At the end of Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s three-day visit in the US capital, where he met with US President Barack Obama and took part in the US Africa Leaders’ Summit, he warned of the seriousness of the crisis in Libya. Speaking to Al-Hayat, he said that the election of the new parliament was “a positive step that paves the way for the discussion table,” which he considered the only way to save Libya and prevent partition.
Thani asserted that Cairo will not intervene in Libya “without a direct request from the Libyan government,” and hoped that all of the regional parties stop interfering in Libyan affairs, which would open the way for the parties to reach an agreement. Al-Hayat met with Thani before he left Washington. The interview follows:
Al-Hayat: You have met with [President Barack] Obama, his [National Security] Adviser Susan Rice, and Secretary of State John Kerry. How would you describe the atmosphere during the meeting and the US position toward what is taking place in Libya?
Abdullah al-Thani: It was a successful visit. I met with Rice more than once and held several meetings with members of Congress. The United States is trying with all of its strength to support Libya’s stability in various ways. The fighting in Libya has become a street war, the security situation is deteriorating but the United States feels that it has a responsibility [to assist] since it took part in the ousting of the regime [of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011] and that it is required to [help Libya] continue on the path toward state-building, to promote the army and police and to support us with weapons.
Al-Hayat: To fight militias?
Thani: Yes. The weapons captured following the fall of the Gahdafi regime are in the hands of militias, which today have tanks, rockets and artillery. These militias have political agendas and personal gains. They are hiding behind Islam and the Libyan state is countering them.
Al-Hayat: Have you requested qualitative weapons from the Obama administration?
Thani: The agreements to train and equip [national security forces] are currently underway and are not affected by the arms embargo imposed on Libya. Under US supervision, 1,650 Libyans will be trained in September to be the core of a new battalion.
Al-Hayat : Is there an empowered Libyan army or armed forces in every sense of the word?
Thani: We have [a military], but it suffers from significant weapons and equipment shortage — militias have superiority in this regard. What is required at this stage is to find a new balance of power, for the army and police to be stronger than the armed groups.
Al-Hayat: What about the assassinations targeting the Libyan army’s commanders?
Thani: I guess that the landscape in Tripoli is different from that in Benghazi. There is a confrontation between Ansar al-Sharia and the state, in Benghazi, while it is a totally different political conflict in Tripoli.
Groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia are fighting the state in Benghazi and they will be defeated, God willing. In Tripoli, there are groups that aim to oust the government. In this regard, the confrontation in Benghazi seems easier than in Tripoli.
Al-Hayat: Do you think that Libya’s unity and geographical entity are at risk today?
Thani: Yes, as a country Libya is at risk today and if all parties do not ward off the danger, unite the ranks and sit at the dialogue table, then one day Libya will be divided into eastern and western parts.
Al-Hayat: You said Libya is not a failed state today. Why?
Thani: A failed state does not have economic fundamentals. Today, four oil ports are operating in Libya exporting oil and we will reach the average set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) with the beginning of autumn. This is a positive indicator. Libya has significant fundamentals and resources, which the failed state lacks. What is missing in Libya is a dialogue and to sit at the negotiating table. If the Libyans engage in dialogue and negotiations, we will reach the end of the crisis. Just as happened in Lebanon, after 15 years all the Lebanese realized that weapons do not solve the problem and signed the Taif Accord. We must learn from the lessons of the past and that no one can impose its domination over the landscape with arms and force.
Al-Hayat: Will Libya wait 15 years?
Thani: Libya will not wait as Lebanon did. Libya has more of the fundamentals needed for reconciliation than Lebanon did. There are no denominational and sectarian divisions and we do not have multiple currents. There is a real opportunity for dialogue today.
Al-Hayat: What is the regional impact of the crisis in Libya. Is it true that regional countries are fighting conflicts inside Libya today through the warring factions?
Thani: We do not have conclusive evidence to file charges against anyone, but we ask everyone to refrain from interfering in Libyan affairs and allow Libyans to solve their problems and reach an agreement.
Al-Hayat: Egypt implicitly hinted that it might intervene in case the Libyan crisis turned into a threat to its national security.
Thani: We communicated with the Egyptian government that assured us that it will not interfere in the affairs of Libya unless requested to do so.
Al-Hayat: Do the recent parliamentary elections pave the way for dialogue in Libya?
Thani: Sure. The main objective of the current government was to hold parliamentary elections and, thank God, we were able to win the confidence of parliament. The first session was held in Tobruk, it was successful and was attended by about 165 out of 183 MPs. Parliament Speaker Akila Saleh Issa called for a cease-fire or else he would forced to dissolve all armed formations.
Al-Hayat: Will you give up power in case a new government is formed?
Thani: Sure. I hope we will find the right person and I'll be very happy when I hand over this responsibility.
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