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Mideast guru on Moscow-brokered Libya talks: dialogue ‘complicated’ but not a failure

The expert noted that the parties to the Libyan conflict are already preparing for a settlement conference

MOSCOW, January 14. /TASS/. The negotiations between parties to the Libyan conflict that took place in Moscow on Monday have not failed even though a ceasefire agreement was not signed because representatives still arrived in Moscow and shuttle diplomacy was employed in debating various issues on the agenda, Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vitaly Naumkin told the Valdai International Discussion Club on Tuesday.

"I don’t believe that it is a collapse. It is a complicated peace process," he said commenting on the results of these talks. "When people have been killing each other for a couple of years, there should not be expectations that they will come, put their signatures and everything will be resolved - it never happens. Look how long the conflict in Syria has been dragging on."

Pointing out positives to take from it, Naumkin noted that leaders of the key warring parties - Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar - travelled to Moscow. The expert urged not to assign blame to any of them for not having the agreement signed.

"Everything started after Sarraj said that he would never sit around the same table with Haftar. It is humiliating for Haftar - he is a field marshal who was triumphantly marching on Tripoli. From Sarraj’s point of view, Haftar is an illegitimate figure, while Sarraj himself heads an internationally recognized government. However, Haftar also cannot throw his trump cards - military successes - away," he listed points that needed to be factored in by the sides.

The expert pointed out that the parties to the Libyan conflict are already preparing for a settlement conference which is expected to take place in Berlin on January 19 and intend to reach it with positions as strong as possible. "Germany, the host of the conference, is acting as an impartial broker, the EU leader, while France and Italy cannot agree with each other since their sympathies lie with different opposing parties, they invested significant funds to support them," he added. "Meanwhile, Germany allied with Russia, Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Moscow." Therefore, Naumkin believes that Russia used the Libyan conflict to boost relations with Germany. "Germany needs us not just because of natural gas but also because of political and regional issues," he explained.

The expert stressed that indirect talks - shuttle diplomacy when parties do not engage in direct meetings with each other as it happened on Monday - is a normal thing to do in such complicated situations. "Sarraj said that he would not talk with Haftar about anything, while he said he would talk with Russians and Turks. Moreover, we do not know what they were talking about because it is confidential information," he said, recalling that this method was particularly used at inter-Syrian talks in Geneva

Talks in Moscow

On January 12, a ceasefire in Libya proposed by the Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a larger initiative to achieve peace in the country entered into force at midnight. The ceasefire’s objective is to stop hostilities between the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) sitting in Tripoli. On Monday, representatives of the parties to the conflict arrived in Moscow for talks after which GNA envoys signed the ceasefire agreement.

Haftar took a pause to study the agreement. However, later he left Moscow without putting his signature under the document. In the early hours of January 14, armed clashes re-erupted in south Tripoli - the target of a decisive offensive declared by Haftar in December. The LNA issued a statement declaring "readiness and determination to achieve victory."

Libyan crisis

Currently Libya has two parallel bodies of executive power: the internationally recognized GNA and Abdullah al-Thani’s interim government, operating in the country’s east together with parliament and supported by Haftar’s LNA. After a prolonged standoff that has engulfed the area near Tripoli since April 4, Haftar on December 12 declared the beginning of a decisive push towards the capital. The GNA has repeatedly underlined that only withdrawal of LNA forces to positions they occupied before the April offensive on Tripoli was launched can preserve the ceasefire.