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Oil politics: Saudi and Iran take opposite position on OPEC oil output targets

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Saudi and Iran, even while fighting each other in order for dominating the West Asia region, seem to have decided to take their fight forward regarding effecting changes in oil output targets.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is one of the forums where both could coordinate their action to stabilize West Asia. But unfortunately they continue to orchestrate their enmity even there. Tensions between the Sunni-led kingdom and the Shi’a Islamic Republic have been the highlights of several previous OPEC meetings, including in December 2015 when the group failed to agree on a formal output target for the first time in years. This time around, strains were less acute, however, as new Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih showed Riyadh wanted to be more conciliatory and his Iranian peer Bijan Zanganeh kept his criticism of Riyadh to an unusual minimum.

OPEC is pumping 32.5 million barrels per day (bpd), which would give Iran a quota of 4.7 million bpd – well above its current output of 3.8 million, according to Tehran’s estimates, and 3.5 million, based on market estimates.

OPEC set for another showdown between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran when it met on June 02 in Vienna with Riyadh trying to revive coordinated action and set formal oil output target but Tehran rejecting the idea. The Gulf Cooperation Council sought coordinated action at the meeting, a senior OPEC source said, referring to a group combining OPEC’s biggest producer Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In a rare compromise, OPEC also decided unanimously to appoint Nigeria’s

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies had tried to propose OPEC set a new collective ceiling in an attempt to repair the group’s waning importance. But Thursday’s meeting ended with no new policy or ceiling amid resistance from Iran.

Since Saudi is eager to maintain the conflict with Iran for some obscure reasons, any agreement between Riyadh and Tehran would be seen as a big surprise by the market, which in the past two years has grown increasingly used to clashes between the political foes as they fight proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia effectively scuppered plans for a global production freeze – aimed at stabilizing oil markets – in April. It said then that it would join the deal, which would also have involved non-OPEC Russia, only if Iran agreed to freeze output.

Several OPEC sources said Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies would propose to set a new collective ceiling in an attempt to repair OPEC’s waning importance and end a market-share battle that has sapped prices and cut investment. New Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih was the first OPEC minister to arrive in Vienna this week, signaling he takes the organisation seriously despite fears among fellow members that Riyadh is no longer keen to have OPEC set output. “There could be shorter-term situations in which, in our view, OPEC might intervene and yet other situations — such as long-term growth of marginal barrels — in which case it should not,” Falih told Argus Media ahead of the meeting.

At its previous meeting in December 2015, OPEC failed to set any production policy including a formal output ceiling, effectively allowing its 13 members to pump at will in an already oversupplied market. As a result, prices crashed to $27 per barrel in January, their lowest in over a decade, but have since recovered to around $50 due to global supply outages. Those include declining output from U.S. shale producers badly hit by low prices but also forest fires in Canada, militant attacks on pipelines in OPEC member Nigeria and declining output in Venezuela, also a member of the group.

Until December 2015, OPEC had a ceiling of 30 million barrels per day (bpd) – in place since December 2011, although it effectively abandoned individual production quotas years ago. OPEC currently produces around 32.5 million bpd. Any ceiling below that number would represent an effective cut. “One of our main ideas (is) to have a country quota. But I don’t believe at this meeting we can reach agreement for this,” Zanganeh said, adding that Iran was producing 3.8 million bpd and would soon reach pre-sanctions levels of 4 million bpd.

Tehran has been the main stumbling block for the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to agree on output policy over the past year as the country boosted supplies despite calls from other members for a production freeze. Tehran argues it should be allowed to raise production to levels seen before the imposition of now-ended Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Tehran would not support any new collective output ceiling and wanted the debate to focus on the more radical idea of individual country production quotas. “An output ceiling has no benefit to us,” Zanganeh told reporters upon arriving in Vienna and before seeing any fellow OPEC ministers.

The market has grown increasingly used to OPEC clashes over the past two years as political foes Riyadh and Tehran fight proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia effectively scuppered plans for a global production freeze – aimed at stabilizing oil markets – in April in the Qatari capital of Doha. It said then that it would join the deal, which would also have involved non-OPEC Russia, only if Iran agreed to freeze output.

Tehran argues it should be allowed to raise production to levels seen before the imposition of now-ended Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. Zanganeh said Tehran would not support any new collective output ceiling and wanted the debate to focus on individual-country production quotas, effectively abandoned by OPEC years ago. “Without country quotas, OPEC cannot control anything,” Zanganeh told reporters. He insisted Tehran deserved a quota – based on historic output levels – of 14.5 percent of OPEC’s overall production.

Understandably, OPEC failed to agree a clear oil-output strategy as Iran insisted on steeply raising its own production, though Tehran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia promised not to flood the market and sought to mend fences within the organization.

