Germany hosts Berlin summit to discuss ways out Libya crisis
People are seen at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya Jan. 16, 2020. (Reuters Photo)
Germany is bringing together the key players in Libya's long-running civil war in a bid to curb foreign military meddling, solidify a cease-fire and help relaunch a political process to determine the North African nation's future.
Chancellor Angela Merkel invited leaders from 12 countries as well as the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League to Jan. 19's summit at the chancellery in Berlin. Germany's months-long diplomatic drive seeks to bolster efforts to stop the fighting in Libya by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame.
Among those expected are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Other countries invited are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, China and the Republic of Congo.
The chances of the summit producing any real progress are unclear, however. While getting the players to the table is an achievement, recent stepped-up outside support may have emboldened both sides not to compromise.
Since the 2011 ouster and killing of Libya's longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country has sunk further into chaos and turmoil. Libya is divided into rival administrations, each with the backing of different nations: the U.N.-recognized government based in Tripoli, headed by al-Sarraj, and one based in the country's east, supported by Haftar's forces.
Haftar's forces have been on the offensive since April, laying siege to Tripoli in an effort to capture the capital and battling militias aligned with the government. Haftar's forces are backed by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, while the Tripoli government has turned to Turkey for troops and weapons.
A truce brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey marked the first break in fighting in months.
Germany's priority is to try to get the outside players that have interests in the conflict on the same page, stem the flow of weapons to Libya and ensure that the cease-fire sticks -- creating space for U.N.-led efforts to re-establish a political process in Libya.
"At the Libya conference, we must see above all that the arms embargo is once again complied with it has been agreed in principle at U.N. level but unfortunately not kept to,'' Merkel said.
Germany is also keen to prevent Libyan fighting from further destabilizing the region, potentially setting off new waves of migrants seeking safety in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
Maas traveled to Libya to meet Hifter on Jan. 16. He said the general pledged to respect the cease-fire, even though he had left Moscow days before without signing a draft document setting out details of the truce. Sarraj did sign the document.
As with previous failed attempts, center stage of the one-day meeting will be occupied by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who in April started a campaign to take Tripoli. Western powers hope this time to put pressure on him to continue a ceasefire that has largely held for one week.
Haftar escalated the conflict on Jan. 17 when allied tribesmen shut down eastern oil ports, cutting oil production by 800,000 barrels a day. That will hit hard Tripoli, which benefits most from oil revenues.
U.N. envoy Salame earlier this month demanded an end to all foreign interference in Libya, saying that a military solution is impossible and governments and mercenaries helping rival forces are hindering a political solution.
Despite the arms embargo against Libya, he said, weapons are being sold and given to Libyans, and "probably thousands'' of mercenaries have been sent into the country, creating a "bleak'' situation for millions of civilians.
German officials have been careful to keep expectations of Jan. 19's summit in check.
"The conference is important, but it is a beginning, the start of a process,'' spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.
Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, Sudanese and Chadian fighters, and most recently Russian mercenaries, which helped him gain a bit on the Tripoli front. France has also given some support.
That has prompted Turkey to rush to al-Sarraj's rescue by sending troops to Tripoli. Up to 2,000 fighters from Syria's civil war have also joined the battle to defend the capital, a U.N. official said on Jan. 18.
"I mean this is a region-wide conflict broadening, and looking increasingly like Syria which is why the whole international community is getting together in Germany," a senior U.S. state department official told reporters traveling with Pompeo.
Still, expectations were "moderate," the official added.
Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow with North Africa and the Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said there was no sign Haftar's backers were pushing him to stop the war.
"That means that obtaining a commitment to maintain this forum where all interfering actors meet in the form of follow-up committees would likely be the most valuable output Germany could achieve," he said.