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US says EU mission on Libya arms not 'serious'

Tripoli residents in June 2020 wave the flags of Libya and Turkey, which has accused the European Union of bias in trying to stop its shipments of weapons to the country's internationally recognized government
Tripoli residents in June 2020 wave the flags of Libya and Turkey, which has accused the European Union of bias in trying to stop its shipments of weapons to the country's internationally recognized government Mahmud TURKIA AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

The United States charged Thursday that the EU mission to halt arms shipments to Libya lacked seriousness, sharing Turkey's criticism that the effort is biased.

The European Union set up Operation Irini to enforce a UN embargo on sending weapons to war-torn Libya, leading to an incident at sea last month between France and Turkey.

David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, agreed that "the only interdictions they're doing (are) of Turkish military materiel."

"They could at least, if they were serious, I think, call them out -- call out all parties in the conflict when they violate the arms embargo," Schenker said at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"I think it's regrettable. There's a lot more that they can do," he said.

Schenker said that the Europeans could take action against the Wagner Group, a shady Russian mercenary unit accused of backing Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.

"Maybe they are concerned about the backlash from Russia. But if they aren't going to take on a more robust role, or a more serious role, then this thing is going to drag on," he said of the Libyan conflict.

Turkey is the key backer of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, which has made major strides in recent weeks to repel Haftar, whose offensive has also been backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last month complained that the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers' shipments into Libya, including what he alleged were arms being sent by France to Haftar.

France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favoring him, voiced fury last month after it said that one of its ships was subjected to Turkish frigates' radar targeting while inspecting cargo en route to Libya.

The United States officially backs the UN-recognized government but its stance has also faced questions, with President Donald Trump praising Haftar last year.

Libya has been in chaos since a Western-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

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