Since OPEC failed to agree any policy, it would again convince the market that its main members could try to raise supplies further to gain market share despite low prices. UAE Oil Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said oil markets were still not close to rebalancing due to a severe glut and a further price correction was possible. The Venezuelan energy minister Eulogio Del Pino also warned that supply outages have propped up prices in recent months but a global oil glut might build up again when missing barrels return. “More than 3 million barrels are out of the market. When those circumstances are removed from the market, what’s going to happen?” he asked reporters in Vienna.

Despite the setback, Saudi Arabia moved to soothe market fears that failure to reach any deal would prompt OPEC’s largest producer, already pumping near record highs, to raise production further to punish rivals and gain additional market share. “We will be very gentle in our approach and make sure we don’t shock the market in any way,” Falih told reporters. “There is no reason to expect that Saudi Arabia is going to go on a flooding campaign,” Falih said when asked whether Saudi Arabia could accelerate production.

That OPEC could not agree on a benign deal is a sign that political differences are undermining the organization, said Gary Ross, founder of US-based PIRA consultancy. “It is bearish short-term for oil prices. But what is also important is that Saudis are not planning to flood the market,” Ross added.

Zanganeh made a few conciliatory remarks, saying he was happy with the meeting and received no signals from other producers that they planned to increase output. Sources say, after the Doha debacle, it actually restores market confidence that Saudi Arabia is committed to OPEC. This is a success compared to three days ago when people had been expecting Falih to walk out of the OPEC room.

The flow of drilling mud is seen in a container while an oilfield worker works on a drilling rig at an oil well operated by Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, in the oil rich Orinoco belt, near Cabrutica at the state of Anzoategui April 16, 2015.

At its previous meeting in December 2015, OPEC effectively allowed its 13 members to pump at will. As a result, prices crashed to $27 per barrel in January, their lowest in over a decade, but have since recovered to around $50 due to global supply outages. Last week, Brent prices were down 1.5 percent at $49 per barrel after the OPEC meeting but later rallied on data showing a weekly drawdown in U.S. crude stockpiles.

Traditional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, continue to fight to prove their supremacy in OPEC. Neither gives up an opportunity to hurt the other, whenever and wherever they can, and oil seems to be their favorite playground. With Saudi Arabia scuttling any chances of a production freeze in Doha in April, Iran has followed suit by thwarting attempts by Saudi Arabia to introduce a production ceiling on OPEC production in last week’s meeting held in Vienna.

Iran, which is close to its pre-sanction levels of production, had earlier agreed to discuss being part of any production freeze after it reached its desired output. However, Iran refused to adhere to any production ceiling, which led to OPEC abandoning the idea.

Iran has been a dark horse since the lifting of sanctions, increasing its market share quickly to the surprise of many investors. Iran has resorted to offering large discounts to its Asian customers, undercutting the Saudi and Iraqi prices to levels not seen since 2007-2008 in order to regain their market share. Iran shipped 2.3 million barrels per day in April 2016, the highest level since 2012. These figures are 15 percent higher than the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast. Iran has been successful in its strategy until now, but increasing its market share further might prove difficult.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is attempting to cement its market share in the wake of this increased production from Iran and Iraq. Though Saudi Arabia is attempting to transition away from being an oil-dependent economy, its transformation depends on the successful listing of Saudi Aramco. As part of its preparation for the listing, Aramco is gaining market share and improving its efficiency, according to its chief executive, Amin Nasser. “We are preserving our market share, which continues to increase year-on-year,” he said in the interview. “This year, as last year, it is increasing. Our market share is picking up,” he added, without giving figures, reports Reuters.

Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said that the Saudi’s looked set to increase production after speaking with executives and a member of the Saudi ruling family.

Iran is better equipped to cope with the long-term upheaval because it is less dependent on oil than Saudi Arabia, having raised more through general taxation than through oil duties last year.

The struggle for supremacy between the two West Asian nations doesn’t show any signs of abating, and there is no clear winner in this showdown. Though Saudi Arabia has large reserves, it is burning them at a fast rate. On the other hand, experts believe that the Iranian economy is better equipped to withstand lower oil prices because its economy is more diversified and has an educated and hardworking population. The fight between the two for supremacy in the Middle East region is unlikely to end anytime soon. Currently, supply outages to the tune of 3.5 million b/d are supporting the oil prices by creating a balance between demand and supply.

Once Nigeria, Libya, and Canada resume pumping at their normal levels, the effects of the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be felt. If both increase production, the world will be awash with oil, pulling prices back to the mid $30/barrel levels.

But then the new oil exporters could also play oil politics along with OPEC.

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The outcome of the Berlin Conference

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Twelve countries and organizations have participated in the Berlin Conference on Libya, which has just ended.

There have been all the countries and organizations that really count in Libya. Egypt, which obviously supports General Haftar for the security of its particularly sensitive eastern borders, as well as to avoid the progressive expansion eastwards – starting from Tunisia and Tripolitania – of the Muslim Brotherhood, that is the axis of al-Sarraj’s regime and the international point of reference, inter alia, of President Erdogan’s Turkey.

