Cairo summit denounces Turkish-Libyan maritime border agreement

Saturday, January 11, 2020

On Wednesday, an assembly of several foreign ministers in Cairo denounced the memoranda of understanding between Turkey and Libya in which Turkey and Libya agreed on maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean and allowed Turkish army deployments in Libya. The November border demarcation resulted in overlapping exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claims and would make the planned EastMed gas pipeline cross Turkish waters.

Participating foreign ministers closed their January 8 Cairo Summit with public statements (Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Egypt))

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry and his Greek, Cypriot and French counterparts, Nikos Dendias, Nikos Christodoulides and Jean-Yves Le Drian, respectively, gathered in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss Libya–Turkey relations. The Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, joined the talks as an observer.

They concluded that the November 27 maritime border agreement between Turkey and Libya is "null and void" and "infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences". They called on Turkey to halt their drilling operations within the EEZ of Cyprus, and deemed that the agreement on sending Turkish soldiers to Libya, where a civil war is underway, goes against the United Nations Security Council resolution 2259.

The foreign ministers agreed to a future meet on Crete.

In a related press release issued the following day, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the conclusions of the summit, calling the agreements "legitimate and fully compatible with international law". To resolve differences, they invited the countries to open dialogue, with the exception of Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize.

On Wednesday during the opening ceremony of the TurkStream gas pipeline, Turkish president Erdoğan called for a regional cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, claiming a right to Turkey to have a say in projects there, based on the country's long shoreline. "No project excluding our country in the Eastern Mediterranean can be implemented with regard to economic, judicial and diplomatic aspects", he said. He underlined the call for cooperation by saying "we are ready to take more [positive] steps towards those taking a single step towards us." He claimed the Turkish drilling on Cypriot waters is only to protect Turkish and Turkish Cypriot interests.

On Tuesday, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaking to the Atlantic Council think tank called the border agreement "null and void" and "geographically ridiculous". "The agreement assumes that our islands, including our biggest island Crete, does not have an exclusive economic zone, which goes against everything we know in international law", he added. He also noted that the Libyan House of Representatives did not ratify the demarcation, and mentioned a possible arbitration route at the International Court of Justice. The border issue is the "main difference" between Greece and Turkey, he added.

In the November 27 deal, Turkey and Libya agreed on a line as their shared maritime border that would make the sea between Crete and Cyprus a part of the Turkish EEZ. Turkey justified the claim based on their long shoreline and presented cases where islands played only a limited role when borders were drawn. Athens expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece over the agreement.

The EastMed pipeline is a Israeli-Cypriot-Greek effort intended to connect East Mediterranean offshore gas fields with the European mainland via a pipeline, on a route which passes through Turkish-claimed maritime territories. Italy, the proposed end point, and Egypt, which have gas fields of its own, were openly called to join.


See a partial transcription here.