ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who leads a rival force in his country that’s battling a United Nations-recognized government, sided with each other in a meeting where both want to thwart Turkish ambitions.
Their sit-down came just ahead of a European Union meeting in Berlin to talk about how to deal with Libya where the fighting in the oil-rich country has the international community worried it could come apart.
Mitsotakis, upset that Greece was excluded from the meeting despite Turkey and Libya signing a deal dividing the seas between them, with Turkey claiming waters off Greek islands and planning to drill for energy off Crete, said he would veto any agreement in Berlin that doesn’t reject that seas pact.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, speaking after meeting with Hifter, said the Greek government encouraged him to “participate (in the Berlin meeting) constructively” and to work toward achieving a cease-fire and restoring security in Libya “by removing mercenaries and by the recognition of the invalidity of the illegal agreements” between Turkey and the government in Tripoli.
“l must tell you with great pleasure that the commander agreed to all of those remarks,” Dendias said, adding that Greece was willing to help police a European ban on arms shipments to Libya. Hifter did not talk to reporters.
Mitsotakis said Greece “will never accept a political solution for Libya that does not require the cancellation” of the maritime deal with Turkey. “We will use our veto before the case gets to the summit meeting. We will veto it at a foreign ministers’ level,” he said.
It wasn’t clear how that would work though as a Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press the veto would be applied to “any decision concerning Libya on a European level if it doesn’t include the annulment” of the maritime deal.
Asked in Berlin why Greece wasn’t invited to Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said “Greece’s participation in the Berlin Libya conference was never up for debate,” not answering the question.
“Those international actors with immediate influence in the Libya conflict are taking part in this conference and that’s the focus of the event,” he said without explaining how that wouldn’t apply to Greece, with fears of a conflict with Turkey that could rip the region.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said the Jan. 19 Berlin talks would focus on a cease-fire and the launch of a broad political dialogue under the UN.
Russia and Turkey held talks with the warring sides in Moscow, focusing on a cease-fire agreement. Hifter and Fayez Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-recognized government in Tripoli, didn’t meet directly and held separate talks with Russian and Turkish diplomats and military officials, but Hifter refused to sign the cease-fire document.
Russia’s acting foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the most important outcome of the talks was that the truce was still holding in Libya with Greece still sidelined in any discussion although Turkey is taking part.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he doubted Hifter would abide by any cease-fire. “This man is not a trustworthy man,” he told reporters in Constantinople on Jan. 17. “Yesterday, they continued to bomb Tripoli,” where the government is, he said.
Erdogan, who will be attending the meeting in Berlin where Mitsotakis was excluded, said Turkey would monitor Hifter’s actions following the conference. “My hope is that he will stand behind the promise he made,” Erdogan said.
Besides the maritime deal with Libya that Greece said violate international laws that Turkey doesn’t recognize unless in its favor, Turkey sent to back the UN-supported government while Greece is on Hifter’s side and the United States – which signed a military cooperation deal with Greece although President Donald Trump backs Erdogan – has found itself on the fence.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul, asked about the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya, said that “sending international troops to Libya breaches the United Nations arms embargo.”
Amnesty International added that any deal must prioritize “protection of civilians and justice for victims of violations.” In a statement, it said a field investigation it released in October had “unearthed evidence of potential war crimes by both the UN-backed Government of National Accord and the LNA,” Hifter’s Libyan National Army.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)