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Libyan peace deal undermined by West

One of the most significant attempts to broker a peace deal to end the war in Libya failed in mid-April, undermined by western leaders who assured Libyan rebels of a military victory over Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The African Union (AU) sent a peace delegation to Libya’s capital Tripoli on 10 April. Led by South African president Jacob Zuma, the delegation met with Gaddafi, who, according to the AU, agreed on a roadmap for the resolution of the Libyan crisis.

The roadmap has five elements: a ceasefire; the suspension of NATO air strikes; the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid; protection of foreign nationals; and a dialogue between the government and rebels on a political settlement.

The AU delegation then travelled to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, held by the rebels, on 11 April, to discuss the roadmap with the rebel leadership, the transitional national council (TNC). While the AU delegation was in Benghazi, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton reiterated the US view: “there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Gaddafi from power and from Libya.”

Also on 11 April, British foreign secretary William Hague re-stated British policy publicly: “It is our position and that of our allies that colonel Gaddafi must go”. Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, visiting London on 11 April, said: “There is no room for Gaddafi and his sons to aspire to rule the new Libya. That’s why Italy - the first country to establish an office in Benghazi – has recognised the transitional national council as the only legitimate interlocutor to represent the country.”

Bolstered by such strong statements from the NATO states, the TNC announced the rejection of the AU roadmap. “The African Union initiative does not include the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene; therefore it is outdated,” said spokesperson Mustafa Abdel Jalil . However, according to the Libyan foreign minister, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi (speaking several days later, on 20 April), the AU roadmap could see UN-supervised elections in the country within six months – apparently providing a nonviolent method for replacing Gaddafi’s rule, if the roadmap could be made to work, and if Gaddafi could be trusted to keep his word. (Gaddafi has, at the time of writing, broken two of his own ceasefires.)

Al-Obeidi explained the regime’s view of the obstacles to securing the AU deal: “What’s stopping it? Britain, France and to a certain extent the US are stopping it by continuing bombardment, arming the other side and making them more defiant.”

Days after Gaddafi agreed to a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis, Britain, France and the US to some extent confirmed this analysis, on 14 April, by releasing a joint letter designed to “make the rebels more defiant”.

In their letter, US president Barack Obama, British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy stated: “it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power”.

Despite the fact that the original UN resolution set out a remit for the coalition forces to police a no-fly zone and to protect civilians, the joint letter clearly indicated that the focus of the coalition’s efforts was to enforce a change of regime.

Speaking to Peace News, a British foreign office spokeperson responded to the AU roadmap by saying only: “We have made clear it is not for us to choose Libya’s leaders. But the world agrees that Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy to rule.” Britain will not choose Libya’s leaders, but it will choose who cannot be chosen.

Opposing diplomacy

Since the crisis broke in mid-March, Venezuela, Greece and Turkey have all offered at some point to act as mediators in peace talks. All these efforts have met with either covert or open western hostility.

At the beginning of March, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was the first international figure to suggest that he would be able to strike a deal with Gaddafi, leading him to possibly relinquish power. As a long-time ally of Gaddafi, his offer seemed to have some substance and it was reported that Chavez even travelled to Tripoli to hold talks with the Libyan leader.

State department spokesperson PJ Crowley dismissed Venezuela’s proposals: “You don’t need an international commission to tell Colonel Gaddafi what he needs to do for the good of his country and the good of his people.”

A month later, Greek prime minister George Papandreou publicly announced that his government would negotiate with Libyan officials to broker a peace deal. Libyan deputy foreign minister Abdelati al-Obeidi flew to Athens to tell Papandreou, from Gaddafi, that Libya wanted the fighting to end. “It seems that the Libyan authorities are seeking a solution,” Greek foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas told reporters.

In a similar feeler, Curt Weldon, a former Republican congressperson from Pennsylvania with good contacts in Libya, was invited to Tripoli by the regime in early April for a diplomatic mission. He told CNN that after meeting Libyan chief of staff Bashir Salah, Libyan prime minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, and one of Gaddafi’s sons: “the general thrust is obviously that they want peace and they want to find a way out of this.”

At around the same time, Turkey, which is leading the humanitarian aid effort in both parts of Libya, held discussions with both Libyan officials and rebel forces. In early April, Turkey expended considerable diplomatic capital on its own roadmap for peace, a precursor to the African Union roadmap.

Both the Greek and Turkish plans were met with total silence in western capitals.

Rock, hard place

According to sources in Tripoli contacted by CNN, Gaddafi was ready (in mid-April) to relinquish power once peace is restored, but refused to contemplate exile. His determination to stay in Libya will have been strengthened by another element in the Obama/Sarkozy/Cameron piece: “The International Criminal Court (ICC) is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law.” In other words, Gaddafi must leave Libya, and face prosecution for war crimes.

As a European diplomat told CNN: “That’s not much of an incentive for Gaddafi to do a deal. He might as well stay and fight.” As Patrick Cockburn has commented in the Independent, it is absurd to demand Gaddafi’s departure as a precondition of a ceasefire that “only he can deliver”: “His departure ought to be the objective of negotiations after a ceasefire, which, to have any credibility, would have to be policed by non-NATO troops.”

In summary, western leaders have done nothing to improve the chances of a negotiated solution to the Libya civil war, where Gaddafi plainly commands the allegiance of a substantial part of the population, and they have done much to undermine any diplomatic possibilities, despite peace feelers from the regime.

As well as their verbal and written statements, the US and UK have also intensified their material efforts to ensure the rebels’ victory. Apart from the continuing airstrikes, Britain, France and Italy are sending military advisers to train the rebel forces, and the US has deployed armed drones and sanctioned $25m in aid to the rebels.

Mark Bowery is a PN reporter. Milan Rai is a PN co-editor.

Topics: War and peace | Libya