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Greek FM arrives in Libyan capital but leaves in 'insulting move'

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias

Greece and Libya have engaged in a diplomatic spat following the last-minute cancelation of a visit by the Greek foreign minister to Tripoli.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias abandoned the planned visit to the Libyan capital to avoid being welcomed by the top diplomat of a government allied with arch-rival Turkey.

Media reports said Wednesday Dendias arrived at Tripoli airport but refused to disembark from the plane when he realized that waiting to greet him on the tarmac was the foreign minister of Libya's Tripoli-based government who in October signed the Turkish-Libyan oil and gas exploration deal.

The Tripoli-based foreign ministry said in a statement that Dendias’ Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush had been waiting on the tarmac "in keeping with diplomatic norms," but "in a surprising and insulting move, the Greek minister refused to disembark from his plane and left without any clarifications."

The Tripoli-based caretaker government has signed a deal with Ankara over exploration for undersea oil and gas in the Mediterranean. The agreement has irked Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which argue that neither side has a right to drill in those areas.

After the signing of the deal, Dendias had said it "threatens stability and security" in the region.

The Tripoli administration was a caretaker government set up as part of a United Nations-guided peace process following the last major battle in Libya in 2020 to hold general elections. A rival eastern-based Libyan administration under military strongman Khalifa Haftar also condemned the deal, as it says the Tripoli-based caretaker administration no longer has a mandate to rule or sign international agreements.

The Tripoli government responded by condemning the departure of Dendias and threatened to “take action.” It said Dendias had been invited in response to a request from Athens, “despite (him) taking offensive positions... and making unbalanced statements about Libya's sovereignty and its right to establish relations that meet the hopes of its people.”

The Greek Foreign Ministry sources, however, said Dendias had previously agreed to make a stop-over in Tripoli in order to meet the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Menfi, on condition that only Menfi and no other person would be present. They said the remainder of his trip, in the eastern city of Benghazi, would continue as planned.

Greece has long favored Khalifa Haftar in his power struggle with the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli. 

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