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June 4, 2020 10:26 am
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Turkey Looks to Lock in Libya Gains as Erdogan Hosts PM

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Libya’s internationally-recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, June 4, 2020. Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Turkish Presidential Press Office / Handout via Reuters.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet Libya’s internationally-recognized leader in Turkey on Thursday as the allies seek to lock in battlefield gains, including recapturing Tripoli, before potential ceasefire talks.

Turkey started backing Fayez al Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in November after signing a military cooperation pact alongside a maritime demarcation deal, which gives Ankara oil exploration rights in the Mediterranean that Greece and others reject.

Turkish support in the conflict has pushed back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) — backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt — which had been attacking the GNA in Tripoli since April 2019. On Thursday, the GNA said it had regained control of Tripoli.

The latest advance could hasten steps toward a potential truce, underlining Turkey’s growing influence in the resource-rich region where Erdogan could seek lasting energy and military cooperation.

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On Monday, the United Nations said both sides had agreed to resume ceasefire talks, warning that weapons and fighters being flown into Libya in defiance of an embargo threatened a big new escalation.

A senior Turkish official said the recent gains by the GNA were critical, and that Turkey would reject any proposal to divide Libya between warring factions.

“The territory you hold strengthens your positions at the table,” the official said, adding Erdogan and Serraj would discuss strategy on the ground.

Serraj’s deputy and foreign minister travelled to Moscow on Wednesday, and Haftar has gone to Egypt to meet defense officials.

Ankara has sent equipment and military personnel to Tripoli and has urged Haftar’s backers to end their support. It says Serraj’s recent gains are an opportunity for political talks.

Several peacemaking efforts in Libya have collapsed or been stalled since clashes began in 2014.

Another Turkish official said the crisis reached a “critical period” and that Haftar recognized the need for talks. “The other actors on the field also need to provide positive contributions, and we believe they will.”

Economic foothold

A lasting presence in Libya would give Turkey a strategic position near Egypt, with which ties are strained.

It would also give Ankara another foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, where it has been at odds with neighboring states over offshore resources. Greece and Cyprus called last year’s maritime deal with Serraj illegal, an accusation Ankara has denied.

The senior Turkish official said potential joint hydrocarbon exploration would be discussed with Serraj on Thursday, but that establishing a ceasefire was the priority.

Greece says Ankara’s maritime deal infringes on Crete’s continental shelf. Turkey, which has also been criticized by Israel and the European Union, says the deal abides by international law.

Turkey has said it could begin exploration and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean under the GNA deal within three or four months.

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