In meeting with Mediterranean countries, Egypt displays wariness over Turkish moves in Libya

There is scepticism in Cairo about the ability of the international community to bring a quick end to the conflict in Libya or to Turkey’s destabilising role in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Sunday 12/01/2020
Closing ranks. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (C-R) and his counterparts Greece’s Nikos Dendias (L), France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian (C-L) and Cyprus’s Nikos Christodoulides (R) speak to the press following a ministerial coordination meeting in Cairo, January 8. (AFP)
Closing ranks. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (C-R) and his counterparts Greece’s Nikos Dendias (L), France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian (C-L) and Cyprus’s Nikos Christodoulides (R) speak to the press following a ministerial coordination meeting in Cairo

CAIRO - Egypt, France, Greece and Cyprus warned against the destabilising effects of Turkish policies in the Eastern Mediterranean and called for a negotiated settlement for the conflict in Libya.

Following a January 8 meeting in Cairo, foreign ministers of the four countries expressed concern over what they described as Turkish “violations” of international law. They said in a statement that they expected Turkey to act in a responsible manner and called on countries overlooking the Mediterranean Basin to cooperate to preserve its security and stability.

Italy participated in the meeting in an advisory manner.

The meeting came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made good on his pledge to send troops to Libya at the request of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

The GNA, which signed a security cooperation and maritime boundary delimitation agreements with Turkey last November, requested Turkish support on December 19. The Turkish parliament approved a bill for sending troops to Libya on January 2.

Egypt, Greece, France and Cyprus said the agreements the GNA signed with Ankara were legally groundless and violated the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, which does not authorise GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to unilaterally sign international deals.

“These agreements deal a strong blow to efforts for reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Libya,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said following the meeting.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the agreements negatively affect the interests of EU members and violate international law. He called on Turkey to stop militarising the Eastern Mediterranean, demonstrate respect for international law and engage in dialogue with other regional partners.

The foreign ministers’ meeting was shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan called for a ceasefire in Libya as of January 12. Putin and Erdogan, who back rival parties in Libya, said in a statement following a meeting in Istanbul that the necessary measures would support the proposed ceasefire to stabilise conditions in Libya but did not specify the measures.

Russia and Turkey have troops in Libya, which makes them believe they have a stake in deciding any future settlement for Libya.

As Erdogan and Putin met in Istanbul, the two parties they backed in Libya — the Islamist militias of the GNA and the Libyan National Army (LNA) — continued fighting.

The LNA, which controls most of eastern, central and southern Libya, recently changed the battleground realities. On January 6, it captured the strategic northern coastal city of Sirte and seized arms and equipment Erdogan had sent to GNA militias in the city.

LNA soldiers posted videos showing the large bounty they seized in, which included Turkish armoured vehicles, tanks and rifles.

Two days later, the LNA extended a no-fly zone to Tripoli, which is controlled by the GNA, and the north-western city of Misrata.

In Cairo, there was no mention of the ceasefire proposed by Russia and Turkey. The proposed ceasefire could lead to a new track for settling the conflict in Libya.

The foreign ministers meeting in Cairo called for finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Libya, one that includes all political actors in the country and excludes all extremist militias, a direct reference to the militias operating under the GNA and receiving backing from Turkey. It was unclear whether Turkey would accept this.

The foreign ministers said a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Libya would be the only way out of problems in the country. The four countries expressed backing of the efforts of UN Envoy Ghassan Salame and the Berlin process.

Shoukry described the expected meeting on Libya in Berlin as one “last chance” for bringing about a negotiated solution to the conflict in Libya.

There is scepticism in Cairo about the ability of the international community to bring a quick end to the conflict in Libya or to Turkey’s destabilising role in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

“There is an urgent need for consensus among those moving the strings in Libya,” said Nadia Helmy, a professor of political science at Beni Suef University in Egypt. “This consensus is not easy in the presence of so many tracks for solving the crisis in Libya, apart from the Berlin process.”

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