Algeria, which also fears the spreading of political instability originating from Libya that would strike it immediately. It does not absolutely want to be excluded from the Libyan pacification “process”, although it strongly opposes Turkey’s role in protecting al-Sarraj’s regime.

 Congo, which wants to avoid the jihadization – resulting from the expansion of the Libyan jihad – of the recent internal conflict originated  from the militias called CODECO, with the further violent Islamization of the Lendu ethnic group.

 Turkey, which wants above all to start to exploit the land and sea areas facing Tripolitania’s coast, through an agreement already signed with al- Sarraj’s government – an agreement which has both the economic and oil component and its corollary for the military “collaboration”, i.e. protection, of Tripolitania, indirectly aimed against Italy and, in some respects, against the EU itself.

 This is the reason why this Turkish choice is also good for Vladimir Putin.

Turkey’s move in Tripolitania is also targeted against Saudi Arabia and it has been harshly commented by Egypt, which does not want to have the Muslim Brotherhood in the way, not even in the distance. The latter is the political-military organization against which Al Sisi organized his coup.

  Moreover, Greece, which is slowly being involved again in the economic and strategic game in the Mediterranean and trades much oil and gas with Misrata, wants to oppose – even military- Turkey’s designs on the Mediterranean, possibly with Israel’s and Cyprus’ support.

 Obviously, the Lebanon and Jordan are fiercely opposed to the aims of Erdogan’s Turkey in Libya and certainly do not favour al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania.

The reason is the close relationship between the Tripoli government, Erdogan’s AKP Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.

It should be recalled that the Islamist radicalization of a young, very rich and westernized Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden began when he met, as a young enfant gâté, a university Professor from Ikhwan, the Brotherhood. 

 If the military leader of Tobruk and Benghazi, namely Khalifa Haftar – who is also the military leader of a government that won the elections, but had no international recognition – wins, Turkey will automatically lose access to the oil it is drilling in Tripolitania and on the Libyan coast.

 In Berlin there were also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It should be noted that on January 6, 2020 Ghassam Salamé, the UN special envoy and French-Lebanese Head of UNSMIL, stated that “the other nations” – meaning the countries outside the Security Council – “must not meddle in Libyan affairs”.

 The not-so-hidden reference was to the bombing of a cadet military academy by “a country friendly to Haftar’s forces”. The attack, however, was carried out with weapons coming from countries which have long been members of the UN Security Council.

 The UN primary countries want to marginalize the current, albeit minor, points of references for the forces in Libya, but the member countries of the UN Security Council have chosen different and opposing military groups to operate with their interests in Libya. However, at least formally, the whole UN organization supports al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania.

A geopolitical Rubik’s Cube.

What does Italy want from the Berlin Conference on Libya? First and foremost, the Italian government is “optimistic”, which is not so usual in  strategic and geopolitical thinking.

 “Everyone is to be involved” to take a “step towards peace and stability”. It seems the appeal of a motivational speech for vendors. We are a very strong team.

 Then, there comes a 1960s pacifist-style speech, i.e. “a military solution is not a solution”. But the military solution is already in place and hence the problem is no longer there.

Not to finally mention the fact that the government has almost completely forgotten ENI in Libya.

 Immediately negotiating with the new leaders of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, at the beginning of the feral 2011, with talks supported by an excellent former Director of Italy’s intelligence services, ENI has endured and tolerated everything.

Insulated, with very little staff and a dozen managers flying to and fro other areas, it has suffered – more than any other Italian national organization in Libya – the strange option of the current Italian government to find a sort of balance between the two great opposing military camps in Libya.

 It is easy to imagine how useful this is for the protection of Italian  interests, which are – or would be – fundamental.

Hateful to God and to His enemies – as in Inferno, Canto III of Dante’s Divine Comedy reference is made to those about whom we are currently talking, namely  the ignavi,i.e. the inefficient or indifferent people, as well as the opportunists.

 In 2018 ENI started again oil explorations in Libya, while it was clear that none of the Libyan factions had a real interest in achieving peace.

What are the prospects? The decrease -despite  everything – of ENI’s  Libyan extraction quota, which is currently worth about 15% of Italy’s national requirements, without even imagining where we will get what we  need later, if we lose it in Libya.

 The “free” market would certainly see Italy losing out.

In the framework of the Berlin Conference, however, the Italian government has confined itself to prescribing to put some flowers in our guns, with very pleasant additions  on the fact that since our soldiers are  “peace soldiers”, they will not go to protect themselves from possible attacks, operations or breaks of the possible ceasefire, but will possibly act as “municipal messengers” or as law enforcement officers to notify of military clashes to whom it may concern.

 This is stuff for a small-town Prosecutor’s Office, the mentality of young lawyers with little experience.

