Turkey rejects EU criticism of energy deal with Libya's Tripoli government

Ankara tells Brussels to respect 'sovereignty of states', saying its objections 'don't matter'

Libya's Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush, right, and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Tripoli, after signing a deal for oil and gas exploration in Libyan waters. AFP
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Turkey rejected EU criticism of its preliminary energy deal with one of the two rival governments in Libya on Tuesday, saying the objections have “no importance or value”.

“Objecting to an agreement signed between the two states is not only against international law but also contradictory to the basic principles of the UN,” Turkish Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Tanju Bilgic said, according to official news agency Anadolu.

On Monday, Ankara and Libya's Tripoli-based government signed a memorandum of understanding on exploration for hydrocarbons in Libya's territorial waters and on Libyan soil by mixed Turkish-Libyan companies.

But the EU said the energy deal infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states and does not comply with the UN Law of the Sea — an international agreement that establishes a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.

Egypt, Greece and Libya's rival eastern-based government have also rejected the deal, saying the government in Tripoli had no authority to make international agreements.

Asked about the issue on Monday during his visit to Libya, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “Third countries do not have the right to interfere with the agreements signed by two sovereign countries. It doesn't matter what they think.”

The pact signed by Ankara and the Tripoli-based administration of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has fuelled a dispute over competing energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

This accord built on a 2019 agreement that Turkey had extracted from Libya’s previous internationally recognised government, in exchange for military assistance in the country's civil war.

Libya, home to Africa’s largest crude oil reserves, has largely been wracked by war and lawlessness since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The country is now split between Mr Dbeibah’s administration and rival premier Fathi Bashagha, who is backed by Parliament in the east of the country.

Mr Bashagha has vowed to reject any deals struck by officials in Tripoli.

Greece said it had sovereign rights in the area that it intends to defend “with all legal means, in full respect of the international law of the sea”.

It cited a 2020 pact between Egypt and Greece, designating their own exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean, which Greek diplomats have said effectively nullifies the 2019 accord between Turkey and Libya.

Tensions running high

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias discussed the developments in Libya during a phone call.

"[The ministers said] the outgoing 'government of unity' in Tripoli does not have the authority to conclude any international agreements or memoranda of understanding,” said Egypt's Foreign Ministry.

The deal comes at a time when diplomatic and political tensions between Turkey and Greece are already running high.

Last month, Turkey summoned the Greek ambassador to protest against the alleged deployment of dozens of US-made armoured vehicles to Greek islands.

Ankara says these islands should remain demilitarised, in line with international treaties.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that his country would not hold back in defending its rights and interests against Greece.

Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over an array of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea, disputes over the airspace there and the treatment of refugees.

Athens says it needs to defend the islands — many of which lie close to Turkey’s coast — against a potential attack from Turkey.

Disputes have brought the countries to the brink of war three times in the past 50 years.

Updated: October 05, 2022, 8:20 AM