US, Greece call for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in east Mediterranean

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C,L) and Greek Minister for Development and Investment Adonis Georgiadis (C,R) share an elbow bump greeting during a signing agreement ceremony in the northern city of Thessaloniki, on Sept. 28, 2020. (AFP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, is welcomed by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, second left, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece on Sept. 28, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 29 September 2020

US, Greece call for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in east Mediterranean

  • US welcomed Greece’s readiness to seek maritime agreements with its neighbors
  • Tensions escalated last month after Turkey entered into a disputed maritime area

ATHENS: The United States and Greece called on Monday for a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the east Mediterranean as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a two-day trip to Greece amid increased regional tension over energy resources.
NATO allies Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads on a range of issues, have agreed to resume exploratory talks over contested maritime claims following weeks of tensions.
“The United States and Greece ... reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law,” the United States and Greece, also NATO allies, said in a joint statement after Pompeo met his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
The United States also welcomed Greece’s readiness to seek maritime agreements with its neighbors in the region, they said after meeting in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
Tensions escalated last month after Turkey dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel, escorted by gunboats, into a disputed area thought to be rich in energy resources, following a maritime agreement signed between Greece and Egypt.
Turkey has said the pact infringes on its own continental shelf. The agreement also overlaps with maritime zones Turkey agreed with Libya last year, decried as illegal by Greece.
Ankara recalled the Oruc Reis this month, saying it wished to give diplomacy a chance.
Pompeo said on Monday he hoped the exploratory talks, which are expected to resume soon, will also bring results.
“We hope the exploratory talks not only get kicked off right, but it’s important that they’re resolved in a way that delivers outcomes that each of the two nations find more than acceptable,” Pompeo told the Athens News Agency.
Pompeo has previously said the United States is “deeply concerned” about Turkish actions in the east Mediterranean.
ENERGY TIES
The United States also hopes to build up its energy ties with Greece, which seeks to become an energy hub in the Balkans and help Europe to diversify its energy resources.
Athens already imports large quantities of US liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is developing a floating LNG storage and regasification unit off the port of Alexandroupolis, which is expected to channel gas to Bulgaria via the Interconnector Greece — Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline and from there to central Europe by early 2023.
ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum have set up a joint venture that will look for gas and oil off the Greek island of Crete.
The United States has also expressed interest in the privatization of the ports of Alexandroupolis and Kavala in northern Greece.
Pompeo and Greek Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis also signed on Monday a science and technology agreement. The two countries want to collaborate on artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, 5G and privatization of strategic infrastructure, their joint statement said.
Pompeo arrived in Crete on Monday evening. He was due to stay at the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ residence and visit the Souda military base on Crete on Tuesday.


Warring Libya rivals sign truce, but tough political talks ahead

Updated 24 October 2020

Warring Libya rivals sign truce, but tough political talks ahead

  • KSA hopes new era will achieve security, sovereignty and stability for country and its people

JEDDAH: Libya’s warring factions signed a permanent cease-fire agreement on Friday, but any lasting end to years of chaos and bloodshed will require wider agreement among myriad armed groups and the outside powers that support them.

Acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams said the cease-fire would start immediately and all foreign fighters must quit Libya within three months.

As a first commercial passenger flight in more than a year crossed front lines from Tripoli to the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, Williams noted Libya’s “fraught” recent history, one of the numerous broken truces and failed political solutions.

“But we shouldn’t let the cynics win,” she said, hailing both sides for their “courage” in agreeing a cease-fire and saying they deserved international support.

Friday’s agreement was reached after the Government of National Accord (GNA) in June beat back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) from its 14-month assault on the capital.

Since then, frontlines have stabilized near the central coastal city of Sirte and the LNA has ended its eight-month blockade of Libyan oil output, which was strangling state finances on both sides.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • First commercial flight in more than a year crosses frontlines from Tripoli to Benghazi.
  • Libya’s National Oil Corp. lifts force majeure on exports from ports of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf.
  • US terms agreement a major step forward and says all foreign fighters must now leave Libya.
  • Both sides have deployed fighters from Syria, Sudan, Chad and European mercenaries.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the “Kingdom’s aspiration for the agreement to pave the way for the success of the understandings on the political and economic tracks, thus contributing to the beginning of a new era that achieves security, peace, sovereignty and stability for Libya and its brotherly people.”

There was caution inside Libya too. “We all want to end the war and destruction. But personally I don’t trust those in power,” said Kamal Al-Mazoughi, 53, a businessman sitting in a Tripoli cafe. “If there is no force or mechanism to apply this on the ground ... this deal will only be ink on paper,” said Ahmed Ali, 47, in Benghazi.

Key details on implementing the cease-fire, including monitoring the departure of foreign fighters and merging armed groups, have been left to subcommittees in future talks.

Both sides have deployed thousands of foreign fighters, including Syrians, Sudanese, Chadians and European mercenaries brought in by Russia’s Wagner group. 

Meanwhile, political talks scheduled in Tunisia early next month, with a view to holding national elections eventually, will need to reach agreement on historically elusive issues and overcome widespread mistrust. The US said all foreign fighters must now leave. “This agreement is a major step forward toward realizing the shared interests of all Libyans in de-escalation, stability and the departure of foreign fighters,” said a statement issued by the US Embassy in Libya.

“We urge internal and external actors now to support good-faith implementation of the agreement.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this “is a fundamental step toward peace and stability in Libya. “Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women and children have died as a result of the conflict.”

Libya’s National Oil Corp. (NOC) has lifted force majeure on exports from the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, it said, adding that output would reach 800,000 barrels per day within two weeks and 1 million bpd in four weeks.

Al Waha Oil Co, the NOC company that runs Es Sider, said the port would start operating again on Saturday with the first tanker expected within 48 hours.