The leaders of Egypt, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration signed a joint declaration in southern Nicosia on Wednesday during a trilateral summit in which they pledged to increase economic and political cooperation.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in the Greek Cypriot presidential palace of Cyprus’ divided capital on Wednesday morning where they met with President Nicos Anastasiades to discuss a number of matters including trade, culture, tourism and regional stability.
The meeting, which was held five months after a similar declaration was signed by the three sides in Cairo, particularly focused on the ongoing “Cyprus Problem” as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and increasing terrorism in the Middle-East and Africa.
As part of the accord, the three leaders agreed to “step up cooperation on counter-terrorism, defence/security and discussing relevant information to jointly combat against terrorism and violent extremism and to promote regional security, long-term stability and prosperity.”
Another crucial issue discussed was that of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which has long been a cause of dispute between the Greek Cypriot administration and Turkey, which is vouching for Turkish Cypriot rights over the reserves.
“We recognise that the discovery of important hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean can serve as a catalyst for regional cooperation,” President Anastasiades said in a news conference following the meeting.
In February, Egypt’s Egyptian Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and the Greek Cypriot administration’s Cyprus CHC Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase energy cooperation which would see the technical details of an undersea pipeline explored in order to supply Egypt with gas imports.
An estimated 3.6 trillion to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas is expected to be transported from a field off the Greek Cypriot-controlled southern Cyprus coast after an agreement was reached in a meeting between Egyptian Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail and Greek Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis in Cairo.
Lakkotrypis previously said the Greek Cypriot administration aims to supply Egypt with gas by early 2018 as part of a plan to connect the offshore 4.54 trillion cubic feet-capacity Aphrodite gas field, which is being administered by Texas-based firm Noble Energy, to the BG Group-operated network in Egypt’s Idku or Damietta.
During the meeting, Greece and Egypt agreed to draw-up their maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.
"We agreed on further consultations for defining our sea zones wherever that is deemed necessary, and obviously there where it does not require an understanding and cooperation with third countries," Greek Prime Minister Tsipras said.
The Greek Cypriot administration previously agreed its EEZ border with Egypt, but Greece has not agreed its boundaries with Cyprus and Egypt.
“We stress that this cooperation would be better served through the adherence by the countries of the region to well established principles of international law. In this respect, we emphasise the universal character of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, and decide to proceed expeditiously with our negotiations on the delimitation of our maritime zones, where it is not yet done,” Anastasiades also said.
The sea boundaries of each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in region has in the past been a controversial matter particularly between the Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and Turkey.
Turkey, which argues the internationally accepted “Republic of Cyprus” lost its legitimacy back in 1963 when it failed to uphold the constitutional rights granted to the Turkish Cypriots, also refuses to recognise Greek Cypriot claims to eastern Mediterranean waters.
Turkish Cypriot Professor Ata Atun from the Near East University previously told Anadolu Agency that due to Cyprus being an island, it cannot claim sea territory unless it agrees to implement maritime laws introduced in 1982, which would require all concerned parties, including Turkey, to be a signatory.
A former version of the law issued in 1960, to which Turkey subscribes, states that the declared EEZ of the Greek Cypriot administration is actually split between Turkey and Egypt.
Turkey has did not sign up to the updated version of the 1960 law allowing islands to declare an EEZ as it would require Turkey to give up the vast majority of its drilling rights in the Aegean Sea to Greece.
Anastasiades reassures Turkey
Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades denied the increasing cooperation between Nicosia, Athens and Cairo was not an attempt to provoke Turkey.
“The dialogue and cooperation among the three nations is not directed at any third country,” Anastasiades said.“To the contrary, it is a model for similar cooperation with all the nations of the region.”
Turkey has been at odds with the Greek Cypriot administration ever since it exercised its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to conduct a military intervention in Cyprus following a coup by the Greek junta in a bid to unite the island with Greece in July 1974.
Almost a decade after Turkey secured the northern third of the island and a population exchange between Turkish Cypriots in the south and Greek Cypriots in the north, failure to reach an agreement with the Greek Cypriots to restore the constitutional government led to the Turkish Cypriots declaring the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognised by Turkey.
A number of attempts to restore the constitution have failed since then, with the latest example being the Cyprus referendum of 2004 prior to the Greek Cypriot administration’s accession to the EU. While the majority of Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite the island, which would have secured the withdrawal of Turkish troops, the Greek Cypriots voted against reunification.
Peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots continued after the referendum, but were stalled when President Anastasiades withdrew from the negotiations after Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel to search for hydrocarbon reserves off the island.
The deployment of the vessel came on the same day joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas began drilling for reserves in the Greek Cypriot administration’s declared EEZ, ignoring Turkey’s warnings against drilling before a deal between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is achieved.
However, the United Nations envoy to the island, Espen Barth Eide, earlier this month said talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are ready to resume after the Eni-Kogas consortium withdrew its vessel and asked the Greek Cypriot administration for two years to examine its data due to disappointing results from both the Onasagoras and Amathousa offshore gas fields.