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Analyst: Libyans 'Lost Trust' in UN Over Division, Inaction

FILE - A wide view of a United Nations Security Council meeting, April 20, 2022.

The Libyan ambassador to the United Nations recently blasted the U.N. Security Council for its "division" on how to solve the political crisis in Libya.

Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Taher Al-Sonni, recently told the U.N. Security Council that it has failed to implement decisions or impose punishments on individuals and states hampering a political solution in Libya.

Addressing the Security Council last week, Al-Sonni criticized the body, saying Libyans were left uncertain on what is to blame for the U.N.'s failure in Libya – “the strategy or the U.N. envoys sent there.”

Rhiannon Smith, managing editor of London-based consultancy organization Libya-Analysis, discussed the developments with VOA journalist and senior analyst Mohamed Elshinnawi.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: What did you make of Al-Sonni's statements at the recent U.N. Security Council meeting?

Smith: So I think this highlights a longstanding issue with the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council on Libya — they really are very divided on Libya and have been unable to issue any decisions to make any sanctions, to really have any direct impact on what's happening in Libya.

We saw the meeting Taher El-Sonni was speaking about and there were lots of different statements about Libya, but no decisions were made. There were different focuses by different actors. Some are focused on elections, others like Russia want a new U.N. envoy appointed as the primary thing to happen — there’s a lot of division over that.

I think Libyans have really lost trust in the U.N. as an institution because it hasn't been able to help solve the problem, and they haven't been able to solve their own political divisions. It's made the situation much more complicated, and at the moment we don't have a U.N. envoy.

VOA: Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations met with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Greenfield to review the current situation and challenges facing political process in Libya. He said the importance of America's role in supporting a peaceful solution to the crisis was emphasized in the meeting to avoid any military escalation or armed confrontations. What could the U.S. do to support the political process in Libya and avert some sort of armed conflict?

Smith: So the U.S. we are seeing at the moment is quite heavily engaged in Libya. However, they're not really focusing on the kind of military or armed conflict aspect, and I don't think we'll see that any time soon. However, the main focus for the U.S. is first of all to push for elections, but they’re primarily letting the U.N. lead on elections — although as we just discussed the U.N. isn't really leading on elections, so it's unlikely we're going to see elections anytime soon in Libya.

But what the U.S. is doing — and it is able to bring some pressure to bear on this — is trying to really depoliticize the Libyan economy. So it's trying to prevent Libya's vast oil wealth, which is a key driver of a lot of the conflict and a lot of the actions by armed groups, and was trying to protect that in the National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank of Libya by introducing some financial mechanisms to protect it. Now, so far it hasn't really made any tangible progress, but it is working closely with a lot of the actors involved.

VOA: So what kind of a compromise could U.N. Special Adviser on Libya Stephanie Williams use in next month's meeting of Libyan rebels in Cairo to reach some sort of a consensus?

Smith: Although they've made in theory some progress — they’ve agreed on certain elements — they really haven't made any progress on the really contentious and thorny issues where there are lots of differences of opinion. And unfortunately because the U.N. is in a very weak position because the internationals are very divided over the best approach to solving the Libya conflict, I don't think, unfortunately, Stephanie Williams has much that she can use to force these actors to compromise.

They still want to show the international community that they are willing, so I think we'll probably see some kind of symbolic gesture or agreement or process, but I think it's very unlikely that we'll see any kind of real momentum towards elections. Until the U.N. and the international actors on Libya are aligned and can agree on a way forward and a political process or an approach that they can implement, then I think Libyan actors know full well that they're not really going to have any sanctions or any kind of real pressure from the internationals because they're all pulling in different directions.