Washington seeks sway in Libya through control of UN mission

A Russian veto could obstruct a US project to divide the mission’s leadership.
Monday 14/09/2020
A general view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya, last February. (DPA)
A general view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya, last February. (DPA)

TRIPOLI – Libyan political sources believe that Russia could impede an American proposal aimed at consolidating the United States’ control over the UN mission in Libya by dividing the mission’s leadership into two heads: a special envoy and a daily coordinator, as a solution to end the international dispute over the appointment of a replacement for the resigned former envoy, Ghassan Salamé.

These speculations contradict media reports that stated that there was an international consensus regarding the American proposal and that it would be approved during the Security Council session to be held tomorrow, Tuesday.

A file picture shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft at the 74th Session of the United Nations. (AFP)
A file picture shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft at the 74th Session of the United Nations. (AFP)

Sources told The Arab Weekly that there was agreement on the next envoy and not on the American proposal, as some media reports indicated, and they excluded Russia’s approval of the decision to divide the mission’s presidency.

American diplomat Stephanie Williams is currently the acting head of mission, a position that it seems clear that the United States does not want to give up, and that is why it has been working since Salame’s resignation to delay and obstruct the appointment of a new envoy.

On more than one occasion, France and Germany accused the United States of obstructing the appointment of the new envoy, and on more than one occasion they called on it to stop these attempts, prompting Washington’s response with the proposal of splitting the leadership of the mission.

Ghassen Salame was believed to be aligned with France and his resignation opened the way for the United States to have absolute control over the mission through Williams, who most analyses said was initially appointed as Salame’s deputy to be Washington’s eye within the mission.

Since taking over as acting envoy, Williams’ moves both locally in Libya and on the international level have outdone Salame’s efforts to search for a political settlement to the Libyan crisis, a crisis that had intensified after the failed military operation launched by the Libyan National Army to take control of the capital, Tripoli.

The US intervention in the Libyan issue has increased recently, resulting in forcing the parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table.

Washington is racing against time to impose a settlement that would suit its Islamist allies in Tripoli, in anticipation of the possible exclusion of Stephanie Williams from her position.

Diplomatic sources told The Arab Weekly that, by splitting the mission’s presidency, the US intends to put the powers of running the political process in the hands of the special envoy, whom the US will make sure to be its own candidate, and to limit the powers of the daily coordinator to the formal task of reading the UN report before the Security Council.

Fathi Bashagha, the Minister of Interior of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, urged the UN mission to “hasten to fix the deadlines for the dialogues, as the situation does not tolerate procrastination or manoeuvring.”

Bashagha’s concerns reflect the Islamists’ fears that the appointment of a new head of mission might kill their ambitions to have a settlement made to fit their goals, in a replay of the Skhirat Agreement scenario which gave them international recognition even after their coup against the results of the elections that had marginalised them.

Bashagha, who has strong ties with the US State Department, wrote on Twitter that “constructive political dialogue is the only way to save the Libyan state from political and institutional division,” stressing that this division “has led to a severe collapse in the economy and services that require urgent treatment without hesitation or procrastination because citizens is fed up with the chaos and corruption.”

The United States is leading efforts to end the closure of oil facilities, amid a greater diplomatic effort to strengthen the ceasefire and reach a political agreement between the two rival camps in the east and west of the country.

UN security council

The US embassy in Libya announced in a statement, on Saturday, that the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, pledged to reopen the energy sector and end the blockade of oil installations that has been going on for months, but it is not clear yet whether the oil terminals and crude oil fields will reopen again soon.

The statement said that the Libyan National Army has conveyed “Field Marshal Haftar’s personal commitment to allow the reopening of the entire energy sector.”