Italian officials today played down suggestions that US President Donald Trump had snubbed efforts by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to get Washington more involved in bringing political stability to Libya.
Gentiloni met Trump at the White House yesterday to seek support to help deal with the North African state that fragmented and descended into chaos after the downfall of long term leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
“The US role in this is very critical,” Gentiloni told a news conference standing alongside Trump. The US president immediately responded:
I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles.
Italian commentators said Trump appeared to have brushed aside Gentiloni’s request for help. “Libya divides Trump and Gentiloni,” the pro-government la Repubblica newspaper said in a headline. “The alliance in difficulty,” it said.
However, reporters following the news conference said Trump had not been listening to the simultaneous translation when Gentiloni had made his remark and an official close to the Italian prime minister said the meeting had gone well.
“There was no snub at all,” said an official close to Gentiloni, adding that two-thirds of the leaders’ talks yesterday had centred on Libya.
As proof of the US involvement in Libya, Italian officials said Washington had invited Fayez Al-Sarraj, who heads a UN-backed government in Tripoli, and Khalifa Haftar, a prominent commander in eastern Libya, for talks in the US capital later this year.
There was no immediate confirmation from Washington.
“Now is the moment for the US and Italy to work together to stabilise the situation and broaden the support for the Tripoli government to other actors,” Gentiloni said yesterday before his meeting with Trump.
“The division of Libya is not a good idea. It would be dangerous for Egypt, dangerous for Tunisia and for the interests of Europe,” he told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
He added that NATO countries including the United States had a special responsibility to Libya, saying their 2011 military intervention had got rid of Gaddafi but had ushered in mayhem.
“It was evidently an intervention that lacked a vision or perspective for the future,” Gentiloni said.