Turkey is willing to negotiate with Egypt and sign a deal over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish foreign minister said on Wednesday.
The statement indicates a Turkish desire to ease tensions with Cairo, but does not mean that Ankara is ready to review its policies and abandon its ambitious projects in the region.
Political observers pointed to the tactical nature of the new Turkish approach, arguing that such an approach started a while ago and aims at reducing tensions with a number of Arab and European countries.
The new Turkish approach, according to observers, was adopted after the rise of a democratic administration in the United States, with Washington now voicing its reservations about the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey is reportedly concerned about the outbreak of a confrontation with the administration of President Joe Biden.
Over the last few years, Turkey has antagonised many countries in the region, and also in Europe.
Today, the country however seems more inclined towards reducing its hostile and escalatory policies as it waits to see how relations are going to develop with the new U.S. administration.
Any talks between Egypt and Turkey would be momentous since their ties deteriorated after 2013, when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led a military overthrow of ex-Islamist president Muhammad Morsi, whom Turkey backed.
The two nations are also on opposing sides in the Libyan conflict.
“Depending on the trajectory of relations, we could negotiate maritime boundaries with Egypt and reach an agreement in the future,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said during a news conference in Ankara.
He also noted that Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf in the region and Ankara viewed this positively.
“As the two countries with the longest coastlines in the eastern Mediterranean, if our ties and the conditions allow it, we can also negotiate a maritime demarcation deal with Egypt and sign it amongst ourselves,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Observers say Çavuşoğlu’s talk about a maritime demarcation is nothing more than an attempt to ease tensions with Egypt. The statements of the foreign minister, the observers argue, fall in line with a new Turkish approach to pacify rivals. Over the last few months, Turkey has been working on restoring ties with Israel, defusing tensions with France and pushing for negotiations with Greece.
The eastern Mediterranean was at the centre of escalating tensions between Turkey and Greece last year after Ankara sent a research vessel into disputed waters.
The move came after Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories agreed to create the “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” without Turkey in 2019.
Egypt then signed a maritime agreement with Greece that laid claim to some areas covered in a separate pact Turkey struck with Libya around the same time.
Greece is likely to be wary of any maritime talks between Turkey and Egypt.
EU attempts to defuse the eastern Mediterranean standoff culminated in January, when Turkey and Greece held their first direct talks since 2016.
But tensions renewed last month after Turkey sent a research ship into international waters and accused Greek jets of “harassing” the vessel.
The January meeting in Istanbul produced no breakthrough and although the sides agreed for the talks to resume in Athens, no date has yet been set.
(A version of this article was originally published by the Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)