Monday, July 24, 2017
French confirm meeting between Serraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Paris on July 25
Faiez Serraj the head of the Presidential Council(PC) of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) is set to meet Haftar who is the head of the armed forces, the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the House of Representatives (HoR) based in the east. The meeting is to be in Paris tomorrow at the invitation of the French President Emmanuel Macron.
It is also expected that the incoming UN envoy Ghassan Salame will attend. He did not attend a meeting two weeks ago of a team from the HoR and the GNA's High State Council. The group is working on amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement. However, there has been no announcement as to when or even if the HoR is to meet to approve the changes or what the changes are.
Even at this late date, the evening before the expected meeting, Serraj's office has refused to confirm or deny that he is even going to Paris. This is incredible and surely is an indication that there are unsolved problems about the meeting. There has not been any official comment from Haftar either although reportedly sources close to him say he is going.
As with other countries, France has maintained links with both rival government that of the GNA and the rival HoR government. Macron has appointed Jean-Yves Le Drian as foreign minister. Le Drian favors stronger backing for Haftar.
Haftar and Serraj met earlier in May in Abu Dhabi. The meeting was hailed at the time as a breakthrough. However, in spite of all the reports of agreements, no joint communique was ever issued and no actual agreements were ever signed off. They were said to have agreed on parliamentary elections, a truce, the need to fight terrorism, the development of a united army, and an end to the UN arms embargo. Perhaps the same issues will come up as Serraj recently suggested holding presidential and parliamentary elections next March. The head of the HoR Ageela Saleh rejected Serraj's suggestions and said that Serraj had no right to call for anything. Saleh does not recognize the PC or GNA.
A Reuters report cites diplomats as saying that the talks will simply try to reach agreement on key principles, namely that the Libya Political Agreement is the basis for progress, that there was no military solution, and the Libyan military should be under civilian control. It is far from clear that Haftar would agree to these principles. After bringing the two into agreement the UN would implement the deal and set up elections.
The Italians were angry that they had not been informed of nor been involved in setting up the meeting. The Libya Herald reported just recently that Faiez Serraj and his foreign minister Mohamed Siala had arrived in Paris for talks. The Herald noted: " The French authorities have kept a tight control over the news about the meeting. Even this morning the Elysée Palace media office said that it still did not have full details about the encounter." This meeting has obviously not been at all well planned. One wonders how it can possibly turn out well.
However, in a statement, the Elysee said that president Macron would meet the two for consultations on getting Libya out of its crisis. Apparently, the French hope to have an agreement for when the new UN envoy Salame takes up his post. The statement said: “The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular and unified army under the authority of the civil power. It is a necessity for the control of Libya’s territory and its borders to fight terrorist groups, and arms and migrant traffickers.” The talks are supposed to take place at the chateau La Celle Saint-Cloud that is owned by the foreign ministry.
The Italians worry that the France is trying to propel Haftar to power and not support the PC which Italy has strongly backed. Yet French Foreign Minister Le Drian who is a strong supporter of Haftar told his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano: “In this matter [Libya], we can do nothing, one without the other. It’s an issue we share.” However, it appears that France hopes that it can arrange something that Haftar will sign on to and that will involve the PC being in effect sidelined.