ATHENS — Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday agreed with the President of the Presidential Council of Libya, Mohamed al-Menfi, on the immediate resumption of the Greek-Libyan talks on the delimitation of maritime zones, to be held under the responsibility of the foreign ministers of both countries.
The prime minister additionally stressed that a prerequisite for holding elections so that "the Libyan people themselves can take the country's fate into their own hands" is the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Libya.
Also – according to government officials – the prospects for expanding economic relations were discussed, which will be the main focus of a visit by Deputy Foreign Minister Kostas Fragogiannis to Libya, while emphasis was also placed on cooperation in the field of culture.
The talks in Athens with Mohamed al-Menfi, who previously served as an ambassador to Greece, came a week after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Tripoli to meet with the new interim Libyan government.
At the start of the meeting, Mitsotakis welcomed al-Menfi, wished him "Ramadan Kareem" in light of Ramadan that started this week, and expressed his satisfaction at meeting the Libyan official again, a few days after his visit to Libya.
Mitsotakis, addressing al-Menfi, spoke of a "reaffirmation that Greek-Libyan relations, after some periods of difficulty, are at the beginning of a very fruitful and productive period." He added that "Greece will stand by the Libyan people to lead the country to elections at the end of the year, so that the Libyan people can themselves take the country into their own hands."
Mitsotakis welcomed the intentions of Libya's president and prime minister "for Libya to discuss with Greece critical issues such as the delimitation of maritime zones". He offered assurances that Greece is a nation that is friendly toward Libya, that the Greek people are friendly toward those of Libya, and noted that relations between the two countries go back many centuries.
"I want you to know that Libya will always have, in Greece, a steadfast friend and ally within the European Union, so that your beautiful but struggling country can find its way back to stability and prosperity," Mitsotakis underlined.
On his part, al-Menfi said in his statements at the beginning of the meeting, that "our main concern has always been for Greece to become a gateway to the European Union", while noting that Libya has so far "seen only good behaviour" on the part of Greece and the Greeks.
Referring to historical relations between the two countries, he spoke of "a common history, between my country, Libya, and Greece" and emphasised the development of relations with the European Union.
"We are always interested in our friendship with the European Union and our main concern has always been for Greece to become a gateway to the EU," al-Menfi stated, adding that Libya seeks to cultivate the growth of foreign relations and the opening of new horizons in relations, especially its relations with Greece.
"Even if, at some point, these relations went through some difficult times, this can be resolved through dialogue and I personally believe that the commonalities that unite us will help us to cope with any difficulties," he said.
The Libyan president also referred to economic cooperation between the two countries and his stint as ambassador in Athens, during which, as he said, he sought to increase the presence of Greek companies in his country.
"We are very interested in supporting the economic partnership relationship and, as the prime minister said during his recent visit to Libya, we must accelerate this strengthening of economic cooperation and set up joint delegations and missions between us," al-Menfi said.
At the same time, he thanked the Greek government for the reopening of the Embassy in Tripoli and the reopening of the Consulate General in Benghazi, which, as he said, "actually reflects Greece's desire to support Libya, to support the new Libyan government."
The Libyan president stressed that his visit is also an invitation to Greek companies to operate in Libya, given the stability that his country is currently experiencing.
Concluding, he emphasized the importance of international support from the United Nations, from the EU, and expressed hope that Greece would continue its support in all international fora, so that Libya can hold elections at the end of the year, "for the departure and removal of all mercenaries currently in my country."
Interim Libyan government took office last month, replacing two rival administrations that had governed the eastern and western parts of a country torn apart by war. It is to steer Libya to a general election in December.
Athens had expelled the Libyan ambassador in December 2019 during a dispute over a controversial deal on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean signed that year between Turkey and Libya’s U.N.-supported government at the time.
Greece and Cyprus were outraged by the agreement, which they say runs contrary to international law and ignores their stakes in the region. Greece has since been pushing for the new interim government to cancel the deal.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah visited Ankara on Monday. Speaking after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said the deal serves both Turkey's and Libya’s national interests. But he added it was important to start a dialogue that would take into account all involved parties’ interests.
For his part, Erdogan said the deal “has secured the interest and future of both countries.”
Turkey has been closely involved in Libya, backing the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital Tripoli that controlled the west, against the Libyan National Army (LNA), based in Benghazi that controlled the east. Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya, helping to tilt the balance of power in favor of the Tripoli government, with which it signed the maritime deal.
The meeting was attended by Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni and the Director of the Diplomatic Office of the Prime Minister, Ambassador Eleni Sourani.