By Costis P. Papadiochos
As Ankara doubles down on its claims in the East Mediterranean at the expense of Greece and Cyprus, Athens is seeking to strike a delicate balance between avoiding a further escalation with Turkey and safeguarding its national interests.
Turkey’s claims unfolded in two phases last week – first on Wednesday with a letter submitted by Turkey’s permanent representative to the United Nations including claims in a sea zone extending west of the island of Rhodes. The letter essentially presented Ankara’s idea of a “Blue Homeland,” envisaging its sovereignty stretching across half the East Med.
A day later it announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Libya on the demarcation of the exclusive economic zones of the two countries, ignoring the existence of Crete which lies the sea area between Turkey and Libya.
According to Athens, the key to further developments is whether the MoU is in fact an agreement, thus constituting an aggressive move by Ankara, or a precursor that lays the groundwork for a future settlement between Turkey and Libya. Athens believes that if the deal is indeed a precursor, it is another step in Ankara’s effort to push for an all-inclusive dialogue between Greece and Turkey, but also a reaction to the trilateral partnerships Athens and Nicosia have with Israel and Egypt.
As Athens was not aware of the precise content of the MoU, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has given the Libyan ambassador an ultimatum to provide a copy of the deal by December 5 or face expulsion. Dendias has also raised the issue with his French, Italian and Egyptian counterparts.
Sources said Washington is not aware of the deal’s content either. Nonetheless, the sources noted that there is discomfort over Ankara’s move both in the US and in the EU.
In Washington’s case, the discomfort is linked to concerns that the MoU is accompanied by Turkish military support for the head of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. The EU is dismayed because it is yet another violation of international law by Ankara.