Greece's top diplomat snubs Libyan FM, cancels Tripoli leg of trip

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias flew off to Benghazi refusing to be welcomed by Mangoush after landing in the Libyan capital..
Friday 18/11/2022
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (5th R) talks to aids upon arrival to Benghazi airport on the eastern Libyan coast, December 22, 2019.  (AFP)
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (5th R) talks to aids upon arrival to Benghazi airport on the eastern Libyan coast, December 22, 2019.  (AFP)

BENGHAZI, Libya-

Greece's foreign minister called off the first leg of a visit to Libya on Thursday, refusing to disembark from his plane after landing in the capital of Tripoli, Greek authorities said. Instead, he flew to the city of Benghazi, in the country's east.

The Greek foreign ministry described the fracas, effectively a snub of Libya's western, Tripoli-based administration, as the result of a violation of protocol and previously agreed terms for the visit.

Tensions have been rising in the Mediterranean following a controversial preliminary gas and maritime deal between Turkey and the Tripoli administration. Libya, which has been mired in turmoil since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed long-time ruler Muammar Gadhafi, has two rival administrations, in the country’s east and west.

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

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

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

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

During a Cairo visit last month, Dendias said the deal infringes on Greek maritime borders. His Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, said Libya's western government led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah had no authority to make such deals, given that its mandate expired following Libya’s failure to hold nationwide elections in December last year.

Libya's east-based parliament subsequently appointed a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha.

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

Relations between Athens and Ankara in turn, have sharply declined, with undersea gas and oil exploration rights a key part of the dispute. Turkey remains a prominent backer of Dbeibah.

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