The US is seeking a permanent ceasefire in Libya and is pushing towards demilitarising Sirte and Jufra in the centre of the African country, resuming oil production and improving governance to resume talks between the warring parties.
In the past several weeks, the US administration intensified efforts to contain the Libyan crisis and prevent the heavy foreign interference the country has witnessed for a year with the onset of the war in the capital Tripoli and in tandem with the heated competition between players in the West.
US diplomats and the UN Security Council held several meetings in recent weeks with Libyan, regional and international parties to discuss the situation in Libya and means to resume talks. High-level officials from the UNSC and the US State Department conducted meetings — the last of which was on Monday — with the two Libyan sides.
Libyan Parliamentary Speaker Aguila Saleh arrived in Cairo on Sunday night for talks with Egyptian and Western officials within the framework of regional and international negotiations targeting a political settlement to put out the flames of a possible war that may ensue in Sirte and Jufra.
On Monday, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland arrived in Cairo where he met Saleh. The Libyan parliament released a statement saying the meeting was dedicated to discussing developments in Libya and the region along with means for the recommendations of the Cairo Declaration and the Berlin Conference to materialise. The meeting also tackled how to maintain the ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to “terminate the Libyan crisis”.
The meeting between Saleh and Norland came two days after the US embassy announced a virtual meeting between the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, Youssef Al-Aqouri, US officials headed by the National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Major General Miguel Correa, and Norland.
Norland also conducted meetings with Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Government of National Accord (GNA), and his Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha.
The US wants to see a ceasefire hold in Libya, a demilitarisation of the Sirte and Jufra zones and forces retreating to Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi and Ajdabiya.
Libyan Deputy to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hamid Al-Safi said the meeting between Saleh and Norland saw “agreement over the necessity of the ceasefire, the demilitarisation of Sirte and Jufra until the resumption of talks, and the return to the negotiating table”. Al-Safi pointed out the two officials discussed practical steps to move forward with Saleh’s initiative that was crowned by the Cairo Declaration based on the Berlin Conference.
Al-Safi’s statements, reported by media loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, mean Saleh approves the US plan to demilitarise Sirte and Jufra.
Norland arrived in Cairo following discussions on Libya between Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his US counterpart Donald Trump as well as between US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on steps needed to achieve a lasting ceasefire, realise a full withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, and support a UN-facilitated political dialogue, the US Embassy in Libya stated on Monday.
“With our Egyptian partners, Ambassador Norland welcomed the momentum generated by the 6 June Cairo Declaration and underscored US support for all responsible Libyan leaders seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict that restores Libya’s sovereignty, promotes economic reforms, and prevents further foreign escalation,” the statement read.
“Norland expressed support for [Saleh’s] aspirations and those of all responsible Libyan elements, for a Libyan solution to end the conflict and ensure a stable and prosperous future for the Libyan people,” it added.
In June, Al-Sisi declared Sirte and Jufra a red line for Egypt’s national security. He reiterated the call, explaining that his announcement is meant to invite the warring parties to demilitarise and go back to the negotiating table to solve the Libyan crisis.
Egypt and the US see eye-to-eye when it comes to creating a demilitarised zone between the LNA and GNA.
The US embassy said it will remain engaged with all Libyan parties that reject foreign interference and seek peaceful talks.
On 7 August the US embassy said Norland discussed with Al-Sarraj over the phone efforts to conclude a final formula that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, increases transparency in economic institutions, and advances the political process under the auspices of the UN.
The following day Norland and Bashagha tackled efforts to build confidence between parties to find a final solution for Sirte and Jufra.
The US rejects foreign intervention in Libya, particularly by Turkey and Russia that are heavily engaged in Libya following the Tripoli war after LNA Commander Khalifa Haftar attempted to seize Tripoli.
The Russian and Turkish military presence in Libya is raising regional and Western fears, particularly because both countries are not keeping it a secret that they want to establish military bases in Libya. Turkish officials said they want to operate two military bases: a marine base at Misrata Port and an air base in Watiya, near the Libyan border with Tunisia and Algeria.
Since 2014, Libya’s executive and political institutions have been facing major challenges over running the country, maintaining security and achieving a national accord between the social strata, in addition to their failure to reconstruct the country or realise political, legislative or economic reforms.
The political and economic elite of Misrata and Tripoli, dominating the GNA, have been engaged in squabbles over a cabinet reshuffle expected to be announced in the next few days. The two sides exchanged corruption charges amid deteriorated public services, cash shortages in banks, price hikes, power cuts, and the spread of the coronavirus.
Libya’s oil installations are still shut, even though more than one month has passed since the National Oil Corporation announced negotiations were ongoing with the support of regional and international parties for the installations to resume operation. Power cuts have become a major problem in Libya. The corporation said the shutdown of oil ports on the Gulf of Sirte is the reason behind the repeated power cuts, especially in the east.
The chairman of the board of the corporation Mustafa Sonallah said the closure of the ports will result in condensate tanks being filled in the exporting ports within days. The production of gas associated with the condensate, which feeds the Zueitina power stations and north of Benghazi, will supposedly stop.
He added the corporation is currently facing difficulties in increasing the quantities of imported diesel to supply power stations with energy, after the recent depletion of the budget approved for fuel to compensate for the shortfall in gas production and the production of local refineries.
Sonallah reiterated his appeal to those responsible for the suspension to enable the corporation to resume its operations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly