Egypt and Greece signed a maritime deal Thursday that sets the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcates an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the deal was a response to a maritime agreement Turkey made with Libya’s Tripoli-based government last year.
That agreement spiked tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean region and was dismissed by the governments of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece as infringing on their economic rights in the oil-rich Mediterranean Sea. Erdogan vowed to keep the pact with Libya in place.
Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploration should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainlands and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis.
The president said Turkey had paused exploring the disputed waters based on a request from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and after Turkish, Greek and German representatives launched talks to try resolve differences between Greece and Turkey. Athens counters that Turkey’s position is a violation of international law.
“I told (Merkel) we’ll pause drilling for three to four weeks, if you trust Greece and the others … but I don’t trust them and you will see they will not keep their promise,” Erdogan said. But the pause appears to have ended with the deal between Greece and Egypt. Erdogan said the Turkish research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin, which is sailing off the western coast of Cyprus, would continue working in the area.
“We have immediately resumed exploration activities,” Erdogan said after Friday prayers in the recently reconverted Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul. In a brief statement late Thursday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry dismissed earlier comments from the Turkish Foreign Ministry as “bizarre,” saying Turkey did not review the deal and its details. The Turkish ministry had declared the deal “null and void” and said it attempted to usurp Libya’s rights.
Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Cyprus last month jointly sent a letter to the secretary-general of the United Nations asking that the U.N. not register the Turkey-Libya maritime border deal in its list of international treaties.
The five countries said last year's deal gravely jeopardizes regional stability and security. They contend the agreement disregards the rights of other Eastern Mediterranean states and contravenes international law by not recognizing island rights in maritime zones.
Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia and Sam Magdy in Cairo contributed reporting.