ATHENS – Foreign ministers and senior officials from several Persian Gulf countries were meeting in Athens on Thursday, as Greece seeks to expand alliances to counter tension with regional rival Turkey.
NATO members Greece and Turkey remain locked in a dispute over boundaries and offshore resource rights in the eastern Mediterranean that led to a dangerous military buildup in the region for months last year.
The visiting officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were meeting in Athens with the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, who already hold regular contacts, and they were joined by video link by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The participating countries have broadly sided with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the seven participating countries were planning to have regular contacts and meetings.
“It is natural for Greece to seek out this type of cooperation ... multidimensional challenges in our wider neighborhood make it necessary,” he said at the start of the meetings.
Athens and Ankara recently restarted long-stalled talks aimed at resolving their maritime disputes. But Greece has continued plans to modernize its military and in recent months has stepped up armed forces cooperation with France, Egypt, Israel and others.
George Pagoulatos, director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens-based think tank, said Greece was hoping to exploit its position as a longstanding member of the EU and NATO to build alliances.
“The participant countries share a support of the territorial status quo and United Nations maritime law, and opposition to border revisionism, religious radicalization, and Turkey’s expansionist role in the eastern Mediterranean,” Pagoulatos, told the AP.
Turkey argues that Greek islands around its coastline should not be included in calculating maritime areas for oil-and-gas exploitation, claiming that it has been unfairly excluded from its fair share of the region’s natural resources. Athens maintains that the decades-old dispute should be resolved through negotiations or at an international court, and has accused Turkey of using its military superiority to try and pressure Greece to make concessions.
Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed. ___ Follow Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos