Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he expected US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration to play a more active role in attempting to calm growing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
“We have every reason to welcome, along with all our partners in the region, the return of the United States to its central role as a leader of NATO,” he said after a meeting in Athens on Wednesday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Greece and Egypt are at odds with Turkey in a tense maritime boundary dispute in the eastern Mediterranean about rights to search for and exploit natural gas deposits. It triggered a major military buildup by Greece and Turkey in recent months that raised concerns of military confrontation.
The European Union and the United States have both criticised Turkey’s continuing maritime research missions in waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction. Turkey has argued that Greek islands along its coastline are blocking its access to undersea gas deposits and that boundaries should be set around the mainland and not include the islands.
“I believe that Greece and Egypt will welcome and have a positive attitude toward the determination of America’s contribution to the events of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean in our troubled region,” Mitsotakis said.
Michael Carpenter, a foreign policy adviser to Biden, said the new administration could seek closer cooperation with France, Germany and other European nations in its policy concerning Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I do think and I am hopeful that when a President Erdogan sees a united front, that suggests that there is room for cooperation, but also that there are very negative consequences to pursuing a more aggressive policy, then he will have a rethink,” said Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
He made the remarks on Monday, speaking by video link at a diplomatic conference organised in Greece.
In Athens for a two-day visit, el-Sisi also met Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, while Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will sit down with Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in the evening.
In August, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime deal demarcating the two countries’ maritime boundaries and setting out respective exclusive economic zones for the exploitation of resources such as oil and gas drilling.
The agreement, which remains partial, angered Turkey, prompting it to accuse Greece of trying to grab an unfair share of resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Greece-Egypt deal was widely seen as a response to a disputed agreement reached late last year between Turkey and Libya’s Tripoli-based administration.
That deal granted Turkey drilling rights across a corridor of the eastern Mediterranean – much of it within the maritime jurisdiction Greece also claimed. Greece, Cyprus and other regional actors have denounced the Turkish-Libyan agreement as “illegal”, which Turkey has denied.