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Turkish president meets Libyan leader amid increasing regional tensions

During previous meeting in Istanbul on 27 November, the two countries made deal on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdiction
Erdogan declared on Tuesday that Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya if so requested (AFP/File photo)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday, just days after the Turkish leader said he was ready to send troops into Libya if so requested by Tripoli.

Ankara's latest move raises tensions in the Mediterranean region and risks confrontation with forces led by Khalifa Haftar, based in eastern Libya, where rival political factions have been present since 2014, Reuters said.

The closed-door meeting, which was not on Erdogan's official agenda, took place in Istanbul's Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, the Turkish presidency said, without giving further details.

During their previous meeting in Istanbul on 27 November, the two countries made a deal on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdiction, AFP reported.

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While the maritime accord has been sent to the United Nations for approval, the military deal has been presented to Turkey's parliament. "Parliament will enter it into force after approval," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back Haftar, the military leader in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli from fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA), of which Sarraj is the prime minister.

Turkey and Qatar openly support the UN-recognised GNA.

The maritime part of the deal expands Turkey's continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is particularly important given the recent discovery of vast gas reserves that has triggered an exploration scramble between adjacent states and international oil companies.

Greece, which expelled the Libyan ambassador over the maritime boundary pact, has warned that Turkey is escalating tensions in the region. Athens has also condemned new Turkish gas exploration off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus.

"Turkey must choose if it will follow the road of self-isolation, continuing to play the role of trouble-maker in the region, or behave like a good neighbour henceforth," Greece's deputy foreign minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, told Sunday's Ethnos newspaper.

Prepared to send troops

Erdogan declared on Tuesday that Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya if so requested.

On Saturday, his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that there had not yet been any such request.

Utku Cakirozer, a lawmaker from Turkey's main opposition CHP and a member of the Nato parliamentary assembly, said it was "worrying" that Erdogan raised the prospect of sending troops and taking sides in the Libyan conflict.

"Turkey should not enter into a new adventure," he told Reuters. "The AKP government should immediately stop being a party to the war in Libya."

On Thursday, Haftar urged his forces to advance toward the centre of Tripoli in what he said would be a "final battle", after an offensive against the government that began in April but has stalled outside the capital.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha responded by saying his government was ready "to push back any mad attempt” by Haftar.