Libya’s Maritime Deal With Turkey Presents New Hurdle to Ending War

December 02: Efforts to end Libya’s war face another hurdle after its internationally recognized government signed a preliminary maritime agreement with Turkey, angering neighboring states that see it as a brazen Turkish bid for dominance over gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

Ghassan Salame, the United Nations envoy to OPEC member Libya, said the recriminations sparked by the accord finalized in Istanbul last week risked complicating a Dec. 10 gathering in Berlin of parties to the conflict that was supposed to pave the way for a full peace summit in early January.

While Greece and Egypt are especially outraged, sustained mediation could help resolve differences, Salame said by phone. “But if the opposite happens, I would certainly be more fearful for the presence of everybody in Berlin,” he said.

In Ankara on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out opening the deal to discussion, seeing any attempt to do so as an encroachment on his country’s sovereign rights.

The UN is urgently pushing for a peace deal in Libya after fighting for control of the capital, Tripoli, intensified as Russian mercenary forces entered the war on behalf of eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar. The Russian deployment has deepened fears of an expanding proxy conflict in a country where instability has enabled human traffickers and Islamist militants to put down roots.

With Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also aiding Haftar, and Turkey backing Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s administration in Tripoli, meetings without the participation of regional powers would be unlikely to make serious progress.

Gas Finds

Neither Sarraj’s government nor Turkey has announced details of the memorandum of understanding struck in Istanbul. Libyan officials told Bloomberg the agreement covered cooperation in maritime economic zones near the Greek island of Crete.

It comes as Ankara is embroiled in a territorial dispute with European Union member Cyprus over gas-rich waters off the island, a clash that has seen Turkey send its navy to the area in a show of strength and the EU suggest it might sanction Turkey.

The Istanbul agreement has also upset European countries that view it as Turkish encroachment on their doorstep. But Sarraj’s officials say that the growing Russian intervention behind Haftar, which includes more than 1,400 mercenaries, forced it to seek closer ties with allies.

The Government of National Accord had to “look after its own interests” in signing the deal with Turkey, which it expects to unlock further military aid, one official said, asking not to be named.

Turkey has been the main military backer of the Tripoli-based government, supplying it with armed drones, armored combat vehicles and weapons. The U.A.E. has supported Haftar with strikes by its own unmanned aircraft.

“If the environment becomes even more cloudy, it would be very hard to immunize” the scheduled January summit, Salame said.

“If it doesn’t affect us negatively, yes the first days of the new year,” he said. “Don’t forget the if.”

Source: Bloomberg / Samer Al-Atrush

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