Following his earlier visit to Misrata, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Harris visits Benghazi – report and analysis

By Sami Zaptia.

London, 30 July 2020: 

The U.S. Embassy in Libya reported that its Chargé d’Affaires, Joshua Harris, visited Benghazi yesterday. The visit follows his 28 July visit to Misrata.

The embassy reported that Harris visited Benghazi ‘‘to consult with a range of Libyan officials about achieving a demilitarized solution at Sirte and al-Jufra, enabling the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume its vital work nationwide, and seizing the opportunity presented by UN-facilitated dialogue to finalize a lasting ceasefire and roadmap for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries’’.

It continued: ‘‘In meetings with officials from the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army, Chargé Harris reiterated that, as the oil blockade is lifted, the Embassy will remain fully engaged to promote the transparent management of oil and gas revenues so that all Libyans can have confidence these vital resources are used wisely for the benefit of the Libyan people’’.

The statement concluded that ‘‘This visit, which follows Embassy travel to Zuwara on June 22 and Misrata on July 27, underscores the U.S. commitment to engage a wide range of Libyan leaders, across the country, who are prepared to support Libyan sovereignty, reject foreign interference, and come together in peaceful dialogue’’.

Analysis

It is notable that the U.S still recognizes the role of the eastern based, and only internationally recognized Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR).

The House of Representatives

It would need to. The HoR is the only currently active Libyan political body that was democratically elected in internationally recognized elections back in 2014. The HoR is also enshrined by the Skhirat 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), Libya’s current political roadmap, recognized by UN Security Council Resolutions.

Khalifa Hafter v Ageela Saleh

But, while the statement said it met ‘‘officials’’ from the Libyan National Army (LNA), it did not say if it had met with the LNA’s commander, Khalifa Hafter. Khalifa Hafter was also appointed head of the LNA by the HoR.

If it did meet with Hafter and chose not to mention him by name, this would add to the growing belief by analysts and add to U.S. signals that it wishes to relegate Hafter and his military solution in Libya – for a political solution. This would mean the U.S. is now banking on HoR head Ageela Saleh, the Egyptian initiative and Saleh’s 8-point plan.

The Sirte-Jufra ‘‘red line’’

The embassy reported that it consulted about achieving ‘‘a demilitarized solution at Sirte and al-Jufra’’. It also linked this with ‘‘enabling the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume its vital work nationwide’’.

The implication here is that the U.S is not giving Tripoli, and more importantly it ally Turkey, ‘‘the green light’’ to attack the Khalifa Hafter forces and their backers Wagner/Russia/UAE/Egypt beyond the Sirte-Jufra ‘‘red line’’. Many analysts held the view that Turkey would not have got involved as deeply as it has in Libya without a green light from Washington.

It will be recalled that the Tripoli government, the only internationally recognized Libyan government, considers itself the only legitimate Libyan government. It has complained for years that it should not be treated by the international community in international mediations on an equal footing with Hafter.

As a result of this perceived legitimacy and sovereignty, it has declared that it has the legitimate right to pursue Hafter’s forces beyond the Sirte-Jufra ‘‘red line’’. It has repeatedly said it does not recognize this ‘‘red line’’ nor does it recognize Egypt’s right to impose this ‘‘red line’’.

Egypt’s perceived security threat

Egypt, it will be recalled, had cited its own national security interest in Libya being threatened by the (‘‘Islamist’’) encroachment of Turkey towards its western border with Libya. It, therefore, threatened to send its troops into Libya if Turkey, with its Tripoli forces, pushed beyond the current de facto Sirte-Jufra ceasefire ”red line”.

Restarting oil exports – CBL audit – ceasefire

It is also noted that the embassy statement linked achieving ‘‘a demilitarized solution at Sirte and al-Jufra’’ with ‘‘enabling the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume its vital work nationwide’’.

It added that ‘‘In meetings with officials from the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army, Chargé Harris reiterated that, as the oil blockade is lifted, the Embassy will remain fully engaged to promote the transparent management of oil and gas revenues so that all Libyans can have confidence these vital resources are used wisely for the benefit of the Libyan people’’.

Some analysts believe the U.S. may be using a guaranteed ceasefire at the current de facto Sirte-Jufra ‘‘red line’’ as leverage in exchange for Hafter and his allies permitting the restart of Libya’s export. The clinching factor for the U.S. here is the agreement by both the opposing Libyan sides and their central banks for the international independent audits to go ahead.

But, reading between the lines, it also seems that eastern Libya have asked for guarantees from the U.S, or the U.S. has offered to ‘‘remain fully engaged to promote the transparent management of oil and gas revenues so that all Libyans can have confidence these vital resources are used wisely for the benefit of the Libyan people’’, on the basis that ‘‘the oil blockade is lifted’’.

Here, the U.S. is removing or dealing with some of the purported grievances (Hafter’s enemies would say feeble excuses) that the east have raised regarding Tripoli’s alleged misappropriation of oil funds spent on militias, Islamists and terrorists – including to their ally Turkey.

Withdrawal of (Wagner) foreign forces and mercenaries

The embassy statement also reiterated its desire for all ‘‘foreign mercenaries’’, including Wagner and the Syrian forces on both sides to withdraw from Libya. Many analysts believe that the U.S interest in Libya has only peaked with the increased participation of Russia and, what it regards as its proxy forces, Wagner.

The statement concluded that its multi visits ‘‘underscores the U.S. commitment to engage a wide range of Libyan leaders, across the country, who are prepared to support Libyan sovereignty, reject foreign interference, and come together in peaceful dialogue’’.

The message here is the U.S. is ready to engage with and support Libya stakeholders ‘‘who are prepared to support Libyan sovereignty, reject foreign interference, and come together in peaceful dialogue’’.

With U.S. elections on the horizon and President Trump’s ever-changing and short attention span, time will tell if the U.S will follow through with its (State Department) vision for Libya and impose a non-military, ling term solution.

 

U.S seeking to forestall Libyan military escalation

 

CBL independent audit going ahead: UNSMIL

 

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