The US to Work Alongside Russia in the Libyan Conflict

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, December 11, that the United States was willing to work alongside Russia to end the internal conflicts that have torn Libya in the last decade.

“We want to work with the Russians to get to the negotiating table, have a series of conversations that ultimately lead to a disposition that creates what the U.N. has been trying to do,” Pompeo said.

But even as Pompeo’s declarations appear to open doors for collaboration between Russia and the United States, and ease the tension between the two countries, the secretary of state’s statement was also perceived as a call to avoid likely conflict.

The two countries scarcely ever agree on foreign policy concerning conflicts around the world, not least in the Middle East and North Africa.

Mike Pompeo also added that, the day before Wednesday, he had “reminded” his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov of the current arms embargo in place in Libya, which the United Nations say many countries have repeatedly breached.

“Foreign Minister Lavrov told me directly yesterday he is prepared to be part of that, to continue it,” Pompeo said. “I reminded him that there is a weapons embargo that is still in place in Libya, and that no nation ought to be providing incremental material inside Libya.”

To the United States, Pompeo said, there could be no military solution to the fighting in Libya, and Washington often warned countries against sending weapons to support the battling factions there. On early April this year, General Khalifa Haftar, leading the east-based Libyan National Army, started an offensive to control Tripoli in the west, where the U.N.-recognized government is based.

General Haftar, who controls most of the national territory, is supported by Russia, which was recently accused of sending mercenaries to fight alongside Haftar’s troops in the April offensive. Although the Libyan National Army denies all foreign support, it is plainly backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Sudan, all of which are accused of “blatantly” breaching the arms embargo to supply Haftar’s troops with weapons.

Libya’s current conflict stands between the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli, which is led by Fayez al-Sarraj, and forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, which are based in the east but control most of Libyan territory, including energy-producing soils.

Qatar and Turkey were also accused of breaching the arms embargo by supplying Sarraj’s forces with weapons, trucks and drones. On September 2011, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Sarraj’s Government of National Accord of Libya (G.N.A.) as the Libyan new government, which also represents the country in the United Nations. More than a thousand drones missions were carried out in Libya since the April offensive, with over 800 by Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

The country’s internal conflict has been taking place since 2014, when the second civil war broke after democratic elections, but the country has been instable since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi by NATO-backed uprisings in 2011.

General Khalifa Haftar, who relentlessly aspires to rule the country, was an officer under Gaddafi, whom he soon turned against during the 2011 uprisings. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council called on countries again to cease sending weapons in Libya to fuel the conflict there, after investigators found that the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey had repeatedly breached the embargo. (The United Arab Emirates are investigated in a bombing of an immigrant detention center last summer that has been described as a war crime.)

The U.N. Security Council urged all states “not to intervene in the conflict or to take measures that would exacerbate the conflict,” expressing concerns about “the growing involvement of mercenaries” —for which Russia was accused.

Due to their often diverging interests, the collaboration between the United States and Russia stands as a complex task. But to the United States, it does not only depend on the two countries, as Libya’s current state draws on different regional and geopolitical settings.

“We have reached out not only to the Russians but to others who are providing weapon systems there and saying it’s not the best interest,” Pompeo also said on Wednesday.