Sarkozy's Day of Triumph France's President to Shine at Libya Summit

Thursday's Libya donor conference in Paris will give French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron an opportunity to shine. The pair led the NATO mission against Libya that ultimately caused Gadhafi to fall. But the despot is still on the run, and it's too early for celebration.

Nicolas Sarkozy aboard an aircraft carrier: The French president was the first world leader to demand Gadhafi's resignation.
REUTERS

Nicolas Sarkozy aboard an aircraft carrier: The French president was the first world leader to demand Gadhafi's resignation.

By in London


That date is loaded with symbolic value. Sept. 1, 1969 was the day Colonel Moammar Gadhafi claimed power in Tripoli, a date he has since celebrated with great pomp and circumstance each year. With Gadhafi on the run in his own country, though, the festivities will not take place this year. Instead, the international community will gather on Thursday to hold the first Libyan donor conference following the despot's fall. Topping the agenda will be plans arranged with the transitional government to establish democracy in the North African country.

The Paris setting for the "Friends of Libya" summit is also not a coincidence. French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to position himself as the man responsible for the dictator's fall. He will chair the meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. That would seem only fair, since the two countries led the six-month NATO deployment against Gadhafi together.

France's leading role is indisputable. On Feb. 25, Sarkozy became the first world leader to demand that Gadhafi step down. And, on March 11, France became the fist country to recognize the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. It is these actions -- widely dismissed outside France as knee-jerk reactions at the time -- that will help Sarkozy position himself as a worldly statesman during a campaign for re-election next year.

Skeptics of the NATO deployment who didn't support the military strikes will stand on less firm ground at the summit. China and Russia will send envoys to Paris, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will fly in herself. The chancellor's participation is meant as a reconciliatory gesture after Germany came under massive criticism for its decision to abstain in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution in March to establish a no-fly zone in Libya.

But other European nations and the Libyan National Transitional Council will be only too happy to accept German assistance. The chancellor has pledged generous aid for Libya's reconstruction. Neither has she ruled out the possibility of deploying German troops.

At the first meeting in Paris, though, the possibility of an international peacekeeping force won't even be on the agenda. The Libyan National Transitional Council has said it doesn't want foreign troops on Libyan soil, including an observer mission proposed by France. Council leaders have said they would only want international assistance in building a police force. The new powers in Libya have said they would only request UN troops if the security situation in the country were to get out of control in the coming months. Currently, that doesn't appear to be a threat.

An Urgent Need for Food and Medicine

Far more urgent for Libya at the moment is shipments of medication and food. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is also attending the meeting in Paris, said in New York that the humanitarian situation in Libya demands "urgent action." Leaders in London have expressed similar sentiment. In an editorial in the Daily Telegraph, former British Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind wrote that the main focus of the meeting needs to be "getting life in Tripoli back to normal, and identifying the best practical support that will be needed to create a stable state."

Alongside aid deliveries for Libyans, which are already underway, the new government needs money. The Transitional Council estimates its immediate financial need at €5 billion ($7.18 billion). That amount is meant to keep the state apparatus running. Salaries for police, military and other public services have to be paid in order to keep the nation from sinking into chaos.

Western governments want to allow the new rulers access to the Gadhafi regime's frozen assets. Worldwide, an estimated €100 billion has been saved in various accounts. The UN will also lift sanctions imposed on Gadhafi's government in the spring. Great Britain and France are working on an appropriate Security Council resolution, but until it is passed, UN money can also be paid out for individual cases from sanctions committees.

The British government has already agreed to release €1.1 billion in Libyan bank notes that have been printed by an English press. The German government has applied for a disbursement of €1 billion by the sanctions committee, while Paris wants to release €1.5 billion from French accounts.

Elections within Four Months

This sort of Western aid costs nothing -- and it could keep the transitional government afloat until Libyan oil starts to flow. Then the rich nation can be as independent as it was before the conflict. The Transitional Council's finance minister says oil production might re-start in several weeks. After a year, according to Libyan estimates, living standards could return to normal. International oil companies are nevertheless waiting to send employees until the security situation has stabilized and political structures have been clarified.

Gadhafi loyalists still hold the coastal town of Sirte, the dictator's birthplace -- among other locations -- and have made no sign of giving up. The New York Times refers to a "power vacuum" in Tripoli, with rebel leaders of several regions already starting to jockey for position.

NATO formally resolved on Wednesday to help the rebels break the Gadhafi loyalists' final positions. Building democratic structures will then become the biggest challenge for the international "Friends of Libya." The Transitional Council has presented a road map: First a people's assembly has to be organized to elect a constitutional assembly and then a transitional government. After those jobs are finished, national elections could be held within four months.

The government leaders who meet in Paris will try to avoid repeating the mistakes of US President George W. Bush. In 2003, Bush declared the Iraq war over -- "Mission Accomplished," several years too soon -- and was widely mocked. As long as Gadhafi hasn't been captured, Sarkozy and Cameron will do well to practice restraint.

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