Can final Libya negotiations be relaunched?

Kamel Abdallah , Tuesday 15 Sep 2020

Preliminary talks in Bouznika and Montreux reportedly succeeded in removing many obstacles to a comprehensive settlement to the Libyan civil war. But can Libya’s headline players take the next step?

Can final Libya negotiations be relaunched?

Last week, members of the Tubruk parliament and the Supreme State Council (SSC) in Tripoli met with a number of politicians in the Moroccan city of Bouznika and in the Swiss city of Montreux, under the auspices of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), after the Security Council renewed the agency’s mandate on Tuesday for another year until 15 September 2021. UNSMIL was restructured according to a US vision that separated mediation in the Libyan peace process from daily activities and the agency’s support mission in Libya, alongside intense diplomatic efforts by those in charge of the Libyan portfolio in countries interested in Libya, especially Egypt and France.

At Bouznika, five MPs from Tubruk met with five members of the SSC throughout last week, declaring at the end of their talks that they reached “comprehensive agreement on the transparent and objective standards and mechanisms for assuming key government positions”. They also agreed “to continue this dialogue and meet again in the last week of September to continue necessary steps to ensure these agreements are enforced and implemented”.

In a joint statement, participants said the preparatory meetings at Bouznika aimed to “reach consensus between the two bodies about key sovereign posts... amid an atmosphere of understanding, brotherhood and agreement”. The talks comply with Article 15 of the Skhirat Agreement signed in 2015, and confirmed the outcome of the Berlin Summit which supports a political solution, as well as Security Council resolutions. Participants urged the UN and global community to support Moroccan efforts to create the necessary climate to reach a comprehensive political settlement in Libya.

In Montreux, several key Libyan figures met under the sponsorship of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, which is partnering with UNSMIL to prepare the Libyan dialogue. The talks were attended by UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams whose tenure ends later this month. A final communique included seven recommendations for the political dialogue committee that is planning to meet soon, under UN auspices in Geneva, and described the Montreux talks as paving the way for relaunching political dialogue as part of the Berlin Process to reach a preliminary stage ahead of a comprehensive solution in Libya.

This would require amendments in the current political agreement document and restructuring the executive authority it created, namely the Presidential Council (PC) and Government of National Accord (GNA). Participants in the political dialogue will cut down the number of members of the PC to three representatives from the country’s historical regions, separating the GNA from the PC and appointing a prime minister. An interim government will work for 18 months to “prepare suitable conditions to hold parliamentary and presidential elections based on agreed upon constitutional foundations”.

Participants also agreed that PC members and the prime minister “will be chosen by the Political Dialogue Committee (PDC), and the prime minister will form a government with an eye on protecting Libya’s unity, geographic, political and social diversity. The cabinet will then be put to a confidence vote”.

The PDC will be in charge of “evaluating and monitoring the Executive Authority to ascertain it is on task, and call on parliament and the SSC to reach agreement on key political posts and the electoral track within a reasonable time. Also, for the relocation of executive institutions and parliament to Sirte during the interim phase to take over powers, as soon as security and logistical conditions are ready.”

The talks at Bouznika and Montreux were praised by the US, France, German, UNSMIL, EU, Arab League and African Union, since they are seen as “a critical turning point in the long journey to find a comprehensive solution in Libya”. The meetings came at a time when there is growing public anger inside Libya due to dilapidated living conditions and rampant corruption.

Also, international and regional discontent with Libyan leaders and their political performance, which allowed certain global and regional powers to become involved in the conflict, especially Russia and Turkey which are strengthening their foothold on the ground at the expense of other traditional influencers in Libya.

The atmosphere at Bouznika and Montreux was similar to conditions in Libya during the autumn and winter of 2014 when former UN envoy Bernardino Léon launched a dialogue in Ghadames, which later moved to Geneva and then Skhirat in Morocco. This track was finally crowned with the signing of a political agreement which is still in place.

In recent years, UNSMIL, led by German diplomat Martin Kobler followed by Lebanon’s Ghassan Salame, tried to facilitate dialogue between the parliament in Tubruk and the SSC in Tripoli to agree on amending the political agreement and review the appointment of key political positions, but these efforts failed to jumpstart the political stalemate that pertains until today. Participants in earlier meetings, before Bouznika and Montreux, had agreed to move forward on the political process, but none of them honoured their promises during these talks that were either sponsored by UNSMIL or international and regional players.

So far, UNSMIL has not set a date to relaunch the troubled Berlin Process despite overwhelming international praise for the preliminary meetings in Bouznika and Montreux in anticipation of what decisions the Security Council will take, to decide the mandate of UNSMIL inside Libya and the new envoy’s role in the Libyan peace process.

To promote the Libyan peace process, next month the EU plans to lift sanctions on Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, former chairman of the General National Congress Nouri Abusahmain, and former head of the salvation government Khalifa Al-Ghweil, which were placed in 2016. This would boost Europe’s role in Libya to counter Turkish and Russian influence.

France is also becoming more involved. The website Africa Intelligence, which is close to the French intelligence community, reported Monday that Paris is preparing to host a Libyan summit next week to include Saleh, the commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar, and PC chairman and GNA head Fayez Al-Sarraj. This would crown the Bouznika talks under UNSMIL auspices, according to a French diplomatic source.

France wants German and Italian support for this move, as Paris tries to undercut growing Turkish influence in West Libya and East of the Mediterranean. The French initiative proposes talks among Libyan leaders without having them meet in one place, in order to decide the most prominent players. Three new senior advisers at the Élysée are working on the issue, and recently Army General Thomas Pierre was appointed as defence attaché in West Tripoli, after he was transferred from the French Embassy in Berlin.

Cairo hosted a delegation from West Libya that included members of the SSC, parliament and key political and military figures from Misrata to open channels of communication with Egypt. The delegation met with the Egyptian Committee on Libya headed by its new chairman, General Ayman Badie.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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