Greek Foreign Minister in Egypt for talks after Turkey-Libya deals

CAIRO — Greece’s top diplomat met with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Sunday over issues including the controversial maritime and gas deals Turkey has signed with one of Libya’s rival administrations, officials said.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukry, for talks that touched on “all aspects” of cooperation between the two countries, including coordinating their stance on regional and international issues of common interest, said Ahmed Abu Zeid, the spokesman. from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He did not provide further details.

Egypt and Greece have strengthened their ties in recent years, including cooperation in areas ranging from energy to counterterrorism. The two nations, as well as Cyprus, have signed maritime border agreements. Abu Zeid described Egyptian-Greek relations as “a long-standing strategic partnership and historical friendship”.

Dendias wrote on Twitter ahead of his trip that in addition to Greek-Egyptian relations, the talks would focus on developments in the Aegean Sea, Libya and the Middle East.

He was likely referring to tensions with Turkey over Greece’s alleged deployment of dozens of American-made armored vehicles to the Aegean islands of Samos and Lesbos. He also highlighted the memorandums of understanding between Turkey and the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, one of the two competing governments of Libya.

The agreements, signed last week in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, include the joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in offshore waters and the national territory of Libya. Dendias called the deals illegal, saying they breached Greek waters. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also argued that Dbeibah’s government had “no authority to enter into international agreements or memorandums of understanding”, given that its mandate has expired.

Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has since been ruled by rival governments for most of the past decade. There are now two administrations claiming legitimacy: that of Dbeibah in Tripoli and another government appointed by Parliament and chaired by Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libyan expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security think tank, said Turkey’s deals with the Dbeibah government, which have “little legal value”, were intended to provoke Greece.

They were “part of the policy of hyper-nationalist affirmation that a weak and unpopular (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan seeks to cultivate as he prepares for the June 2023 elections”, he said.

Erdogan’s government exploited Dbeibah’s weakened position after Turkey helped him defend his position in Tripoli during deadly clashes in August that were part of Bashagha’s effort to install his government in the capital, said Harchaoui. Turkey has allied Syrian troops and mercenaries on the ground in the Libyan capital.

“Dbeibah was not in a position to say ‘no’ to the (memorandums of understanding). Turkey has been instrumental in keeping him in Tripoli so far, so he has no choice but to say ‘yes’,” he said in written comments.

Libya’s prime minister defended the deals, saying they would help Libya pursue oil and gas exploration “in our territorial waters with the help of neighboring countries”.

Turkey’s deals with the Dbeibah government came three years after another controversial agreement between Ankara and a former government in Tripoli. The 2019 deal granted Turkey access to a disputed economic zone in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean region, fueling Turkey’s pre-existing tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil drilling rights. and gas in the region.