Greece aims to outflank Turkey in Med

Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, left, speaks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Greece has sought to bolster its Mediterranean presence in recent weeks and boost cooperation with the US and France, risking heightened tension with Turkey and sparking accusations of adventurism. (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2020

Greece aims to outflank Turkey in Med

  • Turkey signed a maritime and military cooperation memorandum with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in November, carving out energy spheres of influence in the Mediterranean at the expense of Greece

ATHENS: Greece has sought to bolster its Mediterranean presence in recent weeks in response to heightened tension with Turkey, ramping up its meaneuvers but sparking accusations of adventurism at home.
Over the past month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has revamped a defense agreement with the US and sent a warship to join a French naval battle group.
The latest flurry has exposed the recently elected, US-educated prime minister to accusations of “adventurism” in a particularly volatile Middle East.
“You are embroiling the country in adventures that lie beyond its capacity and change decades-old foreign policy,” leftist former PM Alexis Tsipras told Mitsotakis last month.
Mitsotakis, who became prime minister in July, has shrugged off the criticism as short-sighted.
“We are strengthening the framework of our strategic alliances, not just with the US ... our military cooperation (with France) has never been better,” he told lawmakers in January as parliament prepared to approve the US defense deal.
A few days earlier, a Greek warship had joined the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, whose battle group is on a mission against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
According to diplomats, France has encouraged Greece to be more “autonomous” and play a more active role in EU defense initiatives.
And after a decade-long debt crisis that saw Greek arms spending drop by over 70 percent, the Mitsotakis government wants to be heard, says Spyridon Litsas, professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia.
“Being idle during these days of high volatility is equally risky and has nothing substantially to offer to Greece’s attempt to achieve a return to international politics after the economic crisis of 2010,” he says.
Greek relations in Turkey — never particularly warm — have taken a turn for the worse in recent months under the added burden of migration and an energy exploration scramble in the eastern Mediterranean.
Right now, “France is the ideal Greek ally,” Panagiotis Tsakonas, a professor of international law at Athens University, told AFP.

HIGHLIGHT

The latest flurry has exposed the recently elected, US-educated prime minister to accusations of ‘adventurism’ in a particularly volatile Middle East.

“The two countries share views on the situation in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said, citing involvement of French firms in energy exploration off Cyprus, historically Greece’s chief ally.
Turkey has pushed ahead with drilling activity in Cyprus’s designated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) despite EU threats of sanctions.
Greece last month signed an agreement with Cyprus and Israel on EastMed, a huge pipeline project to ship gas to Europe.
The rivalry has extended to Libya.
Turkey signed a maritime and military cooperation memorandum with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in November, carving out energy spheres of influence in the Mediterranean at the expense of Greece.
Athens retaliated by expelling the GNA ambassador and by seeking to build ties with Khalifa Haftar, a general based in the east who controls three quarters of Libyan territory.
Constantinos Filis, executive director of the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, agrees that Athens “must demonstrate its presence and secure backing in the face of Turkish claims in the region.”
The PM drew fire last month when, ahead of a visit to the White House, he called Greece “the most reliable and predictable ally of the US in NATO in this region,” according to state agency ANA.

 


Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.