Europe warns Turkey over intervention in Libya

Updated January 08, 2020

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BRUSSELS: (Left to right) Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wait before a meeting to discuss the situation in Libya.—AFP
BRUSSELS: (Left to right) Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wait before a meeting to discuss the situation in Libya.—AFP

BRUSSELS: Four leading European powers on Tuesday condemned Turkey’s involvement in the Libyan crisis following emergency talks in Brussels after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy called for a halt to fighting and an end to “continuing outside interference” in a joint statement.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell went further and criticised Turkey by name in a move likely to inflame already tense ties with Ankara, which announced on Sunday that its troops had begun deploying to Libya.

“We asked for a ceasefire and we asked also to stop escalation and to external interference, which has been increasing in the past days,” Borrell told reporters.

“It is obvious that this makes a reference to the Turkish decision to intervene with their troops in Libya which is something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya.”

Europe is scrambling to respond to two escalating crises — Libya and Iran, which has threatened revenge for the US killing of Qasem Soleimani, one of its top generals, and announced another step back from the crumbling 2015 nuclear deal.

The European Com­mission has said it wants a bigger role in geopolitics but the EU often finds itself hamstrung on foreign policy by internal differences.

It took three days for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to put out a statement on Soleimani’s killing.

Tuesday’s hastily convened Brussels meeting came after Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces seized the coastal city of Sirte as part of his offensive aimed at unseating the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

While Turkey and Qatar are supporting the GNA, Haftar receives backing from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

“The EU is of the firm conviction that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis and that a protracted conflict will only bring more misery to ordinary people,” the ministers said in their joint statement.

“Continuing outside interference is fuelling the crisis. The more the Libyan warring parties rely on foreign military assistance, the more they give external actors undue influence on sovereign Libyan decisions, to the detriment of the country’s national interests and of regional stability.”

The EU criticism follows a blunt warning from US President Donald Trump to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the weekend not to interfere in the conflict.

The oil-rich North African country has been plunged into chaos since the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that killed longtime leader Moamer Qadhafi.

Borrell warned on Monday that more intense fighting could soon break out around Tripoli and called for a political solution to the crisis.

The Libya talks were followed by a meeting on Iran between Britain, France and Germany — the three European parties to the nuclear deal that also involves China and Russia.

European powers on Monday criticised Iran’s announcement that it was cutting its commitments under the nuclear deal, which has been steadily unravelling since US President Donald Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions in May 2018.

A key issue facing the Europeans is whether to trigger the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism, which can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

The mechanism — which can be triggered by any party to the deal — has numerous stages but can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who has warned Iran against retaliating over the death of Soleimani, said late on Monday that a decision would be made in the coming days on whether to trigger the mechanism.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas indicated patience with Tehran was wearing thin.

“We still believe that this is an important agreement that will prevent Iran from coming into possession of a nuclear bomb,” he said.

“But we will not be able to take note of announcements with a shrug of our shoulders that the commitments in Tehran will no longer be met.” The EU has called an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers on Friday to discuss the nuclear deal and the possible repercussions from the killing of Soleimani — the key player in Iran’s network of alliances and proxy groups around the Middle East.

The US operation took Washington’s allies by surprise and Nato held an urgent meeting of its ruling council on Monday to hear from American officials and discuss the future of the alliance’s training mission in Iraq.

EU officials see the gathering of foreign ministers as a chance to hear the views of all 28 member states on the Iran situation, after differing public reactions to Soleimani’s death.

Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Brussels for talks, but it is not clear when he might come — or if he will come at all.

Soleimani’s death continued to reverberate in Iraq, where Nato is removing some of its personnel because of increased security threats.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2020