023, will create a highway for the transmission of electricity generated from gas from the eastern Mediterranean but also from renewable energy sources.

“The EuroAfrica electricity interconnector constitutes an important component of the strategy to accelerate the development of the eastern Mediterranean energy corridor as a new alternative source of energy supplies from the region to the European continent and vice versa.

We look forward to the swift signing by our respective ministers, of a memorandum of understanding [by the end of this year] which sets forth the framework of cooperation to enable the timely implementation of the project, reflecting our shared commitment towards this goal.”

The leaders showed solidarity on several issues that concern each country, especially in combating the spread of terrorism and extremism such Turkey’s military support of the Saraj regime in Libya, destabilising the situation in North Africa and on Egypt’s sensitive western border.

They condemned Turkey’s violation of the territorial integrity of Syria and the occupation of its northern territories and welcomed the UN-lead peace initiative in the civil war-torn country.

“Turkey’s export of arms and military equipment, as well as its sponsoring of the transfer of foreign terrorist fighters into Libya, in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2396(2017) … in contravention of international law and the UN arms embargo in Libya,” the joint declaration said.

On the Palestinian issue, the three leaders reiterated the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution, and welcomed the recent normalisation of ties between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

On Cyprus, Anastasiades, Sisi and Mitsotakis condemned Turkey’s actions in Varosha in violation of relevant Security Council Resolutions and called on Turkey to terminate its provocative actions.

Anastasiades said he briefed the two leaders on the election of hardline Ersin Tatar as the new leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, and that he sent a letter to the UN Secretary General to arrange for the resumption of the Cyprus talks.

“We stressed that the United Nations remain the only framework through which a settlement can be achieved.”

There was “deep concern that the negotiations [on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)] between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan under the auspices of the African Union did not bear fruit.

“The negotiations must continue and that previous agreements…should be upheld and the obligation not to cause significant harm.”

Sisi also raised the humanitarian issues of trafficking, illegal migration, and refugees, stressing that Egypt currently hosts five million migrants, receiving equal benefits.

“We never used this phenomenon to abuse our relationship with the European Union, for economic or political benefit,” in a clear dig at Turkey’s request for unconditional handouts from Brussels.