News / Europe

Turkey Backing Libyan Opposition

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) speaks to Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of the Libyan National Transitional Congress Ali al-Issawi (L) before a news conference after their meeting in the rebel-held Benghazi, Libya, July 3, 2011
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) speaks to Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of the Libyan National Transitional Congress Ali al-Issawi (L) before a news conference after their meeting in the rebel-held Benghazi, Libya, July 3, 2011
Dorian Jones

Marking a shift in its position, Turkey is putting its full weight behind the Libyan opposition, promising $200 million and calling for Libyan government leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi to go. A leader of the Libyan opposition is due to hold talks Wednesday in Ankara.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country has given its unequivocal support to the Libyan opposition Transitional National Council based in Benghazi. During a visit Sunday to Benghazi, the Turkish diplomat declared the Libyan opposition is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and that Gadhafi should go.

Turkey had close ties with Gadhafi and was one of few counties arguing he could still play a role in resolving the Libyan conflict. Senior Turkish diplomat Selim Yenel said the shift in policy was not taken lightly.  

"We have been very cautious in our approach, we tried to keep a dialogue with both sides, although we were criticized for this," said Yenel.  "But in the end we saw that dialogue with Gadhafi became impossible. And we saw that the people in Benghazi were acting more and more responsible. So in the end we came up to finally accept this reality. And realize that the representation by the people in Benghazi."

Ankara is backing up its words of support to the Libyan opposition with $200 million, in addition to the $100 million it already has given.  Turkish officials say the funds are to help meet the day-to-day needs of the opposition.  

Ankara's strong support for the Libyan opposition brings it in line with its Western allies, according to Turkish diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz. He said until now Turkey was following a more independent policy toward the region.

"The 'proactive' in Turkish foreign policy to the region is over," said Idiz. "Now we [are] in the stage of reaction, in other words, reacting to the emerging situation. I do not think Turkey can be a shaper and framer of processes on its own, and we see much more cooperation or more parallels between Turkey's position and Washington position."

The opposition leader responsible for foreign affairs for the Transitional National Council, Mahmud Jibril, is to hold talks with the Turkish and United Arab Emirates foreign ministers Wednesday in Ankara.

Carnegie Institute scholar Sinan Ulgen, who heads the Turkish foreign affairs research organization Edam, said now that Turkey is in line with its Western allies it can play an effective role.

"As a Muslim country and a member of NATO, Turkey will have a significant role to play," said Ulgen. "And already contributing not an insignificant amount of resources to the Libyan opposition, Turkey has demonstrated its willingness to remain engaged and to help the fate of the Libyan [people]. So yes, going forward Turkey will remain one of most instrumental actors within the West."

The upcoming talks are expected to include the opening of an opposition office in Turkey and preparations for a meeting of the so-called International Contact Group on Libya on July 15 and 16 in Istanbul. That meeting will focus on a post-Gadhafi Libya, in which Turkey has its own economic interests, according to Yenel.

"We are all thinking about what will happen after Gadhafi leaves power, how things could develop, so all issues will be on the table," said Yenel. "The economic consideration - interest and trade deals - will come next, it's not a primary concern, but it's a concern definitely.  Because we had about 25,000 workers [in Libya], eventually we hope they will go back, but it is a second consideration."

Observers say the reluctance of Ankara to completely sever ties was in part driven by the multi-billion-dollar contracts it has with the Libyan government. But now that Ankara has thrown its weight behind the Libya opposition, Turkey's banking authorities on Monday seized control of the Libyan-Turkish bank A&T in line with U.N. sanctions.

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