Turkey eyes Libya bases for lasting military foothold: source
By Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey and the internationally recognized Libyan government are discussing the possible Turkish use of two military bases in the North African country, a Turkish source said on Monday to achieve a permanent Turkish presence in the southern Mediterranean.
No final decisions regarding a possible Turkish military use of the Misrata Naval Base and the al-Watiya Air Force Base have recently been recaptured by the Turkish-backed National Agreement Government (GNA).
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A more permanent air and naval presence in Libya could increase Turkey's growing influence in the region, including Syria, and increase its claims to offshore oil and gas resources.
Turkey has also announced possible energy and construction deals with Tripoli once the fighting is over.
In recent months, the GNA has pushed back Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) - supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France - and turned the tide for a 14-month conflict that has displaced an estimated 200,000 people.
While all sides say they want a ceasefire, serious clashes have occurred near the LNA-held coastal town of Sirte, which is near the main energy export terminals on the Mediterranean coast.
Russia and Turkey have postponed high-level talks about Libya scheduled for Sunday in Istanbul due to disagreements over GNA's efforts to retake Sirte, another Turkish official said.
"Turkey that uses al-Watiya ... is on the agenda," said the first source on condition of anonymity. "It could also be possible that the Misrata naval base could be used by Turkey."
Turkey has a military base in Qatar, and in 2017 troops were added between Doha on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other.
Ankara threw its support behind the government in Tripoli last year after the GNA signed a maritime demarcation agreement that provides for Turkish drilling rights near Crete, but which is rejected by Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the European Union.
A Libyan naval base in particular would "institutionalize" Turkey's influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and give it influence over Arab and European opponents, said Galip Dalay, a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy.
Discord over Sirte
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that there was an "immediate ceasefire" and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would postpone the meeting scheduled for Sunday with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
"A result should come out of the meetings, but this stage has not been reached. There are issues where the two countries are on opposite sides," the second Turkish official told Reuters.
"One of the main problems in postponing Lavrov's visit is the (GNA) plan for an operation in Sirte ... which has turned out to be the target."
The Kremlin did not comment on the postponement. Cavusoglu said on Monday that it had nothing to do with "core principles" issues.
The United Nations said last week that belligerents had launched new ceasefire talks in Libya after Turkey-backed GNA forces fended off a protracted LNA attack on the capital, Tripoli.
Sirte, about halfway between Tripoli by GNA and Benghazi by LNA, is the closest city to Libya's main energy export terminals. Haftar's forces conquered the city in January and the new front line of the conflict has just emerged in the west.
"Russia wants Turkey and the GNA to stop military operations, particularly Sirte, Jufra and the Oil Crescent, and Ankara has denied the request," said Dalay.
"If Turkish-Russian talks fail, there could be an escalation in both Libya and the Syrian region of Idlib," where Ankara and Moscow also support the opposing sides, he said.
(Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; editing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)
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