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Senior US diplomat in Libya to support interim government

CAIRO (AP) — A top American diplomat arrived Tuesday in Libya’s capital, marking the first visit by a senior U.S. official since the U.N.-backed election of an interim government in February.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood affirmed the U.S.’s full support of Libya’s transitional authorities and urged an end to foreign military intervention in the North African country.

Libya’s government of national unity is expected to enforce a cease-fire agreement signed in October and lead the country into general elections in December 2021.

“Today’s meetings demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. government and our strong diplomatic support for the progress the Libyan people have made towards an inclusive negotiated political solution,” Hood said at a joint news conference with Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Manqoush.

Along with U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland, Hood met with Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and was expected to meet with Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The uprising divided the oil-rich country between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east. Each were backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the U.N.-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the transitional government and December elections.

In a report obtained by The Associated Press last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres complained there has been no reduction of foreign fighters or their activities in Libya and that a U.N.-imposed arms embargo continues to be breached.

The U.N. estimated in December there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats.

“The goal of the U.S. is a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference and a state that is capable of combatting terrorism,” said Hood.

Hood said the U.S. hopes that Libyans reach an agreement soon on the constitutional mechanism of the upcoming elections.

He added that America is willing to re-open its embassy in Libya but that the process would take time and require “a lot of logistics.”

“We are not waiting for that; we will be visiting frequently and we will be inviting her excellency to Washington,” he said in reference to Manqoush.

The U.S. suspended embassy operations in Libya in 2014 as fighting between Libyan factions neared its embassy in Tripoli. The U.S. diplomatic mission to Libya is now located in safer Tunis, Tunisia.

In recent months, several European governments, including France and Greece, reopened their embassies in Tripoli after years of closure as an act of support of the newly-elected transitional authorities.

Noha Elhennawy, The Associated Press