Tripoli Signs Controversial Agreements with Turkey, Provoking Widespread Rejection

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a press conference in the capital Tripoli,  October 3, 2022. (AFP)Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush (R) and Turkish Foreign
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a press conference in the capital Tripoli,  October 3, 2022. (AFP)

Media reports have talked about Ankara’s possible participation in a trans-Saharan gas pipeline linking Nigeria to Libya with the aim of supplying Europe with natural gas. The project would upend Algeria’s similar plans in this regard.

BENGHAZI, Libya-Libya’s Tripoli government signed a series of preliminary economic agreements with Turkey on Monday that included potential energy exploration in maritime areas, in a move that angered the North African country’s rival administration and Turkey’s regional rival Greece, which denounced them as “illegal.”

The controversial deals, signed by Turkey’s foreign minister with the Tripoli-based interim Libyan government, signal a renewed alignment by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah on Ankara amid repeated international calls for elections to resolve the country’s political divide.

The memorandums of understanding are said to pave the way for further bilateral cooperation in the hydrocarbon and oil sectors. A gas deal is also expected, confirmed Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, during a news conference that followed the signings.

Media reports have talked about Ankara’s possible participation in a trans-Saharan gas pipeline linking Nigeria to Libya with the aim of supplying Europe with natural gas. The project would upend Algeria’s similar plans in this regard.

Speaking at a ceremony in Tripoli, Cavusoglu and his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush said they had signed memorandums of understanding aimed at “benefiting both countries”.

It was not immediately clear whether any concrete deals to emerge would include exploration in the litigious “exclusive economic zone” which Turkey and a previous Tripoli government agreed in 2019.

That zone envisaged the two countries sharing a maritime border marking exclusive economic zones but the deal was attacked by Greece and Cyprus and criticised by Egypt and Israel.

The Greek foreign ministry said Monday that Greece “has sovereign rights in the region, which it intends to defend using all legitimate means.”

“Any reference or action in implementation of the (2019 border deal) will be by definition illegal and, depending on its gravity, there will be a reaction both at a bilateral level and at the level of the European Union and NATO,” a ministry statement said.

Relations between Greece and Turkey are at their worst in years, with Turkey issuing thinly-veiled threats to invade Greece’s Aegean Sea islands. Undersea gas and oil exploration rights are a key part of the dispute.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement said on Monday that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry took a phone call from his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, in which they discussed the developments in Libya.

They both stressed that “the outgoing ‘government of unity’ in Tripoli does not have the authority to conclude any international agreements or memoranda of understanding,” the Egyptian foreign ministry’s statement added.

Dendias posted on Twitter about his phone call with Shoukry, saying both sides challenged the “legitimacy of the Libyan Government of National Unity to sign the said MoU,” and that he will visit Cairo for consultations on Sunday.

Along with the new economic deals, Libya’s Mangoush said that both delegations agreed to “mobilise international efforts to support a short roadmap for Libyan elections.”

Ankara is already displaying an abrasive attitude in its rejection of regional criticism. “It does not matter what they think,” said Cavusoglu when asked if other countries might object to the new memorandum of understanding.

“Third countries do not have the right to interfere,” he added.

The agreements seem to be fuelling tensions between the rival Libyan administrations and experts fear these could spark a new round of violence.

In a statement published after the press conference, Bashagha condemned the agreements and said the signing of such deals was only “the inherent right of an elected authority.”

Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, seen as an ally of Egypt, said the memorandum of understanding was illegal because it was signed by a government that had no mandate.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed long-time ruler Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. For years the country has been split between rival administrations, one based in the east and one in the west, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments. The past few months have seen an uptick in deadly militia clashes.

Turkey has been a prominent backer of Libya’s Tripoli-based government, headed by Abdulhamid Dbeibah.

Ankara’s support for Tripoli’s previous Government of National Accord helped turn the tide of Libya’s civil war. By supplying Tripoli-backed forces with advisers, equipment and intelligence, President Recep Tayipp Erdogan’s government helped thwart a year-long campaign by General Khalifa Hafter, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA)  in the country’s east, to take the capital.

In 2019, Turkey also signed a controversial maritime border deal with the former Tripoli-based administration, granting it access to a contested economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The deal, which ignores the existence of several Greek islands, including Crete, lying between Turkey and Libya, re-ignited Turkey’s pre-existing tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights.

Libya’s interim government in Tripoli was supposed to hold elections in 2021. But the vote was cancelled by Dbeibah following a disagreement over how the electoral process would be conducted. In response, the country’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, who has for months sought to install his government in Tripoli.

Arab Weekly

Egypt and Greece affirm Libya’s outgoing GNU ‘not authorised to sign international deals’

Amr Kandil

Egypt and Greece have affirmed on Monday that the outgoing Government of National Unity (GNU), whose mandate in Tripoli has expired, is not authorised to sign any international agreements and MoUs, according to a statement released by the Egyptian foreign ministry.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias agreed on this stance in a phone call hours after the Tripoli-based GNU government headed by Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah signed a series of preliminary economic agreements in the hydrocarbon and oil sectors with Turkey.

The two foreign ministers discussed the latest developments regarding bilateral relations and regional issues, in particular the developments in Libya in the framework of continuous coordination between the two countries, according to a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry.

The new agreements between the GNU and Ankara were signed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush in the Libyan capital.

The agreements may also include energy exploration in maritime areas, Cavusoglu said in a press conference after the signing ceremony in the Libyan capital.

Cavusoglu was accompanied in Tripoli by a high-level delegation also including Turkey’s energy, defence and trade ministers.

Turkey has provided economic and military support to successive GNU governments in Tripoli, as a deadlock between rival governments in the east and the west of the North African country has prevented holding of national elections that could end more than 11 years of civil war.

In a statement, the Greek foreign ministry condemned the deal, stressing that any measures that aim to implement the 2019 Turkey-Libya maritime demarcation agreement are illegal.

In 2019, Ankara and another former Tripoli-based government signed a controversial maritime border deal with Turkey that granted Ankara access to a contested economic zone in the Mediterranean.

At the time, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus condemned the deal as a stark violation of international maritime laws.

“Depending on [this measure’s] gravity, there will be a reaction both at the level of bilateral relations and at the level of the European Union and NATO,” the Greek foreign ministry said on Monday.

Greece “has sovereign rights in the region, which it intends to defend using all legitimate means,” the ministry stressed.

Local media in Greece quoted Geek diplomatic sources who emphasised that respecting the Egypt-Greece deal in 2020 is absolutely vital.

In 2020, Egypt signed an agreement with Greece for the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries.

“We shall not allow any violations of the deal that would trigger yet another hotbed of tension in the Mediterranean,” the Greek foreign ministry said.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have all rejected Turkey’s oil explorations in recent years inside Cypriot territorial waters, deeming them “unlawful and unacceptable.”

Egypt, Greece and Cyprus are members of  the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), an eight-state economic organisation that aims to maximise use of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Egypt, which has supported the holding of long-delayed elections in Libya to end the conflict in the country, has called on all sides to raise the national interests of all Libyans above any narrow considerations.

Cairo has also called for the removal of all foreign militias from the country as a step towards a peaceful resolution of conflict.

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