Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi accused the outgoing congress of intentional procrastination in the dialogue meetings taking place in Skhirat, Morocco. He sees this foot-dragging as an attempt to extend those talks, aimed at reaching an agreement concerning the national reconciliation government, past Oct. 20, when the mandate of the current parliament expires.
In an interview with Al-Hayat on the eve of a meeting in New York between the UN secretary general and parties to the Libyan dialogue, Dairi said that the meeting will represent a “qualitative shift” toward reaching national reconciliation and agreeing on the names of the future prime minister and his two deputies.
With regard to the terrorist organizations operating in Libya, Dairi stated that Islamic State has positioned around 5,000 fighters between Derna and Sirte, and that additional terrorist troops were preparing to make the journey from Tunisia to Derna soon. He also stressed the need to support the Libyan army and bolster its capability to confront terrorist organizations.
A transcript of the interview follows:
Al-Hayat: What will happen on Friday? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Special Envoy Bernardino Leon called for a meeting at the UN headquarters to effectuate a qualitative shift in the Libyan dossier. Are you on the verge of announcing an agreement? What is your position on this meeting that was described as important?
Dairi: The only purpose of the meeting is to encourage the Libyan factions to sign theagreement drafted and finalized by Mr. Leon, who has led, for the past year, the UN’s efforts in concert with the highest echelons of the international community represented at the General Assembly.
Al-Hayat: You did say the final version? Does that mean that your options are to either sign or refrain from signing the document?
Dairi: That is correct. Moreover, the parties will subsequently travel to Skhirat, Morocco, in order to continue discussing said document, and in particular, discuss the composition of the national reconciliation government, particularly in relation to choosing a prime minister and his two deputies, one of whom will represent us in the legitimate government and the other being a representative of our brothers in the political opposition.
Al-Hayat: Friday will signal a qualitative shift, then?
Raidi: Indeed, we are witnessing a quantitative shift and renewed focus by the international community on the Libyan dossier, as evidenced by the fact that all international factions are encouraging Libyans to move forward toward reaching national reconciliation and forming a national reconciliation government. Here, I would like to also state that seven days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement encouraging Libyan parties to sign the final document drafted by the UN envoy.
An international consensus exists, which includes Russia and China, to motivate the Libyan factions. A short while ago, I spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his ambassador, who confirmed that Russia and China as well as the other permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council are keen on advancing this issue, a fact that will be confirmed on Friday, God willing.
Al-Hayat: In the Security Council session on terrorism, you put forward Libya’s view with regard to fighting IS, and the UN’s — particularly the Security Council’s — failure to help Libya fight said organization. What is preventing the army controlled by the Tobruk parliament from focusing on IS and waging a war against it?
Dairi: When the army recently launched the “Hatf” [Fate] offensive against IS and Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi 10 days ago, it was met with international criticism, even on the part of Mr. Bernardino Leon. Politics aside, from a practical sense, Security Council Resolution 2214 has yet to be implemented; for Operative Paragraph 7 of the resolution calls on the Sanctions Committee to expeditiously consider arms requests submitted by the Libyan army. There also is another operative paragraph that emphasizes the importance of providing support and assistance to Libya, including by providing it with the necessary security and capacity-building assistance, all of which has yet to be implemented.
Al-Hayat: Why? Who has been preventing such assistance? Is it the United States, the West or Russia? In that context, Egypt and Jordan did propose the adoption of a Security Council resolution lifting the arms embargo imposed on the army.
Dairi: Unfortunately, the international community represented by the Security Council, specifically the permanent members thereof, all agree on the need to form a national reconciliation government first, which is a condition not explicitly stated in Security Council Resolution 2214. In response, we affirm that we have been committed to dialogue since September 2014, and have signed an initial draft agreement in that regard last July 11 in Skhirat; which, unfortunately was not signed by all Libyan factions.
Al-Hayat: The parliament’s term expires this coming Oct. 20. If an agreement is not reached, do you intend to extend the term thereof?
Dairi: As Libyans, we strive to help the international community and our Arab brothers in reaching national reconciliation and signing an agreement in that regard prior to that date, leading to the formation of a national reconciliation government.
Al-Hayat: But if an agreement is not reached, will you extend your terms in office?
Dairi: The signed document clearly states the need to extend the term of parliament in order to prevent an institutional and constitutional vacuum from arising after the 20th of this month.
Al-Hayat: Will you accept the ouster of Gen. [Khalifa] Hifter, if that were a prerequisite for the formation of a national reconciliation government?
