Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Greek tour of Arab capitals to shore up support in territorial standoff with Turkey

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias embarked on a tour of Arab capitals on Tuesday to shore up Muslim support for Greece in its latest diplomatic standoff with Turkey over maritime borders.

The dispute was sparked by Turkey’s signature on November 27 of two maritime jurisdiction memoranda with the Government of National Accord in Libya. They award Turkey and Libya an area Greece claims as part of its islands’ maritime territory.

Dendias began his tour in Riyadh on Tuesday, where he met with Saudi king Mohammed bin Salman. “We have a common understanding that these memoranda create a problem in the broader region,” said Dendias. “We shall continue to monitor the situation and be in touch to co-ordinate initiatives.”

Much of the focus of the trip was on Abu Dhabi, where Denidas was to travel on Wednesday. Greece is pursuing a tripartite political forum with the United Arab Emirates, in which Greece and Cyprus would discuss issues of common interest with the UAE, diplomatic sources tell Al Jazeera.

“It’s the result of a proposal of [the previous, Syriza government] to create a new tripartite forum between Greece, Cyprus and the UAE,” said a former diplomat on condition of anonymity. “It’s an attempt to answer to the latest challenges in Greek-Turkish relations.”

Under the previous, leftwing Syriza government, Greece and Cyprus created political fora with Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Egypt, in an effort to pool their diplomatic clout and face what they see as a growing Turkish threat. Dendias and his Cypriot counterpart were in Abu Dhabi last month.

“The UAE are our closest Arab ally after Egypt,” the former diplomat said. In addition to trade interests, Greece and the UAE have carried out joint military exercises.”
“UAE Mirage fighter jets participated in the multinational air force exercise Iniohos in 2017 and in April this year, along with fighters from the United States, Greece, Israel, Italy at the Andravida Air Force Base, in southern Greece,” says Efthymios Tsiliopoulos, defence analyst with
“The Military Cooperation Programme between Greece and the UAE was signed in Athens on December 09. The MCP includes actions in the areas of business, exercises, training, and information.”

Greece has embarked on a diplomatic counter-offensive to isolate Turkey and make sure the agreement never enters into force.

Ahead of his Arab tour, Dendias met UN secretary-general Antonio Gutierrez in Geneva on Monday. Greece has asked the UN not to register the Turkey-Libya agreement in its archive, saying it is contrary to the international Law of the Sea and has been denounced by the United States and Russia, as well as regional neighbours Israel and Egypt. Libya has reportedly made a similar request of the UN.

Gutierrez has said he will refer the matter to the UN’s legal services.

Last week the European Union denounced the agreement, saying it “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States,” meaning the EU does not consider it legally binding on EU member Greece. “The European Council unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding these actions by Turkey,” the EU said.

The EU has also threatened to sanction Turkey for sending state exploration vessels to look for oil and gas in the Exclusive Economic Zone of EU member Cyprus.

A Greek diplomatic official said Greece was also speeding up processes to agree on the delimitation of maritime boundaries with Italy and Egypt.

Dendias is to travel to Amman on Thursday. According to the state news agency, ANA, in Riyadh he met with foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud, state minister for foreign affairs Abel al-Jubeir and the governor of the public investment fund, Yasir Rothman al-Rumayyan, according to the state-owned ANA wire service.

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