Turkey is working to establish stability in the region, including through supporting Libya's legitimate government, as Turkey's security is directly connected to its neighbors’ security and to issues in the Mediterranean, according to presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.
“When it comes to Turkey’s security, this is also about the security of Iraq, the security of Iran, as well as of all our neighbors and the issues in the Mediterranean,” Kalin told Anadolu Agency, explaining how in our era national security cannot be provided just within national borders, as security is a global issue.
“Libya is our maritime neighbor across the Mediterranean,” Kalin said, also highlighting how Turkey’s geographical location extends to Central Asia, from the Middle East to North Africa and the Caucasus.
“The tiniest crisis, tension, clash, or war in these regions will directly affect Turkey’s security,” he said.
The effect may come in the form of terrorism, migration, or something else, he said, adding that the country has seen this “many times.”
“Issues in Libya directly concern the security of both the Mediterranean and NATO,” Kalin noted.
Libya has been torn by a civil war since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country's new government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to a military offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar's forces.
The UN recognizes the Libyan government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj as the country's legitimate authority, as Tripoli battles Haftar's militias.
In a counteroffensive against Haftar's attacks on the capital Tripoli and elsewhere, government forces recently liberated strategic locations, including Al-Watiya airbase and the city of Tarhuna, Haftar's last stronghold in western Libya.
Turkey’s support prevented further crisis in Libya
Noting that Turkey is in Libya in line with a military cooperation agreement between the two countries that went into effect in December, Kalin added: “If it wasn’t for our President’s [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] visionary interference, clashes in Libya would have deepened and more people would have died, and Libya splitting might have become inevitable.”
Due to Haftar’s aggressive attitude, he said, the al-Sarraj government has the right to self-defense.
He also said Haftar’s side has been violating all agreements, cease-fires, and peace deals for over a year, since the April 2019 Abu Dhabi deal.
All calls by Haftar for deals and cease-fires have appeared to be ploys for him to prepare for his next attack, Kalin added.
Stressing that Libya suffered a loss of over $5 billion over the last six months due to Haftar’s blockage of oil and natural gas reservoirs, Kalin said the total loss of the country since 2011 totals $250 billion.
‘History of foreign interference in Syria repeating itself in Libya’
Kalin urged that all international actors establish relations with Libya’s legitimate government recognized by the UN.
While many countries, including the US, failed to forge ties with the al-Sarraj government, Turkey’s support both on the ground and diplomatic areas started to alter this balance, according to Kalin.
“Of course, we never want Libya to become a war zone for militias and foreign mercenaries,” he said, adding that for a political solution, those military solutions should "certainly" be left aside.
“But when we look at what international actors have unfortunately done in Syria, we see that a similar scene is slowly emerging in Libya,” he warned.
Kalin said the Syrian war – now in its 11th year – is the bloodiest one in recent history, and the international actors there exacerbated the crisis as they acted for their own interests rather than the Syrian people’s or Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity.
“Now, if the priority in Libya is defined as the peace, tranquility, and security of the Libyan people, if a political solution on the basis of Libya’s natural resources, political unity, and territorial integrity is sought, these issues can be resolved,” Kalin said.
He also warned of “destructive results” if parties in the country adopt an approach like “Let’s divide Libya from here, let’s take this part for us and give that part to them.”
He said recent decades had seen efforts to split Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon into two or three due to their ethnic and sectarian structures, and the wounds caused by those efforts have yet to heal.
“Now, when the experience here is clear, we cannot allow a similar course of events to emerge in Libya, and no one should allow it,” he said.
“If every multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, or multilingual society followed such division, Europe must be divided into tens of thousands of states, the US must be divided into dozens, but such things aren’t done there.
“On the contrary, there are aims to advance political processes in unity and solidarity under larger structures, but when it comes to Islamic countries, we see that deep wounds have started to be opened in those countries on the basis of ethnic and sectarian fault lines,” Kalin stressed.
He said tribal structures are strong in Libya but that there are tribes in other nations, too, and they can live in peace and tranquility as they did in the past.
‘Clear in Libya who wants peace and who wants war’
Reiterating that Turkey’s support to Libya’s government in Tripoli will continue, Kalin said a recent attack on the key al-Watiya airbase was done by Haftar’s forces.
“It is known that the Haftar side did it,” he said, adding that despite claims that various countries were responsible, “another truth was revealed by this attack; it is obvious who really wants peace and stability there, and who wants the continuation of clashes.”
On Sunday, unidentified warplanes carried out airstrikes on strategically important Al-Watiya airbase west of the capital Tripoli.
No casualties were reported following the incident, but some equipment recently brought to boost the airbase’s air-defense capabilities was damaged.
The overnight attacks were the first since the Libyan Army captured the airbase from Haftar’s militia in May.
Kalin said the party under attack was the al-Sarraj side and the airbase is located within the capital Tripoli.
“In other words, the party which called for a cease-fire and at the same time for ‘5+5 talks under the roof of the UN’ also came and bombed Tripoli like this, which is both against international law and reveals its true intentions regarding all these processes,” he said, referring to Haftar’s double talk.
He said this once again proved the rightfulness of the al-Sarraj government’s stance, adding that they cannot trust Haftar.
“They will, of course, take the necessary measures on this. Turkey will continue to stand with the legitimate government. There isn’t even a slight decline in our resolve on this. There isn’t even a small retreat in our determination in this regard,” he stressed.