Dairi: We have stated, and for the umpteenth time reiterate our objection to anyone being excluded. Beginning last year, we were asked not to exclude any factions from the dialogue sessions. Why, then, is the focus now aimed at a specific person, despite the fact that we do not intend to exclude anyone from the opposition? We ask that all parties adhere to the principle of nonexclusion. For, on the other hand, we are fighting a war against terrorism and are hoping that initial steps toward rebuilding and bolstering the capabilities of the Libyan army are followed through.
Al-Hayat: Do you sense that there is an international or quasi-international attempt to oust Gen. Hifter?
Dairi: What is confirmed is that certain Libyan factions so affirm.
Al-Hayat: But is Gen. Hifter reinforcing his position on the ground to counter such attempts? For it is evident to all that Gen. Hifter is fortifying his troops.
Dairi: Gen. Hifter, with a handful of officers and without any real capabilities, launched Operation “Al Karama” [“Dignity”] on May 16, 2014. To date, we have failed to eradicate the terrorists in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte, due to the paucity and lack of ammunition and military capabilities.
Al-Hayat: But you can do more against IS, and you do have the capabilities needed to reach its areas of operations?
Dairi: Indeed. But when we do conduct such operations, some members of the international community rise to criticize us, as was the case 10 days ago, as supported by clear and unambiguous statements by Bernardino Leon and other international factions, who claimed that our actions now impeded dialogue. The dialogue initiated by Leon contains constants that, in addition to democratic governance and respect for electoral results, call for the need to fight terrorism. Why, then, is the fight against terrorism in Benghazi being denounced?
Initiative and obstruction
Al-Hayat: Leon is trying to provide you with an initiative or understanding before Oct. 20. Is it in your interest to see this agreement fail? Or is it in your interest to make further concessions in order to facilitate its adoption?
Dairi: As we stated at the Security Council and General Assembly, we are committed. Our only available option is a political solution and the signing of the agreement before Oct. 20.
Al-Hayat: Where lies the obstacle?
Dairi: In some extremist factions that want us to reach Oct. 20, so that they may say that they and we equally lack legitimacy. When they obstruct and procrastinate, their aim is for us to reach that date on which ends the term of parliament and congress.
Al-Hayat: I don’t think you are intimating that Leon is colluding with the other factions against you?
Dairi: No. He has an understanding with Western factions to the effect that the solution must be comprehensive and lead to a national congress. From the start, we supported this notion, but, at some point, as Leon himself said, we set a date and time frame ending on Sept. 20, which has elapsed without results. To date, the outgoing National Congress has failed to submit candidates. In contrast, Mr. Leon asked us for the names of our candidates and we submitted two of them, to which he replied that two were not enough and that he needed six or nine, so we gave him 14 names, which indicates that we are dealing with the situation positively indeed.
Al-Hayat: But it is evident that he is not accusing only one faction of obstructing the process. Since you are the other faction, it follows that you are also accused of obstruction.
Dairi: No, we are not accused of obstruction, and the international community with which we meet here in New York appreciates the stance of parliament represented by four members who lead the dialogue in Skhirat. Our participation therein was effective and we played a positive role in driving the dialogue from the onset. But in fact, there is a minority of people among us in the legitimate government who do not want to lose some of the privileges that they currently enjoy. But the biggest hindrance does not come from the legitimate government, which, despite all the challenges, has overcome the reservations that emanated from within its ranks. The vast majority of people in the legitimate government and parliament desire to reach a solution.
Al-Hayat: Regionally, who is supporting you and standing by your side? In the past, you have accused Qatar of backing other factions against you, but it appears that such rhetoric has changed. Did the situation change?
Dairi: The situation has not changed, for we asked our brothers in the Arab League to adopt a unified stance, as was the case in relation to Syria and Yemen. There are resolutions taken unanimously by the Arab League, but when the issue of Libya is discussed, Qatar expresses reservations, as occurred at the conclusion of the session of foreign ministers on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, when we thought that there were no such reservations, only to be surprised, two days after the meeting, that Qatar had submitted a written objection in that regard to the Arab League, despite the fact that, during the session, I praised the Arab position, thanked my Arab brothers and stated that this was the first time that no Arab country had objected to the resolution.
Al-Hayat: Egypt is providing you with military support, weapons and intelligence. Are there Egyptian troops on the ground in Libya, as the Libya Dawn factions claim?
Dairi: There are no Egyptian troops. Support was in the form of training provided to Libyan army troops since 2012 to date. But there are no Egyptian troops on Libyan soil.
Al-Hayat: Along the border, or making occasional incursions from the border?
Dairi: Those are made to pursue smugglers and human traffickers. This is an issue that we and our Egyptian brothers coordinate about, particularly due to the fact that we lack the logistical capabilities to effectively combat the phenomenon of illegal immigration.
Al-Hayat: The United Kingdom submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council that deals with the issue of illegal immigrants and the taking of appropriate measures at sea, but you refused to permit smuggling vessels to be pursued into Libyan territorial waters. In light of your New York meetings, is there anything new with regard to this dossier?
Dairi: What is new is that we understand the need to combat illegal immigration in Libya and at sea, while previously rejecting the third phase [of the joint European operation to halt illegal immigration] dealing with pursuing boats in Libyan territorial waters or territories. But we are dealing constructively with the matter and, along with our European partners, stress the need to combat illegal immigration where merchants of death cause the watery demise of thousands of our Syrian and African brothers.
Al-Hayat: Libya Dawn claims that mercenaries from Chad and Niger are working with Hifter’s troops. How do you respond?
Dairi: What must be stressed is the fact that groups such as Boko Haram originating from Africa and other Arab countries, as well as others from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and the Gulf states, come to Libya to form the international terrorist organizations located on Libyan soil. Three days ago, it was confirmed that some women in Britain sought to recruit terrorists there. It was further confirmed that terrorists from Europe were killed in Libya. Coordination exists between IS in Syria and Iraq, which encompasses various nationalities, and some terrorist organizations present in Africa, such as Boko Haram.
Al-Hayat: How large is IS’ presence in Libya?
Dairi: They number around 5,000 individuals spread between Derna and Sirte. But, a few days ago, we heard about other factions arriving from Tunisia and announcing that they had come there to vanquish al-Qaeda-affiliated factions; for IS and al-Qaeda have been in constant conflict since last June.
Al-Hayat: Are you discussing the issue with the Tunisian government? And are you receiving its cooperation?
Dairi: The Tunisian government is worried about the negative repercussions of the Libyan situation. But, as we well know, those terrorist elements are neither subject to the Tunisian government nor the government of Libya.
Al-Hayat: Is Algeria helping you confront those elements in light of its experience in combating terrorism?
Dairi: Currently, as is the case for other Arab and non-Arab countries, Algeria desires that we first reach a national agreement and national reconciliation government.
Reconciliation with Gadhafi supporters
Al-Hayat: What about reconciliation efforts with the remnants of [Moammar] Gadhafi’s regime?
Dairi: This was subject to the political isolation law that was repealed last March and an amnesty law passed the same day, under which Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and others from the former regime were sentenced. The parliament voted on the draft amnesty law dealing with the various crimes committed in the past, out of which were excluded some terrorist crimes, as well as human and drug trafficking. Otherwise, the legitimate government is keen on reaching true national reconciliation that includes all actions committed prior to Feb. 17, and the unfortunate actions after Feb. 17 as well.
Al-Hayat: What is your opinion with regard to the fact that President [Barack] Obama singled out Libya in his speech and admitted to failing the country when they rushed out after NATO entered it?
Dairi: I commend President Obama for mentioning this matter for the second time, as he did in his speech before the UN. We are very grateful, laud and greatly appreciate his honorable stance.
Al-Hayat: But President Obama is one of those who rushed out of Libya, along with the Europeans.
Dairi: He said that we all failed Libya, did not keep abreast of the transitional phase that followed the toppling of Gadhafi and left matters to progress in a chaotic fashion. He acknowledged this failure toward us as Libyans. We appreciate that, but as foreign minister, I would like to affirm that the Libyan dossier is now the subject of international attention and support, which will only increase, not only from our Arab brothers, but also from the international community. I see this as being engagement on a large scale, as evidenced by them confirming Friday’s meeting here, aimed at motivating the Libyan parties and encouraging them to sign said agreement, hopefully before Oct. 20, 2015.
Al-Hayat: There is a campaign against you personally, and you are being threatened with legal action in court.
Dairi: No, not in court. I am the target of a smear campaign, but I expect the relevant authorities to restore normalcy in that regard next week when I return to Libya. I read the charges against me in the press, but wait for the Administrative Control Authority to level charges against me, which I shall respond to one by one. On the other hand, accusations ranging from me being backed by Hifter or courting the Muslim Brotherhood are but mere fabrications.