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Saudi Arabia and Egypt successfully lobbied US to support Libya's Haftar: Report

Policy shift came after Saudi crown prince and Egyptian president urged Trump to back Haftar, sources tell Wall Street Journal
After Trump's call to Khalifa Haftar on 15 April, the US has not voiced opposition to his offensive on Tripoli or called for an end of hostilities (AFP)

President Donald Trump reversed US policy in Libya a week after the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt lobbied him to back Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libyan commander seeking to capture Tripoli, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. 

Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, announced on 4 April that he had launched an offensive on the capital, seeking to take it and western Libya from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). 

According to the WSJ, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman urged Trump to support Haftar in early April, with the crown prince arguing that the militias in Tripoli were affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS) and al-Qaeda.

The US policy for years has been to support the GNA, which Saudi Arabia and Egypt believe is aligned with their rivals Turkey and Qatar. Prior to the lobbying efforts, the US condemned Haftar's offensive and called for the UN to intervene.

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But on 15 April, a week after the Saudi-Egyptian push, Trump called Haftar to praise the commander's role in fighting terrorism and discuss "a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system", according to a White House statement.

Since his communication with Haftar, there has not been a similar confirmation of US opposition to the campaign, nor a firm call for an end to hostilities, the Wall Street Journal said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of the UN-backed Libyan government, Fayez al-Sarraj, told the newspaper that he had received no notification of any change in US policy.

Middle East Eye was unable to independently verify the report, which cites US and Saudi officials.

At least 450 people have been killed and around 50,000 others displaced around the Libyan capital since Haftar launched his Tripoli campaign. Global oil prices have increased since the offensive began. 

A Saudi official, in response to a request for comment from the US newspaper, said: “The kingdom supports the unity and stability of Libya and the efforts to combat terrorism,” including the UN’s efforts to reach a political solution, adding that the "kingdom works with all parties to attain that objective”.

Egyptian officials didn’t respond to the WSJ's requests for comment.