 They will bring the “Clean Hands Operation”- from which Italy’s tunted Second Republic originated – to Libya.

 The problem also lies in the fact that the real negotiation between al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar was already carried out by others, namely Turkey and Russia, on January 12 last.

It does not matter that much that the Chief of the Tobruk and Benghazi Forces, namely Haftar, withdrew from the final bilateral document on the permanent ceasefire, just a moment before its signing.

Those who will settle the matter anyway – and well before we may think – will only be Erdogan and Putin.

 The Turkish leader wants to maintain – in any case and in any way – his spot in Tripolitania, in a future of ever-increasing oil and migration conditioning vis-à-vis the unaware (and indolent) European Union. That is enough for him.

 A blackmail conditioning from the “Balkan corridor”, which President Erdogan has already experienced for a long time, and a current and future “maritime corridor” from Tripolitania, which will soon make its voice be heard strongly.

 It is also incredible that in Italy the migration issue, which is essential also from a strategic and security viewpoint, has been tackled so superficially by all political parties.

Al-Sarraj also asked to include Tunisia and Qatar in the list of participants in the Berlin Conference. His request went unheeded.

The reason why the request was not met is obvious. These two countries are Tripoli’s quasi-friends: Tunisia is interested in the security of its very important borders and oil pipelines from Libya to the Tunisian sea and to Italy, while Qatar is a distant but generous supporter of Muslim Brotherhood’s Tripolitania.

 The conclusions that can be drawn are in line with the tradition of previous peace conferences on Libya – that is, irrelevant.

 All the major demands were, in fact, accepted in the final document, thus making it unusable for some operations on the ground in Libya.

 Or for an effective political solution. A strategic falling between two stools.

Probably that was its ultimate goal.

 However, it begins to emerge the establishment – which we imagine to be very complex and cumbersome – of a 5+5 Committee between al-Sarraj’s government (and who knows why it is still recognized by the United Nations) and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). A body which will be bound to fail if it remains a joint body fully based on members on an equal footing. The “Berlin Process” on Libya was initiated on January 19. As you have certainly noticed, nowadays all the endless negotiations on Libya (Paris, Palermo, Abu Dhabi and other backroom ones) are pompously defined as “processes”.

Again on the basis of the final statement of the Berlin Conference, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will organize an International Follow-Up Committee, made up of representatives from all the countries and organizations that participated in the Berlin Conference on January 19.

 A repetition? Probably not.

This sequence of similar documents, piling up one upon the other will be a way to play all possible sides and make the Libyan conflict last ad infinitum. This may definitely and permanently harm some countries (such as Italy) but will certainly favour others, such as Turkey, the Russian Federation and France.

In Libya, as also in the European Union, currently every game is a “zero-sum game”.

 The conclusions of this Follow-Up Committee will be submitted directly to the UN Security Council, which sees strongly conflicting interests on Libya represented within it.

 Moreover, the Committee’s conclusions shall be in line with all the “processes” prior to the one which has just begun in Berlin. As said in the final statement of the Berlin Conference, said “processes” also refer to the “three-point plan” drawn up by Ghassan Salamé on July 30, 2019.

 The UN special envoy’s plan regarded – first and foremost – a truce, which began on August 10, 2019, for Eid-Al Adha, the Islamic Festival of the Sacrifice.

So much ado for a few-days truce, which could be negotiated by a local Imam without problems? Who knows!

Why referring so explicitly to a short truce that has already occurred? It is a mystery.

Probably the aim is to give more power to Salamé – hence just say so.

Again last August, the second point of Salamé’s plan consisted in organizing an International Conference, which was in fact already organized and closed in Berlin, but with the participation of all the countries concerned and interested in the Libyan conflict. Indeed, not all of them were present in Berlin.

 Well, we have already done it – so what? Another Conference, like those of Paris, Palermo, Abu Dhabi and Berlin? To say what? We cannot see anything new under the sun.

 A Conference is a Conference is a Conference, like Gertrude Stein’s rose.

 Finally, the third point of Salamé’s plan regarded a Conference – and this is exactly what we need! -between the political and military “parties” present in Libya and anyway of Libyan origin.

 It will be the most crowded and – we imagine – the least effective Conference. And probably the roughest and most vociferous one.

In Libya as elsewhere, however, the truce regards the ability of the mediating third party alone to make it credible for those who wish to sign it.

 Without this ability of effective and immediate recourse to the “third-party in Law” (if we can here use a concept of Roman law) no one signs a truce whatsoever.

Furthermore, which is the only way to enforce a ceasefire? Possibly creating  an “interposition force”, which makes both parties’ probable war and criminal intentions more technically difficult?

 No, I do not think so because, in this case, the Interposition Force – organized to make a truce hold – cannot control the non-military movements of both sides’ positions, which will become warlike at a later stage.

