Berlin confab on Libya ends with call to enforce arms embargo

Libyan politician sees no end to insurgency owing to lack of timetable for political solution.

Libya flag 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)
Libya flag 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)
There was no peace deal, but Sunday’s international conference on Libya, held in the German capital Berlin, ended with an agreement to more strictly enforce a 2011 United Nations-declared embargo on the export of arms to the North African country.
Fayez al-Sarraj, head of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), and Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who leads the insurgent Libyan National Army (LNA), both attended the summit. They had at least verbally agreed to a cease-fire ahead of the meeting, but members of the GNA delegation refused to meet with Haftar.
Libya has been torn in two since 2014, when Haftar rejected a power-sharing agreement and withdrew to the east, taking with him entire military units, including warplanes. The LNA has been on an offensive since April, taking over oil fields and key cities, and laying siege to parts of Tripoli, the GNA’s stronghold and the nation’s largest city.
On January 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed a cease-fire. Previous efforts by Italy and France had failed.
Last week, Germany announced that Berlin would host an international conference on Libya under the auspices of the UN to be attended by both Putin and Erdogan, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosting.
“Germany simply wants to get all the parties to use their influence to advance peace,” a foreign ministry spokesman in Berlin said last Wednesday.
Ziad Dghem, a member of the Tobruk-based parliament (to which the LNA has declared its loyalty) and founder of the Federal Movement in Libya, told The Media Line that Germany’s intervention was aimed at preserving European influence, which has been greatly damaged by the Libyan crisis.
“Germany is neutral,” he explained. “Yes, it has an interest in Libya, but unlike Italy and France, it doesn’t have direct geopolitical ties with the country, whereas Paris has historical influence in the south and [former colonial power] Italy has [such influence] in Tripoli.”
Dghem surmises that there was an American request for Europe to intervene.
“The European bloc is more coherent after Russian-Turkish involvement worried Europe, and after [Europe’s] diplomacy failed to bring the Libyans together since 2011,” he said, referring to the year the Gaddafi regime was overthrown in what has come to be known as the Libyan Revolution.
“Unfortunately, Libyans are unable to reach agreements except through foreign intervention or external agreements. Historically, we only reach agreements when the world reaches agreements, and then we implement whatever they agree to,” Dghem said.
He added that there was nothing in the tabled proposal to end the fighting that also addressed the fundamental issues that led to the civil war in the first place, adding that the war would resume stronger than ever after any truce.
“We are witnessing today attempts to achieve a cease-fire, but I see it as more of a break between two rounds of war because the [proposed] cease-fire isn’t linked to a timetable for achieving a political solution – as there is no political solution on the horizon,” he warned.
Haftar is supported primarily by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser degree, Russia, whereas Sarraj’s government is backed by most of the West and Turkey, as well as Qatar.
Salem Abu Khazan, a political analyst and writer for the Fasana Libyan newspaper, told The Media Line that Germany, as a neutral state maintaining friendly relations with both the warring parties, was in a good position to play the role of mediator, as opposed to Italy and France, which are rivals for influence.
“Both [of those] countries are competing to win the friendship of Libya, where each plays the same role [in the search for business contracts in the oil-rich nation],” he explained. “Libyan officials are aware of this, of course. Therefore, Germany is the compromise choice.”
Abu Khazan says the Berlin summit will likely help in terms of specific steps to ameliorate the economic, military and security situation, but will not fully resolve the conflict.
“As Libyans, we must listen to the international community and what the UN wants for us. Fighting is increasing among Libyans, and no one has succeeded in solving the issue over the past nine years of war,” he said.
The tentative truce – Sarraj has signed it while Haftar reportedly has yet to do so – was brokered by Moscow and Ankara. The latter recently began deploying troops to Libya and stands accused of offering Syrian Islamist gunmen Turkish citizenship if they go to fight in Tripoli.
Yusuf Erim, chief political and Middle East analyst for TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey, told The Media Line that no Turkish official has confirmed the presence of Syrian fighters sent to Libya on behalf of Ankara.
“I still don’t understand why this [topic] is being constantly pushed in the media until there’s Turkish confirmation, especially this whole business of citizenship promises,” he said. “It’s already been dismissed by the Turkish foreign minister as being completely false.”
Erim says that, ideologically, the GNA is close to Turkey and has a very pluralistic government that was elected democratically.
“It’s basically a continuation of the Arab Spring movement, so Turkey would rather see the Government of National Accord in power than have another authoritarian leader come to power,” he stated.
Nizar al-Makan, a Tunisian political analyst and instructor at the Institute of Press and News Science in Tunis, told The Media Line that Ankara’s primary interest in the Libyan conflict was to protect its claims to the natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Turkey wants to guarantee itself a base in Libya to protect what Ankara says it owns of gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.
Erim, however, says that while protecting its claims to natural gas in the Mediterranean is a top priority for Turkey, Ankara has other important interests, foremost among them being commercial ties with Libya.
“There are many billions of dollars of overdue payments that Libya owes Turkey, leftover from the Gaddafi era,” he explained.
Erim adds that Turkey wants to continue its extensive commercial ties with Libya.
“It is an important market for Turkish goods, and it’s also an important hub for oil purchases,” he said, explaining that strategically, Libya’s geopolitical location is very important for Ankara and that having a government in power that is friendly is a top priority.
“And to be able to support that government, especially when it’s a UN-recognized government, is a requisite part of Turkey’s foreign policy,” he added.
Makan believes the Berlin summit will not move the Libyan file toward a definitive resolution, but could produce a draft agreement that identifies the issues to be worked on.
If an understanding is to be reached between the two parties, he warned, “the level of expectations must be very, very low.”
He added that it would be impossible to solve the Libyan crisis unless the goal is a political settlement that requires concessions and an end to the military option.
Hundreds of people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced by the fighting in and around Tripoli.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a report submitted to the Security Council last week, warned that “external interference” in Libya risked “deepen[ing] the ongoing conflict and [was] further complicat[ing] efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis.”