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‘Friends’ gather in Paris to plan future of oil-rich Libya

Text by: Charlotte BOITIAUX
5 min

As delegates arrive in Paris for the “Friends of Libya” conference Thursday, it is clear that the countries who gave the most support to the NTC against Muammar Gaddafi expect to gain the most from the oil-rich nation.


Delegations from 60 countries are attending Thursday’s “Friends of Libya” conference in Paris to discuss the oil-rich North African nation’s future in the post-Muammar Gaddafi era.

Alongside the political and economic agenda for rebuilding the nation after the devastating conflict, all attending nations will be jostling for the rich rewards that Libya’s numerous oil contracts have to offer.

Bearing this in mind, not all the countries attending Thursday’s conference sanctioned NATO’s military support, which was pivotal in helping Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) unseat Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after 41 years in power.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the first world leader to recognise the NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya, in holding the conference in Paris has given the NTC its first global platform to address the world. Sarkozy and the other world leaders are keen to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

FRANCE 24 spoke with Pierre Vermeren, a specialist in modern North African History at the Sorbonne University in Paris, for an insight into the possible winners and losers of Thursday’s conference.

France and the United Kingdom

France and the UK, who are co-hosting Thursday’s conference, will likely be the two big winners.

The two countries spearheaded the military intervention. They also pushed the hardest to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorised the use of force to protect civilians from forces loyal to Gaddafi, who at the time of publishing was still at large.

Paris and London, because of their unconditional support, would expect the pick of the post-Gaddafi oil contracts.

On Thursday, left-leaning French daily published a letter from the NTC which it said promised France access to 35% of Libyan crude oil.

“Libya’s oil is crucial for France,” said Pierre Vermeren, who pointed out that before the conflict, the main buyer was Italy (28%) followed by France (15%).

“And the UK comes out of this as a world leader that has stuck to its guns throughout the conflict. Above all the UK has asserted its military independence. By allying itself with France, Britain has shaken off the image of being in tow behind the US.”


The US has much at stake in the region, said Vermeren: “It has been important for the Americans to be seen to support the Arab revolutions. They have big strategic and security issues in the region because of the presence and activity of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Libya is an important future ally.”


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attendance is one surprise. Berlin abstained from the vote for UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorising the use of force in Libya. Germany also refused to participate in any NATO operations in the country.

Despite this, France has initiated a clean slate at the talks. Paris and Berlin “now stand shoulder to shoulder in the determination to help Libya reconstruct,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Monday.

“If Germany has changed its tune, it’s because it sees the potential for profitable contracts,” said Vermeren. “Germany is one of the world’s top suppliers of industrial equipment. A resurgent and reconstructing Libya is a potential gold mine.”


Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, had a delicate balancing act to play. Over the years Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cultivated a close working relationship with Gaddafi.

Regardless, Italy became one of the countries enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973, although it took a back seat in actual military operations.

Where Rome did redeem itself in the eyes of the NTC was by being the first country to unfreeze Libyan assets, unblocking 350 million euros on August 25.

“Before the revolution, Italy had become Libya’s biggest trading partner,” said Vermeren, adding that more than 180 Italian companies have a presence in Libya and oil giant Eni already has engineers working on resuming the flow of Libyan oil.

The Gulf States:

Qatar and the UAE were the only Arab countries to participate in the military operation and were among the first to recognise the legitimacy of the NTC. “Qatar’s leaders have always wanted to compensate for the country’s small size and strategic vulnerability with ambitions diplomacy,” said Vermeren. By supporting Libya’s revolutionaries, Qatar has fostered the image of being a key player in Middle Eastern politics and diplomatic strategy.”
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, has long maintained that it does not support military action against a fellow Muslim country. And the country certainly did not want to join a western-led coalition in military action. Despite its reticence, Riyadh had never declared its support for Gaddafi. “Saudi Arabia is a loser in the Libyan conflict,” said Vermeren. “It has lost a key ally in OPEC.”

China and Russia

China has never fully recognised the NTC’s legitimacy – but the country will be represented at Thursday’s conference anyway in an “observer role”.

Beijing was against military intervention from the beginning, although in June China finally recognised the NTC as “an important dialogue partner”.

Russia, meanwhile, is another surprise inclusion at the conference. Moscow, a traditional ally of Muammar Gaddafi, on the day of the Paris conference recognised that the NTC were “the current authorities” in Libya, falling short of declaring the NTC the “legitimate” representatives of the Libyan people.

Both countries face an uphill struggle renewing oil contracts with Libya. “Beijing and Moscow seem to be the losers in the race for Libya’s black gold – at least for the moment,” said Vermeren.


Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci will attend Thursday’s conference despite difficult relations with Libya’s NTC.

Last week, Algeria allowed some 30 members of the Gaddafi family, including three of his children and his second wife, to enter the country on “humanitarian grounds”. The NTC has demanded they be handed back.

According to the Algerian daily El Watan on Thursday, Gaddafi may be in Ghadames, an oasis town in the Libyan desert, close to the Tunisian and Algerian border. The newspaper claims Gaddafi is trying to negotiate a way to join his exiled family.

Algeria has said it would recognise Libya’s new rulers once they have formed a working government.


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