Turkey and Libya renew commitment to contested maritime deal

Turkish president and Libyan interim PM agree to maintain 2019 Mediterranean accord that has angered Greece and Cyprus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, said the deal 'secured the national interests and future of the two countries' after meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Ankara [Presidential Press Office via Reuters]

The head of Libya’s new interim government and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have affirmed their commitment to a controversial 2019 maritime agreement that has angered Greece and Cyprus.

Speaking following a meeting on Monday in Ankara with Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was on his first official visit to Ankara, Erdogan pledged to support Libya’s unity, its reconstruction and its military.

Turkey would also be sending 150,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, as well as managing a pandemic hospital in Tripoli to help the North African country battle its outbreak, Erdogan said.

Libya’s interim government, which took power last month, is meant to bring together a country that has been torn apart by civil war for nearly a decade. It also aims to steer the country until a general election on December 24, 2021.

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya, backing the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital, Tripoli, that controlled the west, against renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), based in Benghazi, that controlled the east.

Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya, helping to tilt the balance of power in favour of the Tripoli government.

Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean, triggering protests from Greece and Cyprus. Both countries denounced the agreement, saying it was a serious breach of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

“The memorandum of understanding concerning the maritime jurisdiction in the Mediterranean that we signed with our neighbour Libya, has secured the interest and future of both countries,” Erdogan said on Monday.

Dbeibah, who has been trying to strike a balance between Turkey and Greece following Athens’ concerns over the maritime deal, also said the deal serves both Turkey and Libya’s national interests.

“Regarding the agreements signed by our countries, especially the maritime deal, we reaffirm that those agreements are valid,” Dbeibah said after talks with Erdogan.

He added, however, that it was important to start a dialogue that would take into account all involved parties’ interests.

Previously, Dbeibah has said his government is willing to establish a joint Libyan-Greek committee to resume negotiations to set the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcate an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights.

Meanwhile, Greece called for the accord to be cancelled, as it reopened its embassy in Libya after seven years on Monday.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met Libya’s alternative Prime Minister Hussein Atiya Abdul Hafeez al-Qatrani in Benghazi and noted that Libya’s parliament had not ratified the maritime accord, which Greece considers has no legal force.

First official visit

Erdogan and Dbeibah, who was accompanied by a large delegation, also oversaw the signing of five agreements, including concerning the construction of electricity plants in Libya.

The two countries also agreed to take steps to facilitate the return of Turkish companies to complete stalled projects in the oil-rich North African nation, Erdogan said.

“This is the first meeting of the so-called Turkey-Libya High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council,” said Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Istanbul.

“The Libyan government is hoping to get Turkey’s support, and Ankara is stepping in to become a major player in the rebuilding of Libya,” he said.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.

The rival east and west-based administrations were each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies