By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – France plans to hold an international meeting in Paris with Libyan political leaders to push for an agreement on holding U.N.-backed elections this year, according to three diplomats aware of the initiative.
U.N. Special Representative Ghassan Salame has been leading the latest push to unify and stabilise Libya, seven years after the uprising that toppled and then killed Muammar Gaddafi.
Salame told the U.N. Security Council on May 21 that he had given up trying to amend a stalled 2015 peace deal and was instead focusing on holding elections this year.
Under Emmanuel Macron, France has tried to play a bigger role in coaxing Libya’s factions to end the turmoil, which has let Islamist militants gain a foothold and allowed migrant smugglers to flourish.
According to a diplomatic cable sent to several countries, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Italy, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya’s neighbours, Macron would convene the meeting “very soon” in the French capital.
“Our objective is to get an agreement between Libyan parties under the auspices of the U.N. special representative to quickly adopt the necessary arrangements for the staging of elections as soon as 2018,” the cable reads.
It added that the agreement was put together with Salame and after consultation with the Libyan parties. Prime Minster Fayez al-Sarraj, eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar, Aguila Saleh, president of the eastern House of Representatives and Khaled Al-Mishri, president of the High Council of State, have all been invited.
Two diplomats said the meeting might take place as early as May 29. Neither Macron’s office nor the foreign ministry responded to requests for comment.
Past attempts at peace deals in Libya have often been scuttled by internal divisions among the country’s competing armed groups and by the different countries backing the local actors.
“If everyone agrees then we really have made a big step forward, but whether they do remains to be seen,” said one European diplomat. “The idea is to put pressure on these four by going on the basis that if everyone is asking them to do it they won’t have a choice.”
The meeting comes almost a year after Serraj and Haftar committed to a conditional ceasefire and to working towards election in talks already chaired by Macron. Macron was criticised at the time for consulting neither the U.N. nor the partners.
“The July 2017 summit … drew lots of attention at the time, generated headlines but it accomplished almost nothing at all,” said Jalel Harchaoui, associate and Libya expert at North Africa Risk Consulting.
“France seems to have become slightly more pragmatic on Libya. Yet, the new summit seems once again long on ambition and flamboyance, but short on actual realism on how to achieve the various objectives announced. The Macron presidency seems very much in a hurry.”
(Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier, editing by Larry King)