EU in talks with Turkey as tensions mount over maritime deal with Libya

Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is pictured in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus. (File/Reuters)
Updated 05 December 2019

EU in talks with Turkey as tensions mount over maritime deal with Libya

  • The Turkish government has claimed its actions are based on international law
  • Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have dismissed the deal as “illegal” as it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the Turkish and Libyan coasts

ANKARA: The EU’s top foreign representative on Thursday held talks with his Turkish counterpart as tensions continued to mount over a controversial deal on maritime boundaries signed between Turkey and Libya.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, met with Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Slovakian capital Bratislava to discuss the agreement which aims to delimit maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) inked between Ankara and Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), has further deepened a regional dispute over Turkey’s energy exploration plans for the waters.

The deal now has to be approved by the Turkish and Libyan parliaments for drilling operations to begin. According to a leaked report on Wednesday, the MoU covers a continental shelf reaching 18.6 nautical miles from the Turkish coast, referred to by Ankara as “Blue Motherland.”

The Turkish government has claimed its actions are based on international law, but Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have dismissed the deal as “illegal” as it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the Turkish and Libyan coasts.

However, Turkey has said that islands situated on the opposite side of the median line between the two mainlands, did not possess any right to establish their own maritime jurisdiction areas.

Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have been in conflict with the GNA in Tripoli, on Wednesday also strongly condemned the maritime deal and called on the UN Security Council to intervene.

He described the GNA as “brain dead” and argued that it had no authority to sign such agreements.

In the meantime, Brussels, which may proceed with some punitive measures in response to any “unauthorized” drilling, is trying to use diplomatic channels to resolve the situation.

But the day before Borrell’s meeting with Cavusoglu, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez resolutely announced Ankara’s plans to launch oil and gas exploration in the region soon.

Turkey is not a signatory to the 1982 UN convention regulating maritime boundaries (UNCLOS).

Unal Cevikoz, a former Turkish ambassador and currently serving as deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said: “If Turkey could have agreed with Egypt and Israel in the past over the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas, it would be possible to prevent now any challenges related to the energy resources of the eastern Mediterranean.

“Ankara hasn’t nominated yet any ambassador to Egypt, Syria and Israel, which are countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean, and this deal pushed Turkey into a conflict zone where two governments in Libya clash with each other, rendering Ankara a party of this war,” he said in a statement.

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, in England, said: “Turkey, by moving ahead with the deal on the Mediterranean Sea with the GNA, unambiguously inserts itself as an important player in the Libyan conflict.

“Turkey was widely believed to be supporting the GNA prior to Haftar’s campaign to capture Tripoli, and has been linked with arms transfers to the GNA, but this diplomatic deal reinforces its alignment with Libya’s GNA government,” he told Arab News.

Ramani added that the timing of Turkey’s actions was interesting, as Haftar was coming under growing pressure from the US and other members of the international community to abandon his military ambitions, which increased the GNA’s short-term security as a fighting force.

“So, Turkey is stepping up its role to increase its long-term influence over the GNA and compete for reconstruction contracts,” he said.

For some experts, Turkey’s backdown on its threat to block NATO plans for the Baltics at its London summit, was aimed at giving Ankara the upper hand in future negotiations on its other plans, including those in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey definitely viewed the NATO summit as a victory for its foreign policy, and its decision to lift the blockade on eastern European aid illustrated these sentiments,” Ramani said.

Meanwhile, Cyprus is set to launch legal action at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague against Turkey’s exploratory gas drilling in waters where the Greek Cypriots claim exclusive economic rights.

According to Ramani, Turkey will try and channel the EU’s potential punitive measures toward Greek Cypriot drillers, while Cyprus’ ICJ case blames Turkey.

Ramani added: “If the ICJ rules in Cyprus’ favor, then sanctions are a possibility, but for now, it will likely remain a threat from the EU rather than a geopolitical reality.”

British MPs call for UK to recognize Palestinian state

Updated 13 min 51 sec ago

British MPs call for UK to recognize Palestinian state

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles
  • The signatories said the move was long overdue

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfil Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 
The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 
During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 
Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 
The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.
“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.
Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.
“Recognition doesn’t contradict peace-making and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”
Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”
He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”
A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.
Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”
The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.
The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.
“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move toward a just and lasting peace,” he said.
Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.
In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”
In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “non-member observer state.”
Zomlot said that the UK has a historically important role in the Palestinian issue, dating back to the British mandate of Palestine (1920-1948, the Balfour Declaration — a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 that expressed support to the formation of “a national home for the Jewish people” — and subsequently the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) and the military occupation of that 1967 borders.
“With the current quest for the UK to be a global player and post-Brexit, we believe that the UK could be a very important factor in achieving Middle East peace,” he added.