Turkey, Russia say they seek lasting cease-fire in Libya

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish and Russian delegations met Wednesday in Turkey’s capital to discuss the war in Libya and agreed to press ahead with efforts for a lasting cease-fire in the North African country, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

A joint statement released after the meeting said the sides — who back rival parties in the conflict — had agreed to work together and encourage Libya’s opposing factions to create “conditions for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire.” They also agreed to joint efforts to advance a political dialogue.

Turkish-backed forces allied with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli, the capital, are mobilizing on the edges Sirte and have vowed to retake the Mediterranean city, along with the inland Jufra airbase, from rival forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter. Hifter’s forces are based in the east.

The Turkish and Russian delegations will consider creating a joint working group on Libya and were scheduled to hold more consultations in Moscow “in the near future,” according to the statement.

The meeting between Turkish and Russian officials comes amid heightened tensions between powers supporting the rival factions in the Libyan conflict.

This week, Egypt’s Parliament authorized the deployment of troops outside of the country in a move that threatened to escalate the spiraling war and bring Egypt and Turkey into a direct confrontation.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Wednesday that achieving a political solution in Libya requires a “firm” response to extremists and foreign interference that “not only threaten Egypt’s interests but also the security of Mediterranean countries.”

He noted that a peace proposal announced in Cairo last month aimed at stabilizing Libya and eliminating militants and militias in the oil-rich country. The proposal announced by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi included a cease-fire and a new elected presidential body representing the three Libyan regions.

The east Libya camp accepted the proposal, dubbed the Cairo Declaration, while the Tripoli-based administration rejected it.

Shukry’s comments came in separate phone calls with France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, according to a statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a high-level security meeting that focused on Libya and other issues Wednesday.

A statement released at the end of the National Security Council meeting said Turkey would not hesitate to take all steps necessary against “all kinds of bullying” taking place in Libya. It did not elaborate.

Drawn by Hifter’s anti-Islamist stance, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other foreign powers have provided his forces with critical military assistance. Russia has also emerged as a key supporter of Hifter, sending hundreds of mercenaries through the Wagner Group, a private military company. Along with Turkey, the Tripoli-based administration is backed by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar and Italy.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.