Will Ankara’s open-door policy prevail in the eastern Mediterranean?

    Turkey has kept dialogue alive in the eastern Mediterranean despite nearly every other stakeholder acting in a hostile manner – and it could pay off.

    Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration and Egypt’s counter-productive gas diplomacy have obstructed any resolution through attempts to sideline Turkey, Libya and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. On top of that, Egypt and Greece signed a maritime deal violating Turkey and Libya’s continental shelves in August.

    Turkey on the other hand is determined to keep the doors open to dialogue with its Mediterranean neighbours to achieve a political settlement and a win-win solution.

    For instance, earlier this month, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated, “we could also sign an agreement with Egypt by negotiating maritime jurisdictions,” stressing that Turkey welcomes Egypt’s respect for its continental shelf in the region while Cairo carries out its activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

    In a similar vein, the Turkish national defence minister Hulusi Akar recently noted, “we have many historical and cultural values in common with Egypt. When they are put in use, we consider that there may be different developments in the coming days.”

    He also emphasised that Ankara supports a negotiated solution through dialogue in line with international law and good neighbourly relations.

    These statements bring a positive atmosphere to a hostile table and indicate that Ankara is trying to find a fair and mutual resolution to the dispute instead of seeking a national-interest-first approach. Other countries have gone that way through compromised partnerships that don’t include all stakeholders as we saw when Athens, Nicosia and Cairo attempted unfeasible energy ventures.

    In addition to that, last January, five years since the 60th round of talks in March 2016, exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece took place in Istanbul thanks to the encouragement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

    Statements coming out of the EU and US have welcomed this development.

    However, the international community have not approached the row in the eastern Mediterranean with any sense of objectivity. All indications (statements, etc.), especially by EU officials, indicate that they unilaterally support Greece over Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. These are the results of poor diplomatic miscalculations — precluding Ankara’s genuine open-door policy for cooperation.

    Brussels should play a constructive role as a fair mediator

    The European Union and its allies should play an essential role in the eastern Mediterranean row between Greece and Turkey before it gets out of hand. Their knee-jerk approach to counter Turkey needs to be fairly reevaluated with a well negotiated solution-oriented blueprint.

    Unfortunately, some European politicians have stood against such a blueprint. For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron has maintained an anti-Turkey policy in the region, aiming to prevent Turkey from accessing its legitimate right to resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

    This discriminatory approach only serves Greek adventurism that prioritises the eastern Mediterranean’s energy wealth and isolates major legitimate stakeholders like Turkey, Libya, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

    On 25-26 March, European Council meetings will discuss claims in the eastern Mediterranean. During this meeting, EU officials should act with common sense and prevent Greece, France, and the Greek Cypriot Administration from misleading the European Union about Turkey.

    Ankara is an indispensable stakeholder

    In response to the rivalry in the region, Ankara’s actions have been swift and effective.

    Politically, the Turkish leadership put a new regional concord into effect to limit its own and Libya’s maritime jurisdictions, in compliance with international law. This was a strategically shrewd move and a development that serves as an example of equally designating maritime boundaries in the region to potentially boost chances for a negotiated resolution.

    When it comes to exploration, Turkey has three modern drilling vessels (Fatih, Yavuz and Kanuni) and two seismic research ships (Oruc Reis, Barbaros Hayrettin) ready. Therefore, it has already built its capacity and has safeguarded inventories for exploring, drilling, and extracting.

    Furthermore, Turkish drillship Fatih found large enormous natural gas reserves in the Black Sea, estimated at 405 billion cubic metres, opening a new historic chapter for Turkey. Within a decade, Turkey can potentially become self-sufficient in meeting its natural gas needs.

    After taking these circumstances into account, ignoring the Turkish side’s legitimate concerns would be a grave political mistake for the region’s stability and prosperity.

    To put it differently, Turkey is no ordinary regional power to be easily excluded from the energy equation in the region. Its geopolitical sphere of influence stretches from Anatolia and the Black Sea region to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East, Eurasia, and North Africa.

    It is time for all parties in the Mediterranean to be constructively pragmatic and utilise Ankara’s open-door policy for achieving a comprehensive resolution that serves the interests of all stakeholders in the region, before it is too late.

    *This article was originally published in in TRT World’s opinion section.

    Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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