On Germany’s view on the issue, Kalin said it “plays a constructive role.”
Calling January’s international conference on Libya in Berlin a “good step,” Kalin added that continuing the process under those principles was beneficial, but the double-crosser here was Haftar.
“I believe that Germans also see the situation more obviously and clearly now,” he said.
Long reluctant to stop fighting, Haftar balked at signing a cease-fire deal at the Berlin conference, despite strong support by world powers and regional actors for UN-led talks towards a political solution.
Turning to recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Kalin said the maritime delimitation agreement between Turkey and Libya was a historical move thanks to Erdogan’s great political vision.
Last November, Turkey and Libya signed another landmark pact on boundaries in the Mediterranean, along with the military cooperation deal.
The maritime deal determines both countries' marine jurisdictions, rejects unilateral and illegal activities by other regional countries and international firms, and aims to protect the rights of both countries.
Noting that there is no international acquis on the issue, Kalin said: “In fact, [the UN] recommends that the parties solve the issues such as international maritime law, maritime jurisdiction, continental shelves, and exclusive economic zones by agreement among themselves; this is the first practice.
“When there is disagreement, these can be taken to courts, other platforms.”
Kalin added the first way generally preferred is that countries solve these problems among themselves bilaterally, trilaterally, or multilaterally.
“In this regard, we actually have always called for working in this direction with Greece, Egypt, partially with Libya and other neighboring countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, but we got no response,” he said, adding that the deal signed with Libya was the first example of this.
“This isn’t an agreement that directly concerns third parties or violates their rights,” he said.
‘Making political stability in Eastern Mediterranean by ignoring Turkey not possible’
On the accord last month between Greece and Italy on maritime boundaries to establish an exclusive economic zone between the two, Kalin praised the move.
He said the countries determined their maritime jurisdictions between themselves, and added: “We did the same thing with Libya. We confirmed with this agreement that we are maritime neighbors with Libya.
“Now this will develop a win-win relationship between Libya and Turkey, so tomorrow, when the political conditions are ready, [energy] exploration activities will be conducted in this region, the revenue will be shared between Turkey and Libya as a common income when something is found.”
Kalin said Turkey wants all of the Eastern Mediterranean to become such a “body of water of peace.”
He said that the natural resources of the region should be owned, divided, and shared by everyone under fair sharing principles and everyone should benefit from these riches, adding that this cannot ignore Turkey.
Stressing that it is in everyone’s benefit to engage in dialogue with Turkey before starting ill-fated projects, Kalin said: “We have always taken this approach since the beginning, but of course it is not possible for us to stay indifferent, unresponsive to the initiatives that try to confine us in the Gulf of Antalya.”
On the EU’s approach to the Eastern Mediterranean issue, Kalin said Germany’s term presidency can be an opportunity for Turkish-EU relations.
“We all see that the matters set forth as an obstacle to Turkey's relations with the EU so far are, in fact, not such problems that we cannot overcome them,” he said, adding that maintaining these relations with a positive agenda benefits both sides.
He said in the recent past, there were many examples of this, as when the bloc needed Turkey’s help on the migration crisis coming from Syria.
“We saw it clearly in the issues of the fight against terrorism and energy security that they can’t take a step without Turkey,” Kalin said, adding that Europe is an important economic market for Turkey, and around 5 million Turkish nationals live there.
He said cooperation between Turkey and EU would benefit both Turkey’s security and the security of Southern Europe, the Balkans, and other regions.
“But it is, of course, not possible for Turkey to compromise its national rights and interests in order to do this. This is a process that the two parties must own together.”
Kalin said that some steps might be taken under Germany’s term presidency, but some countries like France continue their obstruction, though Turkey is not seeking out tension with France.
Saying that common ground can be found on bilateral and EU issues, despite differing views, he said: “The issue of the Eastern Mediterranean is not the issue of one country or the EU, it is the issue of all countries that are neighbors there.”
He said trying to resolve the issue by imposing on Turkey through the EU would yield no result.
“Instead, it will be in the best interests of all of us to keep dual, mutual, sometimes multiple communication channels open, to keep the dialogue ground strong, and to solve crises with some creative ideas and suggestions.”
‘Problems with Greece can be solved with direct communication’
Turning to relations with Greece, Kalin cited President Erdogan’s phone call with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying it was the first such contact between that two sides after a long hiatus.
He said that Erdogan and Mitsotakis discussed many topics, including bilateral issues, the Aegean, and Eastern Mediterranean.
“As you know, Greece is a country that traditionally supports Turkey’s EU membership,” he said, adding that although the two countries have different views on bilateral relations, those all were addressed, managed through negotiation, and some were resolved and some became manageable in the process.
“Of course, our expectation will be trying to resolve these relations with Greece – as our neighbor – with the most positive approach possible in all areas,” Kalin said, adding that it is possible for both sides to resolve conflicts on some issues, such as the Aegean, through direct communication.
“These channels were open in the past, they could be open from now on, too,” he said.
Kalin stressed that during the phone call, the two sides confirmed such a will, and added: “Now what is desirable and our expectation should be to take steps in this direction and to establish a fair regional order that really respects everyone's rights and interests in the context of both bilateral relations and the EU, and both in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean issues.”
* Writing by Sena GulerAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.