Tensions in the gas-rich East Mediterranean continue to ratchet up following an agreement signed Aug. 6 between Greece and Egypt on the delimitation of the maritime zones between the two countries.
The agreement — details of which were not disclosed — follows a controversial memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Libya in late 2019 to establish an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East Mediterranean.
The East Mediterranean is home to numerous high-profile gas accumulations, including the supergiant 30 Tcf Zohr field offshore Egypt and a number of major gas finds offshore Cyprus.
Disagreements over the rights to much of the area west of Cyprus have led to increased tensions in the region, particularly between Greece and Turkey after Ankara pledged to carry out seismic work in an area claimed by Greece as part of its EEZ.
Turkey late last month agreed to suspend work, saying it was prepared to sit down for talks with Greece on a range of issues including maritime boundaries.
The latest agreement though is sure to inflame the situation again, with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry saying the agreement with Greece would allow the countries to move forward with plans for hydrocarbon exploration.
His Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias said the agreement with Egypt “reconfirms and enshrines the effect and the right of our islands to a continental shelf and EEZ.”
“It respects the provisions of international law and of the law of the sea. It also abides with the rules of good neighborly relations and contributes to stability and security in our region,” Dendias said in comments posted to the Greek foreign ministry website.
“It is an agreement between two friendly neighboring countries that respect their history. It is the exact opposite of the illegal, null and void memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Tripoli,” he said.
Ankara, though, slammed the Greece-Egypt maritime agreement, its foreign ministry saying that a maritime boundary between Greece and Egypt “does not exist.”
“With respect to Turkey, the so-called maritime delimitation agreement signed today is null and void. The supposedly delimited area lies within the Turkish continental shelf as declared to the United Nations,” it said.
“It is without a doubt that Turkey will not allow any activity at the area in question and will resolutely continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it said.
A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, writing on Twitter, immediately hit back at Turkey.
“With regard to what was issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry regarding the agreement to designate the EEZ between Egypt and Greece, it is surprising that such statements and allegations were issued by a party that was not familiar with the agreement and its details.”