Italy Heads towards Approving Libya Request to Support Coast Guard

Libya

Cairo – Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni stressed on Tuesday that a potential Italian mission dispatched to Libya to back its coast guard would be aimed at controlling the border against human trafficking.

On its Twitter account, the Italian embassy in Libya quoted Gentiloni as saying that an army cannot be sent to Libya. A mission to support Libyan authorities, primarily coast guards, can be sent instead to monitor the border.

Gentiloni made his remarks ahead of a parliament vote that was set to address the possible mission.

Libyan Prime Minister of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli Fayez Sarraj made the request for Italian naval help while in Rome on Wednesday. The visit came after Sarraj met his rival, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in France last week. They both agreed on a ceasefire and possible national elections in Libya.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano briefed the Lower House and Senate defense and foreign affairs committees that the potential mission to Libya would fall into Italy’s comprehensive approach to try to bring peace to the North African country.

“Libyan unity and stability coincide with Italy’s national interest, and the request of support was born in a climate of absolute and mutual trust,” he told lawmakers.

Alfano also pointed out Italy wants to avoid fragmentation in the diplomatic efforts of the international community to bring peace to Libya.

The minister stressed that Italy aims at tracing all of the recent unilateral initiatives on Libya back to a common factor, and focus all efforts on supporting the action of the new UN special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salameh.

He hoped the peace agreement driven by French President Emmanuel Macron would succeed, adding that it should be UN supported.

Speaking before the same committees, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said that the government’s proposed naval mission to support the Libyan coast guard’s efforts against human traffickers does not harm Tripoli’s sovereignty in any way, adding: “Our aim is to reinforce it”.

Pinotti stressed that the government’s proposed naval mission to support Libya stemmed from a July 23 letter from Sarraj requesting “naval and technical support”. She said Rome would provide this via “technical, logistical and operative support to Libyan naval units accompanying them with joint, coordinated activities.”

Sarraj Denies Approving Deployment of Italian Ships in Libyan Waters

Cairo- Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) backed by the United Nations, has denied that an agreement has been struck with Rome to deploy Italian vessels in Libyan waters to combat human trafficking.

Tripoli and Rome had agreed to “complete its (Italy’s) support program for (Libya’s) coastguard through training and armament to allow it to save migrants’ lives and to confront the criminal (trafficking) gangs”, the GNA said in a statement.

Sarraj “denies having asked Italy to send naval vessels into Libya’s territorial waters… or fighter planes into Libyan airspace,” it said.

“Such allegations… are without any foundation,” Sarraj was quoted as saying in the statement. “Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Thursday that a government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters would be presented to parliament in Rome next week.

The cabinet was “discussing the details” of a request from Tripoli for assistance, he said.

His statement came as the European Union has announced 46 million euros ($53 million) in funding to help boost Libya’s border and coast guards, as part of moves to stem the flow of migrants leaving the country’s shores heading for Europe.

The UN Security Council also welcomed this week’s meeting of the rival Libyan leaders and urged all Libyans to support a negotiated political solution, national reconciliation and an immediate ceasefire.

French President Emmanuel Marcron hosted a meeting Tuesday at which Sarraj and military leader Gen. Khalifa Haftar committed themselves to a ceasefire.

They also agreed to work toward presidential and parliamentary elections and to find a roadmap for securing their lawless country against terrorism and trafficking.

The Security Council underscored the importance of the UN’s central role in facilitating a Libyan-led political dialogue and welcomed new UN envoy Ghassan Salame.

It said in a statement that it looks forward “to supporting his efforts to facilitate a political solution in Libya.”

In their 10-point joint declaration, Sarraj and Haftar also agreed to work on unifying national institutions such as the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the central bank.

Salame on Friday lauded the efforts exerted by NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla.

Sanalla and tens of thousands of administrative staff, engineers and Libyan oil workers have worked to quadruple production in a couple of months despite all the challenges, Salame tweeted.

Mayor Elections in Italy Test Party Support ahead of Parliamentary Polls

Italy

Some 9 million Italians headed to polls on Sunday for municipal mayor elections that are seen as a test for party support ahead of parliamentary elections.

The parliamentary polls will be held by spring 2018 at the latest.

The voters are electing mayors in more than 1,000 towns and cities, with runoffs to be held on June 25 where no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first round.

The political climate ahead of the vote became even more febrile this week after a deal on electoral reform among the main parties broke down in parliament amid bitter recriminations.