 Anyway, while Libya has become the area of a new great proxy war between enemies, allies and quasi-friends, when reaching truces, all of them which are outside Libya will certainly start to deploy their military potentials in new areas.

 In this case, truces are a way to wage and make war, not to stop it, even temporarily.

 In essence, as the final statement candidly admits, the Berlin Conference wanted to unite and muster international support for a political solution in Libya.

 Here, there are two possible alternative options.

 Either we go on with the potentially endless sequence of irresolute Conferences, attended by countries which do not even dream of sending troops to Libya, if not to be used as traffic policemen.

 Or a real international force is created, possibly under the UN aegis, which of course does not pacify Libya, but establishes those who win or lose power in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

Yet the question remains: do we really want a new Libya split up in the various Ottoman vilayets, as it was before the Italian pre-Fascist colonization, or do we still really want a united Libya?

In the latter case, which will be the small group of European or non-European powers that will manage their inevitable hegemony over the still united Libya?

 Because it should be recalled that, in many areas of the old “sandbox”, there is a national Libyan feeling that often overlaps with loyalty to one’s own katiba or the traditional alliance of the various tribes with one’s own.

Some years ago, even a young agent of the “new” Libyan intelligence Services told me that the Libyan national feeling is stronger than we may believe, even if it mixes – surprisingly and hence unpredictably – with tribe hierarchies.

We should also recall the positive effect that the authoritarian welfare State established by Gaddafi had for many years. In a paper of the Bertelsmann Foundation published a few days before the start of the Benghazi insurgency, it is stated that Libya was on average much better than Southern Italy in terms of income and social services and benefits.

Finally, also in the Berlin Conference it was reiterated that “there could be no possible military solution” for Libya.

 Of course, because the military solution is already in place it and it has been so for many years. It is made up of potentially equivalent forces, with equivalent protectors, who will therefore never be able to really find an agreement.

However, as Machiavelli said, cum parole non si mantengono li Stati.

Westerners’ sloth is no wonder, even though the gains for every Western country would be scarce and limited.

Italy is an unstructured country that, with controlled or uncontrolled immigration, will import and has probably already imported many jihadists in Europe, the next area of deep deconstruction. For Italy, Libya is a country that – being no longer fundamental for oil, except for Italy only – remains fundamental for the international oil and gas markets.

Hence, what are we doing? We are wasting time with talks and diplomatic “processes”, waiting for someone to win on his own in Libya and dictate his conditions.

 Obviously the final statement of the Berlin Conference could not fail to make reference to the fight against terrorism and “illegal” migration.

First and foremost, we must never speak generically of “terrorism”, which is a universal practice, but rather of a specific and refined jihadist warfare strategy, which is very different from what we call terrorism, even if it certainly does not exclude it.

This also applies to the Koranic doctrine of  “truce”, which would be a very interesting topic to discuss here.

 I imagine, however, that the intellectual arrogance of Westerners makes the unrepentant conference-goers believe that the only war and peace doctrine is the one which is developed and practiced in the framework of the enlightened, secularist and rationalist universalism.

They are wrong. Currently most of the people living in the world conceive and make war in a very different way from what Grotius, Kant or Althusius theorized.

With specific reference to “illegal” migration which is, in fact, an asymmetrical war system, as also the “sword jihad”, a less moralistic and legal analysis should be made.

The winners send illegal migrants to the countries of their enemies or economic or military competitors, the losers take them all and must also keep silent.

 Has the Italian government ever imagined the reason underlying the very powerful information and defamation war on Italy, with so many NGOs built ad hoc, during the previous “yellow-green” government?

 Do you believe that our EU friends are not involved in these issues? Certainly not.

Ultimately, the final statement of the “Berlin process” refers not only to the embargo on all arms – which is completely useless, considering that Libya is full of weapons, and everyone can anyway get them from the south – but also to the “equal sharing and distribution of wealth”, albeit it is not clear between whom, but we can here understand the very complex issue of the relationship between the NOC, the Libyan Central Bank and Khalifa Haftar’s LNA.

 Finally, we speak of “legitimate and lawful use of force” to be granted only to States (or to the State).

 Which State, in Libya? Tripolitania – which is now reduced to a few districts of Tripoli, with some katibe of Misrata, the military axis of al-Sarraj’s regime, already shifted to Haftar’s control – or the Tobruk-Bengasi one, for which Haftar is fighting, which has won the elections but has not been recognized by the external powers and the United Nations?

 Who is really legitimate and lawful? It is hard to answer this question, even if we only thought – as it is now usual among Western powers – of a political and State legitimacy that is simply granted by Western countries or by the United Nations.

Hence how many legitimate and lawful States are there in Africa? Once again it is hard to answer this question.

 It would be good to go back to the classics, from Hobbes to Spinoza. Even under the fierce sun of Libya, as when Lawrence of Arabia read Suetonius (obviously in Latin) riding his camel in Wadi Rumm.

