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Statement on a Political Deal for Libya
Statement on a Political Deal for Libya
Reviving the JCPOA after Maximum Pressure
Reviving the JCPOA after Maximum Pressure

Statement on a Political Deal for Libya

The International Crisis Group considers the international conference on 13 December in Rome an opportunity to bring together a divided Libya through an inclusive political process. Under the co-chairmanship of Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it will bring together the "P5+5" group that has backed the talks – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Germany, Italy, Spain, the European Union and the UN, as well as Libya’s neighbours.

Intense diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya are of course welcome, but there are risks associated with a precipitous rush to anoint a government without consolidating domestic support or addressing urgent security concerns.  Ending negotiations will strengthen hardliners; granting recognition to a government that has insufficient backing will condemn it to irrelevance.
Establishing a sound basis for stabilising the country entails giving Libyan, regional and other international actors and Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, the necessary support and time to rebuild trust in the UN - which was damaged by the premature announcement of the composition of a government of national accord in October and the allegations of impropriety by the Secretary General's former Special Representative, Bernardino León - and to secure as wide a consensus as possible through the following steps:

  • acknowledging that a government of national accord is likely to be stillborn if prematurely recognised. It would not be able to be seated in Tripoli due to security concerns and might trigger renewed fighting for control of the capital;
     
  • giving time before announcing a government to revise the Tripoli security plan proposed by the UN and to conduct a broader, nationwide security dialogue between military coalitions  – including militias from Jebel Nefusa, Misrata, Tripoli and Zintan in the west, the Libyan National Army, the Shura Council of Benghazi and the Petroleum Facilities Guards in the east, and Tebu, Tuareg and Arab groups in the south– to buttress the political dialogue. This would allow these actors to devise a coordinated approach to combat the Islamic State and other extremists;
     
  • prioritising urgent economic questions, via a separate track of the UN-led negotiations with international financial institution support. These talks should build agreement for steps that the incoming government of national accord will have to take quickly, while determining interim economic policy and managing key Libyan financial institutions; and
     
  • seeking to win over Libyan stakeholders who are supportive of an agreement in principle but demand clarification or modification of details, notably some members of the General National Congress (GNC) and the House of Representatives (HoR), both of whose endorsements are needed for an agreement’s implementation (which calls for extension of the HoR’s mandate and creation of a State Council of former GNC members). At present, however, the leaders of both parliaments oppose the deal.

There is, rightly, concern that more negotiations, especially if in bad faith, would allow further deterioration on the ground. But security and economic talks must happen in any event. Their prospect will be threatened should a hard push on the political track lead to polarisation or fragmentation. Pursuing the security and economic tracks even as the political track regains its footing, however, should be seen as an opportunity to begin to correct the increasingly alarming economic, humanitarian and security situation and help build momentum toward a more inclusive agreement and buy-in for a government of national accord. Crisis Group recognises that there is strong pressure to give the proposed government of national accord international recognition. In the event of such a decision, it urges participants to:

  • state clearly that actors who do not initially sign onto the agreement will have the opportunity to do so at a later date without sanctions, which should not be imposed on the sole criteria of rejecting a UN agreement or refusing to recognise the government of national accord. Given the likelihood that an agreement will be contested (including in Libya’s Supreme Court), room must be created for future concessions, even if limited;
     
  • leave the leadership and membership of the government of national accord's presidency council, which will have key decision-making powers, open to future modification. This is crucial for eventually drawing in those whose support is conditional on other factors;
     
  • encourage Libyans who support the UN deal to do more to change perceptions of it. Prime Minister-designate Serraj, whose success depends on broadening his support base, and politicians from the western city of Misrata, who were key to efforts to reach an initial agreement last summer, should reach out to the east of the country and assuage fears that the western Libyans seek to dominate the new political institutions; and
     
  • pursue the security and economic tracks described above with key stakeholders. Even if the broad outlines and formation of a government of national accord are fixed, there should be flexibility to negotiate its policies.

Many countries gathered in Rome intervened militarily in Libya in 2011 without a plan for the aftermath; they should not repeat that mistake now on the diplomatic front. This conference is an occasion to chart a realistic way forward. It should not gamble with Libya’s future.

Brussels

Reviving the JCPOA after Maximum Pressure

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal could help alleviate the threat of nuclear proliferation and cool regional tensions. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support the Biden administration in re-engaging with Tehran and to facilitate trade between Europe and Iran.

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which defined its Iran policy and underpinned much of its approach to the wider Middle East, did not succeed. Its punitive approach was meant to curtail Iranian nuclear activity, which increased instead, and to lower regional tensions, which rose dramatically. Tehran responded to U.S. unilateral sanctions with a series of breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), slowly weakening the landmark 2015 nuclear accord. The deal’s further erosion could spark a non-proliferation crisis. Enmity between the U.S. and Iran, manifested in risky tit-for-tat military exchanges in the region, additionally strained relations between the Islamic Republic and U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The mutual distrust simmered for years, frequently coming perilously close to a boil.

Joe Biden’s election to the U.S. presidency has raised hopes for a new U.S. Iran policy in 2021 that can help bring down the temperature in the Middle East and alleviate the threat of nuclear proliferation by reviving the JCPOA. To assist in these endeavours, the EU and its member states should: 

  • Support the Biden administration in re-engaging with Tehran and returning the U.S. to the JCPOA if Iran restores its compliance with the deal.
     
  • Encourage the Biden administration to facilitate international humanitarian support to Iran in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Tehran’s request for an International Monetary Fund loan.
     
