BENGHAZI, Libya/DUBAI: East Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, reversing a previous refusal to engage with the country’s U.N.-backed government, met its head Fayez al-Sarraj Tuesday for talks that sources said were positive. Regional and Western powers have for months been pushing the two men to discuss resetting a U.N.-mediated Libya Political Agreement that led to the creation of Sarraj’s Government of National Accord in Tripoli. The deal was an attempt to end the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising against Moammar Gadhafi. It gave no role to Haftar.
Haftar is the dominant figure for factions in eastern Libya that have rejected the GNA, contributing to its failure to expand its power in Tripoli and beyond. Rival armed factions in the west of the country have backed the GNA.
There was no official statement as the meeting – that took place in Abu Dhabi – ended, but the sources close to Haftar said he met Sarraj one-on-one for two hours of talks they described as positive.
One sticking point has been a clause in the U.N.-mediated deal giving the GNA control over the military, which eastern factions fear will weaken the self-styled National Army that Haftar commands.
Libya’s 218 channel, a pro-Haftar TV station, said he and Sarraj had agreed to propose canceling the clause, and to form a restructured unity government.
“It was agreed to open permanent channels of communication and to form two working groups to complete an agreement on the details of the formation of a government and the military arrangements between officers from all regions,” a source who asked not to be named said.
There was also an agreement to hold presidential and parliamentary elections no later than March 2018. Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Tuesday’s meeting came after a change of tack from Haftar, who seeks nationwide presidential polls next year.
Haftar is “now pursuing a different strategy ... exchanging his support for an amended LPA for a guarantee to have presidential elections early in 2018 in which it would be thinkable for him to run,” he said.
The meeting also comes as Sarraj seeks “badly needed legitimization” from the eastern authorities, even as he struggles with internal support in western Libya where factions are hostile to Haftar, he said.
It was the first time Sarraj and Haftar had met since the start of last year.