High-level European trip to Libya in doubt as Iran crisis forces emergency diplomacy

Foreign ministers had been due to visit Tripoli seeking an end to hostilities

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Tebboune (R) meets with Libya's UN-recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj upon his arrival in Algiers on January 6, 2020 for talks on the Libyan crisis. The head of Libya's UN-recognised government and Turkey's foreign minister were scheduled to visit Algeria amid mounting regional tensions over Libya. Since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed longstanding dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has been plunged into chaos. It is now divided between the GNA and rival authorities based in the country's east, each with regional backers. - 
 / AFP / -
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Libya’s Government of National Accord has announced that the visit of a high-level European delegation to Tripoli on Tuesday has been postponed as a result of “the circumstances in which the capital is undergoing”.

The development came as European officials reacted to Iran’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal following the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Tehran’s IRGC Quds Force. Leading foreign ministers and Brussels officials have hastily re-arranged diaries to accommodate emergency meetings.

The European Union’s newly-appointed chief diplomat Josep Borrell had been due to make the trip alongside the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany and Italy. He said the UN-led Libya peace process needed support.

“Today it is more urgent than ever to work genuinely towards a political solution to the crisis in Libya,” he said on Monday. “The European Union calls on all sides to engage in a political process under the leadership of the United Nations. The European Union will continue to deploy all efforts towards finding a peaceful and political solution to this process.”

Sources close to the diplomatic exchanges said there were still plans for the visit to go ahead but security concerns and the Iran crisis forced a postponement. Germany hopes to hold a conference on Libya next week that would reinvigorate the UN-led mediation between Libya’s warring factions.

Tuesday’s delegation was expected to meet with GNA premier Fayez Serraj to discuss preparations for the summit in Berlin dedicated to Libya. Libya’s foreign ministry said they also planned to talk about the assault by forces aligned with Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, whose stronghold is in eastern Libya.

Ghassan Salame, the UN envoy last week told Le Monde newspaper, that the UN's credibility was being tested by the deteriorating situation in Libya.  "I am disappointed, disappointed, hurt that after nine months of fighting in Tripoli, we still do not have a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire," he said. "All of this causes outside interference to multiply and get worse."

A statement by Mr Borrell on Monday said the EU remained supportive of the UN-led process to find a peaceful settlement in Libya but that time was running out.

“Recent developments in Libya indicate that an escalation of violence around Tripoli could be imminent,” he said.

The foreign affairs chief expressed concern over an attack on a military academy in Tripoli that killed dozens of military cadets in Tripoli at the week.

It follows a call between Mr Borrell and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over the weekend where Libya was on the agenda. Mr Borrell underlined that “the UN at its core remains the cornerstone of the EU’s foreign policy”.

More than 280 civilians and more than 2,000 fighters have been killed in fighting that erupted following the launch of Field Marshal Haftar's assault on Tripoli last year, according to the United Nations. The fighting has displaced some 146,000 people.

Mr Serraj, the head of the GNA’s Presidency Council, arrived in Algeria on Monday for talks with the Algerian leadership, which has warned against foreign interference in Libya’s affairs.

Germany’s Angela Merkel will travel to Russia later this week to discuss Libya with President Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will host talks in Cairo with France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus that will look at, among other things, Turkish encroachment in the eastern Mediterranean.