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Germany Seeks to Broker Cease-Fire in Libya

After failed efforts in Moscow, European powers hope for a peace deal in Berlin.

By Audrey Wilson, an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Libya's Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala welcomes his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, in Tripoli on Oct. 27, 2019.
Libya's Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala welcomes his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, in Tripoli on Oct. 27, 2019. MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germany prepares to host a U.N.-backed summit on peace efforts in Libya, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gives a rare Friday sermon, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial has begun.

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Germany Hosts Libya Peace Summit

Germany hosts a conference on Sunday to discuss peace efforts in Libya, after nine months of conflict—with the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Gen. Khalifa Haftar seeking to take Tripoli, held by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled to Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday to persuade Haftar to attend, and he said that Haftar is committed to a cease-fire agreement.

Sunday’s summit comes after a failed push by Russia and Turkey to get Haftar to agree to a cease-fire this week in Moscow. Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who leads the GNA, signed a draft cease-fire agreement there while Haftar did not. Both Russia and Turkey have become increasingly involved in Libya’s conflict, with Russian mercenaries aiding the LNA and Turkish troops now supporting the government in Tripoli.

Who will be in Berlin? Germany has invited the United States, Russia, Turkey, France, Egypt, Britain, and others to the Libya summit. Both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend. “I hope that the parties will take this opportunity to put the future of Libya back in Libyan hands,” Maas said.

Potential roadblock. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has threatened to block any cease-fire agreed in Berlin unless Turkey and the GNA abandon a maritime border agreement that disregards Greek sea rights in waters that could have significant natural gas deposits. Greece, an EU member, was not invited to attend the conference in Berlin.

Late on Thursday, Haftar traveled to Athens unannounced and met Greece’s foreign minister. He is expected to meet Mitsotakis today.

What We’re Following Today

Iran’s supreme leader delivers rare sermon. After a two-week standoff with the United States and days of domestic protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei led Friday prayers in Tehran this week for the first time in eight years. The rare sermon came at a moment of extreme tension, following the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and the accidental Iranian downing of a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran. Iran’s delayed admission that it shot down the jet prompted angry protests.

Khamenei showed no sign of compromise, however, branding the United States an “arrogant power,” calling U.S. President Donald Trump a “clown,” and telling tens of thousands of chanting worshipers that Iran was able to “slap the face” of the United States with God’s backing.

Trump’s impeachment trial has begun. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate formally opened President Trump’s impeachment trial—just the third against a president in U.S. history. The solemn ceremony begins what will be a partisan and unpredictable trial—though almost certain to end in Trump’s acquittal. As the trial begins, new evidence has emerged that appears to show that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer surveilled then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Diplomats are disturbed by the new revelations—as well as by Pompeo’s refusal to defend Yovanovitch, former career diplomat Nicholas Burns tells FP’s Robbie Gramer. Meanwhile, Ukraine has opened its own investigation into the alleged illegal surveillance.

Lebanon could form a government. Lebanon’s interim finance minister said on Thursday that it is close to forming a new government amid a political crisis, after protests against the country’s ruling elite began in October. Pressure is growing on politicians to lead the country out of economic turmoil, as reports emerged of the governor of the central bank seeking to delay some bond repayments. Protesters returned to the streets en masse this week, with some vandalizing banks and ATMs—leading to a violent crackdown by the police.

Keep an Eye On

The French far-right. On Thursday, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced that she would run for president in 2022—her third consecutive attempt at the presidency. (In 2017, she lost in the runoff to Emmanuel Macron by a margin of 66 to 34 percent—nearly double the 18 percent showing that her father Jean-Marie managed in the 2002 election.) Le Pen’s rebranded National Rally party has been aggressively campaigning to win control of more cities in France’s March municipal elections. Winning control of city halls, and proving the party can govern effectively, is central to Le Pen’s strategy, as Karina Piser reported for FP.

Germany’s fight against climate change. Germany plans to pay its utility companies billions of euros in order to accelerate the shutdown of coal-fired power plants—a major obstacle to Berlin’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris agreement. Germany is also in the process of reducing atomic power plants, meaning it will need a big expansion in wind and solar in the coming decades.

Xi’s trip to Myanmar. Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Myanmar today—the first such trip by a Chinese leader in 19 years. There, he is expected to sign major infrastructure deals and cement China’s influence in a country with weakening ties to the West amid genocide accusations. Xi will meet Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and army chief Min Aung Hlaing.

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Odds and Ends

Australian firefighters have saved the world’s only remaining cluster of prehistoric Wollemi pine trees from a bush fire, according to officials. The Wollemi pine was thought to be extinct before the grove of 200 trees was discovered west of Sydney in 1994, and its precise location remains a secret for protection. The trees’ survival was welcome news in Australia amid the devastating fires, which have burned more than 25.5 million acres.

South Koreans say no to facial hair. Social media users in South Korea have launched a campaign against U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris’s mustache, accusing him of insulting his host country by sporting a look that, according to the Guardian, “reminds many South Koreans of the days of Japanese colonial rule,” when several Japanese governors had mustaches.

The Korea Times suggested that his facial hair “has become associated with the latest U.S. image of being disrespectful and even coercive toward Korea.” Harris, who is Japanese-American, has dismissed such concerns, telling local journalists, “I’m the American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese American ambassador to Korea.”

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson