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  • Author: Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: After the fall of Sirte, Erdogan and Putin’s desired ceasefire can only be achieved with Washington’s support. Over the past week, regional and European actors have increased their diplomatic activity around Libya in response to intensifying violence in the nine-month-old civil war. On January 8, less than a week after the Turkish parliament approved sending forces to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met in Istanbul and called for a Libya ceasefire to begin on January 12. Whether or not Moscow and Ankara manage to pause the violence temporarily, their growing influence in Libya represents an epic failure of Western attempts to resolve the conflict diplomatically. The longer-term effort to jumpstart Libya’s political transition requires a wider international effort at peace and reconciliation—something Russia and Turkey can support but not lead. Putin and Erdogan seemed to acknowledge that fact at their summit, endorsing a long-planned multilateral conference in Berlin aimed at recommitting all relevant actors to support an end to hostilities and respect the UN Security Council’s mandatory but widely ignored arms embargo. Even assuming Putin is serious and withdraws Russian mercenaries from the frontlines, a full, lasting ceasefire cannot transpire until the other actors who support Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) agree to withdraw their equipment and personnel for a fixed period while negotiations are launched—especially the United Arab Emirates, which provides the LNA with critical air superiority. At the same time, Turkey would have to take commensurate de-escalatory steps of its own. The United States is the only actor that holds enough weight with all the foreign parties to bring about an authentic ceasefire. Despite being consumed with crises in Iran and Iraq, Washington should expend the diplomatic effort required to pursue durable stability in Libya before the country slips further toward endemic chaos.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Ben Fishman, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: If the latest conference is to succeed, the principal actors stoking the civil war must endorse a genuine ceasefire and a return to Libyan internal dialogue. On January 19, international leaders will convene in Berlin to discuss a way out of the nine-month civil war between the so-called “Libyan National Army” led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The Germans led several months of preparatory efforts at the request of UN envoy Ghassan Salame, but had been reluctant to choose a specific date until they were assured that the event stood a reasonable chance of producing practical steps to improve the situation on the ground and jumpstart the UN’s stalled negotiation efforts between the LNA and GNA. Chancellor Angela Merkel finally took that step after several key developments unfolded earlier this month, including a January 8 ceasefire proposal by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Putin’s subsequent failed attempt to have each side sign a more permanent ceasefire agreement in Moscow on January 13 (the GNA signed but Haftar balked, though most of the fighting has paused for the moment). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been averse to engage on Libya during his tenure, but he is expected to attend the Berlin conference alongside National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Accordingly, the event gives the United States a chance to play a much-needed role on several fronts: namely, pressuring the foreign actors who have perpetuated the war and violated the arms embargo; working with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia to codify a ceasefire at the UN Security Council; and backing Salame’s efforts to reinvigorate the Libyan national dialogue, which Haftar preempted by attacking Tripoli last April despite European support to Salame. Since 2011, Libya has struggled to establish a legitimate transitional government despite three national elections and the creation of at least four legislative bodies. Challenges to the 2014 election results eventually led to rival governments in the east and west, and the division solidified when Haftar started the first civil war with support from his allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. That war halted in 2015, but several years’ worth of domestic and international efforts failed to bring Sarraj and Haftar to an enduring resolution.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation, Conference
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, Germany, North Africa, United Arab Emirates, Berlin, United States of America
  • Author: Anas El Gomati, Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Publicly committing to a ceasefire is a positive development, but many details still need to be resolved with active U.S. support, especially security arrangements in central Libya and the speedy resumption of oil exports. On August 21, the political leaders of the two main factions in Libya’s civil war—Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Speaker Aguila Saleh of the eastern-based House of Representatives—issued separate statements declaring a ceasefire and a freeze in military positions around Sirte and al-Jufrah. The move followed extensive diplomatic efforts by Germany, the United States, and the UN. Many of the deal’s terms will require further negotiation, but so far they entail establishing a demilitarized zone in central Libya and lifting the oil blockade that has cost the country $8 billion to date. Saleh also called for reformatting the Presidential Council and moving it from Tripoli to Sirte, while Sarraj called for holding national elections next March. The announcements grew out of the stalemate that set in after GNA-aligned forces pushed to the outskirts of Sirte in June. Since then, Egypt and Turkey have escalated their threats of direct military action, spurring intensified Western diplomacy to stave off a regional war. Of particular significance is Saleh replacing eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar in the negotiations. The latter’s sponsors in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt lost confidence in him after his fourteen-month offensive against Tripoli collapsed this May. In response to the new ceasefire, Haftar’s spokesman in the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) dismissed Sarraj’s statement, vowed to remain in Sirte, and completely ignored Saleh’s parallel statement, indicating deep divisions in east Libya and raising questions about who has authority over the LNA’s fighting forces. Saleh has not been a reliable diplomatic interlocutor in the past and remains under U.S. sanctions for obstructing the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. Thus, while Haftar is politically marginalized for now, he or other eastern commanders could still undermine the ceasefire.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Oil, Conflict, Proxy War, Ceasefire
  • Political Geography: Libya, North Africa