Turkish officials may face US sanctions over Turkey-Libya accord

Nordic Monitor


A maritime deal agreed by Turkey and Libya determining their continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) coordinates could land Turkey in hot water as it may violate US sanctions on Libya, recent developments have revealed.

According to a US presidential order, Turkish authorities and military officers could be deemed responsible for violating the US sanctions on Libya.

The US sanctions on Libya were declared in Executive Order (EO) 13566 of February 25, 2011 and expanded in scope in EO 13726 of April l9, 2016. EO 13726 blocks the property in the United States or interest in such property of any person determined to be engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Libya, impede its political transition to a successor government or coerce Libyan state financial institutions or the Libyan National Oil Company.

Order 13726 also states that “… misappropriation of Libya’s natural resources [threatens] the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, democratic transition, and territorial integrity of Libya” and blocks the property in the United States or interest in such property of those who are deemed responsible for the actions that may lead to or result in the misappropriation of state assets of Libya. The sanction covers those who are involved in the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya, including the illicit production, refining, brokering, sale, purchase, or export of Libyan oil as well.



Turkey’s “Fatih” and “Yavuz” drill ships conducting exploratory activities off the coast of Cyprus.


While the maritime agreement defines the joint boundary between southwest Turkey and northeast Libya, an area believed to be rich in oil reserves, the wording of Article 4 reveals that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), have already agreed on Turkey’s possible drilling operations in the Libyan EEZ.

It seems clear that Article 4 of the maritime accord allows Turkey to drill for oil and gas off Libya and encourages both countries to work on the modalities of the exploitation of Libyan natural resources: “In case there are natural resources extending from the Economic Exclusive Zone of one Party to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the other, the two Parties could cooperate in order to reach an agreement on the modalities of the exploitation of such resources.”

In addition to the security cooperation agreement, the Turkey-Libya maritime deal flagrantly violates US sanctions on Libya imposed by the presidential orders. The GNA and Ankara signed two key accords in November, 2019, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean. The Erdoğan government has already transferred Turkish troops to Libya as well as paramilitary SADAT units and Idlib-based jihadists.

Following the signing of the agreement, Turkish officials and Erdoğan’s ultranationalist allies announced that Turkey would soon begin oil and gas exploration and “production studies.”

“As with other areas, the companies that we grant licenses to will start oil and gas exploration and production studies in maritime jurisdictions within the scope of this agreement,” Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said.



Erdoğan presented Rear Adm. Cihat Yaycı, chief of the Turkish naval staff, as the architect of the Turkish plan in the Mediterranean. In his writings Yaycı mentioned Libya’s role in efforts to limit maritime jurisdictions in the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, his book, titled “Libya Türkiye’nin Denizden Komşusudur” (Libya is a Neighbor of Turkey), underlines that Turkey aims to control the eastern Mediterranean natural gas basin.

Yayci is also known as the developer of an algorithm (Fetometer) for purging hundreds of senior military staff serving at NATO in Europe and the United States following a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Retired admiral and member of the ultranationalist Motherland Party (Vatan Partisi, or VP) Cem Gürdeniz stressed that Turkey has had military superiority in the region, but for the first time it had also gained political superiority, adding, “Turkey should fight for Libya.” He also told Sputnik that “the region has large oil reserves and rare earth metals.”

Gürdeniz was sentenced to 18 years in prison as part of the trial of a neo-nationalist group called Ergenekon, but he was released along with all the other suspects in the case following a secret pact between Erdoğan and neo-nationalist group leader Doğu Perinçek, who now leads the far-right VP.


President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj, at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul on November 27, 2019.


The Turkey-Libya maritime agreement , officially titled “Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of National Accord-State of Libya on Delimitation of the Maritime Jurisdiction Areas in the Mediterranean,”  was signed in Istanbul on November 27, 2019 during the visit of al-Sarraj.

For Libya, the motivation is mostly security. Turkey has promised to step up military assistance to Serraj. To this end, the parties signed a security cooperation agreement at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. In return for unspecified Turkish military support, the GNA has agreed to recognize Turkey’s claim to a vast swathe of the eastern Mediterranean. It is obvious that Turkey was only able to persuade the GNA to agree to the maritime deal in exchange for increased security support.

Diplomatic negotiations for the maritime deal were led by Çağatay Erciyes, director general for Bilateral Political & Maritime-Aviation-Border Affairs at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and Turkish Ambassador to Libya Serhat Aksen.



Erciyes (second from left) attended the Turkish parliamentary session during which the MoU was ratified.


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