MARCH 7, 2020


The last U.N. special envoy Ghassn Salameh just resigned, as expected. He has been complaining for a while about lack of required support by key powers and constant bickering by internal parties. After trying for over a year to keep a "stiff upper lip" and maintain a negotiating posture in Geneva, Paris, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere he had no other option. Previous envoys faced similar conditions although Professor Salameh had a certain edge for speaking the language and knowing the region. A professor at one of the most prestigious universities in Paris, he was a permanent candidate to take over UNESCO if the government of his country of origin, Lebanon, had given him practical support. The difficulties are much more complex than an armed dispute between local factions. That is maybe why the first five envoys starting with a Foreign Minister of Jordan, Spanish diplomat, German official and a Lebanese former Minister could not make a difference.

There are at least three main reasons for frustrating any practical mediation:

  • One is that scrambling for oil money is not limited to those in different areas. An internal impression is that competition is between Italian company ENI and French Total. Gulf countries like UAE and Qatar also finance armaments. The recent military involvement by Turkey did not help.
  • Second is the wide range of the country's topography. Zones of Tripoli, Benghazi and Faizaan are too distant for orderly control. Tribes have basic impact and clear interest in reaching or averting decisions.
  • Third, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council do not seem to have the same amount of determination - some claim they don't even bother - to reach a consensus. The U.S., which played a pivotal role in ending Qadhafi's rule, seems to be avoiding involvement, particularly after the murder of one of its top diplomats with outstanding contacts in the region. The U.K., which had a traditional alliance in that country, particularly during the kingdom regime, seems to keep a calculated distance. France was initially involved under President Sarkozy, then tried a different angle under President Macron, now follows the developments very closely while sometimes offering some helpful initiatives. Professor Salameh, for example, is also a citizen of France which recommended him for that post.

Who will the Secretary-General designate next?

Unless one of the three elements drastically change, the outcome would most likely remain the same.