News / Middle East

Turkey Steps Up to Mediate in Libya Crisis

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presses for NATO to have sole control over all military operations in Libya during a conference at his office in Istanbul, March 24, 2011
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presses for NATO to have sole control over all military operations in Libya during a conference at his office in Istanbul, March 24, 2011
Dorian Jones

Turkey is positioning itself as a mediator in the ongoing conflict in Libya.

With fighting continuing to escalate in Libya, Turkey is intensifying its efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. It is one of the few countries that still has both its embassy open in the Libyan capital Tripoli and a consul functioning in Benghazi - the center of the rebel opposition.

Senior Turkish diplomat Selim Yenel said a political solution is crucial for Libya. "Turkey is now talking to both sides, and we believe one of the few countries that can to talk to both sides. In the end it's the only way out, otherwise more and more military actions will push people into a corner and you have to show a way out. And we believe a diplomatic solution is a way out. "

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had good relations with the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and until recently had strongly opposed military intervention and, in particular, NATO's involvement. But, Erdogan has since changed his stance now supporting NATO and calling for Gadhafi to stand down.

Though such inconsistencies may cast suspicions on Turkey's objectivity, diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz said Turkey is in a unique position to mediate.

"It is a fact Turkey does have unique characteristics stemming from the fact that its an Islamic country, that it is a NATO member, so yes, such a thing could be possible," said Idiz. "But, of course, if you are willing to be a mediator its not up to you, it's up to the people you going to mediate between, to accept you."

International relations expert Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University said any mediation will be difficult, but the bigger question is what is next if Gadhafi falls?

"There is no structured opposition in Libya, there is no structure even in Libya. This is a big problem once Gadhafi is ousted. What will happen no one really knows. So this is a recipe for chaos," said Aktar.

Both the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul have warned that Libya could become another Iraq or Afghanistan. The two leaders also strongly criticized France for its robust support of airstrikes.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Yenel said France's rush to arms ruined any chance of a political solution.

"We were in contact with both sides. Our prime minister had spoken to Gadhafi three times. But unfortunately military strikes came too soon. Unfortunately, the French did not coordinate with us in any way. If they had done so, we could have used the military threats to provoke Gadhafi to come to a political solution."

France claims not acting swiftly would have resulted in a bloodbath in Libya. Differences between France and Turkey over Libya are expected  to re-emerge again in Tuesday's London summit on Libya, where Turkey is expected to press for more emphasis on diplomacy and for an easing of airstrikes against Gadhafi forces. This is a stance Paris is predicted to strongly oppose.

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