Middle East

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ROME: Italy’s prime minister has said it is time for his country and Libya to rebuild their “longstanding friendship,” but a condition for cooperation is that the ceasefire in the North African state continues.

Mario Draghi visited Tripoli on Tuesday on his first international trip as head of Italy’s government. He had a long meeting with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of Libya’s transitional government that is tasked with leading the country to general elections due at the end of 2021.

“It’s a unique moment for Libya,” Draghi said at a press conference with Dbeibah attended by Arab News. “There’s a government of national unity legitimized by Parliament that’s proceeding on the path of national reconciliation. It’s a unique moment to reconstruct what was a longstanding friendship.”

Draghi described his meeting with Dbeibah as “extraordinarily satisfying,” adding: “We spoke about cooperation in the infrastructure, energy, health and cultural fields.”

Draghi recalled that “the Italian Embassy in Libya never closed even during the most difficult times for this country,” saying this is “clear evidence of the outstanding importance we always gave to the relationship between our nations.”

He promised that Italy will increase bursaries for Libyan students and the activities of the Italian Institute of Culture in Tripoli.

“There’s a desire to make this partnership the driving force for the future, with full respect for Libyan sovereignty,” Draghi said.

“There’s a desire to see trade and cultural exchanges return to the levels of five-six years ago, and far above.”

Dbeibah said he expects “an increase in collaboration between Italy and Libya in the energy and electricity production fields.”

He recalled the contracts already signed between Libya and Italian oil and gas company ENI, and expressed hope that “we can move forward in the realization of true development.” Dbeibah said an agreement on health cooperation with Italy is in the pipeline.

Draghi said: “We have many projects to work on together, and there’s a desire to start over. Basically, there’s a desire to do things and to get them done quickly.”

A diplomatic advisor to Draghi told Arab News that he is the second Italian prime minister to choose Libya as the first foreign visit, “even before Germany or the US,” and that between the two leaders “we perceived a good vibe that bodes well for the future relationship.”

The advisor said a large part of the meeting was dedicated to “a deep exchange of views on the migrant issue.”

Most of the migrants trying to reach Europe reportedly begin their journey via the Mediterranean from Libya.

Italy has in the past provided substantial aid and boats for Libya’s coast guard to patrol the national coastline and prevent migrants from departing.

“Both our countries face immigration as a common challenge,” Dbeibah said. “The issue doesn’t concern only Libya and Italy, as they’re both countries of passage. Immigration is indeed a European and international issue, and needs to be handled globally.”

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