How could Albania benefits from the US-Iran clash and the geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

How could Albania benefits from the US-Iran clash and the geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
By: Arben Ramkaj 
  The recent tensions between the US and Iran have overshadowed some important geopolitical developments that have been taking place in recent weeks in the Eastern Mediterranean. Nearly 10 years ago large deposits of natural gas were discovered on the southern coast of Cyprus.

And of course such a natural treasure, it has a great potential to spark conflicts. This is because Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, has been divided since 1974 in the Turkish and Cypriot areas. Today both parts of the island have claims to economically exploit the rich gas field.

The Greek part of Cyprus bases its claims on international maritime law when every country with access to the sea is guaranteed an Exclusive Economic Zone, which goes up to 200 miles offshore.

But this regulation is very complicated in the case of Cyprus, as Ankara considers the Turkish part of Northern Cyprus as a sovereign state, so it claims its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Parallel gas drilling has been the subject of tensions recently, especially between Turkey and Greece. A few months ago, Greece, Egypt, Israel and the Greek Cypriots signed a joint maritime agreement, excluding Turkey, to design their Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, beginning their exploration efforts.

Earlier this year, Greek Cypriots, Greece, and Israel signed an agreement to build a 1900km-long Eastmed Pipeline aimed at transporting the extracted gas to Italy and from there to Western Europe.

Turkey has not stood idly by this alliance, which undermines its strategic and economic interests. On November 27 last year, signed a maritime border agreement with the Libyan National Accord Government (GNA) of Libyan Prime Minister Fajez Al-Sarraj, based in the capital, Tripoli.

This pact is a clear signal to other coastal states in the region that the gas game will not be played without Ankara's approval. The Turkey-Libya pact creates a de facto corridor through the Mediterranean, designating both Turkish territorial waters and the area near the Greek island of Crete.

This corridor extends seamlessly across the Mediterranean from the Libyan coast to the Turkish coast. The corridor is 30 km wide, extending the Turkish territorial space, which now extends to 10 kilometers off the coast of Crete.

The agreement is part of a broader co-operation pact between Turkey and Libya, under which the two countries commit to co-operate, with a particular emphasis on the military and security fields. Turkish troops have already landed in Libya to help the Tripoli government take control of the entire territory of the country, which has been involved in total chaos for more than a decade.

The Libyan government, internationally recognized and supported by the United Nations, is fighting rebels led by General Khalifa Haftar, who are currently controlling the east part of the country.

Turkey's efforts to stabilize Libya are crucial to the EU, as they aim, among other things, to halt the influx of refugees crossing the Mediterranean each year across Europe.

Meanwhile, recent movements in the Eastern Mediterranean have created a very favorable situation for Albania, which has not yet reached an agreement with Greece on the maritime border, partly because large gas reserves have been discovered in the Ionian Sea as well.

Talks between Tirana and Athens advanced considerably under SYRIZA's leftist government. But the results of the negotiations have been disputed by the new right-wing government of Kiriako Micotaqis. Under current conditions, they may pursue two paths, accelerate, or remain in limbo long after recent developments between Greece, Libya, and Turkey.

The new Greek government has so far not given any direct signal on the matter. But since October 2019, when Albania and Northern Macedonia were refused accession negotiations following the French vote, Athens has more than once raised its voice against this decision.

Thus, Greece appears to be taking a leading role in the region for the European perspective of the Western Balkans through various initiatives, including the recent informal summit in Brussels between the EU and Western Balkans foreign ministers.

Albania is in a favorable international position if it deals with regional geopolitical approaches on a daily basis. The Mediterranean conflict over maritime borders and the energy battle, mainly between Turkey, Egypt and Greece, should be used by it to sign its final agreements with Greece in exchange for opening EU accession talks.

Athens does not have the luxury of standing trapped on two fronts. Facing difficult gas issue in Cyprus, it may wish to resolve the maritime border issue with Albania once and for all, precisely to start drilling in the Ionian Sea as soon as possible. The country is only a few years out of the financial crisis, and desperate for new incentives to boost economic growth.

Tirana's silence on this issue at the moment is not only unjustified but also counterproductive to Albanian national interests. Still having a number of open issues with Greece should not prevent intense contacts at the highest levels, to explore the possibility of resolving them.

At the height of tensions between Athens and Ankara, Greek Prime Minister Micotaxis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in London in early December as part of a summit of NATO leaders. Although contesting the Turkey-Libya agreement as illegal and unacceptable, Micotaqis said after the meeting that despite differences, Greece and Turkey can overcome their differences as long as they show goodwill.

"I want to assure the Greek people that the difficulties in our relations with Turkey have always existed, still exist and will exist. But I believe that as long as both parties show good will, these difficulties can be overcome,” Micotaqis said.

The same approach, I think, has to do with the international conflict between the US and Iran. Even in this case, the presence of the Iranian opposition to MEK in Albania, despite the dangers it carries especially in the present moment, is a serious "card" that should be used to advance our position in the region.

Tirana has every opportunity and must exert positive pressure on the United States, to advance its European path, but also Kosovo's final status, and to reach a final agreement with Serbia.

And to do so it must have a unified voice, requiring visionary policies agreed between the majority and the opposition. Albania needs to weigh the risks and opportunities that the presence of MEK brings to Albania. Iran's Supreme Leader, a few days ago, called us "a small and devilish country", precisely because of the refuge of the Iranian opposition group.

This language is openly threatening, although earlier, as it was fortunately discovered in time, Iran has sought to plot a terrorist attack on Albanian territory, as it has done in many countries around the world. Of course, as a NATO member for 11 years, Albania is under the umbrella of the alliance.

But in the present case, Albania and not others have taken note of the clear dangers that come from sheltering MEK members.

For this reason, has to emerge as a small but agile player in the international arena. Diplomacy is based on some principles, but it is governed by the interests of the states. Therefore, these interests should not be overlooked.

For the first time in the history of the OSCE presidency from Albania this year, it can be very well used to lobby strongly for accelerating the country's European integration and strengthening its status in the region.

But if the discussion on the foreign policy course is not going to be as intense, at least in these times as our domestic policy debate is, then it is certain that these opportunities and resources will be greatly transformed. quickly on a heavy bill that we could not carry as a small nation in the region.

* Dr. Arben Ramkaj is the president of the Interfaith Center in Albania
How could Albania benefits from the US-Iran clash and the geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean How could Albania benefits from the US-Iran clash and the geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean Monday, February 03, 2020 Rating: 5
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