218News conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Ghassan Salame, the former UN envoy to Libya, and he revealed details that were told for the first time about his work at the Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
At the beginning of the interview, Salame confirmed that he decided to resign from his post on March 2, 2020 for health reasons, and that the Secretary-General asked him to freeze his activities due to his health condition, but he preferred to resign due to his need for urgent surgeries, and to work as an advisor to the mission team throughout its work, stressing that his resignation was not political, while the Deputy Head of the mission, who was an Italian military man, was asked to resign, because there was no military activity in the mission and it was not possible to entrust the mission to him.
After that, several names applied for the position of Deputy Head of Mission, and Stephanie Williams was chosen when she was in charge of the US embassy in Libya. Salame added that he had chosen her to occupy the position of Deputy Head of Political Affairs because of her CV, mastery of the Arabic language and her desire to resign from her previous position.
Stephanie Williams…UNSMIL Memories
The former UN envoy described Stephanie Williams as “the memory of what the mission is doing in Libya,” stressing that he was insistent on attending all announced and unannounced meetings on Libya, to be aware of all that is happening.
Salame said that he was in complete and continuous contact on a daily basis with her and with the entire mission team in Libya even after submitting the resignation and leaving the mission, stressing that Williams was qualified to work on the Libyan file for her mastery of the Arabic language and her knowledge of Libyans, which prompted him to involve her in everything while he was in command of the UN mission.
Dr. Ghassan Salame believed that choosing Williams was one of the successful decisions that he made during that period, because when he had health problems, there was someone who could continue to implement the set plan.
Salame revealed that a number of participants in the Tunis Dialogue attended at a direct personal invitation from him, and that Williams was asking him to communicate with a number of them, stressing that a number of candidates for the Presidential Council and the government formally applied for candidacy with a direct request from him and one of them won the votes of the dialogue team.
He added: “There is an integral harmony between me and Stephanie Williams because the agreement was on the work plan drawn up in Berlin. Williams was present at the nine preliminary meetings that preceded the Berlin meeting, and besides me, she put the wording of the 55 articles of agreement.”
He continued saying: “Williams was part of the process and I could not trust others, because the main parties in Libya learned from developing the basic plan for a solution in Libya. Williams informed me of all the details of the meetings that took place for Libya, including the meetings of the Military Committee and the Dialogue Committee.”
The Gathering and Mahmoud Jibril Reference
Salame pointed out that what should have happened within a year or two in Libya took 3 years to implement, due to his stubbornness against the Libyan institutions that reject solutions, as well as against a number of countries that want to keep the situation as it is.
He pointed out that he had talked about the inclusive national gathering since 2017 in a long session in the presence of the heads of major countries, and after his official proposal to hold the national forum in Libya, he received a call from the late Dr. Mahmoud Jibril and told him that “this is what the Libyans want.”
Regarding the internal bodies that were against that idea, the former UN envoy revealed that the Parliament, the High Council of State and the Presidential Council, in addition to many external parties, all rejected the idea of the National Gathering, which was about to convene, and the preparations reached the point of handing over all the equipment for holding it to the Mayor of Ghadames, but the war, which broke out ten days before the meeting, hindered the efforts.
Indicators of the Battle for Tripoli
Salame revealed that they had several indications of the war in Libya, including the Libyan National Army’s statements and the military movements in Sabha, Murzuq and others, adding that the reaction in Tripoli from the Libyan National Army’s movements in January 2019 was not negative.
He added: “The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, was aware of the indications of the war, and called the presidents of two countries associated with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and both assured Guterres that nothing would happen while he was in Libya.”
He said: “The Secretary-General was reassured that war would not break out and I told him that it was his responsibility.”
April 4 and Orange Light
Regarding the fact that the General Command of the Libyan National Army received an American light to go to Tripoli, Salame said that General Security held a lengthy meeting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, through which they learned that the Libyan National Army General Command had received an orange light from the United States to enter Tripoli.
He revealed that Haftar and his advisor confirmed the leadership’s contact by phone with former US National Security Adviser John Bolton, in which the American side expressed its opposition to declaring war in Tripoli, adding: “They told them that if you want a war, you should do it quickly.”
Salame pointed out that “the US did not instigate the war in Tripoli, but it was aware of it before announcing it and did not oppose it,” stressing that the United Nations does not have an intelligence apparatus, and it only knows what the countries themselves tell it.
Salame continued that period with soldiers from western Libya, and they personally assured him that the attack on Tripoli had begun in the south of the country, after which the program of the Secretary-General’s visit to Tripoli would be changed and a number of meetings were canceled. The Secretary-General, during his visit to Tripoli, was convinced that war would break out and told me that he would inform Field Marshal Haftar about it.
