Two of the most powerful members of the U.N. Security Council are rejecting Libya’s call to lift a U.N. arms embargo so it can defend itself against the Islamic State group, saying Thursday that the chaotic country needs a national unity government first.
Libya’s foreign minister told an emergency council meeting Wednesday that lifting the embargo is necessary as the militant group establishes a presence in northern Africa and moves closer to Europe. Alarm soared after a video released over the weekend showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians there.
“If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists,” Mohammed al Dairi said.
But the United States and Britain are openly worried about allowing more weapons into a country that has two separate governments, multiple militant groups and a high risk of weapons falling into unwanted hands.
Both countries, as permanent members of the 15-seat council, can use their veto to block any proposed action.
“The problem is that there isn’t a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said during a visit to Spain. “There isn’t a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support.”
Libya first needs a government of national unity in place, along with a U.N. presence in the country, he said.
“But simply pouring weapons into one faction or the other, which is essentially what has been proposed, is not to bring us to a resolution to the crisis in Libya, and is not going to make Europe safer, is going to make it more at risk,” Hammond said.
Libya is split between the internationally recognized government based in Tobruk in the east and another government in Tripoli, backed by Islamist militias. The U.N. embargo has been in place since 2011, the year that long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. position on keeping the arms embargo hasn’t changed. “It permits transfers necessary to support the Libyan government while allowing the Security Council to seek guard against the high risk that weapons may be diverted to non- state actors.”
A spokesman for Libya’s mission to the U.N. said he could not comment Thursday night.
Libya can apply for weapons imports under an exemption in the arms embargo for the Libyan government, but the Security Council committee that considers such requests has been cautious about giving approval amid concern that weapons might be leaked to armed groups.
The Security Council on Thursday night was preparing a press statement saying council members fully support U.N. envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon’s efforts aimed at a compromise between Libya’s two governments.
In a meeting in Washington on countering extremism, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry “expressed deep concern over the situation in Libya and stressed the importance of political dialogue as the only way out of the current crisis,” a U.N. statement said.