Drawing up a new Middle East strategy
Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides will host his counterparts from Greece and Egypt in Nicosia on Wednesday as a follow up to their meeting in New York last September and to lay the ground for their heads of state summit in Cairo next month, where energy security and strategic cooperation will be the main topic of discussion.
This is within the context of the third round of Ministerial Trilateral meetings between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus that were launched on November 2013.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Evangelos Venizelos arrived late on Tuesday and is joined by the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, who, together with Kasoulides, will give a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
The three met last in New York last September, on the sidelines of the 69th U.N. General Assembly and agreed on the upcoming trilateral summit in Cairo on November 8.
The Ministers are expected to discuss ways to strengthen the cooperation between the three countries on issues of mutual interest with particular emphasis on security, energy and tourism, as well as their role and responsibility in contributing to regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Venizelos and Shoukry will also be received by President Nicos Anastasiades who was the only head of state from the European Union invited to attend the inauguration of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi earlier this year, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Middle East commentators.
The main issue that concerns all three states, is closer cooperation in the face of Turkey’s aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, where Egypt has enjoyed a long tradition of being an influential force and Cyprus that is struggling to secure its own resources, currently being explored by international oil majors Noble Energy, ENI, Kogas and Total.
Greece, on the other hand, is also keen to explore its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) which lies mainly in the Aegean Sea and faces similar threats of aggression from neighbouring Turkey, that continues to claim its right to marine resources.
Although the trilateral ministers’ and heads of state meeting is not expected to produce any major change as regards military cooperation among the three, however it does pave the way for further alliances in the eastern Mediterranean, bar Turkey.
Even the Greek Professor of International Law and President of the Administrative Court of the European Council, Christos Rozakis, said that Turkey’s aggression into the Cyprus EEZ with it’s own exploration vessels, translates into the efforts by Ankara to take advantage of the volatile situation in the region and exert “a full participation in all aspects of exploration for hydrocarbons, suggesting that Turkey does not intend to back down from its actions.
Already, taking in mind Israel’s discovery and recent start of exports of its offshore natural gas resources, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared during an interview with National Public Radio during a five-day tour of the United States, said that “the borders of the Middle East are bound to change”, while also referring to the on-land threat from the likes of the Islamic State and the collapse of Iraq and Syria.
Former Ambassador and political commentator Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos wrote in a recent article published in the Financial Mirror that “the ‘Arab Spring’ weakened the state and offered the opportunity to radical Islamic groups to get organised and become non-state factors in the Middle-eastern scene and beyond.”
“These new realities have brought to the fore new players and interests. First and foremost, Iran has become a major player for many reasons. It is considered a factor of stability in the wider region if we take into account what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Willing to strengthen its Shiite allies in Iraq against the jihadist, Iran has found itself on the same side with Turkey and the U.S. Although Turkey sided with Iran against ISIS, in the Syrian civil war they supported opposite sides,” Dr Papadopoulos wrote.
“Taking advantage of the crisis in the region, Turkey took the unilateral action to send warships, where ENI/Kogas started exploratory drilling and to state her intention to carry out seismic studies in Cyprus’s southern exclusive economic zone (EEZ), thus violating every norm of international law. This action gives another dimension to the crisis which is of interest to Cyprus and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean,” the former diplomat concluded.