US State Department contradicts White House messaging on Libya

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Competing messages have come from the US State Department and President Donald Trump over the Egypt Initiative, Cairo’s new peace proposal for Libya. Meanwhile, the State Department Saturday called on all sides to open oil facilities across Libya.

The Egyptian Presidency said in a statement on Wednesday that US President Donald Trump welcomed Egypt’s proposal for Libya ceasefire in a call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reported.

However, while Egypt says that Trump supported its new peace initiative, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the resumption of talks led by the UN between warring factions.

The State Department doubled down on this stance late Saturday, telling Al Arabiya that Washington was appreciative of Egypt's efforts but that the Berlin talks and UN-led process was the solution.

Read more: Pompeo discusses regional stability, Libya ceasefire with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince

David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said he supported the UN-led process, though he voiced appreciation to Egypt, saying it was “productive to have more unity in Libya.”

“We think that the UN-led process and the Berlin process are really the framework – the most productive framework – to engage in negotiations to make progress on a ceasefire,” he told reporters.

Germany, which has stood by UN-backed talks as being the key to peace, in January brought together key stakeholders in Berlin in a conference aimed at ending the bloodshed and stabilizing Libya, a major gateway for migrants to Europe.

Sisi announced Cairo’s plan for a ceasefire in Libya, beginning June 8, after meeting with Libyan National Army (LNA) Gen. Khalifa Haftar on June 6.

Sisi said that the political initiative, which he called the “Cairo initiative” would pave the way for a return to normal life in Libya and warned against using military tactics to resolve the crisis.

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE have welcomed the peace initiative.

The UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey, which supports the GNA and has sent troops to fight in Libya, have voiced skepticism about the Egyptian initiative, Reuters reported.

Schenker called on both sides to “protect civilians and prevent further damage to infrastructure,” including schools, water supplies and oil facilities.

Reviving the energy sector is crucial to Libyan stability, the State Department said in its comments to Al Arabiya.

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“We continue to call for de-escalation, a ceasefire, a return to political negotiation,” he said.
“Now is a time for Libyans on all sides to act so neither Russia, nor any other country, can interfere in Libya.”

Russian mercenaries have assisted Haftar, according to a UN report, who is also backed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have close relations with Trump.

On Saturday, the State Department lambasted Russian involvement in Libya as "not helping" reach a solution.

The US recognizes only the UN-backed government, but Trump caused confusion last year by praising Haftar after a telephone conversation with him.

The Cairo Declaration

The new initiative is backed by Haftar and Libya’s parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh and proposes and intra-Libyan resolution to solve the country’s conflict, a presidential council election that will be held with UN support, and a constitutional declaration to be drafted to regulate later elections.

The deal also calls for militias to disband and hand their weapons to the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), which the plan says will be Libya’s only security force. Additionally, the deal would call for the expulsion of foreign mercenaries that assist the GNA, referring to Turkish fighters, but does not seem to call for Sudanese fighters on Haftar’s side to leave the country, US-based research institute the Atlantic Council reported.

-With AFP and Reuters

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