Italy's ambassador in Ankara on Thursday hailed Turkey's position in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying there can be "no sustainable solution in that area without fair participation by Turkey."
Speaking to a group of reporters from the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Turkey virtually, Massimo Gaiani addressed several matters related to Turkish-Italian relations, regional and international matters.
The veteran envoy stressed Turkey's significance in the Eastern Mediterranean region and said, "We strongly believe that Turkey is part of this area. It has the longest coastline."
Asked about the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), Gaiani said that Italy has "always conceived this forum as a way to improve cooperation among the countries that are interested in developing energy resources in the Mediterranean."
"We believe that this forum should be as inclusive as possible. And it is quite clear that it has to act with a positive spirit and not with the negative spirits. We made that very clearly, to all our partners," he added.
The EMGF is an international organization founded by Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Greece, Italy, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC).
EastMed is a 1,900-kilometer (1,180-miles) natural gas pipeline project extending from Israel to Greece and then onto Italy.
Critics have said it will not be possible to fill the pipeline with the current known gas reserves off Israel's Eastern Mediterranean coast and that even if Egypt is added to the project, the project's feasibility banks on potential discoveries of reserves in the region.
The Italian envoy referred to the ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece on the Eastern Mediterranean and welcomed the restart of dialogue between the two states.
- 'No sustainable solution in E.Med. without Turkey'
"We very much welcome the engagement by the two countries (Turkey and Greece), and to continue in these talks, to try to clarify, and if possible to solve these problems," he said.
Telling that "there are important resources in the eastern Mediterranean from the point of view of energy," Gaiani said, "We really hope that these resources will be an element to solve problems to bring countries together."
He noted the significance of Turkey's presence in the region and stressed that "there is no sustainable solution in that area without fair participation by Turkey. I think that this is very evident."
"If these problems are not solved, the risk is that the gas would stay under the sea where it is and that everyone will lose. That's why we always plea for more dialogue, more cooperation," he added.
On recent disclosure of Egypt's respect of Turkey's continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on March 3, signaled possible normalization of relations with Egypt and said Turkey could sign an agreement on maritime jurisdictions with Egypt following negotiations.
Gaiani welcomed the development between Turkey and Egypt and said: "These countries are both very important partners in the Mediterranean, and they are relevant actors in the area."
"We hope that this positive trend will continue with the contribution by all parties involved," he added.
Responding to a question regarding Libya's new unity government and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh being proposed to the country's House of Representatives on March 10, the Italian ambassador welcomed the development.
"It shows that a Libyan-owned process has brought a political solution to the crisis. And I'm sure that all the countries involved in Libya will now try to contribute to this positive evolution," Gaiani said.
- 'Turkey, Italy positively contributed to political solution in Libya'
He praised Turkey's role in the political solution and said: "I think that the Turkish government, that has been working quite closely with Italy, has also given its very positive contribution to this solution."
"And I think that this very important step will bring a positive trend and that further on the issues of the military presence will be progressively solved. I think that we are on the right path. We will continue the very close dialogue between Italy and Turkey on Libyan issues, in the spirit of stabilizing the country," he added.
Telling that both Turkey and Italy need "stabilization of Libya," he stressed that Libya "is an important partner, not only in economic terms but also for the security of the region, of controlling terrorism, of controlling migration flows."
Gaiani further expressed support to the Berlin process and noted that "together with Turkey's contribution, we will continue to support the process that has started under the UN auspices."
On Feb. 5, Libya's rival political groups agreed in UN-mediated talks to form an interim unity government to lead the country to elections this December, where Dbeibeh was designated as the prime minister and tasked with forming a new government.
Libyans hope that this will end years of civil war that have engulfed the country since the ouster and killing of strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011.
The war was exacerbated when warlord Khalifa Haftar, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia, and France, among others, carried out a military onslaught to topple the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government for control of the North African country.
The Italian diplomat also addressed Turkey-EU relations and recalled his country's "strong support" towards Turkey.
"Our country, within the EU, is among those who have most strongly supported the need to increase dialogue and have positive agenda with Turkey," he said.
Recalling Turkey being a leading country in hosting the largest number of refugees globally, Ambassador Gaiani said that Turkey must be continued to be supported in its efforts towards refugees.
"We also believe that it is in the best interest of both EU and Turkey to resume the discussion on the modernization of Customs Union, as being a very relevant element for the growth of Turkey and the EU. It has been a win-win agreement, but it is outdated," he added.
- 'Updated, broadened Customs Union a must'
Noting that the Customs Union needs to be "upgraded" and "to broaden the scope of the agreement together with a better implementation of this agreement," he said that visa-liberalization for Turkish citizens is a "positive agenda."
He expressed support in Turkey's accession process to the EU and the strengthening of relations between Turkey and the EU.
"We are strongly committed to facilitating the dialogue between Turkey and the EU, to support its accession process and to continue to cooperate with Turkey in the NATO framework," he added.
Describing Turkey as "an important partner and crucial ally in the NATO," the Italian envoy said: "We [Italy] will continue to develop further our bilateral relations that are based on true friendship, a continuous dialogue at a political level, and the strong economic cooperation as it shows our bilateral trade, and flows of foreign investments on both ways."
Expressing gratitude to Turkey over its "immediate gesture of solidarity" in the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ambassador Gaiani reaffirmed that "Italy is one of the countries that are most affected by the pandemic at the very beginning of this event."
"Turkey has performed well, taking into account the seriousness of this pandemic and the fact that it's something completely unexpected," he said.
Referring to the Turkish health system as a "territorial kind of wealth," the Italian envoy in Ankara said: "I think that the Turkish public appreciated the way Turkey has faced this terrible challenge [COVID-19]."
With the summer season approaching, Gaiani also commented on travel to European countries, saying that it is difficult to predict what might happen.
"Europe is limiting the travels from outside of Europe and towards to Europe... We don't know where we will be during the summer. It depends on how fast we will go through with the vaccination campaign," he said.
He continued by praising Turkey's nationwide vaccination campaign and said, "I must say that I was really impressed by the speed of how the vaccination proceeded in Turkey. They very fast, very efficient."
However, Gaiani said Italy would apply stricter measures as the countries see a surge in a mutated version of COVID-19 cases and told that the Italian government might also go into weekend lockdowns similar to Turkey has done until very recently.
"I can guarantee that Italy and Europe will do its best to continue to keep the movement of people... But it's something that we have to see as the situation evolves in the next few months," he added.
He also praised the Turkish economy despite the ongoing pandemic, saying that, "Turkey is one of the countries that performed well in this very difficult global situation at the end. Turkey's economy scored a small plus, but when while we have -9.39, -9.7, so extraordinary results [by Turkey]."
Welcoming Turkey's new monetary policy adopted, Gaiani said, "I think that Turkey was very good in finding a compromise between facing the pandemic and keeping the economy running."
"Italy trusts Turkey, and the flows of direct investment shows this trust. We were number one in foreign investment in 2019. And we were among the top five, I also think, in the previous years," he said.
Noting that Italian businessmen in Turkey "are satisfied with their investment," he said that "on many occasions, they have even reinforced these investments, and they are performing very well, and they trust Turkey."
"They believe that it's a resilient country that despite the unexpected events that happened all over the world, [Turkey] has proved to be able to continue to perform well on the economic side," he added.
By Merve Aydogan