The US State Department renewed calls for a political solution in Libya as it slapped a Libyan exporter and several others with sanctions over fuel and drug smuggling out of the war-torn country.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the crisis in Libya during a call on Thursday with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, a top backer of Libya’s eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar.
During the call, Pompeo and Shoukry discussed the “importance of supporting a UN-brokered ceasefire in Libya through political and economic talks,” State Department spokesperson Cale Brown said in a statement.
The talks came as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, a crucial backer of Libya’s UN-recognised government, visited Tripoli, AFP reported.
Cavusoglu said a ceasefire should see the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) exerting control over areas held by Haftar, who has suffered losses but still controls large parts of eastern Libya.
‘Exposing illicit networks’
Amid the instability, the US on Thursday imposed sanctions on Libyan national Faysal al-Wadi, two of his associates and the Malta-based company Alwefaq Ltd on allegations of smuggling.
The Treasury Department said Wadi and his Maraya vessel have been smuggling fuel and drugs from Libya to Malta, a gateway to the European Union.
“Faysal al-Wadi and his associates have smuggled fuel from Libya and used Libya as a transit zone to smuggle illicit drugs,” Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement. “The United States is committed to exposing illicit networks exploiting Libya’s resources for their own profit while hurting the Libyan people.”
The order freezes any assets in the United States and opens the way for criminal prosecution over transactions with the individuals, company or ship.
Libya’s proxy war
Libya has been mired in chaos since a western-backed uprising toppled long-time Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Haftar’s violent bid to seize Tripoli has been backed by US allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as well as Russian mercenaries.
The White House on Tuesday called for a solution that includes a withdrawal of all foreign military personnel.
The United States recognises the Tripoli government but President Donald Trump caused confusion last year by praising Haftar.
Still, late last month the US threatened Haftar with sanctions as it accused the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor with ties to the Kremlin, of seizing the country’s largest oil field and export terminal.
Haftar’s forces, which control the bulk of Libya’s key oil infrastructure, have imposed a blockade on all Libyan oil terminals since January. The blockade has cost the war-ravaged country billions in revenue and sent production plummeting from more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to fewer than 100,000 bpd.
US threatens Haftar with sanctions over oil blockade
The US has threatened Libya’s eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar with sanctions and accused Russian military contractors with ties to the Kremlin of seizing the country’s largest oil field and export terminal, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper reported on Sunday that Haftar, who controls the bulk of Libya’s key oil infrastructure, had reneged on reopening exports since mid-June when the Wagner Group – a Russian paramilitary organisation accused of aiding his offensive against Libya’s internationally recognised government – moved to the Es-Sider terminal.
Haftar’s forces have imposed a blockade on all Libyan oil terminals since January, which has cost the war-ravaged country billions in revenue and sent production plummeting from more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to fewer than 100,000 bpd.
Last month, there had been signs that the blockade could come to an end but, according to the WSJ, Haftar changed tack when the Wagner group seized control of the Es-Sider terminal.
While the United States has sent mixed signals to Libya’s rival sides over the course of the war, Washington has become increasingly concerned over Moscow’s growing influence in the North African country.
One US official told the WSJ: “The State Department communicated the threat of sanctions to Haftar because he was being ridiculous and uncompromising with oil installations in eastern Libya.”
Without mentioning names or states, the US embassy in Libya also threatened those who “undermine Libya’s economy” with sanctions, in a statement earlier this month.
“The door remains open for all who lay down weapons, reject foreign manipulation, and come together in peaceful dialogue to be a part of the solution; however, those who undermine Libya’s economy and cling to military escalation will face isolation and risk of sanctions,” the embassy statement said.
According to the WSJ, Washington has already sanctioned Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is believed to own Wagner, over the group’s operations in Libya.
Last week, US Africa Command took the unusual step of revealing Russian mercenary deployments in Libya through a series of public statements, accompanied by satellite photos and other imagery.
Vulnerable to US sanctions
Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and territory held by forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey, along with regional ally Qatar, has backed the GNA, while Russian mercenaries, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have supported Haftar.
Last week, Turkey and Russia agreed to keep pushing for a ceasefire, but Ankara has continued to insist that Haftar is not a legitimate leader, and that his forces must withdraw from key positions for any credible deal to emerge.
Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, told Reuters on Wednesday that any ceasefire deal must be based on a return to the 2015 front lines, which would require Haftar’s forces to pull back from the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s eastern oilfields, and al-Jufra, an airbase near the centre of the country.
Haftar, a US citizen, used to live in exile in the leafy suburbs of northern Virginia between the late 1990s and 2007.
In February, two families filed a lawsuit against the military commander and his son, alleging that Haftar’s forces tortured members of their families.