Western powers agreed on a gradual process of withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya after the second international conference held June 23 in Berlin.
The meeting, aimed at sorting out domestic and international entanglements in the North African nation so as to allow for elections to proceed there by the end of the year, seems to accommodate Turkish and Russian pressures against immediate withdrawal of troops and mercenaries backing opposite sides across the Libyan divide.
Germany and the United Nations brought together 17 countries at the conference in Berlin. Libya’s transitional leadership was joined by foreign ministers from Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, France and Italy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and senior officials from Russia, the United Arab Emirates and others.
The meeting followed up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the meeting “marked a new phase” and that “we are no longer only talking about Libya, but above all with Libya.”
Participants welcomed progress since the process was launched. An October cease-fire agreement including a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the elections in December and the transitional government that took office in February.
Addressing the Berlin meeting, Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, who was appointed in March, called on Libya’s parliament to approve an election law to allow the December election to go ahead and to pass his government’s budget.
“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the necessary seriousness from the legislative bodies,” he said.
Libyan Foreign Minister Najlah al-Mangoush said the transitional government came “with a vision of how best to re-establish stability in our country and pave the way for free, inclusive and safe elections on December 24.”
Wednesday’s conference saw powers involved in Libya recommit to refraining from interfering in the country’s internal affairs and stating that foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn “without delay”, something on which there has been little progress.
Asked what guarantees the countries involved are giving to withdraw foreign fighters, Maas pointed to the fact that they had gathered for the conference. He said that “we will not let up, and we will not rest, until the last foreign forces have left Libya … wherever they come from.”
He said Russia and Turkey, which have been heavily involved on opposite sides, understand that a withdrawal would have to be carried out “step by step” and added that it would have to be balanced, so that one side doesn’t gain an advantage.
The UN-sponsored conference, the second held in the German capital, renewed commitments to holding elections on December 24, a watershed for the North African nation where foreign powers have violently jostled for influence.
Libyan Foreign Minister Najlah al-Mangoush voiced hope that there would finally be progress on a key pledge from the first conference in January 2020, to pull foreign fighters out.
“We have a progress in terms of mercenaries, so you know hopefully within coming days, mercenaries from both sides (are) going to be withdrawing and I think this is going to be encouraging,” she told reporters.
US officials said that Turkey and Russia, on opposite sides both in Libya and Syria, were discussing a plan for each to pull out 300 Syrians fighting on opposite sides, a number that is small but would signal the start of a process.
They said details were still being worked out and “deep suspicions” remained but that the withdrawal plan came up on a trip last week by President Joe Biden, who met both his Russian and Turkish counterparts.
“There is a recognition even by some of these outside parties that if you could do some confidence-building measures that don’t undermine the status quo militarily, they don’t expose one side to an attack, let’s try that,” a senior US official said.
“Our typically American pragmatic approach is ‘let’s go for the low-hanging fruit’.”