The collapse of that accord seems to have reduced the chances of a snap election in the autumn, but the broad coalition backing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and analysts say an early vote still cannot be ruled out.

Although Sunday’s vote is set to be one of the last before the general election, local factors mean it may not provide a clear reflection of the parties’ national standings.

Moreover, in many of the contests, the main parties have taken a back seat and chosen to camouflage themselves in broad “civic list” coalitions rather than present their own individual candidates.

The largest city at stake is Palermo, where incumbent mayor Leoluca Orlando, a veteran anti-mafia campaigner backed by Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) and other center-left groups, is expected to see off his rivals from the center-right and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Observers are closely watching the port city of Genoa which has been governed for years by mayors from the center-left but is coveted by the anti-establishment 5-Star.

The city is the home town of comic Beppe Grillo, who co-founded the populist movement in 2009.

Anti-euro and anti-immigration, 5-Star emerged as a major political force in the 2013 election when it snapped up 25.5 percent of the vote, becoming the second biggest party behind PD.

It has since built on that level of support, scoring a major victory in last year’s municipal elections when it took control of Rome and Turin, in a major setback for the PD, which is headed by former Premier Matteo Renzi.

It also took control of a string of smaller municipalities.

But the movement has been beset by divisions, with this year’s top candidate for Genoa abruptly dismissed by Grillo for not toeing the party line, prompting a fierce bout of internal squabbling that could damage its prospects.

The center-right, dominated by the Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, is favorite in Verona in the northeast, while the center-left is expected to keep control of L’Aquila, capital of the central Abruzzo region.

5-Star is running neck-and-neck with the PD nationally, according to opinion polls, but it often struggles in local elections due to its loose organization and lack of high-profile candidates, and it is expected to score few successes on Sunday.

In the northern city of Parma, its first ever mayor, elected in 2012, is running as an independent after falling out with the party leadership last year, and is favorite to win against rivals from the center-right and center-left as well as 5-Star.

The current parliament’s mandate does not run out until early 2018, but Italy’s main four parties had been trying to reach a deal which would pave the way for general elections in the autumn.

But the talks collapsed in acrimony on Thursday, meaning the election is likely to take place as scheduled early next year.

Italy PM: We Are Seeking to Achieve Stability in Libya Despite Difficulties

Cairo- Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has stressed that his country is working for stability in Libya despite acknowledging the difficulty to achieve such an objective.

At a speech on Wednesday at the 50th anniversary celebration of the exodus of the Jews of Libya at the Great Synagogue of Rome, Gentiloni said: “The return of stability to a country like Libya is not easy.”

Libya “has suffered years of oppression and is now divided in confronting a difficult situation,” he said.

The country enjoys huge resources and not just oil, the Italian prime minister added.

Meanwhile, the transitional government that is loyal to the Libyan parliament has threatened to arrest the education minister in the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord if he carries out a visit to the eastern region.

The cabinet of Abdullah al-Thani, which considers itself the only legitimate government in the country, said that the undersecretary of the interior ministry Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Abbar has instructed officers at all crossings in the eastern region to prevent the entry of the education minister of Fayez al-Sarraj’s government.

Thani’s government also considered Sarraj’s cabinet unconstitutional.

The Libyan News Agency said that the instructions were made after the education minister announced plans to visit Libya’s eastern region.

The warning came as the Egyptian committee tasked with resolving the Libyan crisis said in a statement that all Libyan sides were responsible for preserving civil peace and stopping a deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation in the country

The committee, which is headed by Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy, added that all sides should abide by legitimacy pending a consensual solution.

Macron Urges More EU Integration on Migrant Crisis

Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron urged on Sunday the European Union to exert more efforts to tackle the migrant crisis, noting that it has disregarded Italy’s warning about the asylum seekers.

Macron reiterated ahead of a working dinner at the Elysee Palace with visiting Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni that he wishes to work quickly within the EU to strengthen rules to protect workers against social dumping and improve regulations on public procurement.

In a nod to Italy, which has received more than 45,000 people arriving by boat from North Africa so far this year alone, Macron said the EU also had to better share the burden of the high migration flows across the Mediterranean in recent years.

The EU has seen some 1.6 million refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and beyond reach its shores in 2014-2016. Most first arrived in flimsy boats in Greece but now head mainly to Italy. Many have died at sea.

“We did not quite hear the warnings that Italy sent us,” Macron said. “I want us to address a real reform of the right of asylum and of our current regulations to better protect those countries most subject to this migratory pressure.”