Again, Security Council is “Sterile”
Salame reached the conclusion before the Berlin conference that external interference increased, and the movement between Tripoli and Al-Rajma would not work. He saw that the decision in Libya was in the hands of the military, not the politicians, at a time when the world was witnessing Tripoli militarily encircled, and therefore the UN mission did not find a possible understanding among Libyans.
Accordingly, the strategy was changed in Berlin by dealing with war and external interference and creating a necessary international umbrella in advance for the Libyans to agree, while Salame at the time presented a report to the Security Council in which he declared his inability to find a solution for Libya under a sterile and divided Security Council, and more than half of its members supported the war in Libya, according to his description.
Regarding the size of the division and rift taking place in the Security Council, Salame said: “The council gave me an order to deal with the Government of National Accord without any other, at a time when half of its members deal with the party that attacks it.”
A Cazy Bet
The former UN envoy described seeking to hold an international conference on Libya during that period was a near-insane bet, adding that the bet was to convince an international parties to do so, especially since he did not find an echo in the Security Council and only two countries, Germany and Sweden, which were outside the Security Council, contacted him.
As part of preparations for an international conference on Libya, Salame said that he received a call from Angela Merkel’s special advisor and set an appointment for him with the chancellor in Berlin, and about what happened then, he said: “I sat with Merkel in her office in private for two and a half hours to talk about an international conference on Libya. My idea was for the conference to be at the level of foreign ministers, and Chancellor Merkel initiated the idea of inviting heads of states to a summit on Libya.
He continued: “Merkel stipulated determining the number of countries invited to the Berlin conference on Libya and does not want a new United Nations assembly in her country. It was agreed to host ten heads of states and represent other countries, in addition to the African and European Unions and the Arab League.”
Salame said that nine preparatory meetings for the Berlin conference were held between 15 August 2019 until 19 January 2020, and a number of organizations and countries tried, from the first day, to find a real international understanding about Libya, while other countries remained reserved until the day of the summit.
The Libyan Exception
He revealed that the Secretary-General was conservative until the day of the summit and did not think that heads of states had broken off for several years to meet for the sake of Libya, stressing that he had wagered on the Libyan exception to bring Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to one table after 6 years of not meeting.
Salame pointed out that Merkel played a key role, accompanied by the United Nations Mission for Support in Libya, for the success of the Libya summit in Berlin, and it was agreed with her in advance that Germany’s role is only to host the summit, while the UN mission to Libya team sets the contents of the meeting.
The Survival of Berlin Conference
The former UN envoy says that after hard work for months, Turkey and Russia tried last week to hijack the Berlin track and abort the summit, as it was agreed between Moscow and Ankara to invite Haftar and Sarraj to Moscow and try to impose an understanding on them that would abort the Berlin conference, pointing out that the Berlin summit was an international meeting on Libya, not a meeting between the Libyans, to neutralize the international conflict in the file and not to intervene in Libya.
After stopping in Turkey, Al-Sarraj went to Moscow and signed the Russian-Turkish understanding, while Haftar refused to sign after his arrival, and after that Putin set a condition for his attendance at the Berlin summit to save his face, for Sarraj and Haftar to be present at the summit, and this condition did not suit the mission, according to what confirmed by Salame.
However, the German chancellor accepted the Russian president’s condition and invited Haftar and Al-Sarraj, but they stayed in the hotel and did not attend the meeting.
Salame believed that Libya, after 2011, was fragmented into more than one camp, as if a nuclear bomb had struck its people and not a dispute between two camps, and they had to pick up these shrapnel, and despite the fact that all the various Libyan parties to the crisis had someone to represent them in the political dialogue in Tunisia and Geneva, but the obligation of the foreign states accepting and supporting the agreement of Libyans was important.
Salame said that the importance of the Berlin conference was not clear to Libyans who expected it to be a passing meeting, as happened in Paris and Palermo, and after the success of the conference, the former UN envoy revealed that he had received criticism from several countries for not hosting the summit with them, while Berlin was the one who chose to hold the conference as the UNSMIL did not hold it by choice.
He added: “Merkel’s hosting of the summit is due to her desire to accomplish something that will benefit her country, and she was not planning a personal victory for her because she had announced her intention to leave power.”
Regarding the invitation of the permanent members of the Security Council to the Berlin summit, Salame said that it was a deliberate decision to ensure the issuance of a UN resolution supporting the outcomes of the conference.
Salame told Libyans the key to a political solution in their country, as he emphasized that the 5 + 5 military committee is that key even though Libyans did not attach importance to it at the beginning, and in the late summer of 2020 awareness of the military committee preceded awareness among politicians, fearing the division of Libya and the control of mercenaries On the country.