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Moving to the next step?
Published in Ahram Online on 21 - 01 - 2020

The international conference on the Libyan crisis hosted in Berlin Sunday was the latest in a series of such high level conferences that convene when that crisis escalates but fall short of producing the types of solutions that can truly help the Libyan people overcome a conflict that has reached a stage that threatens their country's unity. The conference concluded with a loosely worded document that reiterated several previously reiterated principles: the need to abide by the UN Security Council's arms embargo on Libya, the need to cease outside support for the combatant parties, and the need to promote a lasting ceasefire and to support UN efforts to seek a comprehensive solution to the Libyan crisis. The UN-sponsored political process towards this end is due to restart in Geneva 27 January. The document did not mention any penalties or other measures intended to guarantee an enduring ceasefire and a halt to outside support for the warring parties.
The Berlin document was the product of an agreement reached in the course of five preparatory meetings held since 2019 October. It was hoped that the draft ceasefire agreement, which had been the subject of Russian and Turkish brokered talks between Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), that were held in Moscow earlier this month, could be added to the outcomes. Haftar had not signed the agreement in Moscow and still refused to sign it in Berlin. The differences between the two sides were still too deep, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a press conference at the airport before leaving Berlin Sunday night.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, in a joint press conference with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres after the Berlin summit, that Egypt, the UAE, Turkey and Russia had agreed to work to consolidate the ceasefire in Libya and that the state parties that attended the conference vowed not to send more support to the combatants in Libya. “There is only a non-military way to a solution,” Merkel said. Now that the participants in the conference agreed to this, “we can move to the next step,” she added. When asked whether Al-Sarraj and Haftar took part in the discussions in the summit, she said: “We spoke with them individually because the differences between them are so great that they aren't speaking with each other at the moment.” Nevertheless, she concluded on an upbeat note, saying that the conference had generated a “new spirit” that would help the UN-sponsored peace drive move forward.
Guterres, for his part, noted that the participants at the conference had committed not to intervene in the Libyan conflict and that all of them agreed there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis despite the fact that some of them may have been part of the conflict. He urged all parties to commit to UN Security Council resolutions banning arms transfers to Libya and stressed the need to maintain the truce and then move into an enduring ceasefire. “We cannot monitor something that doesn't exist,” he said as he urged participants to “put pressure on the parties for a full ceasefire to be reached.”
The Berlin conference, which was jointly organised by Germany and the UN, gave the green light to UN special envoy and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame and UNSMIL deputy for political affairs Stephanie Williams to move forward on the new comprehensive peace plan. In this regard, the UN secretary general noted that the UN had begun to work together with Libyans to carry out the three tracks of this process. One track deals with economic issues, especially those related to the Central Bank and the National Oil Company. Guterres took the opportunity to express his concerns regarding the recent closure of Libyan oil fields and the halt to production. According to a number of sources, Washington oversaw the drafting of the new plan, called “3MP”, which, they say, aims to dismantle the militias, redistribute the sources of wealth, and sideline Islamist groups.
On 27 January, the UN headquarters in Geneva is to host the first round of Libyan-Libyan talks, as occurred in 2015, after which the dialogue moved to Skhirat. The UN-sponsored talks in the Moroccan resort town culminated in the Libyan political agreement that still serves as the roadmap for the current transitional phase. Despite regional and international reservations on its substance and failed attempts to introduce some limited amendments, the Skhirat agreement still has US support.
The US has been working on two tracks of the UN peace plan for Libya in collaboration with the GNA and a number of other Libyan parties. Over a year ago, it initiated the Libyan-American economic dialogue, the tenth round of which concluded in December 2019. In late November 2019, it began a security dialogue with the GNA in the hope of solving the problem of the militias by either reclassifying their members and attaching them to official security agencies or re-assimilating them in civilian life after convincing them to turn in their weapons. Talks were held in Washington last month with security officials from the GNA's ministries of interior and defence with an eye to creating an official police force for the capital, Tripoli.
In November last year, Haftar turned down UNSMIL's invitation to nominate five officers to take part in the dialogue. However, Merkel, in her press conference after the conference, spoke of a 10-member military committee to which Al-Sarraj and Haftar would each nominate five members. She said that this committee would hold its first meeting next week.
The participants in Berlin also agreed to form a committee to follow-through on the points they agreed to in the summit. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that its members will convene in early February with the purpose of monitoring the state parties' adherence to the commitments they made in Berlin. According to the document posted on the German foreign ministry website, the follow-through committee will convene at two levels, the first comprising high-level monthly meetings chaired by the UNSMIL head while the venue would rotate between the state parties. The committee will be responsible for drawing up periodic progress reports. At another level, working groups consisting of technical experts will be created to deal with obstacles that arise in the course of implementation.
During the conference, Al-Sarraj called for an international peacekeeping force to be created by the Security Council to keep the combatants apart. While some of the European participants appeared willing to discuss the proposal, Russia expressed strong reservations, arguing that it was Western intervention that had caused the severe deterioration in Libya to begin with.
The European response to the proposal to bring in an international peacekeeping force may in large measure be motivated by a desire to reassert a European role in the Libyan crisis after its management became almost totally monopolised by Turkey and Russia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alluded to this in Berlin when he cautioned that the situation in Libya was on the verge of becoming another Syria.
Also wary of growing Turkish and Russian influence in Libya at Europe's expense, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell urged EU members to discuss reviving the Sofia process for monitoring the Libyan coasts as a means to ensure commitment to the UN arms embargo on Libya. Arab powers are equally if not more concerned at attempts by Moscow and Ankara to sideline their influence on the management of the Libyan crisis, as occurred in Syria.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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