Post Conference Interview with Jonathan Winer and Wolfgang Pusztai on Libyan Politics

During our annual NCUSLR conference held on November 13th, 2018 in Washington DC, many

participants raised questions to the speakers that we could not respond to due to time limits.

As such, we have initiated a series of follow up interviews with our conference speakers to answer these lingering questions.

As you go through these questions and answers please keep in mind that neither the questions nor answers reflect the opinions of NCUSLR.

  • Dr. Hani Shennib

Presenters featured in the following Interview:

Jonathan Winer, Former US Special Envoy for Libya & Scholar at the Middle East Institute

Jonathan Winer was the former United States Special Envoy for Libya, Deputy Assistant to theSecretary of State for international law enforcement, and counsel to United States Senator John Kerry. Mr. Winer currently serves as a scholar at the Middle East Institute. He has written and lectured extensively on various foreign policy topics and his areas of expertise include U.S. relations with the MENA and Russia, counterterrorism, governance, economics and energy, and migration.

Winer presented at the 2nd Annual NCUSLR Conference on Panel I, The Libyan Political Process: Quo Vadis. The topic of his presentation: “Back to the drawing board after a failed political agreement: Can it be fixed?”

View Jonathan Winer’s Presentation

Wolfgang Pusztai, Chairman of the NCUSLR Advisory Board and MENA Policy & Security Analyst

Wolfgang Pusztai is a freelance security and policy analyst with a special focus on the MENA region. He has both a military and an academic background in strategy. Wolfgang’s military experience ranges from various positions on the strategic level in the Austrian MoD/General Staff to several international assignments (national, EU and NATO); including serving as Austria’s Defense Attache to Italy, Greece, Tunisia, and Libya from 2007 to 2012. He also has long-term experience in the intelligence business. He serves as the Chairman of the NCUSLR Advisory board and a Director at Perim Associates.

Presented at the 2nd Annual NCUSLR Conference on Panel I, The Libyan Political Process: Quo Vadis. The topic of his presentation: “Alternatives to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA): What options?"

View Wolfgang Pusztai’s Presentation

Post-Conference Interview with Jonathan Winer and Wolfgang Pusztai:

  • What in your opinion are the principle reasons the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) did not succeed?

Winer: Russia gave several billion dinars printed by the Goznak state printer to Ali al Hibri at the Benghazi branch of the Central Bank. This gave HoR (House of Representatives) Speaker Agila and the eastern government the ability to ignore the LPA requirements and refuse to permit votes to support the GNA (Government of National Accord), locking the doors of the HoR and turning off electrical power when the HoR would have voted to support a GNA government.

UNSMIL failed to include provisions to the LPA that would have taken power from HoR to impede government if it failed to act after a reasonable period such as 30 days after a government was presented.

LPA sought to finesse the problem of militias. It needed to provide a way to address national security institutions.

Pusztai: The first main problem is, that the representatives negotiating and signing the LPA in Skhirat, Morocco were neither representatives for those groups in Libya, who have the real power on the ground, nor for the population. Consequently, the agreement ended up with some very controversial points. Another important issue is, that Serraj and the other PC-members are perceived by many Libyans as hand-picked by the that-time UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon (which is probably not entirely wrong) and not by the Libyans themselves.

Accordingly the LPA, the agreement itself and the GNA must be endorsed by the House of Representatives (HoR), Libya’s internationally-recognized parliament, which has not been the case yet. The main reasons for this are that [1] the HoR does not want to give Supreme Command over the Libyan National Army (LNA) to the hands of somebody who is appointed by the GNA and [2] that most people in the east do not want to submit to a government which is controlled by Tripolitanian militias. As long there is no endorsement by the HoR, the legitimacy of the GNA can be contested.

But even if it would be fully recognized, this would not change much on the ground in Tripoli.

  • What are the risks inherent to UNSMIL and Salamé's new plan for Libya and how can they be avoided?

Winer: Libyan political figures who benefit from the status quo will stall action, forever. This can be avoided through united action at the UNSC to withdraw recognition of existing Libyan institutions authorized under the LPA after reasonable deadlines if they fail to meet deadlines for carrying out process requirements of Salamé’s plan.

A national force needs to be created that is geographically inclusive and under the authority of civilian government with a military council, not any single individual. Militia salaries need to be phased out amid revaluing the dinar to dominate the black market differential.

To get there, Salamé should convene security talks with major Libyan actors with the support of international community. Any divisions among international actors risks destroying Libyan processes by encouraging Libyans to exploit such divisions and thereby avoid essential compromises.

Pusztai: The main dangers are, that the National Conference, which is as such a very good idea, will not be representative for the people of Libya and that it will be used just to rubber-stamp the way to premature elections. This could be avoided by inviting the elected local representatives from all over Libya and by using the conference to change the direction of the stabilization process.

  • If you see US policy on Libya as focused on combating ISIS, should this be different and how?

Winer: US policy is focused on countering terrorism more broadly than ISIS and includes such groups as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM - Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar al Sharia among others. It also includes support for UNSMIL and for Salamé’s process. The US should continue these policies with additional focus on promoting alignment of all international actors and encouraging patrons to press their clients on Libya to compromise and deal, or to lose their support.

Pusztai: US foreign policy is, at most times, driven by national interests. As there are no vital American national interests with regard to Libya at stake, it is unrealistic that this will change any time soon - as long as the instability in Libya is not considered a risk for the whole region. Nevertheless, at least an increase in humanitarian efforts as a flanking support to counter-terrorism efforts would be desirable.

The views shared in this published interview reflect those of the guest contributor and not necessarily the views of the National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations.