Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar secretly flew to Athens on Thursday for talks as Greece criticised its exclusion from a United Nations-backed peace conference in Berlin this weekend.
The Berlin talks are the latest international effort to end nine months of fighting between Haftar’s forces based in the east of Libya and the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
Earlier, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned Greece will block any European peace deal on Libya unless an agreement between the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli and Turkey on maritime borders is scrapped.
European Union-member Greece objects to the maritime border deal between the Tripoli government and Turkey, which ignores Greek sea rights in an area that is thought to contain potentially rich natural gas deposits.
Mitsotakis described the Turkish-Libyan deal as “unacceptable and illegal” in his interview on private Alpha TV, adding that he has conveyed his intentions on blocking a potential peace deal to senior European officials.
“Greece, at the level of a (European Union) summit meeting, will never accept any political solution on Libya that does not include as a precondition the annulment of this agreement,” he said.
“To put it simply, we will use our veto even before the matter reaches the summit, at the level of (EU) foreign ministers,” he said.
Relations between regional rivals Greece and Turkey have deteriorated considerably in recent months over undersea exploration and drilling rights in the Aegean Sea, off Cyprus, and in areas off the southern Greek island of Crete that are included in the Turkish-Libyan agreement.
Ankara raised the stakes with moves to explore waters controlled by Greece and fellow EU-member Cyprus, including sending warship-escorted drill ships into waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
Greece was not invited to take part in Berlin negotiations despite its stated interest, and Athens was angered by the Tripoli government signing a maritime and military cooperation deal with regional rival Turkey.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend the Berlin summit, and push for sustaining a fragile ceasefire and getting all foreign powers to withdraw from the conflict in the North African country, according to the US State Department.
Officials from Russia, Turkey, France, China, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom – as well as several African and Arab countries – are also invited.
Greece was reportedly snubbed, with the German government rejecting Athens’s claim that it was directly involved in the Libyan conflict. Greece has since signalled it wanted to participate.
In a surprise move, Haftar flew to Athens by private plane on Thursday for meetings not previously announced by the Greek government.
He was taken to a luxury Athens hotel where he was met by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias for an initial round of talks, television footage showed.