Athens, Greece – Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Tuesday embarked on a tour of Arab capitals to shore up support for Greece in its latest diplomatic standoff with Turkey over maritime borders.
The dispute was sparked by Turkey’s signing on November 27 of two maritime jurisdiction agreements with the Government of National Accord in Libya. They award Turkey and Libya an area Greece claims as part of its islands’ maritime territory, and which Athens and Ankara both believe may be key to lucrative gas resources.
Dendias began his tour in Riyadh on Tuesday, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “We have a common understanding that these memoranda create a problem in the broader region,” said Dendias. “We shall continue to monitor the situation and be in touch to coordinate initiatives.”
According to the state-run Athens News Agency, in Riyadh Dendias also met with Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir and the governor of the public investment fund, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan.
And while Dendias will travel on to Amman on Thursday, much of the focus of the trip has been on Abu Dhabi, where he is due to arrive on Wednesday.
“It’s the result of a proposal of [the previous, Syriza government] to create a new tripartite forum between Greece, Cyprus and the UAE,” a former diplomat told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity. “It’s an attempt to answer the latest challenges in Greek-Turkish relations.”
Under the left-wing Syriza government, Greece and Cyprus created political arenas with Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Egypt, in an effort to pool their diplomatic clout and face what they see as a growing Turkish threat. Dendias and his Cypriot counterpart were both in Abu Dhabi last month.
“The UAE are our closest Arab ally after Egypt,” the former diplomat said. “In addition to trade interests, Greece and the UAE have carried out joint military exercises.”
Efthymios Tsiliopoulos is a defence analyst with Defence-point.gr. “UAE Mirage fighter jets participated in the multinational air force exercise Iniohos in 2017 and in April this year, along with fighters from the United States, Greece, Israel and Italy at the Andravida Air Force Base, in southern Greece,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Military Cooperation Programme [MCP] between Greece and the UAE was signed in Athens on December 9. The MCP includes actions in the areas of business, exercises, training and information.”
Greece has embarked on a diplomatic counteroffensive to isolate Turkey and make sure Ankara’s agreement with Tripoli never enters into force.
Ahead of his Arab tour, Dendias met United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Geneva on Monday.
Greece has asked the UN not to register the Turkey-Libya agreement in its archive, saying it is contrary to the international Law of the Sea, noting it has been denounced by the US and Russia, as well as regional neighbours Israel and Egypt. Libya has reportedly made a similar request to the UN.
Guterres has said he will refer the matter to the UN’s legal services department.
Last week the European Union said the deal “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third states” – meaning the EU does not consider it legally binding on EU member Greece.
“The European Council unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding these actions by Turkey,” the EU said in a statement.
The EU has also threatened to sanction Turkey for sending state exploration vessels to look for oil and gas in the Exclusive Economic Zone of EU member Cyprus.
A Greek diplomatic official said Athens was also speeding up processes to agree on the delineation of its maritime boundaries with Italy and Egypt.