NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The defense ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt said Wednesday that emerging regional threats and challenges necessitate even closer cooperation and will seek to invite more countries to take part in joint military drills that aim to sharpen their preparedness levels.
Cyprus Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides hosted his Greek and Egyptian counterparts, Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Gen. Mohamed Zaki, in the Cypriot capital as part of a series of three-way meetings aimed at boosting defense cooperation between the three countries.
“We also agreed to further develop our now firmly established cooperation and thus sending clear and strong messages, as well as looking into the possibility of expanding it … through the inclusion of other countries with which we share the same values and objectives for the future of our wider region,” Panagiotopoulos said.
Earlier this year, France and the United Arab Emirates took part for the first time in joint maneuvers with the three countries.
Zaki said the three ministers discussed better coordinating actions to counter threats that emanate from the wider region such as terrorism, illegal migration and illegal trafficking.
Referring to the war between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza as well as tensions in Libya, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, Petrides said the three ministers agreed on the need for political solutions.
The latest in a string of such meetings between the three defense ministers is an extension of close links that the leaderships of the three countries have forged in the last few years, based on shared interests regarding potential hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt shares maritime borders with both Greek and Cyprus. The Cypriot government has licensed energy companies Total of France, Italy’s Eni and ExxonMobil to search for gas deposits in waters where it has exclusive economic rights.
That search has stoked tensions with neighboring Turkey which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and disputes those rights. It also claims much of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and says it will defend its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north of the ethnically split island nation to the region’s energy deposits.
Turkey had sent warship-escorted drill ships and research vessels to look for hydrocarbons inside waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive rights.
Both Panagotopoulos and Petrides rejected what they called Turkey’s “illegal, provocative and unilateral” actions inside Greek and Cypriot waters that contravene international law and undermine regional stability.
In a joint statement, the ministers condemned “actions that violate the sovereign rights, territorial integrity and unity of any country” and to respect international law.