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Politics

Greek FM in Egypt for Talks after Turkey’s Deals with Libya

October 9, 2022

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

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukry, for discussions that addressed “all aspects” of cooperation between the two countries, including the coordination of their position on regional and international issues of common interest, said Ahmed Abu Zeid, the spokesman of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. He did not provide further details.

Egypt and Greece have strengthened ties in recent years, including cooperation in fields ranging from energy to combating terrorism. The two nations, along with Cyprus, have signed maritime border agreements. Abu Zeid described Egyptian-Greek ties as “a long standing strategic partnership and historic friendship.”

Dendias wrote on Twitter ahead of his trip that besides Greece-Egypt ties, the talks would focus on developments in the Aegean Sea, Libya and the Middle East.

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

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the foreign ministry headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The deals, signed last week in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, include the joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in Libya’s offshore waters and national territory. Dendias slammed the deals as illegal, saying they infringed on Greek waters. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry also argued that Dbeibah’s government has “no authority to conclude any international agreements nor memorandums of understanding,” given that its mandate expired.

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

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

They were “part of the politics of hyper-nationalistic assertiveness that a weak, unpopular (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan seeks to cultivate as he goes into the June 2023 elections,” he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, meets with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, at the foreign ministry headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

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 of Bashagha’s efforts to install his government in the capital, Harchaoui said. Turkey has troops and allied Syrian mercenaries on the ground in the Libyan capital.

“Dbeibah was in no position to say ‘No’ to the (memorandums of understanding). Turkey has played a decisive role in maintaining him in Tripoli thus far, so he has no choice but to say ‘Yes’,” he said in written comments.

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

 

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