A few days ago, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj, chief of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. Speaking to France24, he sent a clear message to his interlocutor: “What we expect of France, considering their friendship with Libya, is for them to have a clear political position on the situation in Libya in the future,” he said. Mr. Sarraj was obviously referring to the offensive of his rival Khalifa Haftar, who in the past has gained attention and support from Paris. Nevertheless, Mr. Sarraj’s call for help seems to have successfully reached France.
Indeed, at the stakeout held before the closed meeting of the Security Council on Friday, the Permanent Representative of France to the UN, ambassador Francois Delattre, unequivocally said that President Macron “the day before yesterday received Prime Minister Sarraj in Paris and reaffirmed France’s support to the Government of National Accord”. He added that France remains “fully committed, actually more than ever, in support of Ghassan Salamé’s efforts and action; and more convinced than ever that there is no military solution in Libya”. Ambassador Delattre also encouraged “the conclusion of an immediate ceasefire without conditions”.
France’s stance apparently put an end to weeks of ambiguity about Haftar’s offensive, at least for now. It also occurred a few hours after Mr. Sarraj’s decision to suspend the activities of 40 foreign firms in Libya, among which, the French oil company, Total. That was a strategy meant to put economic pressure on Europe, and, according to The Guardian, it followed Mr. Macron’s initial refusal to unambiguously back PM Sarraj.
The United States, who in late April had opposed the UK’s draft resolution against Haftar along with Russia, is another wildcard in the field. This strategic move marked a quick political turnaround compared to the US’ traditional position in support of Sarraj. On April 19, President Trump spoke by phone with Haftar to discuss “ongoing counterterrorism efforts”. After that conversation, the Commander in Chief “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”. On the verge of the Security Council consultations on Friday, Sarraj published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that “Libya can’t take another tyrant”, and wishing that “President Trump will succeed where previous presidents have failed”.
According to The Washington Post, the impulse to side with Haftar has already existed for a while in the Trump administration. Nevertheless, only the offensive carried by the Cyrenaica strongman in the South of Libya, along with his seizure of oil fields, would give Washington the opportunity to change its political strategy. Trump’s decision—as our readers will remember— came months after his promise to build a shared “control room” on the Libyan crisis along with Italy, one of Sarraj’s staunchest partners in Europe.
The recent expiration of waivers on oil sanctions against Iran and the Venezuelan crisis probably encouraged President Trump to make this move, as keeping Libyan oil production going was becoming increasingly important to the White House. Another likely triggering factor was the April 9 White House meeting between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, one of the main sponsors of Haftar along with the United Arab Emirates. According to a UN confidential report, experts are investigating missile strikes near Libya’s capital that were fired likely using Chinese-made drones and that point to possible involvement by the UAE.
In the meantime, the humanitarian situation in Libya remains “dramatic”, as the Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, ambassador Christoph Heusgen, described it. During another important UN meeting on Wednesday, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda briefed the Security Council on this matter, despite the revocation of her visa by the United States on April 4th over her Office’s investigation of US military personnel in Afghanistan. The numbers are worrying: more than 50,000 people displaced, over 440 dead, 23 of whom were civilians. The Prosecutor also expressed her concern over the condition of migrants who have been constantly tortured and abused in both official and unofficial detention centers. That concern was shared by the UN, especially after airstrikes which took place on Tuesday, reportedly hitting a migrant detention center in Tajoura, in Eastern Tripoli.
At the same time, in the Mediterranean Sea, a shipwreck occurred a few days ago, with only 16 survivors out of 70 passengers. And only yesterday, the Italian Ministry of Interior impounded the Mediterranea NGO’s boat, “Jonio”, committed to saving the lives of migrants who are fleeing Libya.
On Friday Security Council consultations did not succeed in delivering a resolution, but only a press statement that called for a ceasefire. The Permanent Representative of UK to the UN, ambassador Karen Pierce, assured La Voce that the UK’s draft resolution is still on the table. Asked whether the Security Council had discussed the situation of migrants in the Mediterranean, she responded that the issue “came up in discussion”, but “the Security Council has not had a dedicated session on the point” and “particularly what’s happening in the Mediterranean.” “It’s a very difficult problem that we are working hard with our European Union partners, including Italy to resolve,” ambassador Pierce said. “And we know it involves some very dangerous attempts by civilians to try and cross the Mediterranean. And it involves lots of very complicated issues of immigration and detentions and refugees. And we understand completely the burden that Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece face. But there isn’t a simple answer to this question”, she underlined. “The one thing we can all do together– and we can do it quickly– is to take even sterner action against the human traffickers whose main fault is that these poor people are pushed”.