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Turkey’s Role in the Libyan Conflict

Ivan Bocharov

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On January 8, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan met in Istanbul. Discussions focused on the launch of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, as well as topical issues on the international agenda. After the meeting, both presidents called on all parties involved in the Libyan conflict to cease hostilities from January 12 and take a seat at the negotiating table. Putin and Erdogan confirmed the high level of contractibility demonstrated earlier by other politicians on other painful issues.

Of course, the ceasefire in Libya suits Ankara’s foreign policy interests, since in a one-on-one battle, the Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by Turkey and recognised by the UN as the legitimate government of Libya, would have difficulty repelling new attacks by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the General Khalifa Haftar and protecting controlled territory. Due to the intensification of hostilities in December 2019 and the new LNA campaign in Tripoli, the head of the GNA Faiz Saraj turned to the head of the Turkish state with a request to provide military support to Tripoli. Turkish President Recep Erdogan forwarded the relevant bill to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, and, on January 2, the parliament approved the sending of Turkish troops to Libya by a majority vote. Soon after Erdogan announced that Turkish units are already in Libya.

In response to the decision of the Turkish parliament to support the sending of the Turkish military contingent to Libya, the LNA commander Khalifa Haftar announced a general mobilisation. His troops are currently conducting active hostilities and are gradually moving towards the centre of Tripoli. Recent major territorial acquisitions include the non-functioning capital airport, as well as the city of Sirte and its environs. However, the fact that Turkish troops are already in Libya can significantly complicate the further attack of the LNA.

Source: https://libya.liveuamap.com/en

The Establishment of a Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone in the Mediterranean

The conclusion of two agreements with the government of Faiz Saraj preceded Turkish interference in the Libyan conflict. On November 27, 2019, Turkey signed a memorandum with the GNA on the delimitation of maritime zones in the Mediterranean Sea, which establishes new maritime borders of Libya and Turkey. The signed document confirms the rights of Ankara to a significant part of the east of the Mediterranean Sea, where there are significant natural gas reserves. Previously, Turkey carried out illegal geological exploration in the economic zone of Cyprus in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

Source: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/map-delineates-turkeys-maritime-frontiers-in-med-sea-149379

The agreement reached between Recep Erdogan and Faiz Saraj raised concerns among other Eastern Mediterranean states also interested in gaining access to hydrocarbon production in these areas. Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have made statements that the memorandum violates international law. The European Union also declared a similar position, which even did not recognise the maritime agreement between the Republic of Turkey and the GNA in connection with the violation of the sovereign rights of third states.

The agreements reached between Ankara and Tripoli strengthened the Turkish position in the region. Certainly, the designation of an exclusive economic zone led to even greater isolation of Turkey and the notable deterioration in relations with other states of the Eastern Mediterranean. It is also important to mention that the Republic of Turkey has become somewhat dependent on the stability of the Faiz Saraj regime. The agreement with him gives Ankara at least the fragile validity of Turkish claims for a hydrocarbon-rich part of the East of the Mediterranean Sea. This means that the Turkish leadership in Libya protects not only the pro-Turkish GNA, but also its interests in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

So Why Does Egypt Support Khalifa Haftar?

In Libya, Turkey is confronted with the interests of its foreign policy opponents; in particular, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE). The latter is the main ally of General Khalifa Haftar. Cairo supports the LNA, because members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation banned in Egypt, are operating in Libya. The commander-in-chief of the LNA successfully fights with them, as well as with jihadists that pose a threat to the security of ARE. Besides, the instability of the situation in Libya negatively affects business activity in the region, which is detrimental to the Egyptian economy. The troops of Khalifa Haftar are the only force capable of restoring relative order in Libya. While Haftar’s troops have established control over most of the country’s territory, including major oil fields, it is difficult for GNA to control Tripoli. The geographical factor makes Egyptian support for LNA more effective.

Through the border with Libya, militants of the “Islamic state” enter Egypt and arms smuggling flourishes. The Egyptian leadership is trying to secure its borders with the help of additional troops and armoured vehicles, for example, the Egyptian space satellite used to control the border effectively. ARE authorities say that most of the weapons used by the ISIS cell in the Sinai Peninsula come from neighbouring Libya. The statistics demonstrate the scale of the problem. For example, from 2015 to 2017 Egyptian soldiers destroyed more than 1,200 trucks with weapons and explosives sent from Libya to Egypt.

The House of Representatives promises to build a border wall on the border with Egypt, although the effectiveness of the project raises great doubts – the length of the wall will be merely 1 km, while the length of the border between the two states is more than 1,100 km.

