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US and Russia refuse to support UN call for Libya truce: Diplomats

Report comes as Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj condemned the 'silence' of his international allies on Haftar advance
Mortar bombs have been crashing down on suburbs of the Libyan capital, Tripoli (AFP)

The United States and Russia both said on Thursday they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time, diplomats said, as mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

While the US gave no reason for its position on the draft resolution, the White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump spoke to Haftar by phone and discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts” by the leader.

A White House statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

Trump and Hafar spoke on Monday and it remains unclear why the White House waited several days to announce that they had spoken.

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The US's UN mission declined to comment and the Russian UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the Reuters news agency reported.

On Thursday, France said it supported the internationally government in Tripoli after that authority accused it of backing Haftar and said it would cut security cooperation with Paris.

"As we have already stated on several occasions: France supports the legitimate government of Prime Minister Serraj and the mediation of the UN for an inclusive political solution in Libya," a French presidential official said.

Haftar's forces predicted victory within days of beginning its offensive, but the Tripoli government has bogged them down in southern suburbs with help from armed groups from various western Libyan factions.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who heads the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, on Thursday condemned the "silence" of his international allies on Haftar's offensive and told the BBC his people were starting to feel abandoned by the world.

He said the failure to support his internationally recognised government could "lead to other consequences," citing the risk of Islamic State capitalising on the instability.

"The public is frustrated by the silence of the international community," he told the UK broadcaster.

Trump stance unclear

A UN resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the five permanent members - United States, Britain, France, Russia or China - to pass. 

It was not immediately clear if Britain would persist with negotiations on a draft next week.

The US and Russia made their positions clear during a closed-door council briefing by UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame, who diplomats said appealed for a ceasefire, warning that weapons were pouring into the country and it was heading toward a serious humanitarian situation.

The US reluctance to support Security Council action is in contrast to Washington's earlier public opposition to Haftar's offensive, which began while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Tripoli.

Some UN diplomats have suggested the US might be trying to buy time as US President Donald Trump's administration works out how to deal with the latest developments in Libya.

"I think there are a range of views in Washington on the policy side and they haven't reconciled them and they're not entirely certain where the president is on it," said a senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The American system is trying to evaluate all the scenarios and work out which one is in America's best interest and just hasn't done that yet," the diplomat told Reuters.

Russia and US at odds

A united Security Council informally expressed concern over events in Libya on 5 April, calling on all forces to de-escalate and halt military activity and specifically calling out the LNA.

In the following days, the council was unable, however, to issue a more formal statement, diplomats said, as Russia objected to a reference to the LNA, while the United States said it could not agree to a text that did not mention Haftar's forces.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then said in a statement on 7 April that "we have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar's forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital".

Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which view him as an anchor to restore stability and combat militants in Libya, while most Western powers have supported Serraj.

Trump met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on 9 April.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke with Pompeo about Libya on Thursday and both agreed on the need for a "rapid" ceasefire and return to the UN-led political process, the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Libya has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.