Turkey, Egypt may sign deal on maritime demarcation: FM Çavuşoğlu

Turkey may negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement with Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean, depending on the condition of bilateral ties, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated on Wednesday.

“We see Egypt respecting Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) deal with Greece as a positive step,” Turkey’s top diplomat said during a joint press conference with Georgia’s Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani in Turkey’s capital Ankara.

Recently, Greek media reported that Egypt’s announcement of holding a tender for hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean by recognizing the EEZ demarcated by Turkey could be a sign of a possible agreement between Ankara and Cairo on the issue.

Greek daily Kathimerini said over the weekend that in the eastern zone of the tender map, Egypt has paid attention to the continental shelf declared by Turkey to the United Nations after the agreement between Turkey and Libya in November 2019. The newspaper said that Cairo’s move could be interpreted as its reservation to get involved in the controversy about the Turkish-Greek continental shelf in the region, especially around Cyprus.

Kathimerini also said that even though this move would not lead to an immediate reconciliation, it indicates that Cairo has left the door open to Ankara for future talks.

In November 2019, Turkey and Libya signed a maritime delimitation deal that provided a legal framework to prevent any fait accompli by regional states. Accordingly, the attempts by the Greek government to appropriate huge parts of Libya’s continental shelf, when a political crisis hit the North African country in 2011, were averted.

The agreement also confirmed that Turkey and Libya are maritime neighbors. The delimitation starts from Fethiye-Marmaris-Kaş on Turkey’s southwestern coast and extends to the Derna-Tobruk-Bordia coastline of Libya.

In response, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement in August 2020, designating an EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries.

The relations between Turkey and Egypt deteriorated after Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi toppled the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in a coup after only a year in office.

Ankara has maintained its position that a democratically elected president cannot be deposed by a military coup and thus, has voiced its criticism of el-Sissi and his backers, including the West and some of Ankara’s rivals in the Gulf region. The Egyptian government, on the other hand, urged Turkey not to intervene in an issue that it considers as belonging to the country’s internal affairs. The dispute led to bilateral relations remaining deadlocked for many years.

Recently, however, signs of a possible reconciliation have come from both countries, particularly due to the changing dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkey-Greece crisis over the region’s energy resources.

“It is not that we are not meeting with Egypt. There are meetings at the intelligence levels,” Çavuşoğlu said in a televised interview back in September last year.

The Eastern Mediterranean issue had been on top of Ankara and Athens’ agendas in 2020. The two countries have been at odds due to several issues. Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration. It has stressed that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Instead of opting to solve problems with Turkey through dialogue, Greece has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally the European Union to take a tougher stance against Ankara.

In January, Turkey and Greece launched the first direct exploratory talks in nearly five years to address their disputes related to sovereignty rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. That meeting in Istanbul, the 61st round, lasted only a few hours but both sides said that they had agreed to meet again in Athens.