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The Berlin Conference on Libya is the first post-war political battle

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres pose for a photo within the Berlin Conference on Libyan peace in Berlin, Germany on January 19, 2020 [Murat Kula /Anadolu Agency]

Ever since it was announced, the Berlin Conference for solving the Libyan crisis has seemed to have a vague agenda. As soon as Turkey joined it on 4 April last year, the aim seemed to contradict international and regional positions; many believed that the German initiative to contain the crisis had failed even before it could begin.

With Ankara involved, Turkish political and military pressure caught everyone’s attention, so the Berlin Conference was revived. German diplomacy became active once again, and the conference was announced as a matter of urgency and scheduled for last October. It was then postponed amid speculations that it would convene in December, then January and then February; and then fighting broke out again, so talking about a conference for a political settlement is somewhat passé.

The impact of the Turkish pressure was very clear in terms of the invitees, who in the first round were represented by all of the countries that support General Khalifa Haftar, or remain negatively neutral. The argument for keeping countries like Qatar, Tunisia and Algeria out was that addressing the conflict is done through communicating with those involved in it. The German authorities changed the list though and included Algeria, which announced that the Libyan capital Tripoli is a red line.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pessimistic and anticipated that she did not expect important results from the conference. Her focus was turned to the issue of foreign interventions and the importance of stopping external military support. Although I understand Merkel’s fears that the conflict could expand into a regional or international war, it is a fact that international parties, including those in Europe, have turned a blind eye to the significant French, Russian, UAE and Egyptian support given to Haftar for years.

READ: The Berlin conference benefited everyone except the Libyans

European capitals, which have been unable to provide even the minimum opposition to the aggression against Tripoli, also feel that Turkish policy in Libya has jumped from all that is traditional; bypassed European confusion; and put Moscow and Ankara in an advanced position after the ceasefire initiative. Despite Haftar’s refusal to sign up to it, this still stands and was an important step in bringing life to the Berlin Conference.

It will be natural for Europeans at the conference to focus on confirming their position over Libya. However, this would be impossible if the situation remains with European capitals having no agreement and Brussels being unable to present any options from Paris and Rome. There is also UAE influence to consider.

The principled understanding between Russia and Turkey has achieved in a few days what the Europeans were unable to achieve in nine months. If they participate in the conference with one agenda, or two similar agendas, they can block the plans of France and the regional parties supporting Haftar.

Common interests between Russia and Turkey can enhance their compatibility at the expense of European acquisition attempts. In return, it is not easy to know with certainty Moscow’s intentions and how Turkey estimates what its interests in Libya are alongside its ties with Russia.

What is evident is that linking Libya to Turkey’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean gas field will make Ankara’s position rigid towards the plans for a decision about Libya decision by the weakening of the reconciliation government in Tripoli and the strengthening of Haftar. Thus, the only way to stop Turkish support for the government is to separate the two files, with an Eastern Mediterranean Agreement over the vast gas reserves.

Accordingly, conference hostility or reservations over Turkey’s policy and its security and military agreement with the reconciliation government may appear, as might something that embarrasses the latter or threatens its legitimacy. However, the minimum level of the Russia-Turkey agreement is enough to undermine all endeavours.

READ: EU outlines need for Libya-owned political process at Berlin Conference

Translated from Arabi21, 18 January 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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