Nevertheless, the government controlled by Khalifa Haftar is demonstrating a willingness to tackle the problem of arms smuggling across the Libyan-Egyptian border. Additionally, Khalifa Haftar proved that he would rather fight terrorist groups than negotiate with them. The terrorist threat posed by militants in Libya is a serious security challenge in Egypt, so Cairo supports Haftar in the Libyan conflict. Besides, the GNA is a government focused on Ankara, Cairo’s foreign policy opponent. Any strengthening of the government of Faiz Saraj in Egypt is perceived as strengthening the position of Turkey in North Africa.

Cairo actively reacted to the signing of agreements between Turkey and the GNA, as well as to the introduction of the Turkish military in Libya. In particular, President al-Sisi called the President of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiadis and the President of France Emmanuel Macron to discuss measures to impede the implementation of the agreements reached between Ankara and Tripoli.

Egypt told the UN Security Council that it does not recognise the agreements. According to the representative of Egypt to the UN, Mohammed Edris, Egypt does not consider the signed memorandums as legitimate, because they were not ratified by the Libyan House of Representatives.

The Role of Extra-Regional Players in the Libyan Peace Building Process

The position of the Republic of Turkey on the Libyan issue is not shared with its NATO allies – France and the United States. Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron contributed to the formation of the diplomatic status of Khalifa Haftar and supported his political independence. When Haftar tried to take Tripoli in the spring of 2019, France blocked an EU statement urging Khalifa Haftar to stop the LNA attack on Tripoli. Besides, according to the media, France supplied anti-tank weapons to the LNA, bypassing the arms embargo. In particular, Javelin missiles were handed over to Khalifa Haftar’s troops.

In April 2019, the unique role of Field Marshal Haftar in the fight against terrorism in Libya was recognised by U.S. President Donald Trump. Then Washington threatened to block the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and stop the advance of troops in Tripoli. Responding to the new offensive of Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan capital, the White House invited the parties to the Libyan conflict to refrain from receiving outside assistance, and thus again supported the actions of the LNA unofficially. This initiative was directed primarily against Turkey and the transfer of the Turkish military to Libya.

In addition to France and Egypt, Khalifa Haftar is supported by Jordan and the UAE. In addition to providing financial assistance, some countries supply weapons to the LNA, despite the UN arms embargo. UAE delivered LNA unmanned aerial vehicles. Turkey, of course, provided GNA drones.

To sum up, Libya is becoming one of the key strategic directions of Turkey’s foreign policy, which is probably considering the country as an arena for confrontation with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, the UAE, and other unfriendly states. At the same time, the mutual dependence of Ankara and Tripoli on each other is growing. Turkey is the main ally for the GNA, for the sake of which it is ready to send its troops to the combat zone. The formal legitimacy of the Turkish geological exploration and Ankara’s rights to the exclusive economic zone depends on the durability of the Faiz Saraj regime.

Dissatisfaction with Ankara’s actions continues to grow: the decision to introduce Turkish army units was condemned by the United States, the EU, Russia and some regional actors. Turkish troops will not leave Libya as long as Haftar’s forces besiege Tripoli. A major problem remains the agreements reached between Turkey and the Saraj government on military cooperation between Ankara and Tripoli, as well as the delineation of exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean Sea. Washington promised to support Cyprus and Greece in resolving the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, and Erdogan promised not to recede from concluded deals even though, as we know, it is a clear violation of the arms embargo and inconsistency with the principles of international law.

The USA, France and some other states continue to regard the LNA as the main bulwark of the fight against terrorism in Libya. Haftar’s troops remain the most combat-ready armed forces, which have a much higher chance of stabilising the situation in Libya than their opponents. It was demonstrated by the victorious struggle of the LNA with the terrorist groups Islamic State, Ansar al-Sharia, Wrath of Fesan, etc.

Al-Sisi supports Haftar for the same reason, besides the issue of ensuring stability in Libya is directly related to the security of his state. Also, both politicians declare their tough stance towards Islamism, which makes them ideological allies.

Unfortunately, the establishment of a ceasefire can only lead to a temporary de-escalation of the conflict. In this situation, Russia may call on its partners not to violate the arms embargo on Libya. Besides, Moscow could initiate the adoption by the UN Security Council of a troop withdrawal resolution of any units of foreign states from the territory of the Libyan State. This measure would significantly reduce the degree of tension that has arisen in Libya in the past few weeks. Also, Russia can be an intermediary in the negotiations between the Libyan House of Representatives and the GNA. This is especially evident after Russia’s victories over ISIS in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Middle East and North Africa. Therefore, it’s possible that the role of Moscow as a broker of dialogue will bring positive results.

From our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Libyan reconciliation: Via Moscow on to Berlin

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During the January 8 talks in Istanbul, Turkey and Russia, acting as “mediators,” called on all parties in Libya to “cease hostilities from midnight on Sunday, January 12, 2020, declare a sustainable ceasefire, supported by necessary measures to be taken for stabilizing the situation on the ground and normalizing daily life in Tripoli and other cities, to immediately sit down at the negotiating table in order to put an end to the suffering of the Libyans and return peace and prosperity to the country.” The leaders of the warring parties – the Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) – were invited to Moscow for talks.

