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Turkey wants Aguila Saleh Issa to replace Haftar in Libyan negotiations

Turkish envoy to Libya Emrullah Isler tells MEE that the Tobruk parliament speaker is an elected politician and a viable partner in political talks
From left, Khalifa Haftar, Aguila Saleh Issa and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in 2018 (AFP)
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Ankara

Turkey sees head of Libya's Tobruk-based parliament Aguila Saleh Issa as a viable negotiations partner and wants him to represent the eastern bloc instead of Khalifa Haftar, a Turkish envoy said in an exclusive interview with Middle East Eye.

“Haftar is a failed dictator and we have never recognised him as a legitimate actor. He is also about to lose the Russian support. He won’t take a place in the future of Libya,” said Emrullah Isler, the Turkish special presidential envoy to Libya.

“Political negotiations should be conducted by the politicians. Aguila Saleh Issa, as a politician, specifically must contribute to this process.”

Turkey politically and militarily supports the Tripoli-based and UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to the eastern Tobruk parliament.

Emrullah Isler Libya
Emrullah Isler is seen in his office during an interview. Isler is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's special envoy for Libya. (MEE/Ragip Soylu)

Despite a UN weapons embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armoured vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support the government, which was struggling to fight off Haftar's UAE-, Egypt- and Russia-backed forces.

Strategic airbase Al-Watiya was recaptured by the GNA last month with the help of Turkish military assistance, one of a series of victories against the LNA that has seen the eastern commander's offensive in western Libya crumble.

Haftar, who in April declared himself sole ruler of Libya, saw his 14-month assault on Tripoli finally dissolve earlier this month, leaving questions about his future.

Isler said the Tobruk parliament was a legitimate branch of the Libyan state under the UN-recognised political deal signed in 2015, and noted that Saleh, whom he met previously in 2017, had been elected as its speaker. The UN-brokered deal that instated the GNA collapsed in 2016, leaving Libya with two warring adminstrations ever since.

“We opened our doors to everybody. I have personally visited eastern Libya three times over the years and always worked for a political solution,” Isler said. “I believe Aguila Saleh should carry out this role in a positive manner.”

Further gains needed

Cairo earlier this month called for a ceasefire in Libya, with a declaration signed by Haftar and Saleh, yet no other actor has recognised it.

Isler said Haftar has repeatedly declined to abide by ceasefires over the last year, and his word couldn’t be taken as granted.

“In order to begin the political negotiations and reach a ceasefire, the GNA believes further territorial gains are needed. Their priority is Sirte and Jufra,” Isler said. “Sirte was only lost a couple of months ago. So they believe it needs to be recaptured. And Jufra is a strategic base that hosts a military aiport."

The Turkish foreign ministry announced on Sunday that a high-level Russian delegation’s visit to discuss a ceasefire had been postponed due to immediate disagreements.

Isler believes the main issue between the two countries is the fact that the GNA isn’t planning to return to the table without the capture of Sirte and Jufra.

'In order to begin the political negotiations and reach a ceasefire, the GNA believes further territorial gains are needed. Their priority is Sirte and Jufra'

- Emrullah Isler, Turkish envoy to Libya

“Both sides know each other's positions. Talks will continue,” he said.

The Russians last month deployed several fighter jets in Jufra to support Haftar's forces. It isn't clear what would happen if GNA-allied forces reach the area. 

Several reports on Arab media earlier this month said Egyptian officials were disappointed by Haftar and Cairo was looking for a way out.

Isler said Egypt could begin to contribute to the political negotiations by reaching out to the GNA, as long as Cairo agrees to support a democratically elected civilian government in Libya that would protect its territorial unity.

“Egypt should immediately talk to the legitimate government to overcome its legitimate security concerns,” he said. “They need to provide support for the negotiations.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey and the GNA intended to deepen their relationship in upcoming days.

Several reports this week suggested that Turkey was going to establish a drone base in al-Watiya and a naval base in Misrata, as well as develop extensive cooperation on reconstruction and oil drilling. 

Isler said both countries could work together in all of these areas and Turkish companies are expected to join the rebuilding efforts, with much of the country devestated by nine years of conflict and upheaval.