ANKARA

Turkey’s top diplomat on Wednesday said a recent call by Egypt for a cease-fire in Libya was “stillborn.”

Speaking to local media in Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu doubted the “sincerity” and “convincingness” of the so-called Cairo Declaration, citing recently intensified aggression against Libya’s UN-recognized government by renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Egypt.

Cavusoglu questioned the current motives of Haftar, whom he said previously “refused all cease-fire efforts” but suddenly made a joint statement in favor of a truce with Egypt after recent advances by the government.

“Amid recent victories of the [UN-recognized] Government of National Accord, they are calling for a truce as Haftar began to lose on the ground. This is neither convincing nor sincere. Cease-fire efforts in Cairo are stillborn,” he said. 

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s new government was founded in 2015 under a political deal led by the UN.

The government and the western parts of the country have been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019.

The Libyan army has made significant military gains against Haftar’s militias in recent days, capturing all the country’s western cities to the Tunisian border.

Libya’s internationally recognized government has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.

Underlining that only a cease-fire agreed on by both parties in the conflict would be permanent, Cavusoglu said: “Haftar never wanted this. Neither the National Accord Government nor other countries were present in Cairo. A cease-fire call to save Haftar is not sincere or convincing to us.” 

He further said both NATO and the US looked “positively” on Turkey’s involvement in Libya and that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held telephone conversations with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and US President Donald Trump on the issue. 

Cavusoglu stressed that a truce must be signed at a platform where everyone could come together.

“If a consensus is reached on a platform where everyone comes together under the umbrella of the United Nations, that cease-fire will be credible and permanent,” Cavusoglu added. 

‘Haftar missed his opportunity in Libya’s future’

Referring to earlier cease-fire efforts by Turkey and Russia, Cavusoglu said he spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Monday about Libya and that both countries agreed to hold political consultations on the issue. 

“We clearly told them that we did not approve the Cairo declaration and that we did not find it realistic or sincere, and therefore we will not support it. We will have talks with the Russians on Libya in the coming days.” 

Cavusoglu ruled out any role for Haftar in Libya’s future, asserting that he had lost such a chance by flouting previous cease-fires agreed in the past. 

“He declared that he did not recognize the political agreement and announced his seizure of the country’s administration. Haftar became a pirate-like coup plotter. Of course, the Libyan people will decide, but such a person should not have a role in the Libyan administration because putschists should not be here. Haftar missed his opportunity,” he said.

‘People will decide on Hagia Sophia’

Pivoting to the possible reopening of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Muslim worship, Cavusoglu dismissed opposition to the move from other countries, saying: “No foreign pressure could affect us.” 

“Our nation will decide on the matter of Hagia Sophia. An organization has applied to the Council of State [to reopen the Hagia Sophia for worship]. The decision is expected to be released on July 2,” he said. 

Commenting on possible criticism from Greece, he said: “Greece is the last country to talk about such things.”

“Turkey is exemplary in the world in terms of freedom of belief. Different faiths and sects have places of worship available in Turkey. There are synagogues and churches. Armenians have both Catholic and Orthodox, Protestant and Greek Orthodox churches […] No one should attempt to question freedom of religion in Turkey using the Hagia Sophia. On the contrary, they should take Turkey as an example on this matter.” 

The Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years. In 1453, it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II when the empire conquered Istanbul.

Following restoration work during the Ottoman era and the adding of minarets by architect Mimar Sinan, the Hagia Sophia became one of the most important works of world architecture.

Under the Turkish Republic, it became a museum. 

Erdogan has highlighted how the Ottomans converted the building into a mosque, instead of razing it, a fate suffered by many mosques taken from Ottomans.

Erdogan has stated his intent to restore Hagia Sophia’s mosque status and recently allowed a special Quran reading there.