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France Hopes Sarraj-Haftar Meeting Will Yield Roadmap for Libya Peace | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)

Paris – France will host on Tuesday Prime Minister of the UN-recognized Libyan government Fayez al-Sarraj and his rival, commander of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in an attempt to reach a solution to the North African country’s crisis.

Hosted by President Emmanuel Macron, the meeting will be held at the La Celle castle in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. It will be attended by UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh, who will officially kick off his mission at the end of this week.

Representatives of the Arab League, African Union and European Union were going to be invited, but this idea was scrapped. French presidential sources explained that Paris does not want to distance anyone from the talks.

“It carried out long and deep consultations” with concerned countries, such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Arab Gulf states and European powers, starting with Rome. They added that this new French initiative is an “extension” of other international ones and it is part of “efforts being exerted by the UN.”

Paris stressed that on the Libyan internal scene, it informed all local players of its efforts in order to yield a collective dynamic that would lead to a solution to the crisis. France ultimately worked on providing the “best conditions” to ensure the success of the Saint-Cloud meeting, noting that its timing is right because it will benefit from “positive” factors.

The sources also said that Sarraj and Haftar appeared to be “ready to work together.”

What is expected from the meeting?

The truth of the matter is that French expectations of the Saint-Cloud meeting are not high because Paris is aware of the obstacles standing in the way of reaching conclusive results and this is not the first time that Sarraj and Haftar meet. They last met in Abu Dhabi in May.

What Paris is seeking is a “joint declaration” that will serve as a “political roadmap” to end the Libyan war. Elysee Palace circles told the press on Monday that the “Paris Declaration” will not be a political solution to the situation in Libya, “but it will only offer principles and a joint vision for the solution.”

Should France’s plans be a success, it will be the first time that the two rival Libyan leaders agree to such a document, which Paris will interpret as a success in and of itself.

The “declaration” is expected to stress that there can be no military solution to the war in Libya, but it should be political. It is also set to announce Sarraj as the “legitimate” representative, who enjoys the support of the UN and international powers. The document also says that the two sides are “determined to work together” in order to reach the desired solution and Libyan unity.

Macron is set to hold separate talks with Sarraj and later with Haftar on Tuesday. This will be followed with a tripartite meeting that will be attended by Salameh, who in the meantime would have met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The tripartite meeting will end with the release of the joint declaration and Macron’s meeting with the press to discuss the talks, but without a question and answer session.

Paris would not have hosted the meeting had it not had some ideas worth proposing to the Libyan officials. Among these proposals is “updating” the Skhirat agreement that was sponsored by the UN and which led to the establishment of the Libyan presidential council and the Sarraj government.

France and several countries, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, believe that this agreement is “no longer suitable” with the changes that have taken place on the ground and on the political level in Libya. The most important change is that Haftar is no longer a figure who can be ignored. He should therefore be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Arab diplomatic circles in Paris told Asharq Al-Awsat that France has “become very close” to Haftar and his invitation to the Saint-Cloud meeting is a “recognition of his legitimacy” and his “role in the solution.”

The officials at the talks will address reassessing the formation of the presidential council and possibly limiting it to three people, who are Haftar, Sarraj and a third figure. The main focus of Tuesday’s talks will however be Sarraj’s proposal to hold legislative and presidential elections next spring according to suggestions that he had made only a few days ago.

One of the positives that Paris can take from recent Libyan developments is Haftar’s change in stance. In the past, he had always rejected working under the civil authority, describing it as being subject to “Islamists.” This position has changed however, said French sources, adding that he is now “more open to talks and cooperation.” In fact, Paris believes that he is “thinking about playing a role in the future presidential elections.”

The Elysee Palace had released a statement on Monday explaining that the French initiative was aimed at “facilitating political agreement between Sarraj and Haftar at a time when the UN special envoy begins his mission.”

“In agreement with its partners, France is seeking to stress its support for the efforts that are aimed at reaching a political settlement, under the supervision of the UN, that would bring together all Libyan parties,” added the statement.

The challenge, according to the Elysee, lies in “building a state that is capable of responding to the basic needs of the Libyans and which relies on an organized and united army that answers to the civil authority.”

“This is a necessary to allow the Libyan state to not only impose its authority throughout its territories and borders and to combat terrorist groups, arms smuggling and migrant trafficking, but to return to a stable institutional life,” it continued.

Tuesday’s meeting also reflects the French presidency’s will to play a pioneering role in the Libyan file due to the challenges that it encompasses, such as stability in northern Africa and the Sahel countries, the war on terrorism and fears that Libya may become a hub for ISIS and other terror groups, and finally the flow migrants to Europe.

The presidential sources described the situation in Libya as “very explosive politically and militarily” and there is therefore a need for a strong diplomatic-political initiative to address it.