Greek Foreign Minister cancels visit to Tripoli

BENGHAZI, Libya — Greece’s foreign minister canceled the first leg of a visit to Libya on Thursday, refusing to disembark his plane after landing in the capital Tripoli, Greek authorities said. Instead, he flew to the eastern city of Benghazi.

Greece’s foreign ministry described the fracas – effectively a snub by Libya’s western administration, based in Tripoli – as the result of a breach of protocol and agreed conditions for the visit.

(Also read: Libyan Foreign Ministry violated agreement for meeting, Athens says)

Tensions have risen in the Mediterranean following a controversial preliminary maritime and gas deal between Turkey and the Tripoli administration. Libya, which has been mired in turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has two rival administrations, in the east and west of the country.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was on a two-part trip which was to include a meeting with the president of Libya’s western government based in Tripoli, Mohamed Younis Menfi. This was to be followed by a meeting in Benghazi with the eastern-based administration.

A terse statement from the Greek ministry said Dendias did not want to meet his Tripoli counterpart, Najla Mangoush, but came to the airport to greet him.

Mohamed Hamuda, a government spokesman based in Tripoli, said Mangoush’s presence at the airport was part of diplomatic conventions.

The preliminary Tripoli-Ankara maritime and gas deal signed last month has been rejected by Greece and Egypt, who accuse Turkey of using the deal to try to expand its influence in the Mediterranean. The agreement includes the joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in Libyan offshore waters.

During a visit to Cairo last month, Dendias said the deal violated Greece’s maritime borders. His Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, said that Libya’s western government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah had no power to enter into such agreements, given that its mandate expired following the failure of the Libya to hold national elections in December last year.

Libya’s east-based parliament subsequently appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha.

Meanwhile, Cairo and Athens have strengthened their ties in recent years, including signing new maritime border agreements with Cyprus.

Relations between Athens and Ankara, in turn, have deteriorated sharply, with underwater gas and oil exploration rights a key part of the dispute. Turkey remains an important backer of Dbeibah.

In 2019, Turkey signed another controversial maritime border deal with Tripoli, granting it access to a disputed economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean. The agreement ignored the existence of several Greek islands, including Crete, located between Turkey and Libya. This has reignited Turkey’s pre-existing tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights.