World Powers Seek Libya Unity Accord to Block Islamic State

  • Kerry co-chairs Rome conference as rival parliaments take part
  • Libya expert says chaos makes country ``a living hell''

An array of world powers piled diplomatic pressure on Libya’s sparring factions on Sunday, pushing for the formation of a government of national unity in a bid to block the advance of Islamic State and drag the North African country out of years of deepening turmoil.

Foreign ministers and senior officials from the five permanent United Nations Security Council members, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as European and regional players struggled to forge a road-map for a way out of the civil war triggered by the fall and slaying of ex-leader Muammar Qaddafi four years ago.

At the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome, ministers and senior officials from 17 countries sought to reconcile representatives of the two rival parliaments -- the General National Congress, based in Tripoli, and the internationally-recognized House of Representatives based in Tobruk in eastern Libya -- among other factions. The two chambers each claim to be the nation’s legitimate authority.

Among those who traveled to Rome were Gennady Gatilov, Russian deputy foreign minister, Martin Kobler, UN envoy on Libya, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Ministers and officials from regional players including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also attended along with a representative from China.

‘Unanimous consensus’

Harlem Desir, French State Secretary for European Affairs, told reporters during a break in the talks that a government of national unity “is an absolute priority” for regional stability and global security, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Desir predicted the gathering would result in a “unanimous consensus” on a UN-brokered plan between representatives of the rival parliaments.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said before the conference that it was modeled on gatherings in Vienna aimed at ending the fighting in Syria, in a bid to “demonstrate that diplomacy is faster than terrorism.”

A senior U.S. State Department official, who could not be identified for internal policy reasons, said on Saturday that the UN-brokered agreement, due to be signed in Morocco on Wednesday, provided for a unity government to be formed within 40 days of the signing ceremony. The official said the U.S. expected the new Libyan government to ask for help in fighting back against Islamic State.

“Living hell”

Even if Wednesday’s signing goes ahead, stability and security will be a long way away, according to Alison Pargeter, North Africa analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, who called Libya “a living hell” and “a state-less state.”

“Libya still has no democratic or political culture, so hoping that a solution can come out of its supposed institutions is optimistic,” Pargeter told an earlier Rome conference on Mediterranean crises on Friday. “The most important tribes are still completely on the sidelines of the peace process and refusing to become involved. They need to become engaged and made to feel they have a role to play.

”Even if the UN-brokered deal is signed, some of the parties on the ground will try to sabotage it,” Pargeter said. “It seems that the international community is so desperate to get this deal signed, it is not thinking how it will be enforced from a security aspect.”

Italy has offered to lead a foreign coalition, under UN auspices, to help stabilize the strife-torn country which lies a few hundred kilometers across the Mediterranean sea, once a government of national unity is formed. A UN-brokered peace attempt collapsed in October.

The political uncertainty is delaying a revival in oil output, which has tumbled. Abdourhman Ataher Al-Ahirish, Libyan vice prime minister for corporations and responsible for the energy sector, said Dec. 4 that total Libyan oil production is about 450,000 barrels a day. He’s part of the government in Tobruk, not the Tripoli-based government. The Bloomberg estimate for November was about 375,000 barrels a day.

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