Gentiloni urged the EU to draw up a common migration policy, and also called for the euro zone monetary union to move toward a fiscal and banking union.

“It won’t be a quick process but the important thing is to be able to start and to go in the right direction,” he said.

Macron’s meeting with Gentiloni comes after one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday to draw up a roadmap for deeper EU integration.

He also met with European Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday in Paris.

The two-day G-7 summit is meanwhile scheduled for next weekend in Taormina, Italy. US President Donald Trump is expected to attend as part of his first foreign trip.

Trump Says No US Military Role in Libya

U.S. President Trump addresses joint news conference at the White House in Washington

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he does not believe the American military should have a direct role in helping stabilize war-ravaged Libya, where violence and political instability has reigned since the overthrow of the country’s dictator.

“I do not see a (US) role in Libya,” Trump said during a joint news conference Thursday, moments after Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called the US role in the country “critical.”

Trump’s comments came during a White House news conference with Gentiloni, who implored the United States to step up its “critical” involvement in Libya, a former Italian colony.

“We need a stable and unified Libya,” Gentiloni, who has been in office since November, said, discussing a conflict that has sent thousands of asylum seekers across the Mediterranean to Italy and other European countries. “A divided country, and in conflict, would make civility worse.”

In his scripted opening remarks, Trump hailed Italy’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya. He thanked Italy’s leaders “for your leadership on seeking stabilization in Libya, and for your crucial efforts to deny ISIS a foothold in the Mediterranean,” adding, “You fought hard.” Ansar al-Shariah, an affiliate of the ISIS extremist group, based in Syria and Iraq — has been operating in Libya since 2012.

But the president— who was not wearing an earpiece that would have allowed him to understand Gentiloni’s challenge, issued in Italian — quickly dismissed the notion that the US would get involved in Libya.

“I think the United States has, right now, enough roles. We’re in a role everywhere,” Trump said.
After a White House meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Trump stuck to his demand that European allies meet their financial obligations in their partnerships with the US, including NATO. He urged Italy to address the refugee crisis through a policy that “seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so they can help to rebuild their own nations.”

Gentiloni, who took office in December, stressed the need for burden-sharing in the refugee crisis, given Italy’s proximity to Libya, where large numbers of migrants take the risky voyage across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

Gentiloni noted Italy and America’s “common commitment against terrorism.” He said it requires social and economic collaboration with Muslim communities to be effective.

He said that despite budgetary limitations, Italy was committed to increasing its defense spending from 1 percent of gross domestic product to 2 percent — the threshold that Trump has called for all NATO members to adhere to.

Trump has complained that the United States contributes more to the military alliance than it receives.

“We are used to respecting our commitments,” Gentiloni said.

Thursday’s US-Italy meeting took place against a backdrop of high uncertainty in Europe, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the upcoming French presidential election — the first round of voting is Sunday.

“STRONG EUROPE”

Trump, who once celebrated Britain’s decision to leave the EU, insisted that he wants the bloc to remain strong.

“Yes, a strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the united states,” Trump told reporters at the news conference with Gentiloni.

“And it is also in my opinion — in my very strong opinion — important for the United States. We want to see it. We will help it be strong.”

Trump’s past comments predicting that other countries “will leave” the EU after Britain voted to do so last year irked European leaders.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even responded with a joke he was ready to encourage US independence movements if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support.

But more recently, Trump has endorsed the European bloc, which describes itself as a bastion against the nationalistic rivalries that so often tore it apart in wars in past centuries.

EU Renews Vows on 60th Anniversary by Committing to ‘Common Future’

EU

European Union leaders celebrated the bloc’s 60th anniversary at a special summit in Rome on Saturday during which they renewed their vows with a commitment to a common future without Britain.

Meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May, the other 27 member countries signed a declaration of unity on the Capitoline Hill where six founding states signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

But days of wrangling about the wording of a 1,000-word Rome Declaration, May’s impending Brexit confirmation and tens of thousands of protesters gathering beyond the tight police cordon around the Renaissance-era Palazzo dei Conservatori offered a more sober reminder of the challenges of holding the 27 nations to a common course.

With the EU facing crises including migration, a moribund economy, terrorism and populism, as well as Brexit, EU President Donald Tusk called for leadership to shore up the bloc.

“Prove today that you are the leaders of Europe, that you can care for this great legacy we inherited from the heroes of European integration 60 years ago,” Tusk said in a speech.

