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Turkey Opposes Sanctions Against Libya, Contradicting its Western Allies

  • Dorian Jones

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (file photo)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (file photo)

Pro-government forces in Libya are escalating their attacks on rebel forces. The increasing violence is fueling talk for tough sanctions and the enforcement of a no-fly zone against Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi, both in the European Union and the United States. But Turkey, an EU applicant and NATO member, is voicing strong opposition to such moves.

Despite the increasing numbers of casualties in Libya, the Turkish government is robustly opposing sanctions and any kind of military intervention into the deepening the crisis, including a no-fly zone. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claims such intervention would be counterproductive.

He says his government does not think outside intervention would be right, based on recent developments. He says there is no such demand from within Libya nor from the active groups there.

Davutoglu says Turkey would enforce all U.N. sanctions against Libya, but that does not include any E.U. or U.S. measures.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Western countries calling for intervention of being motivated by Libya's huge oil reserves. But with the U.N. Security Council unanimously supporting sanctions against Libya, and the deepening crisis in Libya fueling growing calls for even tougher action, diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz says Turkey is finding itself increasingly isolated.

"It seems to be rowing against (the) current,” Idiz said. “Erdogan was among the first to support the demonstrators in Egypt and call for democracy and all that, and call for Mubarak to go. But we do not see the same kind of approach in relation to Libya. Erdogan said he was strongly against sanctions (against) Libya and seems a little like leaning towards Gadhafi, even though the end of Gadhafi appears imminent."
Turkey's main opposition party has seized on the apparent inconsistency of the government towards Libya, and has accused the prime minister of having close ties with the beleaguered Libyan leader. But Turkish Ambassador Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for bilateral affairs and public diplomacy, argues the chaos in Libya means it is important to remain neutral.

"Who are we (to) decide is right or wrong, can we be that arrogant to decide that one of them is wrong or right,” Yenel said. “Right now, we have to take a different approach to Libya because the man is fighting (and) there could be more casualties. Taking sides or pushing for certain things could actually make things more harmful."

Yenel acknowledged that Turkey's business interests are a factor in determining its policy towards Libya. Chief economist Emre Yigit, of the Turkish trading house Global Securities, says such interests are considerable.

"We do a fair amount of construction and contracting between $10- and $15 billion, so Turkish construction companies are exposed and the workers and so on, and there is a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy," said Yigit.

Observers warn that with Ankara already at odds with both the European Union and the United States over Iranian sanctions, its stance on Libya can only add to growing concerns about its reliability as an ally. But diplomatic correspondent Idiz says Turkey's strong economic and political relations with Libya and the wider region mean it is better placed than its Western allies to play a role in resolving the crisis.

"Well, Turkey has bridges to these people and these nations they do not have,” Idiz added. “Turkey can say things to these countries that other people can not. And, therefore, given that Turkey's special relationship, the fact that it is an Islamic country. So I think Turkey is in (a) unique position here, and I think the West itself does not really know what to do."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has said it is willing to mediate if all sides ask. But for now, observers say Ankara's stance on Libya is likely to be seen as another example of its being out of line with its Western allies.