Will hectic diplomacy help defuse tension in east Med?
The tension in the eastern Mediterranean is enduring with a continued quarrel between Turkey and the Greece-France duo. Concerned that the prolongation of the stalemate will further de-stabilize the entire region and Turkey-EU relationship, more countries are getting involved to push the diplomatic efforts to create a climate to start a dialogue between Ankara and Athens.
Here are some of the important latest developments concerning the east Mediterranean deadlock:
MED7 meeting: French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the EU’s Mediterranean members at a summit in Corsica in a bid to secure a joint stance against Turkey ahead of the EU Council meeting slated for Sept. 24 and 25. Macron who wanted a tougher stance from the MED7 countries could get limited support as Spain and Italy sought to contain the French president’s ambitions. Portugal and Malta were reportedly not that supportive of the ideas tabled by France, Greece and Greek Cyprus.
According to the Spanish media, the wording of the MED7 final declaration has been watered down as Spain and Italy urged that a tougher message against Turkey could make things even worse. The MED7 conclusion did call on all the countries in the region “to abide by international law, in particular international law of the sea, and encourage all parties to resolve their disputes through dialogue and negotiation,” while hailing the mediation efforts of Germany.
The Corsica meeting has shown that France and Greece will have difficulty in garnering unanimous consent at the EU Council Summit in two weeks.
Pompeo on board: A surprise visit by United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Greek Cyprus this weekend is seen as yet another important development. It comes days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to the island and offered the Russian mediation for the solution of the Turkish-Greek dispute. The dispute “has to be resolved in a way that’s diplomatic and peaceful,” he said, emphasizing that “he’ll be working on that project.” It will remain to be seen to what extent Pompeo’s initiative will yield results and defuse the tension.
Germany’s silent diplomacy: No doubt, all eyes are still in Berlin as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not given up trying to launch direct talks between Ankara and Athens. She is doing two things at the same time: Pressing on Turkey and Greece to return to the negotiation table and trying to contain French President Macron’s ambitions for the imposition of tough and biting sanctions against Turkey.
Dialogue at NATO: Although Greece denies, the start of the technical military talks under the NATO auspices can be seen as a positive development. Both nations are important members of NATO and play a crucial role in the defense of the southern flank of the alliance. According to the diplomats, Greece had to come to the table as a result of the U.S. pressure and its leaking information about the NATO ambassadors’ Wednesday meeting has drawn the reaction of many allies. It is understood that the initiative will continue in the coming days although Greece has totally focused on the EU summit later this month.
Kanuni drillship to the Black Sea: In the meantime, Turkey’s third drilling ship, Kanuni, which is undergoing maintenance at a Mersin port, will be dispatched to the Black Sea to help the ongoing exploration work at the Sakarya Gas Field where Turkey found 320 billion cubic meters natural gas. “Kanuni drillship will be ready for operation in a few weeks’ time but, most likely, it’s going to be in the Black Sea since we would like to develop the Sakarya gas field first. Kanuni will move to the Black Sea,” a senior Turkish official told the media.
It is important as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Aug. 21 that Kanuni will be dispatched to the Mediterranean in a bid to accelerate Turkey’s hydrocarbon activities in the region. The Oruç Reis exploration vessel is continuing its works in the eastern Mediterranean. As stated by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, it needs around 90 days to complete its works in the region and that means it will be in the area for another two months. However, it will likely come closer to the undisputed parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
It’s too early to be hopeful for a breakthrough but these developments show a growing sense of urgency in the diplomatic world. Both Turkey and Greece should take the right message, abandon megaphone diplomacy and take responsibility for peace and stability in the region.