The Rome Declaration that the leaders signed proclaims that “Europe is our common future”, and sets out the path for the next decade in a rapidly changing world.

“It is it a bit of a tighter squeeze in the room today” than when the original six states signed up, joked Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni after welcoming the leaders to the palazzo for a ceremony long on pomp and short on real politics.

“We have had 60 years of peace in Europe and we owe it to the courage of the founding fathers,” Gentiloni said, acknowledging that a string of crises had combined to bring the process of European integration to a standstill.

“When the iron curtain fell in 1989 we thought their dream had been realized but (recent crises) have shown us that history is anything but finished. We have to start again and we have the strength to do that. We have stopped in our tracks and this has caused a crisis of rejection by public opinion,” he said, noting Britons’ repudiation of the EU.

Others, however, are wary of such enthusiasm for giving up more national sovereignty — and also of others in the Union moving faster with integration. Poland’s nationalist government has led protests against a “multispeed Europe”, which it fears would consign the poor ex-communist east to second-class status.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker also insisted the EU could ride out recent storms.

“Daunting as they are, the challenges we face today are in no way comparable to those faced by the founding fathers,” he said, recalling how the new Europe was built from the ashes of World War II and voicing confidence that the EU would still be around to celebrate its 100th birthday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that leaders wanted to respond to people’s concerns, about the economy, immigration and military threats with “a protective Europe”.

The aim of the summit was to channel the spirit of the Treaty of Rome that Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and West Germany signed six decades ago to create the European Economic Community (EEC).

The treaty was signed in the Horatii and Curiatii hall of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the Renaissance palaces that line the Michelangelo-designed Capitoline Square, and the political and religious heart of the Roman Empire in ancient times.

Police in the Eternal City were on alert not only for lone wolf attackers in the wake of the British parliament attack on Wednesday, but also violent anti-Europe demonstrators.

Around 30,000 protesters are expected to take part in four separate marches — both pro- and anti-Europe — throughout the day.

For Ernesto Rapani, an official of Italy’s right-wing euroskeptic Fratelli d’Italia party attending a demonstration in Rome, the bloc’s trade and financial rules are skewed in favor of Germany and have to change: “At the moment the union is convenient for Germany and not Italy,” he said.

British, French and Spanish Ambassadors Considering Reopening their Embassies in Tripoli

Tripoli – The French, British and Spanish ambassadors flew into Libya’s capital on Thursday for the first time since summer 2014 to support the unity government’s struggle to end years of chaos exploited by terrorists.

This move follows Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s visit to Libya on Tuesday, thus putting an end to the political isolation imposed by the international community on Tripoli’s authorities since “Fajr Libya” (Libyan Dawn) forces announced their seizure on Tripoli.

Italy’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that embassies would be reopened in the capital in “the near future”. It is the diplomats’ first return in about two years, since all envoys fled the country in 2014, amidst a chaotic civil war.

Most of the foreign embassies closed for security reasons as Tripoli descended into heavy clashes between rival militias.

The three European diplomats, the French ambassador Antoine Sivan, British envoy Peter Millet and Spain’s Jose Antonio Bordallo, were to meet with deputies of the Prime Minister-designate, Fayez al-Sarraj, who acts also as the Government of National Accord, at a heavily guarded naval base in Tripoli, which is acting as the temporary headquarters for the putative government.

The British envoy David Millett and his French counterpart Antoine Sivan were accompanied by their defense attachés.

Later on, the ambassadors held a meeting with members of the Presidency Council of the new Government of National Accord, headed by the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister of the GNA, Ahmad Meitig, since Fayez al-Sarraj is currently present in Istanbul to participate in the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Britain’s Millet said that their visit sent “an important message to the Libyan people that we’re supporting the unity government”. “Our goal is to achieve security and stability in Libya, and we look forward to returning to Tripoli to open the British embassy again,” he said, speaking in Arabic.

For his part, the French ambassador Sivan said, “We are all ready to deliver the necessary support to the unity government based on its request,” but added that they “will not interfere in the government’s internal work. “We are very close to normality. We are very close to peace, and Libyan people deserve better,” said Bordallo.

World powers see the unity government as vital to tackling raging terrorists’ insurgency and rampant people smuggling in the North African state. The French government said the visits were a show of solidarity with GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj and that Paris “stands alongside the national unity government in Tripoli”.

“The unity government must exercise its authority over all Libya’s administrations and financial institutions,” said French Foreign Ministry in a statement issued; adding it could count on French support “in the struggle against the terrorist threat”.