Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, flanked by International leaders pose for a family photo during a conference on Libya in Paris Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 12 November 2021

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

  • Friday’s conference is co-chaired by France, Germany, Italy, Libya, and the United Nations
  • A leading rights group questioned Thursday whether Libyan authorities can hold free and fair elections

PARIS: World powers on Friday told Libya to stick to a plan for holding presidential elections on December 24, adding that foreign mercenaries should also leave and allow the country to turn a page in its history.
French President Emmanuel Macron hosted leaders and diplomats in Paris for an international conference, declaring that Libya was now as a “crossroads” that would determine its future.
The North African country has been mired in civil war since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with the bloodshed drawing in competing Libyan factions and extremist groups, as well as regional powers.
The presidential vote on December 24 is the core part of a United Nations plan to help restore stability, but the calendar has been under pressure as tensions flare once more between rival camps.
“We urge all Libyan stakeholders and candidates to respect their commitments toward holding elections on 24 December 2021 (and) to accept the results of free, fair and inclusive elections,” the powers said in a statement after the talks.
The scheduling has remained unclear, after Libya’s parliament in early October pushed back legislative elections until January.
“Libya is once again at a crossroads. There have been 10 years of disorder and upheaval in which the international community is not without responsibility,” said Macron.
“The next six weeks will be decisive,” he added.
The world powers also warned that sanctions could be imposed against anyone deemed to be impeding the process.
“We affirm that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition will be held accountable and may be designated” by UN sanctions, their statement said.
Key players attending the meeting included US Vice President Kamala Harris and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, one of Paris’s closest allies in the Middle East.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi were also present. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin were conspicuous by their absence.
Libya was represented by transitional presidential council head Mohamed Al-Menfi as well as Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah who said: “Concrete guarantees must be obtained that the election results will be accepted and that those who reject them will be sanctioned.”
Earlier this week, Libya opened registration for election candidates, with speculation mounting over possible presidential bids by eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar or even Qaddafi’s son Seif Al-Islam, both deeply divisive figures.
The conference to endorse a plan for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, with the statement giving “full support for the comprehensive Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from the Libyan territory.”
Turkey had sent in troops as well as pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to shore up the Tripoli government.
Observers also accuse Moscow of deploying mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group, which is allegedly controlled by a close ally of Putin.
Pro-Haftar forces said in a statement ahead of the conference that 300 foreign mercenaries fighting on their side would leave the country, “at the request of France.”
The nationality of the fighters was not specified and no timeline was given. The UN estimates that 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters are deployed in Libya.
“The mercenary withdrawal plan must be implemented. Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay,” Macron said, welcoming the announcement that 300 mercenaries would leave as a “first step.”
“This is only the beginning, but it is an essential beginning which finally gives credibility to a process that we have been talking about for too long,” said Macron.
France has faced accusations of backing the pro-Moscow and staunchly secular Haftar but has always insisted it has been fully objective in the conflict.
Merkel commented that Turkey had “reservations” about the process of withdrawing mercenaries.
But she added: “It’s a good thing that we can see a first withdrawal, it will serve as an example. Things have started.”

Lebanese troops rescue 27 migrants from sinking boat off Lebanon’s coast

Updated 7 sec ago

Lebanese troops rescue 27 migrants from sinking boat off Lebanon’s coast

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army and the country’s civil defense recused early Saturday 27 migrants whose boat was sinking off the coast of north Lebanon, the military said in a statement.
The army did not say where the migrants were heading nor did it give their nationalities.
Over the past years, thousands of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinian migrants took the dangerous trip from Lebanon across the Mediterranean seeking a better life in Europe. Such migrations intensified since the country’s historic economic meltdown began in October 2019.
Lebanon has hosted refugees for years. It has some 805,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, but officials estimate the actual number to be between 1.5 million and 2 million. Lebanon is also home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, many living in 12 refugee camps scattered around the country.
Over the past months, thousands of Syrian citizens fleeing worsening economic conditions in their war-torn country made it to Lebanon through illegal crossing points seeking better opportunities. Lebanese officials have warned that the flow of Syrian refugees could create “harsh imbalances” negatively affecting the country’s delicate demographic structure.
Last month, Lebanese troops detained dozens of Lebanese and Syrian traffickers in the country’s north while they were preparing to send migrants on boats to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
A boat carrying migrants from Lebanon capsized off Syria’s coast in September last year, leaving at least 94 people dead, one of the deadliest incidents involving migrants, and was followed by a wave of detentions of suspected smugglers.
In neighboring Syria, a navy patrol stopped a boat Saturday carrying migrants off the coast of Latakia, according to the pro-government Sham FM radio station. It gave no further details but such incidents are rare in Syria, where a 12-year conflict has killed half a million people and left large parts of the country in ruins.

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

Updated 41 min 59 sec ago

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

DUBAI: The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and UK Secretary of State James Cleverly have urged Iraq to complete the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraqi maritime borders.

In a joint statement released Friday, the officials urged Iraq to respect international agreements, especially regarding the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraq borders.

The statement followed a meeting between Cleverly and GCC Secretary-General James Al-Budawi on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“They underlined the importance of Iraq’s commitment to Kuwait’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a joint statement published on KUNA news agency.

Tensions have been rising between Kuwait and Iraq after the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court earlier this month ruled an agreement regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law that ratified the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of Parliament.

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah met the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora. (KUNA)

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has discussed with UN officials and Western diplomats the latest Iraqi Supreme Court verdict regarding Khor Abdullah.

Sheikh Jarrah met Thursday the German Minister of State Tobias Lindner, UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora.

