Top Greek diplomat cancels visit to Tripoli upon landing | Political news

Greek FM Nikos Dendias did not get off his plane and refused to meet his counterpart in Tripoli, who was waiting for him.

Greece’s foreign minister has called off the first leg of a visit to Libya because he refused to get off his plane after landing in the capital Tripoli, Greek authorities said. Instead, he flew to the city of Benghazi, in the east of the country.

The Greek foreign ministry said Thursday’s incident — effectively a disapproval of Libya’s Western Tripoli-based government — was the result of a breach of protocol and agreed terms for the visit.

Tensions in the Mediterranean have risen after a controversial preliminary maritime and gas deal between Turkey and the government of Tripoli.

Libya, in turmoil since 2011, when longtime Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown, has two rival governments, in the east and west of the country.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was on a two-part trip that would include a meeting with the president of Libya’s western Tripoli-based government, Mohammad Younes Menfi. That would be followed by a meeting in Benghazi with the government in the east.

A succinct statement from the Greek ministry indicated that Dendias did not want to meet his counterpart in Tripoli, Najla Mangoush, but she still came to the airport to greet him.

“Ms. Mangoush tried to force me to meet her by being at the airport. As a result, I interrupted the visit in Tripoli and we flew to Benghazi, where the schedule was followed,” said the Greek minister in the eastern city of Benghazi.

There he delivered three small boxes of coronavirus vaccines and a donation of 550,000 euros ($568,000) for a reconstruction of the port of Benghazi by the World Food Programme.

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

The preliminary maritime and gas deal between Tripoli and Ankara signed last month has been rejected by both Greece and Egypt, which accuse Turkey of using the deal 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 visit to Cairo last month, Dendias said the deal encroached on Greece’s maritime borders. His Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, said Libya’s western government under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has no authority to make such deals, as its mandate expired after Libya’s failure to hold national elections last December.

Libya’s eastern-based parliament subsequently appointed a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha.

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

Relations between Athens and Ankara have in turn deteriorated sharply, with submarine gas and oil exploration rights being a major part of the dispute. Turkey remains a prominent financier of Dbeibah.

In 2019, Turkey signed another controversial maritime border deal with Tripoli, giving it access to a disputed economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. 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.

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