ATHENS: The Philia Forum is not an alliance against a common threat, but rather a “partnership” that could act as a “bridge” between Europe and the Middle East, Alexandros Papaioannou, spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry, told Arab News.
At the forum, which was held last week in Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hosted his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Cyprus, the UAE and Bahrain. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian participated by videoconference.
The seven countries issued a joint communique about their common objective to ensure regional peace, stability and prosperity.
Papaioannou said his country remains a committed member of NATO and the EU, but “this doesn’t exclude Greece building partnerships in its immediate neighborhood. In the 1990s it was southeastern Europe and the Balkans, and during the last few years it’s the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf.”
He dismissed the motion that the Philia Forum would increase regional tensions, saying: “We want to build peace, stability and prosperity, and to have a positive agenda. We want to instill some stability based on some rules, following the UN Charter, avoiding the use of force or the threat of use of force, respecting international law. We aren’t trying to create an alliance or a coalition. We want a positive agenda.”
Turkey on the horizon
Turkey was never mentioned at the forum. However, “if Turkey sees the forum as something against her, this is her interpretation and certainly not ours,” Papaioannou said. “The forum is open to everybody in the region, provided they adhere to some basic principles.”
Turkey is following an assertive policy in the eastern Mediterranean, mainly against Greece and Cyprus.
Athens and Ankara came close to a military incident last summer. Germany and the US intervened to prevent it.
Papaioannou said Greece wants “to engage in constructive dialogue with Turkey on the basis of international law to address the pending issue, which is the delimitation of the continental shelf and the EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”
This, he added, is not directly related to the Greek government’s aim to enhance and modernize its armed forces, although “Turkish activity in the region has an impact in reaching out to other countries” such as Israel, Egypt and the UAE.
Respect for sovereignty
On the sidelines of the Philia Forum, the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt met in the context of their regular trilateral meetings.
They issued a joint statement emphasizing that when it comes to disputes regarding the delimitation of the EEZ and continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean, all countries should respect some specific rules, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as a basis of any agreement.
Papaioannou said the statement sends “an indirect message to Turkey that solutions which are incompatible with this are threatening stability.”
He cited the “so-called memorandum of understanding signed between Libya and Turkey in November 2019, which completely disregarded international norms.”
He added: “We reiterated our support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Regarding the conflicts in Libya and Syria, “which are civil wars, we underlined the need to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of both countries and, secondly, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the ground.”
New era in Greek-Saudi ties
The presence of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan at the Philia Forum, and the meetings he had with Dendias and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have put bilateral relations on a new track, said Papaioannou.
Prince Faisal’s presence “was in itself a very symbolic gesture,” the spokesman added. “Bilateral relations have evolved substantially during the last few years. We’re now trying to take advantage of untapped potential in developing our relations and exchanging views on issues of common concern in a region changing rapidly.”
Papaioannou said: “Defense is an area that presents many opportunities for deepening dialogue between Athens and Riyadh. We also have other areas of potential cooperation such as trade, tourism and even religious tourism.” He added that Dendias is “very much looking forward to visiting Riyadh.”