Draw­ing up a new Mid­dle East strat­egy

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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