Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord Mohamed Siala, Moscow, December 30, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
Foreign Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord Mohamed Siala and I have had productive talks. He reaffirmed the GNA's commitment to implementing the decisions reached at the January 2020 Berlin Conference on Libya and approved by the UN Security Council. We both noted with satisfaction that the situation has become much calmer over the past few months (starting in August), when the Libyan sides made simultaneous declarations calling for an end to the hostilities. Nevertheless, the situation on the ground is still fragile. At the beginning of December, there were relapses of renewed hostilities. It's good that they have been curbed.
Minister Mohamed Siala and I insist that all parties to the conflict respect the agreement signed on October 23, 2020 in Geneva – the formal agreement on the cessation of hostilities and on the 5+5 Joint Military Commission that would monitor its implementation. It is important that the October ceasefire deal has facilitated and intensified efforts on the political track. We noted the first round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum held in Tunisia in November 2020, which led to a rapprochement of the parties' approaches to the formation of a single provisional government and preparations for new general elections. We consider this a positive step and a manifestation of the Libyan parties’ goodwill, although we did have more ambitious expectations from the first round. It is our shared opinion that the participants for new rounds of this forum should be selected more carefully to ensure that the three historical regions in the country are represented by influential figures.
We call on all international actors who have any influence in Libya to coordinate their approaches, primarily under the auspices of the United Nations. The absence of a full UN special representative for the Libyan settlement remains a major problem.
We regularly consider problems at other hotspots in the Middle East and North Africa. We have coinciding approaches with our Libyan colleagues to the situation in Syria, to the solution of complex problems arising on the Palestinian-Israeli track, the Middle East peace process in general in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative, and to the situation in the Persian Gulf and other hotspots.
We discussed the outlook for bilateral relations including economic, trade and investment, and military-technical cooperation. Agreements and contracts were signed before 2011 when they were all suspended as the country was devastated and a civil war broke out as a result of NATO aggression.
We have expressed gratitude to the Libyan Government of National Accord for their joint efforts with a number of other Libyan parties and countries in the region to facilitate the release the Russian citizens Maxim Shugalei and Samer Sueifan, who were illegally detained in May 2019. They returned home safely. We enlisted strong support from Minister Siala: if something like this happens to our citizens again in the future, we will be provided with all the necessary information and access to such persons. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Maxim Shugalei and Samer Sueifan.
We call on our citizens to show full responsibility when travelling to Libya or entering its territorial waters, and to avoid engaging in actions that are illegal under Libyan law.
Overall, we have had a productive discussion and outlined some specific steps to proceed in a number of important areas. I am grateful to Minister Mohamed Siala for this important conversation.
Question (addressed to both ministers, retranslated from Arabic): Commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, promised to start expelling the mercenaries and start a war with those whom he called the aggressors. The Defenсe Minister of the Government of National Accord, Salah Eddine al-Namrush, confirmed his readiness to repel any attack and prevent a recurrence of the events of April 4, 2019, referring to an attack by Khalifa Haftar on Tripoli. How can a political agreement be concluded in the light of the lack of trust between the parties and the intensive build-up of military capabilities on the contact line?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohamed Siala): I agree that the parties should be encouraged in every possible way to engage in dialogue and to counter attempts to return to war rhetoric and especially to threats of renewed hostilities.
Question: So far, political solutions for the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya have failed. What, in your opinion, are the reasons for these political failures? Who is behind keeping the Middle East region in limbo, "not at peace, not at war?"
Sergey Lavrov: We have repeatedly talked about the root causes of the current situation. They lie in the significant potential for conflict that persists in the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, as a result of the geopolitical experiments of the West, which tried to take advantage of the processes of the "Arab Spring," the region was thrown back several decades in its development, then began to generate a terrorist threat that spread widely beyond its borders, and then there was a migration crisis that undermined the economic foundations of many countries.
The international community seeks to help the peoples of the region get past these crises, reach agreements, and overcome the consequences of the reckless policy of NATO and its allies.
I would not say that we are observing (as you put it) the "failure" of political solutions in conflicts in the region. In Yemen, Syria, and Libya, which you mentioned, difficulties remain, but there is a trend that includes an increasing understanding of the importance of political decisions. In these three conflict situations, everyone recognises the leading, coordinating role of the United Nations. We see progress in the Yemen crisis, and contact between the Saudi coalition and the Houthis remain. There is also progress in contacts with the Southern Transitional Council. With the active support of Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantor countries of the Astana process, the UN has managed to establish a stable political process in Syria, which will continue next month. The same trend can be seen in the Libyan settlement. Intensive steps are being taken by the Libyan parties themselves and external parties to ensure that the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which has begun, becomes sustainable and leads to concrete agreements concerning the future of this country.
But where the risks of failure of political decisions are more real than ever is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This situation is very serious. Here, as in other cases, the responsible, leading role of the UN is necessary in order to resume direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with the support of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators and Arab States. We expect active, proactive steps from the new Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Middle East Settlement, Tor Wennesland, and from the Secretary-General himself, Antonio Guterres.
Question: A threat posed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar was mentioned earlier. But we also heard threats from Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, who visited Tripoli. Yesterday you met with your Turkish colleague. What is the status of Russian-Turkish talks on the efforts to stabilise the situation in Libya? Do you think these efforts are sufficient?
Want are your plans for New Year’s celebrations? How will you spend New Year’s Eve? When will you be back in the office next year?
Sergey Lavrov: After Libyan statehood was completely destroyed by NATO aggression, there was a temptation to turn this country into an arena of confrontation for external forces and geopolitical games with zero result. Since that time, there have been quite a few foreign policy initiatives, with various global actors, and various conferences. However, little attention was paid to working directly with the Libyan parties themselves. The desire was to take decisions without them and then offer whatever decisions were taken as the only solution.
A similar approach was initially built into the concept for the Berlin Conference on Libya, which took place last January and which everyone is aware of. During the preparation for the Berlin conference – there were several rounds of expert meetings – the Russian representatives firmly insisted on inviting the opposing Libyan parties and Libya’s neighbours to attend the event, while initially nobody even thought of inviting them to Berlin.
As a key event in the preparations for the Berlin Conference, Russia and Turkey held a special meeting in Moscow between the [Libyan] conflicting parties, who were represented by Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj, Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Haftar and President of the House of Representatives of Libya in Tobruk Aguila Saleh. Thanks to this cooperation between Russia and Turkey, to the initiative we launched jointly with our Turkish colleagues, it became possible to invite both Libyan parties and Libya’s neighbours to the Berlin Conference, which allowed the participants to approve a detailed and concrete document that was subsequently approved by the UN Security Council. This document laid the foundation for the political process and the military committee’s activities in the 5+5 format. The UN Security Council is not divided on this issue, as all its members share the approach that the resolution approving the outcome of the Berlin Conference must be carried out.
The only disagreement between the UN Security Council members was, to a certain extent, the procedure for appointing the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya. This post has remained vacant since last March, as all attempts by the UN General-Secretary to secure the approval of the candidates supported by the African Union have been voted down by the US delegation. We believe the opinion of the African Union has to be respected. We urgently need to have a permanent representative for a Libyan settlement, not just one who temporarily fills in, including for the purpose of maintaining relations with the parties to promote stability and restrain the bellicose rhetoric that we hear from both sides.
As for the New Year celebrations, modern means of communication allow us to perform our duties, regardless of our geographic location. Journalists should feel upbeat about the next year: given the situation in the world, you are unlikely to end up without a job and you will not have difficulties finding one. I wish good health to everybody.