Turkey’s parliament on Thursday ratified a controversial agreement with Libya that defines the two countries’ maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean.
The bilateral memorandum, signed on November 27 between Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), will go into effect after its publication in the Official Gazette.
The agreement, that defines the two countries exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean, will later be submitted to the United Nations (UN).
“As long as the legitimate government in Libya stands firm on its feet, this new step will achieve its goal,” Erdogan said on Thursday, referring to the deal.
Greece and Cyprus, backed by the Western world, Israel and Egypt, see the pact as Turkey’s another bid to be dominant in the conflict off ethnically-split Cyprus island, further complicated matters in the eastern Mediterranean.
Athens said on Thursday that the Turkey-Libya deal had no legal basis as it violated the basic principles of international maritime. The deal had not even taken into account the Greek island of Crete.
The Greek islands and Cyprus’ western side should not be given a continental shelf or EEZ, but only territorial waters, an unnamed Turkish diplomat told Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu (AA) earlier in the week.
“This agreement also amounts to a political message that Turkey cannot be sidelined in the eastern Mediterranean and nothing can be really achieved in the region without Turkey’s participation,” Cagatay Erciyes, a senior foreign ministry official in charge of maritime and aviation boundary affairs, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
The memorandum on boundaries in the Mediterranean complicates a dispute over offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean between Turkey, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
In reaction to the unilateral drilling by Cyprus without an agreement on sharing any proceeds, Turkish drilling vessels have been exploring oil and gas reserves off the island since May under agreements with the TRNC which is recognized only by Turkey.
In cooperation with Israel and Egypt, the Greek Cypriot state has reportedly detected big reserves in recent years.
Angelos Syrigos, an MP from Greece’s New Democracy Party, claimed on Wednesday that Turkey’s drilling vessels had also discovered a big hydrocarbon reserve in Cyprus’ EEZ.
The newly detected deposit was the reason Turkey had been insisting on drilling off Cyprus. He said this is also why it had recently conducted the maritime boundaries agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also signed a defense agreement with al-Sarraj in Istanbul in a bid to strengthen his forces in Tripoli, which are under attack from eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Libya has also been in conflict with Greece over offshore exploration licenses once issued by Athens for waters south of Crete, located between Turkey and Libya.
Stelios Petsas, the spokesman of the Greek government, told reporters on Tuesday that they had warned Libya’s ambassador to Athens to provide clarifications or else he would be expelled.
The European Union (EU) has prepared sanctions against Turkey over its drilling off Cyprus, with Cyprus wanting the International Court of Justice to resolve the dispute with Turkey.
Cyprus was divided in the aftermath of a Turkish invasion in 1974 in response to a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.