Minister Di Maio, you admitted that we have lost our role in Libya. We have disappeared from Tripoli for eight months. They must be upset.
«I won’t hide the fact that we must make up for it and we have to do it through a concrete and more realistic approach to the situation on the ground. »
Where did we go wrong?
«Despite the excellent work carried out by our diplomatic corps and our intelligence services, especially the AISE, it’s true: we have lost ground and the responsibility is of a political system that went through a difficult period. And this is another reason that makes it important to have a stable government in Rome. In any case, with Libya, and more in general with the Mediterranean, we are bound by deep ties of friendship, and we can and must recover what I deem to be the natural role of a Country of reference in the area. We have always been mediators, with a great vocation for dialogue, and this is the direction we must work towards. »
Clarity would be a good start. Whose side is Italy on? With the UN-recognised government led by al-Sarraj, whom Italy itself contributed to put in office four years ago?
«We recognise and support the work of the United Nations and the Berlin Process. We are the first to say that we must not jump the gun and that Europe must show itself compact. This is why I hope the EU will go on a mission to Libya, precisely to support the only negotiating process plausible right now towards a peaceful solution of the crisis and Libya’s national unity, against any interference and involving all the actors in play, without prejudice. »
Who have now increased, making everything ever more difficult.
«We cannot feign not to see that the situation is complex and that it has not improved over the years, quite the contrary. In this context, as I have already said, we must take the road of frankness: we must all sit around a table, including the Countries bordering with Libya that, just like us, would pay a very high price if the conflict were to escalate, to lay the grounds for the Libyans to finally have a future. To stabilise Libya means also to assure the security of our own Country, the Mediterranean region and ultimately the whole of Europe. »
But how do you define taking an equidistant stand between the supporters of al-Sarraj and the troops of General Haftar in the middle of a civil war?
«Excuse me, but what is the alternative? Remaining passive? Leaving everything as it is? Or another military action? Please, let’s be serious. The only solution to the Libyan crisis is political and there is no option to dialoguing with all the parties. It’s not equidistance but rather realpolitik. Italy can play an important role; we must have the courage to forge ahead and promote shared solutions with our EU partners. »
The Tripoli government considers General Haftar a militia leader. Do you instead recognise him to have political status?
«When I met with al-Sarraj on Tuesday, he told me that they are ready to take steps forward if their counterparts are willing to do the same. I asked the same question to Haftar and I am planning to see him again some time soon in Rome. Haftar definitely has a role; it’s not I but the facts that recognise it and this is something we cannot ignore. »
Don’t you think that invoking a diplomatic peace is too little while military instruments continue to prevail? Today Libya means deaths, mortar shelling, militias, mercenaries, weapons from both fronts, espionage.
«In Libya, as in Syria, a proxy war is under way. The interests in play are many and the players several. It is a mistake to only analyse internal dynamics; it is necessary to extend the scope of our focus and push anyone participating in this conflict, directly and indirectly, to come to a negotiated solution. »
Italy and the European Union should have the courage to stand up to the real drivers of this conflict, namely Turkey (on the side of Tripoli) and Russia (on the side of Haftar).
«Italy must undoubtedly have the courage to recognise that these two [countries] are also two essential interlocutors for the stability of Libya. »
Interlocutors who represent authoritarian regimes that are contrary to liberal systems, full-fledged ‘democratorships’: Putin and Erdogan. However things go, is Libya destined to be governed by a new post-Kaddafi dictatorship?
«I believe the Libyans can hope in a stable future. But we must all commit to start from a principle: that the first victim of this war is precisely and indistinctly the Libyan people. »
How can Europe tolerate that the only way out will ultimately be a regime?
«It doesn’t necessarily have to be a regime but an inclusive intra-Libyan democratic process accompanied by an election process, which will be up to the Libyan people to decide when to call, with no external interferences. »
Perhaps in Libya they have understood where Italy went wrong: to look at the other shore of the Mediterranean as a problem only in terms of immigration, forgetting that there was a conflict under way.
«What interests Italy is the stability of Libya that, should it occur, would contribute to achieving profitable results also in terms of migration flows and of fighting terrorism. We should not start from the effects but from the causes. Instead, in Libya I received expressions of appreciation and closeness to our Country and this should spur us to assure greater support to the people, already partially provided through rescue and humanitarian operations. »
Did you speak to Lavrov about the Libyan dossier ten days ago? Did you ask him to stop supplying Haftar?
«With Lavrov I addressed several issues, and obviously also Libya. I told him that Italy condemns every form of interference and that the solution can only be diplomatic. Weapons never get anyone very far. »
America is keeping a very low-profile. Is there the suspicion that they may be willing to accept the victory of the Russian-Egyptian pro-Haftar front?
«Giving answers to Washington is not within my scope of competence. The US is our historic ally and we maintain a sincere relationship with them. I intend to talk to Secretary of State Pompeo in the next few days to give him an update on what we are doing. »