TRIPOLI — Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni flew to Tripoli on Saturday where she is expected to agree a major gas deal aimed at boosting energy supplies to Europe despite the insecurity and political chaos in the North African country.
Meloni is meeting Mohamed al-Menfi, the head of Libya’s three-man Presidency Council, and Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, head of the internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli.
According to public statements made this week by Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) chief Farhat Bengdara, the deal will involve $8 billion to produce up to 850 million cubic feet a day of offshore gas from the Mediterranean.
However, Libya’s parliament and major armed factions reject the legitimacy of Dbeibah’s government, raising fears of a new bout of conflict after more than two years of comparative peace.
European countries have increasingly sought to replace Russian gas with energy supplies from North Africa and elsewhere over the past year because of the war in Ukraine.
Italy has already taken a lead in sourcing gas from Algeria, building a new strategic partnership there that includes investment to help state energy company Sonatrach reverse years of declining output.
Any agreements made in Tripoli may be undermined by Libya’s internal conflict, which has divided the country between rival factions who vie for control of government and dispute each other’s claims to political legitimacy.
Underscoring the political divisions in Libya, Dbeibah’s own Oil Minister Mohamed Oun rejected any deal that NOC were to strike with Italy, saying in a video on the ministry website that such agreements should be made by the ministry.
NOC chief Bengdara was appointed last year by Dbeibah, whose own interim government was installed in 2021 through a U.N.-backed process.
The eastern-based parliament and factions that support it said early last year that the government was no longer legitimate, rejecting both the appointment of Bengdara and deals that Tripoli has struck with foreign states.
Chaos in Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted autocrat Muammar Gaddafi has left much of the country in the hands of armed factions. A small Italian military mission has been deployed in Libya for several years.
Insecurity and lawlessness has made Libya a major, but dangerous, route for migrants seeking to reach Europe, often via the Italian island of Lampedusa. Hundreds of migrants die each year attempting to make the journey.
Meloni has made tackling illegal migration a major plank of her governing agenda and she has pushed the issue in recent visits to Algeria and Egypt. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, who oversees much of the migration issue for Rome, flew to Libya with Meloni. (Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Libya and Gavin Jones in Rome; Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Clelia Oziel)