Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias attended Christmas Mass in Istanbul amid diplomatic tensions and power play between Athens and Ankara over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
According to Kathimerini Greece, Dendias visited Istanbul where he met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Greek minister also attended morning Mass on Christmas Day.
A day earlier, Dendias had a telephone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, with reports saying Cavusoglu phoned his counterpart as a courtesy call ahead of the scheduled Istanbul visit.
Cavusoglu, who gave an interview to Greek daily To Vima on Sunday, also responded to criticism over the controversial signing of an MoU for delimiting maritime borders in the Mediterranean between Turkey and Libya.
Turkey says calls fell on deaf ears
The Turkish minister said his country had been seeking dialogue to address issues but those calls “have fallen on deaf ears,” adding that most littoral countries of the East Mediterranean ignored Ankara’s calls and chose to proceed unilaterally.
“It is therefore difficult to understand Greek and Greek Cypriots’ unjust claims that aim to congest Turkey into a narrow strip of maritime jurisdiction area despite the fact that Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Cavusoglu said.
The Turkish minister also said Ankara signed a deal with the UN-recognized government of Libya in order to “eliminate the uncertainty” over Turkish claims on maritime jurisdiction areas.
Greece says deal contrary to international law
But the Greek foreign minister, who also visited Libya on Sunday, says the Turkey-Libya deal was contrary to international law and the law of the sea.
Dendias, who visited Benghazi some 400 miles east of capital city Tripoli, met with the leader of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar who is challenging Tripoli’s government.
An official statement from the Greek foreign ministry said the talks centered on the situation in Libya and prospects of ending internal conflict in the war-torn country.
But according to Kathimerini Greece, Dendias also talked about the two “unfounded” memoranda signed between Ankara and the Tripoli government, the maritime borders and Turkish military aid to Libya, pushing forward Greece’s positions that they both violate international law.
Athens open to law-abiding countries
The Greek minister, who visited Cairo as well as on his brief tour, also made a stop at Cyprus’ Larnaca International Airport where he met with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
Last week, the Cypriot minister said Cyprus hoped for all countries in the region to work together.
"Our vision for the region is to see all states together, without excluding anyone, even Turkey... confronting both the challenges and prospects the region faces," Christodoulides said.
During the brief encounter at the airport, Dendias reiterated the Cypriot minister’s position, adding that that all countries that abide by intentional law are welcome to join, referring to recent preparations on moving forward with the EastMed pipeline.
A ceremony has been scheduled in Athens for January 2, where an intergovernmental agreement between Cyprus, Greece and Israel will be signed concerning the EastMed pipeline. Italy is also expected to sign the deal at a later stage.
In response to questions whether the EastMed signatures were a direct response following statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Dendias said “what we’re doing is not in reaction to anything."
Erdogan paid a surprise visit to Tunisia on Wednesday where he went to discuss cooperation in a possible ceasefire in neighbouring Libya, according to official statements.
Ankara cries foul over unilateralism
But foreign media have also been reporting on Ankara’s recent moves aimed at protecting Turkey’s rights and claims in the region. Ankara’s plans were also echoed in Cavusoglu’s interview on Sunday, where he argued that Turkey was acting in response to unilateral moves by other states.
“We did not take any unilateral steps in the region until only after it became obvious that our calls for ceasing unilateral acts in the region fell on deaf ears,” Cavusoglu said.
But the Greek minister said those initiatives were a positive step towards improving the quality of life for citizens and offering solutions to energy challenges.
“We don’t see our initiatives as being directed against anyone," Dendias said.