Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras paid a visit to Iran to boost political and economic relations, including energy.
“Tsipras’ visit to Tehran is an attempt by Greece to open up to a regional power, a big market and a potential energy supplier for the EU,” Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe in Athens on February 9.
Last month, during a visit of Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia to Athens, Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum agreed to buy crude oil from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) after sanctions against Tehran were lifted.
Greece imported an average 122,300 barrels per day of Iranian crude, making it the country Iran’s third biggest European customer behind Italy and Spain, before sanctions were imposed on Tehran in 2011, according to Platts. Greece’s total crude imports averaged about 420,000 barrels per day during the first 10 months of 2015, according to official EU data.
“Greece will become an energy, economic and trade bridge between Iran and European Union,” Mega channel quoted Tsipras as saying in Iran, adding that “Iran is a key player for stability and peace in the Middle East, and a significant economic partner”.
Iran’s first Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri officially welcomed Tsipras on February 8 and discussed bilateral issues and cooperation between the two countries. The two sides inked three memoranda of understanding (MoU) for political cooperation, development to cancel visa regime and bilateral cooperation roadmap.
Tsipras also said the two parties discussed the latest developments in Iraq and Syria, adding Iran can help restore stability in the entire region.
“We’re in Tehran, where we have had a series of contacts with the political and state leaders of Iran. We have jointly agreed to boost our bilateral relations and intensify both the political dialogue as well as the economic partnership, focusing on the sectors of trade, construction, agri-food production, energy, investment, trade and culture,” Tsipras wrote in his facebook page late on February 8.
Late last month, Tsipras, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades agreed in Nicosia to strengthen cooperation between their three countries, especially on energy. Greece, Cyprus and Israel agreed to restart the EastMed natural gas project, to promote strategic trilateral energy projects like the EuroAsia Interconnector and explore the possibilities of building liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Greece.
Filis said Israel is certainly not happy about any openings to Iran, as it considers the latter the number one danger to its national security. “However, it is pragmatic enough to realise that it cannot avoid the current dynamic. So, I do not consider that there will be any impact on Athens’ cooperation with Tel Aviv,” he told New Europe.
He noted, however, that Israel risks of losing further ground in the competition arena with regard to its energy exports, if the current delays continue.
In August 2015, Italy’s ENI discovered Egypt’s Zohr offshore field, which is one of the largest gas finds in the Mediterranean. Moreover, after the sanctions were lifted against Tehran, Iran wants to become a major oil and gas exporter.
“A couple of months ago, it was the discovery of Zhor field, now Iran is back on the energy map, which means that there is not much time left for the Israelis to make up their minds and take final decisions concerning their exports. But due to the verdict by the antitrust authority, it is very likely that the companies involved in Israeli natural gas fields will need more time before they get in a position to start making deals,” Filis said.
He was referring to a recent ruling of the antitrust authority that to allow Noble Energy of Houston and Delek Group of Israel to bid on or sign contracts for developing Leviathan would violate Israel’s laws banning monopolies—and that both companies had to be excluded from any future bids.
“The only kind of encouraging sign is that Iran, whose capacity of course cannot be compared with that of the Eastern Mediterranean countries, will need time – minimum five to seven years – and lots of investment before it begins exporting natural gas to Europe,” Filis said.