The land border between the two was demarcated by the UN in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries, which was left for the two oil producers to resolve.

An agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

Updated 52 min 18 sec ago

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani will visit Moscow in the next few weeks, an Iraqi foreign ministry statement quoted Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein as saying during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM

Updated 13 min 30 sec ago

Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM

  • Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement with the US last week
  • Bahraini minister stressed the importance of diplomatic and economic cooperation between countries

NEW YORK CITY: Bahrain has grown immensely in diplomatic cooperation, human rights, tolerance, and social progress, Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani said on Friday.

The minister referenced the signing of the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement between the US and Bahrain, signed last week, which will enhance coordination between the two countries in defense, security, technology and investment.

Al-Zayani stressed the importance of dialogue and good-neighborliness in the approach to settling international disputes, a peace process supporting an independent Palestinian state, and the solution of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan “in a way that preserves the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries.”

Al-Zayani also called for the implementation of international conventions “to criminalize religious, sectarian and racial hate speech. We must prevent the misuse of ‘freedoms’ in media and digital platforms for religious contempt or to incite extremism, terrorism and intolerance.”

Cooperation in security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cybercrime and international navigation was critical, he added.

On economic cooperation, the minister welcomed the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic corridor, which was unveiled during the G20 summit in New Delhi this year. The corridor is to connect India with Europe via the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Greece.

Al-Zayani also praised Saudi Arabia for announcing earlier this month the establishment of a global water organization to be based in Riyadh.

The minister discussed many of his country’s recent strides in ensuring human rights, including the creation of an impartial, independent judiciary supported by international human rights experts, promotion of the freedom of press and media, encouragement of trade unions, and criminal justice and corrections reform.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain is proud of the advancement of women, and her contribution as active partner in the process of comprehensive development. She is a minister, a parliamentarian, a judge and ambassador,” he said, adding that Bahraini women made up 22 percent of the cabinet, 56 percent of the workforce in the government sector, and 34 percent of the diplomatic corps.

Arab officials talk peace prospects at New York MENA Forum

Updated 23 September 2023

Arab officials talk peace prospects at New York MENA Forum

  • Future of the region in the spotlight amid flurry of UNGA activity
  • Report by co-host SRMG Think calls for MENA to seize opportunity for regional cooperation

NEW YORK CITY: Arab and international officials and energy and finance experts in New York City at the MENA Forum have discussed the latest political and economic trends in the region, including prospects for peace in Yemen, the shifting role of the US and Saudi Arabia’s rapid non-oil growth.

Co-hosted by SRMG Think and the Middle East Institute at the Yale Club on Friday, the forum’s theme was “Unlocking the region’s potential for prosperity, security and a sustainable global future.”

Officials from a range of Gulf and Arab nations spoke at the forum, including Rania Al-Mashat, Egyptian minister of international cooperation; Ayman Safadi, Jordanian deputy PM; Mariam Al-Mheiri, UAE minister for climate change and environment; and Majed Al-Ansari, Qatari adviser to the prime minister and foreign minister.

Energy and finance experts also took part in panels and fireside chats, including Dr. Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy and MENA research at RBC Capital Markets; Francesco La Camera, chief of the International Renewable Energy Agency; Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, SVB Energy founder and president; and Amer Bisat, Blackrock managing director and head of emerging markets.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also discussed the operation to offload oil from the Safer tanker in the Red Sea, as well as his experiences negotiating with the Houthi militia.

Turkiye’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Yildiz discussed Ankara’s vision for the future.

A common theme at the forum was the de-escalation in tensions in the Middle East in the wake of the Saudi Arabia-Iran rapprochement, and rumors that the Kingdom is considering normalization with Israel.

Lenderking was asked about the potential for peace in Yemen, almost a decade since the country’s conflict began.

He said: “There’s no space in Yemen right now, given the situation that we see for errant approaches from in the region.

“At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, they all want to see peace. There may be differences in approach, but they all want to see this conflict ended.

“And I think you can see that in the efforts Saudi Arabia and Oman are exerting to bring this conflict to a close with UN and international support.”

But Lenderking warned of the need for a deal with the Houthi militia, adding that the humanitarian situation was dire and required a resolution through political means.

“You don’t solve the humanitarian situation in Yemen without a political deal, unless you get agreement between the two parties that drives this situation into a formal peace agreement.”

Qatari ministerial adviser, Majed Al-Ansari, in a fireside discussion, spoke about the future of the US-Gulf relationship.

Despite strong US military activity in Qatar and Washington’s presence in the region “not diminishing from a security perspective,” Al-Ansari said there has been “incoherence” in the US’ Middle East policy.

He added: “This has cost the region a lot. But it has also cost the US and its image in the region a lot.

“And this is why you get a lot of questions from your partners in the region now, (saying) ‘Listen, we need guarantees.’

“We need something on paper, because when push comes to shove, we are really not sure if the US will help or not.”

A panel at the forum — featuring Vakhshouri, Croft and La Camera — discussed energy developments in the region as well as the transition toward renewables through investment.

Vakhshouri stressed the role of national priorities in allocating renewables, saying that Saudi Arabia’s “low-cost resources” and “high government investment” favored the adoption of green and blue hydrogen as viable alternative energy sources.

Blackrock’s Amer Bisat, speaking one-on-one with SRMG Think senior adviser, Hazar Caracalla, hailed the Gulf’s transition away from oil dependency.

He said: “The non-oil sector in the GCC, particularly in Saudi, is 80 percent above where it used to be in 2014. Even in per capita terms, it is 50 percent above where it was around nine years ago.”