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Tuesday, 07 April 2020

The Berlin track

The Berlin Conference on Libya has set a positive direction for ongoing negotiations between the country’s warring parties and their backers, if all can commit to the principle of a political solution

Hussein Haridy , Sunday 2 Feb 2020
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Last week, I wrote an article entitled “Berlin Promise” on the summit meeting that brought together the heads of states and governments with the secretary general of the United Nations, the secretary general of the Arab League and the chairman of the African Commission. The article was written four days before this important summit on Libya met on Sunday, 19 January, in Berlin. I argued that the summit held promise for the Libyan warring factions and for the international community. And that, once convened, there would be a pre- and a post-Berlin reality. These arguments stemmed from the fact that the situation on the ground in Libya has reached such a critical stage that it has become imperative for the international community to intervene, in light of the sad fact that the warring parties in Libya have failed either to successfully implement the UN Peace Plan in Libya, or to achieve a decisive military victory on the battlefield that would ultimately push the victor and the vanquished to reach a peace agreement, sparing the Libyans further bloodshed and destruction and likewise North Africa, the Mediterranean basin and Sub-Saharan Africa major and intractable threats to their security.

From a diplomatic point of view, the Berlin Summit was a success, regardless of the scepticism of many. It was the most important and significant international gathering on Libya since the Security Council meeting on the same question in September 2017. The presidents and heads of governments of the five permanent members of the Security Council were present, the United States being represented by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. On the other hand, other countries involved in the Libyan conflict were present. Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates also participated, plus the host country Germany that chaired the summit. 

The head of the Libyan Government of National Accord, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar were in Berlin but were not invited to participate. Each of them met, separately, with some leaders in attendance outside the conference hall.

By the time the summit got under way, the ceasefire that was announced one week earlier had been observed to the satisfaction of everyone present in Berlin and, in fact, proved that the Berlin track holds promise for the future.

In Berlin, the participants reaffirmed their commitment to a political solution to the Libyan conflict, emphasising that there would never be a military solution in Libya. Furthermore, they reaffirmed the utmost importance of respecting the arms embargo as mentioned in Security Council Resolution 1970 of March 2011. In the meantime, they reaffirmed their opposition to the deployment of foreign fighters in Libya.

The agreement to set up three parallel tracks to carry out the UN Peace Plan was unprecedented. The Berlin Summit agreed on a financial-economic committee, a military-security committee and a political one. The avowed purpose has been to facilitate the work of UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, in helping the warring factions and other political forces in Libya implement the peace plan.

The paramount concern, for the time being, is the consolidation of the ceasefire and turning it into a permanent truce. In this context, a 5+5 military committee has been established: five officers from each side of the armed conflict to meet regularly to monitor the shaky ceasefire as well as the shipment of armaments and the presence of mercenaries and alien fighters in Libya. In fact, this mission is one of the most delicate ones, and its success or otherwise will determine the fate of the comprehensive and detailed Berlin Declaration.

In the next few days, the three committees are supposed to meet in different places, and in parallel, so the momentum gained in Berlin would be preserved, and the warring parties feel the weight of the interests of great, Arab and regional powers present in Berlin, realising fully that the Berlin process is, probably, the last chance, to prevent Libya and the regional neighbourhood from sliding into an open-ended conflict that would present grave dangers to international peace and security. To this end, the Security Council met three days after the Berlin Summit and urged the Libyan adversaries to respect the ceasefire, on the one hand, and has lent its support to the Berlin Declaration, on the other.

As far as the political committee is concerned, it will be composed of 13 members from each side of the Libyan conflict, chosen by the National Assembly in Benghazi and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, respectively. The United Nations, through Salame, would choose another 14 Libyans, to complement the committee with more neutral and hopefully unbiased Libyans whose presence is certainly important as a buffer between warring sides who have shown, so far, no serious inclination to save their country from territorial disintegration. This committee is supposed to meet before the end of January in Geneva.

Judging from the reactions of the participants in Berlin, it seems that all concerned are committed, for the time being, to the Berlin Declaration. A case in point is the official Turkish position. Be it the Turkish president or his foreign minister, Turkey announced that it would respect the ceasefire agreement as long as Haftar’s forces abide by the ceasefire. It is a big if. No one can say for sure what is the endgame of the self-styled Field Marshal whose true commitment to the Berlin track remains to be seen. Of course, the same is true of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord. Haftar’s regional backers seem hesitant as to the course they should take in the weeks and months to come in Libya. Here is an idea. Why don’t you stand at equal distance from the two warring factions in Libya? I believe this could be a significant strategic shift that would compel these factions to lay down their arms and start, seriously, to negotiate a way out of this Libyan quagmire.

As far as Egypt is concerned, the Berlin Declaration has met all its interests in Libya. And it remains one of the Arab powers that stands to gain the most, from a strategic point of view, from the implementation of the declaration. Its diplomacy should be reoriented as a result.

*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

**A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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