Libya – Haftar gives Seraj the cold shoulder

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It had the potential to be an historic day, but in the end Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar failed to show up for a meeting with the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Fayez Seraj on Tuesday, February 14.

The talks in Cairo were organised by the Egyptian government and were originally meant to take place on Monday, February 13, but were postponed after neither party would agree to the conditions set by the other, according to the Libya Herald.

Tuesday’s talks were set to be chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and it was thought that his direct involvement would be enough to get the men to the negotiating table.

Reports state that Mr Haftar’s allies in Moscow and Cairo have been pressing him to meet with the GNA’s leader, but it appears that the Libyan National Army (LNA) strongman feels he can still improve his bargaining position before starting negotiations on his possible role within the revised unity government.

It is believed that he has been offered a role in the military, but that the position of commander-in-chief of the armed forces would be shared between the head of the Presidency Council (PC – the executive of the GNA), the head of the House of Representatives (HoR – the legislature currently based in Tobruk and against the current GNA) and the head of the State Council (a quasi-Senate that would share legislative functions with the HoR and be comprised of former members of the General National Congress – GNC).

Although the two men failed to meet, Egyptian army spokesman Mohamed Samir stated that they had agreed via indirect negotiations for the country to hold fresh parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2018.

A different spokesman, Tamer El-Rifai, said that they had agreed on the need for a joint committee to make “key changes” to the deal that set up the GNA.

However, sources within the Haftar camp told the Libya Herald that Mr Haftar had not agreed to the changes.

For his part, HoR President Ageela Saleh, who was also in Cairo, said that he would study the proposal before commenting.

Another proposal dismissed by Mr Haftar was the plan for a three-man presidency/executive for the unity government – Mr Haftar appears to be allergic to the very idea of power sharing.

While the talks were not quite a success, it is perhaps a positive signal that they came close to happening.

Mr Haftar, clearly has the upper hand and he will no doubt attempt to press his advantage so that he receives real power in the new political agreement.

For the other parties involved, there really is no change in the equation they are presented with. They cannot reject Mr Haftar completely while the LNA has control over the oil terminals and fields and is making progress towards securing control over areas in the south.

The only major negotiating strength they have, now that the US’s military support may be in doubt with the voting in of President Donald Trump, is the United Nations’ resolution stating that oil can only be exported legally from the country with the consent of the GNA. However, blocking oil exports in order to stamp their authority would be shooting themselves in the foot – the GNA’s legitimacy is already pitifully low.

Mr Haftar already has real power (the ability to get other actors to do things they would not freely choose to do), but he will keep pushing for it to be made official.