  • Facilitate growth in trade between Europe and Iran as a crucial element in delivering the benefits envisioned under the nuclear agreement and laying the foundation for discussions with Tehran on a broader agenda, including Iran’s regional power projection and ballistic missile program. At the December 2020 EU-Iran High-Level Dialogue, both sides affirmed their interest in deepening bilateral cooperation. 
     
  • Encourage Gulf Arab states and Iran to enter an inclusive regional dialogue aimed at reducing frictions and opening communication channels to prevent dangerous misunderstandings.

A Vital Opening for Nuclear and Regional Diplomacy 

The 2018 U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA put the nuclear deal under significant stress. Instead of delivering an improved accord, as the Trump administration boasted it would, it ended up demonstrating the importance of the existing one. Sweeping sanctions put in place by Washington in pursuit of maximalist demands, compounded in 2020 by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tehran’s mismanagement, have driven Iran’s economy into three years of recession in a row and quashed Iranian expectations that the agreement would yield financial rewards. 

Tehran has in turn broken its commitments to restrict its nuclear program. Notably, since 2019 it expanded its enriched uranium stockpile, raised the level of enrichment, and stepped up its research and development activity. On 2 December, following the killing of senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh the previous month, which media outlets and others widely attributed to Israel, the Iranian parliament passed legislation that would enable further breaches of the JCPOA. The government has already implemented the first of these parliamentary instructions by raising the uranium enrichment level to 20 per cent in early January. Another measure instructs the Iranian government to stop allowing enhanced international inspections under the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran has been voluntarily implementing as part of the JCPOA, by 21 February if the JCPOA’s other signatories do not deliver various economic benefits laid out in the deal by that time. Limiting access would be a serious concern for the UK, France and Germany – the so-called E3 – who, along with China, Russia and Iran, remain JCPOA participants. 

The EU, which convenes the JCPOA signatory states under the Joint Commission, has played a pivotal role in diplomatic efforts to keep the accord alive, viewing it as the best available framework for holding Iran’s nuclear activities in check. But, at least in Tehran’s view, both the EU and E3 have failed so far to match their declared commitment to the deal with meaningful sanctions relief.

As the JCPOA began to unravel, regional tensions ratcheted upward in a series of incidents that risked major escalation.

As the JCPOA began to unravel, regional tensions ratcheted upward in a series of incidents that risked major escalation. Some of these incidents involved Iran and the U.S. alone, but others, such as a string of attacks on commercial shipping in the Gulf, underscored the entanglement of their respective allies as well. The danger is heightened by the near absence of consistent communication and decades of accumulated distrust between Iran and the two major Gulf Arab powers, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have precluded a security dialogue needed to mitigate tensions. These Gulf Arab states – along with Israel – are also pressing the U.S. not to rejoin the JCPOA or lift sanctions without concrete commitments from Tehran on matters that they consider of paramount concern, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and what they view as its destabilising role in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. 

Recommendations for the EU and its Member States

The EU can play an important role in stabilising the nuclear agreement and championing constructive dialogue among Gulf actors. Having spent the past two and a half years hailing the JCPOA’s importance, the EU and its member states can claim vindication as they urge both Washington and Tehran to return to compliance with the agreement. Strong diplomatic support for reviving the JCPOA will strengthen the Biden administration’s hand against domestic critics urging it not to relinquish the leverage purportedly accumulated as a result of the “maximum pressure” approach. The Joint Commission can also help develop a roadmap and a timetable for Iran’s and the U.S.’s full resumption of their JCPOA obligations.

The EU and member states could buy more time and space for the incoming Biden administration by offering Iran, with Washington’s green light, some economic incentives of their own. For instance, they could revive President Emmanuel Macron’s 2019 initiative to pre-purchase Iranian oil as long as Iran agrees to halt any additional nuclear and regional escalation before the new U.S. administration moves to effectively dismantle the sanctions. European states should also work with the private sector to expand trade between Europe and Iran, which has deteriorated despite initiatives such as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), through providing European firms willing to re-engage with the Iranian market or invest in Iran with economic incentives, such as tax breaks. As part of its engagement with the new Biden administration, the EU should press for any measures that can provide immediate humanitarian relief to Iran, including approval of Tehran’s International Monetary Fund loan request for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

European states should also work with the private sector to expand trade between Europe and Iran.

Shoring up the JCPOA does not mean dismissing non-nuclear concerns. European governments, like the U.S. and some of its regional allies, are apprehensive about Iran’s ballistic-missile development, its support of various armed non-state actors, and its human rights record. But stabilising an existing agreement that addresses a key strategic issue offers the best foundation for follow-on negotiations with Tehran.

In parallel to the nuclear file, Europe can help de-escalate regional tensions by encouraging and supporting dialogue between Iran and Gulf Arab states and emphasising that diplomacy offers the best way to both prevent violent incidents from spinning out of control and lay the foundations for a durable regional security framework. Launched as a diplomatic initiative by a core group of European states, with support from the EU high commissioner and the UN secretary-general, regional actors should be prepared to take ownership of such a dialogue to maximise the chances of success. While the Biden administration would need to nudge the Gulf Arab states to talk to Iran, European governments can hold preparatory discussions to understand interests, concerns and aspirations, as well as offer to provide venues for the dialogue, possibly in coordination with the U.S. They could also convene technical discussions among regional states, backed by the relevant UN agencies, to foster cooperation on issues of common interest, such as climate change, public health and maritime security.