In the aftermath of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya, Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh Issa, one of the most powerful politicians in the country after the ceasefire and the forming of a Government of National Unity, visited Athens last week at the invitation of his Greek counterpart Konstantinos Tasoulas.
Aguila Saleh Issa met with Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and reaffirmed his intent for a new beginning in Greek-Libya relations, which had been challenged after the previous government had signed a memorandum on maritime zones with Turkey.
In an interview with Kathimerini, Saleh repeats his position that the memorandum between the government of Fayez al-Sarraj and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is null and void, stressing the need for Turkish and other foreign troops to exit Libya. He called for Greek entrepreneurs to invest in the country, noting that the new government will adhere to all its obligations to Greek and foreign investors.
How do you view the results of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya? Did it open the way for a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis?
I am visiting Athens for the second time in a short period, in the context of the positive relations developing between our people and our parliaments. I must emphasize my appreciation for Greece’s interest in the resolution of the Libyan crisis, and for its support of a legal legislative power in my country. The Second Berlin Conference did not bring forward a new solution. We expected more powerful and clear decisions. There was, however, a unanimous agreement to remove all foreign troops and missionaries, as well as to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24. We support this and we have secured the constitutional foundation for the holding of the elections. The Libyan people will choose their president, and on the same day will elect its representatives for the House. At the moment, the highest electoral authority is registering all citizens with the right to vote.
The departure of foreign troops from Libya seems to be a thorny issue in the peace process. Turkey, at the Berlin Conference, refused to commit to the exit, insisting that its troops are there upon formal request by the legitimate government. What is your position and how can this matter be resolved?
We do not accept the presence of any foreign military powers or bases in Libya, and neither do the Libyan people. The entity that made this deal with Turkey was not elected by the Libyan people and never received a vote of confidence from the House. It was an illegal, unconstitutional government, forced upon us by the international community without the consideration of the citizens. With persistence, we managed to deconstruct this power entity and institute a new Government of National Unity, which has received a vote of confidence from the House. As far as this agreement with Turkey is concerned, it has not been ratified by the House of Representatives and is thus unconstitutional and null. We have communicated this to the secretary-general of the UN.
Are you referring to the Libya (GNA)–Turkey maritime deal?
This refers not only to the maritime zones but also to the agreement for security cooperation with Turkey.
Are you optimistic that the elections will indeed be held on December 24 as planned? Does this not depend on the exit of foreign troops from the country and the creation of unified national security forces?
This is our main request. However, the creation of a unified army requires an elected, legitimate president who will be able to proceed with this unification. What I see is that the Libyan people want the elections to take place. There are voices who are against this because they have an interest. With the support of the Libyan people and the international community, the elections will take place, and it should be stressed that whoever attempts to prevent this will suffer international sanctions.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Libya in April, the Greek Embassy in Libya reopened and the Consulate in Benghazi opened in July. What could be the next steps for the improvement of Greek-Libyan relations and what could be the role of the two legislative bodies?
Relations between Greece and Libya are historically those of good neighbors. We have in the House of Representatives already formed a Greek-Libyan Friendship Committee. Legislative diplomacy plays an active role to the benefit of the two peoples. Our aim is to render the Mediterranean a lake of peace, an area of trade, instead of a battlefield for the big powers or for neighboring states. There are those who plot to exploit the wealth of other states, but we are steadily defending our homeland and our people. Whoever visits Libya will see artifacts of ancient Greek civilization in Cyrenaica and Apollonia. This was a rich civilization, in political thought, in philosophy, in art, all embraced by the Libyan people. We want there to be an open line for dialogue between the Hellenic Parliament and our House of Representatives. At the same time we want Greek entrepreneurs to come to Libya. Once our country is stable, with the help of God, it will be a fertile land for business, especially in the area of construction.
As you know, one of the great barriers to good Greek-Libyan relations was the memorandum for the maritime zones between the previous Libyan government and Turkey. What is your position on this specific matter, and do you think that the Government of National Unity will be able to re-examine it?
We have formed an expert committee for the study of this matter. This deal was made under unsuitable conditions, when the Libyan side was weak. Those in power then needed the support of Turkey. This deal was essentially imposed on them. Moreover, the man who signed the deal (then prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj) was unauthorized, and his government illegal. Our courts have issued orders canceling all actions of the previous government. So this matter can only be resolved through proper elections. An elected president and House of Representatives will take into account the interests of the Libyan people, without violating our rights or the rights of our neighbors. No one can impose their will on us, and we will risk everything for our safety and stability, and to defend our land and sea borders.
As I understand, the matter can only be discussed after the elections.
I believe that whoever deals with this matter should have the political legitimacy and authority to do so, in order to have the power to accept or reject certain things. Sarraj was never in a position to reject anything, and was forced to sign something that had been imposed on him.
We want to thank Samuel Bissaras for his role as interpreter in this interview.