CAIRO -- Egypt and Greece on Thursday signed a maritime deal that sets the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcates an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights.
The deal is a response to a similar agreement between Turkey and Libya’s Tripoli-based government last year that has spiked tensions in the East Mediterranean region. The Turkey-Libya deal was widely dismissed by Egypt, Cyprus and Greece as an infringement on their economic rights in the oil-rich sea. The European Union says it's a violation of intentional law that threatens stability in the region.
Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over sea boundaries but recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the east Mediterranean have exacerbated the dispute.
“This agreement allows Egypt and Greece each to move ahead with maximizing their benefits from resources available in this exclusive economic zone, namely promising oil and gas reserves,” said Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry after Thursday's brief signing ceremony in Cairo.
He added that “Egyptian-Greek relations have been crucial to maintaining security and stability in the East Mediterranean region and for countering threats caused by irresponsible policies that support extremism and terror,” a reference to Ankara's support for the Tripoli government.
In Libya's proxy war, Egypt has been on the opposite side from Turkey and has backed the rival administration based in eastern Libya and the east-based military commander Khalifa Hifter. Cairo claims Turkey is backing extremists on behalf of the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli.
With Turkish military support, the Tripoli government has repelled Hifter's 14-month-long military campaign to capture the Libyan capital. After Turkey turned the tide in the Libyan war, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi threatened a military incursion into Libya, leading to concerns of a direct Egyptian-Turkish confrontation.
Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hailed the Egypt-Greece deal as as “an exemplary agreement." However, neither minister revealed any details of the deal.
“It is the complete opposite of the illegal, invalid and legally non-existent memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Tripoli,” Dendias added.
Turkey argues that Greek islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest — a position Greece says violates international law. Greece has around 6,000 islands and smaller islets in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, more than 200 of them inhabited.
Last month, the Greek government was alarmed by plans by Turkey to proceed with an oil-and-gas research mission south of Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean.
Associated Press writer Elena Becatoras in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.