ATHENS — Foreign ministers and senior officials from several Persian Gulf countries were meeting in Athens on Thursday, as Greece seeks to expand alliances to counter tension with regional rival Turkey.
NATO members Greece and Turkey remain locked in a dispute over boundaries and offshore resource rights in the eastern Mediterranean that led to a dangerous military buildup in the region for months last year.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, speaks with Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi, Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation, right and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, centrer during a meeting , in Athens, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)
The visiting officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were meeting in Athens with the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, who already hold regular contacts, and they were joined by video link by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The participating countries have broadly sided with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the seven participating countries were planning to have regular contacts and meetings.
“It is natural for Greece to seek out this type of cooperation … multidimensional challenges in our wider neighborhood make it necessary,” he said at the start of the meetings.
From left, Bahrain s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud and Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi pose for a group photo after a meeting, in Athens, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)
Athens and Ankara recently restarted long-stalled talks aimed at resolving their maritime disputes. But Greece has continued plans to modernize its military and in recent months has stepped up armed forces cooperation with France, Egypt, Israel and others.
George Pagoulatos, director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens-based think tank, said Greece was hoping to exploit its position as a longstanding member of the EU and NATO to build alliances.
“The participant countries share a support of the territorial status quo and United Nations maritime law, and opposition to border revisionism, religious radicalization, and Turkey’s expansionist role in the eastern Mediterranean,” Pagoulatos, told the AP.
Turkey argues that Greek islands around its coastline should not be included in calculating maritime areas for oil-and-gas exploitation, claiming that it has been unfairly excluded from its fair share of the region’s natural resources. Athens maintains that the decades-old dispute should be resolved through negotiations or at an international court, and has accused Turkey of using its military superiority to try and pressure Greece to make concessions.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, speaks during a meeting , in Athens, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)
"It is Greece's ambition to become a bridge between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, between the Balkans and the rest of Europe," underlined Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in statements after the conclusion of the "Philia Forum".
"What unites us all today is our condemnation of illegal actions that undermine peace and security," he added.
"Our aim is to create a bulwark against threats, violence, extremism, bigotry, distortion of religion and irrationality," Dendias said, adding that the basic ingredient for the prosperity of the wider region was peace, which is "daily threatened by subversive and revisionist forces that don't appeal to logic but irrationality."
Finally, Dendias stated that "in order to achieve their goals, these forces are proceeding with a number of illegal actions, as the Turkish-Libyan memorandum. They threaten or make use of force and occupy the territory of other countries. They support extremist groups or extremist ideologies and harbour terrorism. They interfere with other countries' internal affairs with the aim of overthrowing non-friendly governments."
Christodoulides: Only through collaboration can we manage problems, instability
Bahrain s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, left, Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi, Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation, centrer and Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides, speak during a meeting , in Athens, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
"Ιt is our shared belief that only through collaboration can we manage the problems and various conditions of instability, but also benefit to the maximum degree from the prospects of our wider region," Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said on Thursday afternoon, after the conclusion of Philia Forum .
"Both the actions and the broader meetings we hold at regular intervals are not a zero-sum game nor aim to exclude any country. On the contrary, they are open to all the countries that desire, always on the basis of a positive approach, to contribute to the deepening of cooperation and, by extension, of peace in our region. This is proved, in any case, by the constantly expanding number of participants," he said.
Egyptian FM Shoukry calls for collaboration based on respect of international law
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, takes part in a news conference after a meeting in Athens, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)
Countries of the East Mediterranean region need to work closer together on the basis of international law to ensure prosperity and stability in the greater region, Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Thursday.
The Egyptian FM said that collaboration among the countries participating in the Forum does not contradict anyone respecting international law. "We try to have balanced relations with all these countries that are based on mutual respect in order to end crises and not resort to violence or military intervention to impose ourselves by force," he noted. Such practices belong to the past, not the 21st century, he underlined.
Shoukry also mentioned the trilateral cooperation of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt which he said his country values, and the equally good relations Egypt has with Arab countries, especially those of the Gulf.
Bahrain's FM notes common desire to enhance relations at Philia Forum
Bahrain s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, left, speaks with Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi, Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation during a meeting, in Athens, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)
The countries participating in the Philia Forum have a common desire to enhance their relations in all sectors, to protect their mutual interests, and want peace, stability and prosperity to prevail in this very sensitive region, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, said after the end of the first meeting of the Forum on Thursday.
He said that he was very happy to participate in the Forum with countries that have "historic bonds and a sincere desire to strengthen their relations".
Highlighting the significance of the meeting, he said that it provided an opportunity to discuss several issues regarding their countries, the security challenges and the ways that must be found in order to coordinate efforts to ensure that peace and stability prevail in the region, notwithstanding the difficulties that they face.
Saudi Arabian FM : 'Saudi Arabia supports all peace processes' in Ea. Mediterranean, Middle East
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud gestures during a meeting , in Athens, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, stressed the need for cooperation and understanding among all regional countries, in statements after the conclusion of the Friendship Forum of European and Arab foreign ministers.
"We condemn the intervention of some countries in the internal affairs of other countries," he underlined. Saudi Arabia "supports all peace processes in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, in view of a better future we all seek for our people."
Talks carried out during the conference were "very deep, excellent across all areas of common interest, regarding the strengthening of security, of stability and of development in the region," he noted.