Berlin, Germany – At a summit bringing together backers of the main warring factions in Libya, world leaders pledged to end foreign interference and work towards a “permanent ceasefire”.
Sunday’s Berlin conference was the latest of many diplomatic attempts aimed at pushing Libya on a path to peace.
The participation of so many major powers embroiled in the conflict signalled a renewed sense of urgency to stop spiralling violence, but the future of what was agreed upon depends in large part on the good faith of the signatories and their ability to load pressure on their Libyan allies, both of which remain seriously in doubt.
The meeting in Berlin was attended by Turkey, Russia, the UAE and Egypt, and included representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Congo, Algeria, United Nations, African Union and United Nations.
Fayez al-Sarraj, who leads the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and his rival, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, attended but did not participate.
All participating parties signed a 55-point communique, in which they also pledged to respect a UN-imposed arms embargo, which has so far failed to stop an influx of troops, cash and weapons into the oil-rich north African state.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was a “very arduous road” ahead to end the bloodshed in a war that has become a complex proxy battle for economic and geopolitical influence.
The agreement sought to build on a shaky ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia on January 12, calling “on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire”.
Merkel, who convened the summit, said al-Sarraj and Haftar were briefed on discussions but did not take part or meet each other.
Libya has been in turmoil since the death of Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with various factions and militias taking advantage of the power vacuum to secure territory and control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Haftar’s attempt to capture Tripoli, which began in April last year, marked the beginning of the conflict’s latest stage, and has seen thousands killed in heavy fighting, focused mainly in the suburbs of the capital city.
“Berlin was useful in showing that Europe and European states are more engaged on the Libya file and are more keen to liaise with regional powers directly involved in the conflict in order to pressure them to de-escalate,” Claudia Gazzini, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera. “The key question will be whether it will be sufficient to de-escalate the conflict or not.”
Failure to make progress could undermine the process.
A UN arms embargo has been in place since 2011, but enforcement has been weak and foreign powers have supplied their Libyan allies.
While Turkey has increased its supply of troops and weaponry to the GNA in recent months, Haftar’s military strength has been bolstered by Russia, Egypt and the UAE.
“Only time will tell how sincere these commitments are … we’ll have to see whether weapons continue to arrive and whether fighters are shipped in or not,” said Gazzini.
The Berlin summit conclusions will be sent to the UN Security Council to approve and adopt; the promise to end foreign interference will remain what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement unless council members decide to impose sanctions.
There are fears Sunday’s agreement could prove toothless – states in violation of the existing embargo are going unpunished, and permanent UN Security Council members such as Russia and France continue to show political sympathies towards Haftar.
In the coming days, a meeting between five military officials from each side is expected.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres confirmed that these representatives were named in Berlin on Sunday. Previously, al-Serraj had named only three and Haftar none.
“Signs of positivity at this meeting would be a show of good faith that would inform the Security Council’s handling of the Berlin agreement, but failure to make progress could undermine the process,” said Tarek Megerisi, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“If however, it’s a very negative meeting, doesn’t really go anywhere [and] Haftar’s generals just grandstand – then we can probably expect a return to violence,” he told Al Jazeera.
“That meeting … will be the first example of whether Haftar’s backers had any honesty in their commitment that they would pressure him towards a resolution.”
The UN peace plan envisions three defined streams of discussions to build upon a permanent ceasefire – political, military, and economic – to address issues of peace, governance and the management of public finances.
“As long as there are some tangible changes [at these meetings], we might see the process moving on,” said Gazzini. “But all of these are very fragile, and the chances of spoiling them, boycotting them, and putting up a fuss in the course of these meetings, is huge.”
The 76-year-old commander pushed tensions further with a shutdown of oil key oil fields and ports on the eve of the summit, immediately crippling Libya’s oil production from 1.2 million to just 72,000 barrels per day and lifting crude prices worldwide.
Libyan National Army forces and militias loyal to its leader Haftar control much of Libya’s oil-producing regions of the country, leverage that the renegade commander has been eager to flex, even as signatories in Berlin reasserted their support for the authority of the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation.
“This suggests that they’re not going to entertain Haftar’s ways to independently sell oil and things will be forced back to the way they were,” said Megerisi
“Along with some other things there have been very bad plays by Haftar, and a misreading of the situation around the conflict, so it might work against him rather than in his favour.”