A UN success story: Libya's seat turned over to interim government

The Security Council followed with a unanimous vote to ease sanctions on Libya and establish a post-conflict mission as the UN prepared to celebrate Libya as something it got right.

Shen Hong/ZUMA Press/Newscom
A temporary nameplate indicating Libya's seat in the General Assembly hall is seen at the UN headquarters in New York Friday, the day that the United Nations General Assembly Friday voted to turn over Libya's seat to the interim National Transitional Council.

Two years after Muammar Qaddafi addressed the world from the United Nations stage, the UN’s General Assembly voted Friday to turn over Libya’s seat to the interim government that toppled the mercurial leader.

The Security Council followed that dramatic event by voting unanimously to ease a set of economic and arms sanctions on Libya and establish a small post-conflict mission to assist the interim government with the country’s political transition.

Venezuela and a small group of leftist Latin American countries attempted to derail the General Assembly’s awarding of Libya’s UN seat to the anti-Qaddafi Transitional National Council (TNC), but the effort failed on a vote of 114-17.

The two steps were paving the way for Libya to become the poster child for what the UN does right at next week’s opening of a new General Assembly session.

With a Palestinian bid for full UN membersip threatening to cloak the week’s proceedings in a climate of confrontation, a number of world leaders including President Obama are looking to highlight Libya as an example of global progress.

“This is the UN dealing with what it does well, a post-conflict issue,” says Mark Quarterman, a former UN diplomat who is director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The Security Council named Ian Martin, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on post-conflict planning, as chief of the new UN mission in Libya.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning in New York with the chairman of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. Following that meeting, Obama will participate in the UN’s high-level meeting on Libya.

That meeting will be the opportunity for the UN to “underscore its role in Libya,” for the TNC to “put forth its plans,” and for Obama to offer “US support and [describe] the type of Libya we’d like to see going forward,” says Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Obama can be expected to highlight not only events in Libya but the role the UN is playing in shaping them – specifically because UN action there serves the president as an example of why in his view the US must be more and not less engaged with the UN and its agencies, some analysts say.

“The international community is acting [in the case of Libya] precisely the way the US would like the international community to act,” says Jon Alterman, director of CSIS’s Middle East Program.

With broad international support, the UN is moving forward in Libya on issues from the securing of weapons stockpiles and decommissioning of arms to the transparency of human rights and the beginnings of plans for a democratic political transition, Mr. Alterman says.

Mr. Rhodes says the president is particularly keen to underscore with the Libyans their commitment to “an inclusive transition.” Some international leaders have expressed their concerns over the absence of women in the TNC leadership structure.

But if anything, Alterman says that perhaps the principal question mark tempering the UN celebration will be this: the durability of the leadership handling Libya’s transition.

“The question is whether the people we are working with now are the people who ultimately end up governing Libya?” he says.

A number of Western diplomats and officials from countries neighboring Libya continue to ask to what extent the country’s Islamist factions wield power, and what role they will eventually play in a post-Qaddafi Libya.

But at least for the coming days, the dominant vibe surrounding Libya is likely to be a positive one.

Aside from Obama, the European leaders who led the fight to protect Libyan civilians and against the Qaddafi regime – in particular British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – can be expected to do their best to enhance the UN’s Libya celebration.

They will add their own nuance in the way they present the international community’s role in Libya over recent months, says Heather Conley, director of CSIS’s Europe Program. “They would say Libya turned out well because of strong European leadership.”

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