Details of Turkey-Libya deal stokes tensions with Greece

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya could hold joint exploration activities in eastern Mediterranean, Ankara could deploy troops to Tripoli – risking further regional tensions.
Tuesday 10/12/2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, during their meeting in Istanbul, November 27. (Turkish Presidential Press via AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, during their meeting in Istanbul, November 27. (Turkish Presidential Press via AFP)

ANKARA – Turkey and Libya could hold joint exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday after the two governments signed a maritime deal.

Such a move would likely further anger Greece which has criticised the Libya-Turkey agreement as a violation of international maritime law and an infringement on Greek islands’ right to maritime boundaries.

“With this agreement, we have increased the territory over which we have authority to the maximum level. We can conduct joint exploration activities,” Erdogan said in an interview with state TRT broadcaster.

Erdogan said that the deal was in line with international law.

“Other international actors cannot carry out exploration operations in these areas Turkey drew (up) with this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot establish a gas transmission line without first getting permission from Turkey,” Erdogan said.

The president said Turkey would obtain another drilling ship for the eastern Mediterranean, adding that Ankara could enlarge exploration efforts to the Black Sea and even international waters.

Turkey already has ships searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, which has also fueled tension with the island and the European Union. Brussels has threatened sanctions to deter Ankara’s activities there.

The Turkish leader said Ankara was ready to provide any kind of help to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli in the event of a request for assistance.

“If Libya makes a request, Turkey will make its own decision. We will not ask anyone for permission,” he added.

Turkey has come under criticism from Greece and others after signing a military deal last month with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Athens said part of the deal sets a maritime boundary between the two countries, which Greece says does not take into account the island of Crete.

The Greek foreign ministry on Friday expelled the Libyan ambassador for failing to disclose the deal’s contents.

Greece and Turkey are at odds over a host of issues, ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to Cyprus, which is divided into a breakaway Turkish republic in the north and the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state, in the south. Greece does not recognise the north of Cyprus.

Aside from the maritime accord, Turkey and Libya also signed an expanded security and military cooperation agreement.

Erdogan said the military accord granted Turkey the right to deploy troops in Libya if the Tripoli government so asked, and added this would not violate a United Nations arms embargo on Libya, which is plagued by factional conflict.

“In the event of such a call coming, it is Turkey’s decision what kind of initiative it will take here. We will not seek the permission of anyone on this,” he said. 

Erdogan said he was hoping to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Libya where Moscow is suspected of providing military support to eastern Libya’s Field Martial Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar earlier this year began an assault on the Tripoli base of the GNA, and Russian mercenaries were accused of backing up his forces, which Russia denied.

“I hope that the Haftar issue does not breed a new Syria in our relations with Russia,” Erdogan said.

Although Ankara and Moscow have been working closely to end the Syrian civil war, they are on opposing sides of the eight-year conflict.

(AW and agencies)