VIENNA (Reuters) - World powers including the United States are ready to consider demands from Libya’s new unity government for exemptions from a U.N. arms embargo to help take control of the lawless country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
The West is counting on the U.N.-backed unity government to tackle Islamic State in Libya and stop new flows of migrants heading across the Mediterranean, though the newly instated leaders are still not in control of the capital city, Tripoli.
Speaking after a meeting of about two dozen ministers in Vienna, Fayaz Seraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said that with his administration now taking shape, he would be giving a list of weapons to relevant authorities “as soon as possible”.
“We have a major challenge facing us in fighting Daesh,” Seraj told reporters, referring to the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “We hope for assistance on training and equipping our troops.”
International powers have repeatedly said they would support Libyan efforts once a unity government was in place and had made its demands clear.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said such a request made sense but would need to be “carefully sculpted”.
“We have now had a request come to us and obviously (it has) to be discussed and go through the process with respect to the U.N.,” Kerry said.
“It’s a delicate balance, but all of us here are supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and the legitimate government is struggling against terrorism, that legitimate government should not be made the prisoner, or should not be victimized, by virtue of the U.N. action,” he said.
The Libyan government is allowed to import weapons and related materiel with the approval of a U.N. Security Council committee overseeing the embargo imposed in 2011.
In March last year, eight Security Council members delayed approval of a request by Libya to import weapons, tanks, jets and helicopters to take on Islamic State militants.
U.N. sanctions monitors had told the Security Council committee they were concerned that, if the request was approved, some of the weapons and equipment could be diverted to militia groups.
Sanctions were renewed this March.
Major world powers are banking on the GNA, which arrived in Tripoli on March 30, to end the violent chaos that Libyans have endured since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall five years ago.
Seraj’s government is supposed to replace two rival administrations - one based in Tripoli, the other in eastern Libya - that have been competing for power and oil wealth in the OPEC member since 2014.
It has won the backing of factions in western Libya and on Monday the GNA’s leadership issued a statement commissioning its ministers to start work in a caretaker basis in Tripoli, until they take the oath of office.
But the eastern parliament has yet to accept the GNA, and eastern factions have recently made military gains and a forceful bid to sell oil independently. The eastern government tried to wrest control of both the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and central bank through branches based in the east.
Western states have moved to block those efforts, and a joint statement by the ministers meeting in Vienna stressed their commitment to “ceasing support to and official contact with parallel institutions”.
“While deploring recent oil and arms transactions made outside the scope of the GNA, we reaffirm our commitment to upholding the arms embargo and measures concerning illicit oil exports” under U.N. Security Council resolutions, it said.
Separately, Libyan oil sources told Reuters exports from the eastern port of Marsa el-Hariga would resume after a deal was reached in Vienna by rival oil officials.
Western powers have ruled out a military intervention in Libya, although the United States has already conducted air strikes against Islamic State militants there.
Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Ahmed Elumami and Libby George; Editing by Louise Ireland