Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, and Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in Athens — days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognized government are expected to attend. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

  • Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November
  • Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference

ATHENS: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar was holding talks in Athens on Friday two days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin, which he and the head of Tripoli’s government Fayez Al-Sarraj are expected to attend.

Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin, his “dear friend,” for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference.

However, Russia’s acting foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Haftar and Al-Sarraj could not even bear each other’s presence, let alone talk.

“So far ties between them are very tense, they don’t even want to be in the same room to say nothing of meeting each other,” Lavrov said.

World powers are trying to mediate a lasting cease-fire nine months after Haftar’s forces launched an assault on Tripoli, sparking fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands.

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash expressed his country's "unreserved support" for German efforts to find a solution and end to the Libyan conflict on Twitter on Friday.

An interim truce that came into force on Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftar’s forces and the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar walked away from cease-fire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the Berlin conference.

He flew to Athens on a surprise visit on Thursday, with Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November.

Athens is vehemently opposed to the contentious Turkish deal with Libya, which claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration in conflict with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.

Haftar met Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and they were holding further talks on Friday. He is also set to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greece is seeking to take part in the Berlin talks but has yet to be invited.

Haftar agreed in principle on Thursday to go to Berlin after Al-Sarraj signalled he would be there.

But Sarraj, whose GNA did sign up to a permanent truce deal in Moscow, cast doubt over Haftar’s intentions after he refused to sign.

Meanwhile, protesters in eastern Libya entered the Zueitina oil terminal on Friday and announced its closure in response to calls by tribal leaders, a port engineer and witnesses told Reuters.

The tribal leaders are from eastern and southern Libya, areas controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar. 

The state oil company, NOC, said the country's oil and gas industry should not be used as a "card for political bargaining".

However, the Zueitina engineer said "the terminal is still receiving oil and a tanker entered it today". Reuters could not verify whether exports had been halted and NOC was not immediately available for comment.

The tribal leaders on Thursday called for oil terminals to be shut and accused the internationally recognised government in Tripoli of using oil revenue to pay foreign fighters.

Scores of protesters erected a large tent outside the Zueitina terminal. They read a statement saying they planned to shut all oil terminals in eastern Libya.

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Numerous countries have since become involved — the GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar, while Haftar has the support of neighboring Egypt as well as Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part and voiced support for truce efforts, the State Department said on Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.

In a report to the Security Council he warned against “external interference,” saying it would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis.”

The conference will aim to agree six points — including a permanent cease-fire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace, Guterres said.

Turkish troops have been deployed to support the GNA, while Russia, despite its denials, is suspected of supporting Haftar with weapons, money and mercenaries.

Some 11 countries and several international organizations are set to attend along with the Libyan parties.

The fighting has spurred a growing exodus of migrants, many embarking on rickety boats toward Italy.

Nearly 1,000 intercepted at sea have been forced to return to the war-ravaged country since January 1, mostly ending up in detention, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.


Iran says scientist jailed in US to return in days

Updated 01 June 2020

Iran says scientist jailed in US to return in days

  • Asgari was accused by a US court in 2016 of stealing trade secrets while on an academic visit to Ohio
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said last month that Asgari had contracted the novel coronavirus while in US custody

TEHRAN: Tehran said Monday that scientist Sirous Asgari, one of more than a dozen Iranians behind bars in the United States, is set to return to the Islamic republic within days.
Asgari was accused by a US court in 2016 of stealing trade secrets while on an academic visit to Ohio.
But the 59-year-old scientist from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology was acquitted in November.
The academic told British newspaper The Guardian in March that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was keeping him in a detention center in Louisiana without basic sanitation and refusing to let him return to Iran despite his exoneration.
“Dr. Sirous Asgari’s case has been closed in America and he will probably return to the country in the next two or three days,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“That is, if no issues or obstacles come up,” he said, quoted by semi-official news agency ISNA.
Iran’s foreign ministry said last month that Asgari had contracted the novel coronavirus while in US custody.
If he returns to Iran, the scientist would become one of the few detainees held by either side not to have been released in a prisoner exchange.
Both Iran and the United States hold a number of each other’s nationals and they have recently called for them to be released amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran is battling what is the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the virus, while the US has reported the highest total number of deaths worldwide from the disease.
Iran is holding at least five Americans and the US has 19 Iranians in detention, according to a list compiled by AFP based on official statements and media reports.
Tensions between the two arch enemies escalated in 2018, after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said last month that Tehran had offered “some time ago” to exchange all Iranian and US prisoners but was waiting for a response from the US.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of US homeland security, responded mockingly by saying Iran should “send a charter plane over” and return its nationals.
Mousavi hit back on Twitter by saying the world “is watching your action, not your word.”
The Islamic republic in December freed Xiyue Wang, a US academic, in exchange for scientist Massoud Soleimani and said it was open to further swaps.
It has also said it has released more than 100,000 inmates, including 1,000 foreigners, to ease the pressure on Iran’s prison system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Americans and dual nationals currently known to be held by Iran include US Navy veteran Michael R. White, Siamak Namazi along with his father Baquer, Morad Tahbaz, Gholam Reza Shahini, and Karan Vafadari.
Asgari is one of the 19 held by the US, most of them dual nationals and charged with evading sanctions by either exporting goods to Iran or using the US financial system.
Long-time foes Iran and the United States have appeared to come to the brink of a direct conflict twice in the past year.
The most recent case was in January when Iran fired a barrage of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general.
Trump refrained from taking any military action in response, however.
Iran on Monday also vowed to keep sending shipments of fuel to Venezuela in defiance of US threats.
The US has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports by both Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers.
“If Venezuela demands new shipments, we will export more to this country and any other who requires our shipments,” Mousavi said.
It comes days after Iranian tankers carrying much-needed petrol arrived in Venezuela.

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