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PARIS – France has offered the United States and others a plan to withdraw foreign fighters from Libya, a country plagued by civil war in recent years.
The plan – seen by POLITICO – sets out a six-month timeline that first proposes to withdraw Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, followed by Russian-backed mercenaries and regular Turkish troops. The two-page proposal has been circulating for several weeks among diplomatic officials in the countries concerned, according to two officials familiar with the talks.
And in recent days, officials said, French President Emmanuel Macron has pitched the idea directly to his counterparts in the United States and Turkey. Macron discussed the plan with US President Joe Biden on Saturday at the G7 gathering of wealthy democracies in England, before raising it with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday at the NATO summit in Brussels.
The ultimate goal is to further stabilize a country on the southern border of the EU, which has created migration challenges and terrorism risks for Europe. The main players are trying to cement a civil war ceasefire reached last October between the UN-backed government in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and Khalifa Haftar, a general who controls the territory in the eastern part of the country. Libya.
In March, Libya established a government of national unity recognized by all major actors in the civil war. But his position remains precarious ahead of the December elections – Haftar retains significant military support and fighters backed by Turkey and Russia persist in the country. Added to these challenges is the fact that Turkey and Russia went to war on opposing sides – Turkey behind the government in Tripoli and Russia behind Haftar.
The idea behind Macron’s plan appears to be to tap into America’s weight and use it as leverage to pressure Turkey and Russia to withdraw their affiliated forces. It’s a tactical change for Macron, taking a more collective approach that could end up offering a foreign policy victory for someone else – Joe Biden.
“It could resonate with US policy,” said Tarek Megerisi, Libyan expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They prioritize expediency over substance when it comes to Libya and rely heavily on key allies despite their partisanship.”
As part of Macron’s plan, Turkey would first withdraw the Syrian mercenaries it sent to Libya in 2020, when the Tripoli government asked for help pushing back a siege of Haftar’s forces. Such a step could take place from July 1.
The second phase would see both Russia withdrawing its private militias from the Wagner group and Turkey withdrawing its own soldiers. The step, proposed for September, could be more difficult, given that it equates Turkish troops, who have been invited into the country by an internationally recognized government, and private militias illegally linked to Russia.
The third phase proposes to reunite the divided Libyan security forces, currently divided between those who have defended the government in Tripoli and those who fight for Haftar. Apparently, this step would leave Haftar’s Libyan National Army as the predominant group. This fact could make selling difficult for those who support Tripoli. The result could also be seen as a reward for the failure of Haftar’s siege on Tripoli, and risks reinforcing the perception that France is too close to Haftar, who has been the country’s partner of choice in its fight against it. Islamic State and jihadist groups in the region. .
The proposal is an attempt to revive stalled efforts to get foreign fighters out of Libya. This comes after the failure of two previous plans. The October ceasefire included a clause requiring all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave the country within 90 days. But this deadline came and went without movement. The UN Security Council then passed a resolution calling on all parties concerned to withdraw their foreign forces, but this was also ignored.
The Biden administration has not said whether it supports France’s latest proposal – and has not indicated whether Biden will discuss the plan with Erdoğan or Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Biden meets for a one-day summit on Wednesday. . But US officials admitted they were working to get the foreign fighters out of Libya.
“We are consulting a range of Libyan and international partners to urge full respect for the Libyan ceasefire agreement and its call for the departure of foreign elements,” said a senior administration official.
Biden officials said the president discussed Libya in general with Erdoğan during a longer-than-expected NATO summit meeting on Monday. And Libya should be on the agenda for Biden’s meeting with Putin on Wednesday afternoon in Geneva.
If Biden comes out of his meeting with Putin with some commitment to cooperate on Libya, it could offer the US president a concrete victory of a meeting that is unlikely to produce much.
Still, the biggest problem could lie in the attempt to win over Turkey. The equivalence that the document establishes between Turkish soldiers and mercenaries from the Wagner Group could frustrate Turkish officials.
“It appears to be designed to upset Turkey while largely ignoring Russia,” said Megerisi, the Libya specialist. “The Wagner group is there for dubious reasons, poses a strategic threat to Europe and remains the foreign force most likely to derail the next elections.”
Indeed, Libya has scheduled general elections for December 24, and there is growing doubt that they will be held in time.
When asked on Monday whether Erdoğan had agreed to withdraw his regular troops, not just Syrian mercenaries, Macron dodged and focused on what he said was their broad agreement that foreign fighters should withdraw. Macron also remained vague on a withdrawal schedule.
“President Erdoğan confirmed during our meeting his wish that the mercenaries and foreign militias operating on Libyan soil leave as quickly as possible, and his wish to work together on this point,” he declared.
The French leader also warned that France and Turkey could not necessarily solve the problem on their own, alluding to the panoply of other countries with interests in the country. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt – to name a few – all played various roles during the civil war.
A withdrawal, Macron said, “is not entirely up to the two of us.”
Lara Seligman contributed reporting