The Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salame visited Cairo for two days during which he met concerned Egyptian government and Arab League officials to discuss his diplomatic moves to bring the firmly divided Libyan factions to commit to a permanent deal that would be as inclusive as possible.
Salame met with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Assistant Minister of Defence Mohamed El-Keshky and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.
Speaking on Monday morning in Cairo during a limited press briefing that was attended by Al-Ahram Online, Salame stressed that his ultimate objective is to formulate a permanent deal rather than to engage in “yet another phase of transition” that might not hold due to the fact that previous attempts have failed to gain the commitment of all Libyan factions.
The three basic elements of Salame’s proposed deal are as follows: a constitution, free and fair elections and national reconciliation.
Each, he said, would require serious work to make sure that what the Libyan factions agree to on paper would match their actual future committments.
Having worked on the post-conflict management process in both Iraq after the US-led 2003 invasion and in Tunis after the ouster of Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Salame said that he learned that real success comes from putting forth proposals that the factions would be genuinely willing to agree upon.
“I would not want to jump to anything including elections without having guarantees that it would be really fair and free,” Salame stated. He added that it would not be realistic to talk about presidential -- or for that matter municipal -- elections in the absence of an elections committee and elections regulations.
He would commit to securing the establishment of a committee and the drafting of necessary legislations, but he would not yet commit to a deadline for doing so.
The UN envoy said that he works on parallel tracks with all the Libyan factions, not excluding those who had been party to the regime of toppled Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi or even those subscribing to the monarchy prior to the late dictator's four-decade rule.
“I don’t dig in the past; I look into the future – so long as we are not talking about anyone who has outstanding legal charges or is being pursued by justice,” he said. “Exclusion is a trusted recipe to the failure of any deal; this is one thing I am fully aware of,” he added.
Salame said that since taking up the mission, he had met with all Libyan groups in and outside of Libya within the past three months , “with no discrimination in the committed search for a deal that could really bring Libyans together."
In this endeavor, Salame said that he is also committed to working with all the parties involved in the Libyan issue, including neighborhing states, the African Union, the European Union and of course the UN Security Council. He added that he is currently working on upgrading the role of the so-called Libya Quartet (consisting of the UN, the African Union, the League of Arab States and EU), which could assist in bringing together the many views, and for that matter initiatives, on the country's crisis.
According to the UN Envoy, the objective is not to block the door to any possible effort or initiative, but to make sure that no initiative can become an excuse for the scattering of the Libyan factions.
Acknowledging the pressing security and economic concerns of Libya’s direct neighbours (Egypt, Algeria and Tunis), Salame said he would continue to work very closely with them and to encourage their participation to streamline the process of negotiations.
“I am aware for example of the incredible spread of arms in Libya and what would that mean for a country like Egypt, which has such large borders with Libya,” he stated.
He acknowledged receiving information about the spread of some 23 million pieces of arms within Libya. Given this, Salame insisted that to end the uncontrolled arms situation that is causing serious security trouble for Libya and its neighbours, “there needs to be an understanding of the reasons behind this armament” and a way to fix it -- by providing security, ending political wars and eliminating looting and other contributing crimes.
Salama declined to simplify the conflict in Libya to one between the eastern-based military forces under Khalifa Haftar's, and those of Fayez Al-Saraj, the chair of the presidential council based in the country's west.
He insisted it was not, or at least no longer, so black-and-white. Foreign states which initially took sides according to their interests are now opening up to the other side, or at least warming to their political sections. “This certainly does include Egypt,” he said.
Salame said that he appreciated the role of Egypt to work towards as a possible unification of the several leading military groups of Libya.
This, he said, is helpful to his main cause of "unifying the many Libyan bodies," be it the army, the government or parliament -- all under one potential umbrella.
Meanwhile, Salame said that he would find it counterproductive for his diplomatic mission if the UN Security Council were to lift the arms embargo on any Libyan factions at this stage in the process, despite such demands put forward by some Libyan leaders and some countries with direct involvement in the crisis.
What he would find useful, the UN envoy said, would be the pursuit of a legitimate management of Libyan funds overseas to make sure that they would continue to be at the service of the interest of the Libyan people.
Salame said that he is aware of the tough mission ahead of him and that it must be taken one step at a time. He added, however, that one goal he desired for immediate accomplishment is the assembly a board consisting of representatives of the many bodies that are already present in Libya, in order to manage the day-to-day basic interests of Libyan civilians.
“I am really worried about the state of schools and hospitals in Libya; this has to be given immediate attention,” he said.