Coalition leaders met in London on March 29 to analyze the conflict in Libya from every angle. But were they looking at the reality of the situation, or just seeing what they want to see?
The coalition's aim is to rid Libya of Muammar Gaddafi. Instead, Gaddafi is still in place, and Libya itself has been split in two. The time has come to start the political restructuring of the country. Tailoring this process to meet the needs of the opposition in the east is unbecoming, premature and bizarre, but so far there is no other opposition to speak of.
The London conference was initially planned as a meeting of the countries enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973. But as the meeting drew closer, this document was mentioned less and less, becoming nothing more than a background decoration at the conference.
Russia was not even invited to London for its decision to abstain from the Security Council vote. This raises the specter of a world in which Moscow isn't consulted on anything, although it was not the only country to be sidelined at the conference.
China, the other permanent member of the Security Council to abstain from the vote, was also absent at the conference. There were no representatives of the African Union. And Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa did not attend either, choosing to send his deputy to London instead. Apparently, he was not inspired by the prospect of discussing Libya's future without the presence of any legal (or at least reputable) representatives of Libya or the Libyan opposition. Moussa is universally respected in the Arab world, and he appears poised to run for president in Egypt. It would be unethical for an Egyptian presidential candidate to "partition" Libya in London (not even at the UN) given London's unsavory colonial past.
Despite some high-profile absences, the conference was attended by about 40 foreign ministers, including from all 29 NATO countries, the UN secretary-general and representatives of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The plan put forward at the conference consists of a variety of different proposals: Gaddafi's step-by-step removal from power and departure from the country (the destination is unclear); a ceasefire agreement; and a framework for the opposition's talks with the chiefs of Libya's major tribes on its future political and state structure. Participants in the conference have decided to establish a Libya Contact Group to coordinate the political side of NATO's bombing campaign. NATO has also assumed responsibility for enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya.
The opposition sent its own plan to London, which includes a promise to hold free and democratic elections in Libya.
Thawing Gaddafi's frozen assets for the opposition
The most important events at major international conferences always take place on the sidelines. In London, the opposition's special envoy Mahmoud Jebril (Gaddafi's former minister of planning) met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Discussions are now turning to practical goal of how to organize post-Gaddafi Libya - a process that includes choosing acceptable political leaders.
Toward this end, President Obama will soon send a special envoy to Benghazi to consolidate ties with the Transitional Interim National Council. Emissaries from the UK Foreign Office have been in Benghazi for several days on the same mission. Full recognition of the Libyan opposition appears imminent. The conference even endorsed a second mission of the UN general secretary special envoy, a former foreign minister of Jordan, to Libya with a view to persuading Gaddafi to agree to give up power peacefully under the terms of the international community. It is hard to say why the London conference rather than the UN should deal with this issue, but here we are.
American diplomats say that the option of unfreezing $33 billion in Libyan assets in American banks and transferring them to the opposition is already being discussed.
Has Moscow been again sidelined?
It appears so. This conference has made clear that Russia will play only a token role in any political settlement of the Libyan crisis. Hopefully, this attitude will change in the near future, but for the time being Russian participation does not seem to be an option. This was predictable.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was absolutely correct when he said at a news conference on March 29 in Moscow that all countries enforcing the UN Security Council resolution on Libya "should report to the UN Security Council." Clearly, he meant the London conference, or, to be more precise, the French-backed Libya Contact Group, but it would have been undiplomatic to say so directly. Decisions made at an international conference are not the same as UN resolutions, but there is not much sense in raising objections after the fact.
The Libya Contact Group, or any other body outside the UN, will be a supra-NATO or supra-UN political vehicle for coordinating the issues pertaining to Libya's future and supporting the opposition and post-Gaddafi political settlement in general. This process is already well underway, and without Moscow's participation. But it was clear enough that Resolution 1973 would lead to this point, considering how broadly UN documents are usually interpreted.
Hillary Clinton and her British counterpart William Hague met with Jebril not to discuss international humanitarian relief. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that the United States has not ruled out arming Libyan rebels. Clinton first met with Jebril on March 15, three days before the Security Council passed its no-fly-zone resolution on March 19, which Western coalition members have interpreted to include the right to arm the Libyan opposition.
To sum up, a virtual post-Gaddafi Libya is taking shape in London. Now all that's left to do is force Gaddafi out.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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