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Egypt, Greece sign maritime demarcation deal

Shoukry said at the conference that the provisions of the deal are in line with international law and the United Nations Convention On The Law Of The Sea

Ahram Online , Friday 7 Aug 2020
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Egypt and Greece have signed a maritime demarcation deal establishing an exclusive economic zone between the two countries, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a joint televised press conference on Thursday.

Shoukry received his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Cairo earlier on Thursday to discuss means to strengthen bilateral relations and coordination between the two countries in the East Mediterranean region.

Shoukry said at the conference that the provisions of the deal are in line with international law and the United Nations Convention On The Law Of The Sea.

The deal targets tapping into the capabilities available in the Eastern Mediterranean region, he added.

"The deal permits Egypt and Greece to go ahead with maximising benefits from riches available in the exclusive economic zones of both countries, particularly the promising gas and oil reserves," he stressed.

Shoukry pointed out the new agreement paves the way for more regional cooperation between the Egyptian and Greek sides in the field of energy, given the membership of the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum.

The forum’s members include Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. The forum was established in January 2019 to "create a regional gas market, optimise resource development, cut the cost of infrastructure, offer competitive prices, and improve trade ties,” Egypt's petroleum ministry earlier said.

Shoukry added that “the friendly relationship between Egypt and Greece is a key pillar to preserving the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean and countering the threats stemming from irresponsible policies that support extremism and terrorism.”

Greece and Italy earlier signed an agreement on maritime boundaries on 9 June, establishing an exclusive economic zone between the two countries and resolving longstanding issues over fishing rights in the Ionian Sea.

The recently-signed agreement has paved the road for the Greek-Egyptian agreement and how both countries would gain from signing the agreement for an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

'Historical deal'

Dendias said the deal is "historical" and that it materialised following long rounds of negotiations, adding that the agreement ensures cooperation between both countries.

The process of negotiating exclusive economic zones (EEZ) between Egypt and Greece was launched over three years ago during a visit by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to Athens, where he and then Greek prime minister Alexi Tsipras agreed that to help each country benefit from the possible resources of its national waters an agreement needed to be signed.

According to Nikoaos Garilidis, the Greek ambassador to Cairo, over 13 rounds of negotiations have been held between Cairo and Athens over the past three years.

The Egyptian-Greek deal was inked in accordance with the law of the sea and respects all neighbouring relations.

“The deal is the exact opposite of any other illegitimate thing like what was signed between Turkey and Tripoli. That deal was baseless," he added.

In November 2019, Turkey and the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj inked a memorandum of understanding on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkish claims

In response to the Egypt-Greece maritime demarcation deal, Turkey claims it falls in the area of Turkey's continental shelf, Turkey's foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Reuters reported the ministry as saying that Turkey considers the agreement null and void and that the deal also violated Libya's maritime rights.

Knotty background

Egypt, a close ally to Greece and Cyprus, has had strained relations with Turkey since the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s late Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Relations further deteriorated recently over Turkey’s intervention in Libya and a signalled military intervention by Egypt in the war-torn country.

What escalated the tension was the 2019 memorandum of understanding on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea signed between Turkey and Libya's GNA.

Five countries including Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus called on the United Nations not to register the maritime boundaries deal, describing it as "illegal", particularly after the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, in his letter to the UN, rejected the agreement.

As a result of the "illegal" agreement, a seismic survey carried out by Turkey from 21 July to 2 August which Egypt said represented a “violation and an attack on sovereign rights” and further escalated tensions between the two countries.

In a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry on 2 August, foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said that Egypt objects to the Turkish seismic survey, saying it overlaps with Egypt’s exclusive economic zone.

Hafez said the encroachment violates the UN convention on the Law of the Sea and international law. The statement added that Egypt does not recognise the outcomes or implications that may entail from Turkey’s activity in the area of overlap.

The Turkish move has, moreover, stirred a dispute with Greece and Cyprus over drilling rights in the Mediterranean, with Athens stressing it will do “whatever is necessary” to defend its sovereign rights in response to Ankara’s planned move. 

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