Libya’s mediation in the Mauritania crisis reflects fundamental issues in Libyan foreign policy since the birth of the “Libyan model” in 2003. Qadhafi would like to be treated as a key African actor by the the US and the EU, and to have this recognized by those powers. Rapprochement with the United States is seen as an essential means to this end, but the speed of that rapprochement has been too slow for the Brother Leader. Their concerns have been heightened with the rise of Joe Biden to Vice President, the result of Biden’s time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he irritated the Libyans by helping to stall the process of normalization raising human rights concerns and compensation for victims of terrorism. His impatience with Libya was evident in his visit to that country in 2004, and it is relevant to consider the the Libyans made multiple efforts to speed up the process in the twilight of the Bush administration (see Saif al-Islam’s visit to Washington, in November). Still not seeing the progress they would like, the Libyans are seeking to use their African Union presidency as a means of obstructing certain US initiatives in Africa, forcing the new administration to recognize Libya’s status on the continent.
Mauritania is a part of this process. By taking a line that would appear to be more broadly conciliatory towards the junta, rather than one of outright hostility, in contradiction to the American effort to reinstate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi by isolating General Mohamed Abdel Aziz and his cohorts. (Whose approach appears to be hoping for change, by means of epistles along the lines of “yes, we can.”) The AU consensus built during autumn/winter of last year will make this difficult, given that the existing sanctions on the junta were cooked up with a 2/3+ vote by AU member states and that relevant states are acting contra to the junta by many means. But the Libyans clearly think it is worth an attempt. And if that doesn’t work, the Libyans could still use their position to try and push the situation towards a resolution that would put them on better footing with the Americans, using their efforts as evidence of pragmatism (as Qatar played its efforts on Lebanon). The goal is to make the Americans more easily facilitate Libya’s African ambitions.
This also marks both the junta’s and Qadhafi’s perception of where the divide lies between the Americans and the Europeans: Where the Americans are set on the process of rendering a legal and legitimate government (which entails resolving the status of the HCE), the Europeans, French and the Germans in particular, are are more willing to compromise on legitimacy if a “legal” process is set forth. This stems from a lack of a belief in a return of Abdallahi outside of anything other than a face-saving measure. (Indeed, individuals close to Khatou quote her as having recently said that “We do not even want to return anymore, we only want to clear our names and move on.” Note this, also, for a different angle on the sanctions.) There are considerations in the Sahara that may make the Europeans more willing to compromise, though this is somewhat remote. The Americans have dug their heels in and movement does not appear to be free flowing, due to a lack of hard interest in the region compared to the Europeans. The junta has been attempting to capitalize on this, and the Libyans would like to exploit this situation with in the context of their own game.