With Sarraj on way out, fate of Libya-Turkey maritime deal in question

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Monday that cooperation will continue despite Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s plans to step down.

Tuesday 22/09/2020
Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during an interview in Istanbul.(AP)
Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during an interview in Istanbul.(AP)

TRIPOLI – Amid heated debate over the fate of Turkish agreements with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Monday that cooperation will continue despite Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s plans to step down.

In June, Turkish military support helped the GNA repel an assault on Tripoli by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was upset by Sarraj’s announcement that he planned to quit, but Kalin said Turkish support for the GNA and their bilateral agreements, which include a security pact signed last year, would continue.

Turkish officials may travel to Tripoli “in the coming days” to discuss developments, he added.

“These accords will not be impacted by this political period because these are decisions made by the government, not by any individual,” Kalin told Demiroren News Agency.

In Libya, however, some beg to differ, arguing that the agreements are illegal because they were not ratified by parliament.

The controversy over the fate of the agreements, particularly a maritime border demarcation pact that angered Mediterranean states in Europe, is likely to escalate in the coming days when a new government assumes power.

According to observers, European countries could apply pressure to cancel the demarcation deal by reaching out to their allies within the new presidential council that is likely to be headed by Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who has good relations with the Greek government.

By the end of last November, Sarraj had signed two memoranda of understanding with Ankara, the first on maritime demarcation between the two countries and the second on military cooperation.

The head of the liquidity crisis management committee at the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) in Bayda Ramzi al-Agha said that the agreements must be discarded once the next government takes charge.

Speaking to local media, he explained that the GNA-Turkey agreements were not adopted by the legislative authority in accordance with Libyan law.

The agreements “were signed without taking into account diplomatic and legal norms,” he said.

“Most of the treaties were concluded unilaterally by Sarraj, which contradicts the political agreement signed in Skhirat, which stipulates that the Presidency Council cannot issue decisions in the absence of unanimity among its members,” he added.

Al-Agha did not specify how these agreements could be cancelled, especially with parliament unable to convene due to divisions and a lack of quorum needed to hold a vote.

Ibrahim Sahad, a member of the State Council, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, argued that the agreements would remain intact.

“The Libyan-Turkish agreements will not be affected by the resignation of Sarraj and his government, as they were signed between two governments, and will remain in effect as long as their purpose continues, which is to serve the interests of each party,” he said.

Sahad said that the maritime deal serves both Libya and Turkey, noting that Mediterranean countries largely ignored Libya and cut off large areas of its economic waters prior to the accord.

He argued that the military agreement enabled the GNA to expel what he described as Haftar’s “militias and mercenaries,” in reference to the LNA, from the vicinity of the capital.

Reports are circulating that Turkey summoned Sarraj after announcing its concerns with his intention to resign.

Italian news agency Nova quoted sources from the GNA on Monday as saying that Sarraj will make a surprise visit to Turkey.

According to the agency, another source in Ankara said that Sarraj was supposed to arrive last night in the Turkish capital.

On September 18, Erdogan said Sarraj’s decision to step down was “saddening,” adding there would likely be talks between Turkish and Libyan delegations but did not provide further details.

Sarraj earlier this month announced plans to step down within six weeks as part of efforts to broker a peace agreement.

The GNA declared a ceasefire in August and called for the lifting of a months-long blockade on oil output.

The leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya also appealed for a halt to hostilities, offering hope for a de-escalation of the conflict across Libya since a 2011 uprising.

Haftar dismissed the calls, but said on Friday he would lift for one month his blockade on oil outputs and that he had agreed with the GNA on “fair distribution” of energy revenue.