A Grand Political Bargain for Libya and the Evolving Russian Role
Continuing my focus on the need for US engagement in Libya at this critical time as Russia appears to be muscling in, I’ve written an article for Al-Monitor which follows up on my recent Foreign Affairs piece. I am continuing to push for the Trump Administration to appoint a Special POTUS envoy because I see it as essential.
Russia’s increasing public support for Hifter and his anti-Islamist “strongman” credentials may be the fuel for this particular fire. On Jan. 11, Hifter was flown aboard a Russian aircraft carrier that has recently anchored off Libya’s eastern coast. He was given an official tour of the vessel before holding a videoconference with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu and accepting a consignment of medical supplies. The move follows Russia’s pledge earlier this month to lift the UN arms embargo to allow Hifter to access weapons as well as recent visits by Hifter and his political allies to Moscow….
No matter which party is victorious in southwest Libya, if Misrata and Hifter begin a full-scale battle for control, then there is little doubt that the whole southern region will be destabilized. There have been calls for calm from a variety of local and international actors, and there is some hope that the rapprochement efforts that have been going on in the background between rival factions may provide channels of communication to de-escalate the conflict. However, the terms of any new political bargain are likely to be far more favorable to Hifter and the eastern faction than those of the existing Libyan Political Agreement The GNA and its Presidential Council are weak and becoming increasingly fragmented and irrelevant, as highlighted by the resignation of council member Musa al-Koni on Jan. 2. Egypt, Algeria and Russia have been hosting various meetings and negotiations between different Libyan parties to try to find a diplomatic solution to the political impasse that would include Hifter, with Egypt in particular pushing for the Libyan Political Agreement to be reworked to include Hifter as the head of the Libyan Armed Forces (a role the Presidential Council currently holds) and to reduce the size of the council. The United States has yet to respond and risks being outmaneuvered by rival powers. Now is the time for increased US engagement. The Donald Trump administration will come into office with a unique opportunity to mediate a genuine settlement. Its first step should be the appointment of a special presidential envoy tasked with mediating a resolution between Libya’s main power blocs.
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