Prime Minister Meloni visits Tripoli as Italy and Libya sign $8 billion gas deal

CAIRO — Italy’s prime minister held talks in Libya on Saturday with Western-based officials from the country, which focused on energy and migration, key issues for Italy and the European Union. During his visit, oil companies from both countries signed his $8 billion gas deal. This is his largest single investment in Libya’s energy sector in over two decades.

Libya is the second North African country visited this week by three-month-old Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. She seeks to secure new supplies of natural gas to replace Russian energy amid Russia’s war on Ukraine. She previously visited Algeria, a major supplier of natural gas to Italy, and signed several memorandums of understanding.

Meloni landed under heavy security at Mitiga Airport, the only functioning airport in the Libyan capital Tripoli, and accompanied Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Taggiani and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, her office said. rice field. She met with Abdel Hamid Dubeiba, who heads one of Libya’s rival regimes, and met with Mohamed Younis Menfi, chairman of Libya’s ceremonial presidential council.

At a roundtable discussion with Dubeiba, Meloni repeated his remarks from Algeria that Italy would like to increase its profile in the region, but rather than seek a “predatory” role, African nations ” I want to help them grow and become richer,” he said.

During the visit, Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italy’s state-owned energy company, ENI, signed an $8 billion contract with Libya’s national oil company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields. The NOC’s president Farhat Bengdara also signed.

The agreement includes the development of two offshore oilfields at Block NC-41 north of Libya, where ENI will begin pumping gas in 2026, reaching 750 million cubic feet per day. The Italian company said in a statement.

Meloni, who attended the signing ceremony, called the deal “important and historic” and said it would help Europe secure energy sources.

“Libya is clearly a strategic economic partner for us,” Meloni said.

Saturday’s deal, like previous oil and military deals between Tripoli and Ankara, is likely to deepen rifts between rival Libyan regimes in the East and West.It has already exposed parts within the Dbeibah government. .

Oil Minister Mohammed Aoun, who did not attend the signing, criticized the deal on local television, claiming it was “illegal” and that the NOC had not consulted with the ministry.

Bengdara did not address Aoun’s criticisms at the meeting, but said those who reject the contract can challenge it in court.

ENI continues to operate in Libya despite ongoing security issues, producing gas primarily for the domestic market. Last year, Libya supplied Italy with just 2.63 billion cubic meters through the Greenstream pipeline. This is well below his annual level of 8 billion cubic meters before Libya’s decline in 2011.

According to Milan-based ISPI think tank Matteo Villa, volatility, rising domestic demand and a lack of investment are hampering Libya’s gas supply abroad. The new deal is “important in terms of image,” Villa said.

Also, because of Moscow’s war against Ukraine, Italy has moved to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas. Last year Italy cut her imports by two thirds to 11 billion cubic meters.

Meloni is the top European official who visited oil-rich Libya in December 2021 after the country failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.

Libya has been ruled by rival governments for most of the past decade. One is based in the eastern part of the country and the other in Tripoli in the western part. In 2011, the country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising devolved into civil war, overthrowing and later killing long-time despot Colonel Moan Mar Qaddafi.

Piante Dosi’s presence during the visit indicated that emigration was a primary concern of Meloni’s travels. The interior minister has spearheaded a government crackdown on charity rescue vessels operating off Libya, initially denying them access to ports and most recently allocating ports in northern Italy, requiring days of sailing. It is said that

At a joint press conference with Meloni late Saturday, Dubeiba said Italy would provide five “fully equipped” boats to the Libyan coast guard to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe’s coasts. .

Alarmphone, an activist network that helps bring rescue teams to migrants stranded at sea, has criticized Italy’s move to provide patrol boats.

“This is nothing new, but it is worrying,” the group said in an email to The Associated Press. It leads to being forced to.”

Libyan expert and Associate Fellow of the Royal United Service Institute, Jarel Khalchaoui, said Meloni was “some step up in terms of Libya’s immigration and energy policy compared to her predecessor.” ‘ need to be shown.

However, “it will be difficult to improve on Rome’s existing Western Libyan tactics,” he said.

The North African country has also become a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking to travel to Europe, with Italy receiving tens of thousands of migrants each year.

Successive Italian governments and the EU have backed the Libyan Coast Guard and Tripoli-loyal militias in hopes of thwarting such dangerous sea crossings.

But the United Nations and rights groups say these European policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confine them in filthy camps riddled with abuse.

Sammy Magdy