The United Arab Emirates shipped weapons to its allies in Libya in violation of a UN resolution and with the apparent knowledge of the US government, according to leaked Emirati emails shared with the New York Times this week.
The emails also make it clear that the United Nations was aware of a potential conflict of interest between its envoy to Libya and the Gulf country. Last week, MEE published another email showing that Bernadino Leon, the UN envoy to Libya, was covertly working for the Gulf country to support one side in the war even while mediating between the two parties.
Another leaked email, reported by The Guardian last week, showed that Leon received an offer for a $50,000-a-month job training diplomats in the UAE in June. After negotiating the job’s housing allowance details throughout the summer – while also conducting negotiations, he will start as the director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in December.
The new emails show that the country’s diplomats were aware that their activities violated a UN embargo, outlining in the correspondence how they might hide what they were doing from a UN monitoring panel.
“The fact of the matter is that the UAE violated the UN Security Council Resolution on Libya and continues to do so,” Ahmed al-Qasimi, a senior Emirati diplomat, wrote in a 4 August email to Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s ambassador to the UN.
If the diplomats had complied with the procedures outlined by the UN resolution, Qasimi wrote, it would “expose how deeply we are involved in Libya … We should try to provide a cover to lessen the damage.”
Libya is in the midst of a civil war to determine control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
On one side, there is the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), which is backed militarily by the Misratan-led Alliance of Libya Dawn, and is also said to receive support from Qatar and Turkey.
On the other, the House of Representatives (HoR) was elected in June last year to replace the GNC, but it was forced to move east from Tripoli after Libya Dawn seized control of the capital in September. The HoR is allied with the Libyan National Army, which is headed by veteran general Khalifa Haftar – both have been heavily backed by the UAE, including militarily when Abu Dhabi began bombing Libya Dawn positions in Tripoli last year.
Officially, Leon has been attempting to broker a peace agreement between the HoR and GNC to form a unity government and end an ongoing civil war that has killed over 4,000 people in 18 months.
But the email published last week shows that Leon, in consultation with the UAE, planned to make the GNC “disappear”.
Instead, he planned to unite the HoR, which was ridden with infighting at the time, and gain international backing for Haftar, whose anti-Islamist forces are presumably among recipients of the UAE’s arms shipments which the latest emails indicate ran at least through August.
US, UN awareness
Other emails referenced in the New York Times piece show that there were already tensions between US and UAE officials over Emirati arm shipments.
As early as February, the US officials were reportedly complaining that an Emirati shipment of 40 UAE-made drones to Egypt had violated international missile control agreements and would have triggered a mandatory review under US law that could lead to sanctions, according to a 30 September email sent from Ethan Goldrich, the deputy chief of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Goldrich also reportedly said in the email that the State Department would need to disclose its findings to Congress. It was not immediately clear on Thursday what the State Department had found, nor why a mandatory sanctions review was not set in motion.
The new emails also suggest that the UN was aware of the conflict of interest between Leon’s role and his contact with the UAE.
In an email dated 27 August, Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s under secretary general for political affairs and a former US diplomat, asked Emirati leaders to allow Leon to continue as a mediator, hoping that an agreement could be signed.
“I could ask the secretary general to call you to make the request,” Feltman writes, apparently referring to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
When MEE asked the UN last week whether Ban Ki-Moon was aware of Leon’s communication with the UAE, a spokesperson responded: “All I can say is that the secretary-general expects envoys to be focused on their current role. The secretary-general is appreciative of Mr Leon’s work and the progress [in Libya’s peace process] speaks for itself.”
During a press conference at the UN in New York last week, Leon defended his attempts to broker peace in Libya, saying that he had “followed the procedures” in relation to his new job in the UAE.
“Hundreds of Libyans have been working for a year on this agreement,” he told reporters. “Is it fair now to say that the result of all this work is biased?”