Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Libyan PM after strongman announces Tripoli assault

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday, just days after Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya, announced a “decisive battle” to wrest the capital of Tripoli from Sarraj’s government.

The closed-door meeting, which was not on Erdogan’s official agenda, took place in Istanbul’s Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, the Turkish presidency said without giving details.

Erdogan had declared on Tuesday that Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya if requested; on Saturday, his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that there had not yet been any such request.

During the previous meeting between Erodgan and Sarraj, in Istanbul on November 27, the two countries agreed to a deal on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdiction.

The deal came despite calls from the Arab League – which includes Libya – to end cooperation with Turkey in protest at its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back Haftar, who first launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli from fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA), of which Sarraj is the prime minister.

On Thursday, Haftar announced his intention to wrest Tripoli from the GNA.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha responded by saying his government was ready “to push back any mad attempt by the Haftar putsch leader”.

Turkey and Qatar openly support the UN-recognised GNA.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Maritime deal relates to gas reserves 

Turkey and Libya’s November military deal was introduced in the Turkish parliament on Saturday.

The maritime part of the deal expands Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is particularly important given the recent discovery of vast gas reserves that has triggered an exploration scramble between adjacent states and international oil companies.

The Turkey-Libya agreement was strongly condemned by several countries, including Greece and Cyprus.

In another sign of the Turkey-Libya rapprochement, Ankara announced on Saturday that Libyans younger than 16 or older than 55 would be allowed to enter Turkey without visas.

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