UN considers Palermo conference on Libya a ‘success’; Turks walk out

UN Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame said the November 12-13 conference would be remembered as “a milestone in rebuilding Libya.”
Sunday 18/11/2018
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) poses with Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj (L) and Libyan Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar on the sidelines of the Palermo conference, on November 13. (Italian Prime Minister’s Press Office)
Italian blessing. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) poses with Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj (L) and Libyan Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar on the sidelines of the Palermo conference, on November 13. (Italian Prime Min

PALERMO - Despite a walkout by Turkey and Libyan Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s refusal to take part in official proceedings at the Palermo conference on Libya, UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it had been “a success.”

Salame said the November 12-13 conference would be remembered as “a milestone in rebuilding Libya.”

He said he heard “a much louder sound of unity” in the international community about what needs to be done regarding the political, security and economic issues and had seen a “much higher level of conviviality” among Libyan figures during the meeting.

The proceedings were overshadowed by speculation over Haftar’s presence or absence and by Italian manoeuvres to ensure his participation. The desire of the Italian hosts to accommodate Haftar angered the Turkish delegation, which walked out of the conference.

Those attending approved Salame’s plan for a national conference early next year and the start of the election process in the spring. Plans for elections in December, agreed in Paris last May by Haftar, Presidency Council head Fayez al-Sarraj and House of Representatives and State Council presidents Ageela Saleh and Khalid al-Mishri, were abandoned.

Sarraj, Saleh and Mishri took part in the official proceedings in Palermo as did other key Libyan officials, including Central Bank of Libya Governor Saddek Elkaber and National Oil Corporation Chairman Mustafa Sanallah.

International attendees included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia as well as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Haftar put in a brief appearance, supposedly under pressure from Russia and Egypt, but refused to attend official conference sessions because of the presence of several Libyans, notably Mishri, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turkish walkout, believed to have been ordered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed a meeting on the conference sidelines attended by Haftar and Sarraj with the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia as well as the Algerian, Russian and Italian prime ministers, France’s foreign minister, the head of the EU Council and Salame. The gathering had been organised so Haftar could be drawn into the Palermo event.

An Italian government spokesman said Haftar told Sarraj at the conference that there was no point “changing the horse while crossing the river,” which was interpreted as Haftar agreeing that Sarraj should stay on in his present post for now.

The meeting had been described as covering Mediterranean security. Turkey objected to the fact that it was not invited, although other Mediterranean leaders at the Palermo conference, among them the prime ministers of Greece and Malta, were not invited but did not complain.

Neither Mishri nor Saleh was invited to the meeting.

In a statement just before the Turkish delegation left, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay warned that any meeting relating to Libya that excluded Turkey “would prove to be counterproductive for the solution of this problem.”

He also issued a thinly veiled — but sharp — attack on Haftar and Sisi, although he did not mention them by name. He said there had been a “last-minute fait accompli by some” who had abused Italian hospitality by “hit and run.”

There previously had been speculation about whether Haftar would turn up at the event. Officials close to him had said he would boycott it because of the presence of Mishri as well as the Presidency Council’s interior and economy ministers, Fathi Bashagha and Ali Essawi.

Haftar turned up on the evening of November 12 but stayed at the conference venue for just a few minutes. He left Palermo immediately after the November 13 security meeting.

In his statement, Oktay said that those who “have caused the dire situations in Libya and continue to do so cannot help salvage the situation” — a statement widely seen as directed specifically at Haftar and Sisi.

Sisi, who like Haftar, had not attended the opening dinner November 12, also left immediately after the security talks in the morning of November 13.

Oktay said “the crisis in Libya will not be solved if some countries continue to hijack the process for their own narrow interests. Libya needs not more but less foreign interference.”

This and the statement about those who had caused the Libyan crisis being unable to salvage the situation drew accusations of hypocrisy from some conference attendees.

Conte tried to minimise the significance of the Turkish pullout, saying he was “sorry” about it and little more.

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