While the GNA, hard-pressed by the situation at the front, was quick to accept the Russian-Turkish proposal, Haftar, whose forces are advancing on the capital, took his time.

“We welcome [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s call for a ceasefire. However, our fight against terrorist organizations that seized Tripoli and received support of some countries will continue until the end,” Haftar’s spokesman said.

However, Haftar was eventually persuaded by Russia to attend the Moscow parley.

The negotiations between the rival Libyan leaders, preceded by consultations by Russian and Turkish foreign and defense ministers, were conducted through intermediaries. Sarraj refused to meet in person with Haftar, saying that the LNA continued its advance, but still agreed to a ceasefire deal proposed by Moscow and Ankara. Khalifa Haftar first said he needed time to think it over, and then left Moscow altogether, explaining to the Russian military representatives that he was taking a time out to consult with his allies. According to media reports, he was not content with the absence in the text of the agreement primarily of clauses concerning the dissolution of GNA units, the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Libya and the annulment of memorandums signed by Tripoli and Ankara. Buoyed by their gains on the battlefield, the LNA leaders apparently prefer to talk with their opponents from a position of strength.

It was apparently with this understanding in mind that, immediately after their commander’s departure from Moscow, the LNA representatives said they were all set to achieve “the complete liberation of the capital from terrorists.” According to media reports, shortly after that, hostilities resumed south of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, the GNA’s ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to “teach” Haftar “a lesson” if he did not stop his military advance on Tripoli. As to his ally, Sarraj, on his way back from Moscow, he made a stopover in Turkey, where he met with the US ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, at a hotel in Istanbul to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”

Well, the foreign policy context of the Libyan crisis is by no means less complicated than Syria’s. Sarraj is backed by Turkey and Qatar, and has Muslim Brotherhood units fighting on its side, while Haftar’s Libyan National Army faction is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Europe is trying to reconcile the warring parties, and Italy, France, and more recently Germany, have equally been active in this effort. The United States is “waking up” too.

While Syria is of little interest to most Western nations, Libya happens to be a sort of Europe’s underbelly the main flow of African refugees goes through. Besides, Libya’s hydrocarbon reserves are incomparable with Syria’s. Notably, just as Russian and Turkish officials were meeting in Istanbul, Sarraj was in Brussels meeting with EU representatives, and Haftar was on a visit to Rome.

Moscow has always kept an equal distance from both Tripoli and Tobruk (the seat of the House of Representatives and the interim government of Libya, supporting LNA), emphasizing its contacts with both sides of the conflict.

Now, Turkey and Russia have apparently decided to implement the successful Astana format, as some experts believe that the role once played by Iran could be assigned to Algeria both Moscow and Ankara are on good terms with now. During his inauguration ceremony last year, Algeria’s new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, prioritized the development of closer ties with Libya.

This won’t be easy though, just as the rival Libyan leaders demonstrated to a full extent in Moscow. Still, after many hours of negotiations, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers spoke about having achieved “certain progress.” As a result of the two countries’ diplomatic effort, the irreconcilable (at least for now) Libyan enemies eventually arrived in Moscow – the last time Sarraj and Haftar met was a year ago, even before the LNA launched its “decisive attack” on Tripoli (April 2019). Moreover, “the main result of the meeting was the achievement of agreement in principle between the conflicting sides to maintain and indefinitely continue the cessation of hostilities, which creates a more favorable atmosphere for the Berlin Conference on Libya,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Russia wants much more than just to replicate Syrian developments, even the most successful ones. Moscow wants to get Europeans and regional actors working together to end the bloodshed in Libya.

“We want to combine the efforts being made by Europeans, including Germans, French and Italians, and by Libyan neighbors – Algeria, Egypt, and also the UAE, Turkey, Qatar, and the Russian Federation, to make sure that everyone works together to encourage all the Libyan parties to come to an agreement,” Russia’s acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said ahead of the Berlin Conference on Libya, scheduled for January 19.

Germany hopes to bring Fayez Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar, representatives of Russia, the US, China, Britain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, the African Union, the EU, the United Nations and the League of Arab States to the negotiating table to discuss and, quoting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “possibly adopt” a document that will lead to a sustainable cessation of hostilities and start the political process under the auspices of the United Nations.

Skeptical as many experts are about the outcome of the Berlin meeting, it still seems that chances of success look very real. On the one hand, the position of Fayez Sarraj, who earlier said he was ready to agree, remains precarious. On the other hand, the highly representative lineup of participants in the Berlin forum may well convince Haftar (or his representatives, if the Field Marshal does not show up) to more realistically assess his capabilities. Therefore, the LNA’s activities following the Moscow talks could just be an attempt to strengthen its negotiating position ahead of the Berlin Conference.

From our partner International Affairs

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