German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, center right, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center left, talk after group photo.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, center right, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center left, talk after a group photo during the 'Second Berlin Conference on Libya' at the foreign office in Berlin, Germany, June 23, 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba are holding talks Thursday in Berlin on the heels of an international conference focused on supporting Libya’s transition to a permanent, stable government.

The conference, hosted by Germany and the United Nations, included officials from 17 countries and reinforced support for national elections in Libya scheduled for late December.

“We want to take advantage of this moment of opportunity, with great thanks to Germany for bringing everyone together, for the work that it’s done continuously to try to help Libya move toward a better and stronger and independent future,” Blinken told the conference Wednesday.

A senior U.S. State Department official later told reporters that the elections are important “not just to legitimize a long-term, credible Libyan government,” but also to help achieve the goal of carrying out an existing call for all foreign fighters to leave the country.

“A fully empowered, legitimate Libyan government will be in a much stronger position to turn to some of these foreign actors and say, ‘Thank you very much, it’s our country now and we’d like to be the ones to define the security cooperation relationships that we’re going to have and not have them imposed on us,’” the official said.

An official statement from conference attendees said “all foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn from Libya without delay,” but on that point Turkey noted its reservations.

The senior State Department official said Turkey sees its personnel in Libya acting as trainers based on an agreement it had with a previous interim government, the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord.

Libya has experienced political instability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.  Rival governments operated in separate parts of the country for years before a cease-fire deal in October that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days.

At a news conference following Wednesday’s conference, Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said there was progress toward the exit of the foreign fighters and that “hopefully within the coming days mercenaries from both sides are going to be withdrawn.”

A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters that achieving that goal is an important step that now “has to be made operational.”

“There’s a process here, and saying, ‘All means all and they all leave tonight – why haven’t they left tonight?  Will they leave tomorrow night?’ is not, frankly, a realistic approach in a real-world situation such as Libya,” the official said.

Blinken is on a multination visit to Europe and on Thursday is going with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to a Holocaust memorial as part of efforts to highlight the need to counter those who are denying or distorting the history of the Nazis’ killing of 6 million Jews in the 1940s.

Blinken said Tuesday they would discuss “how we can ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Cherrie Daniels told reporters Monday that promoting greater education about the Holocaust, its consequences and its origins will help government officials and the public “recognize modern manifestations of antisemitism and even other forms of hatred,” and push back against them.

“As knowledge of the Holocaust wanes, nefarious individuals, organizations and occasionally governments engage in Holocaust denial and distortion for all manner of ends,” she said.

Defeating Islamic State will be the focus of another conference co-hosted by Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio when Blinken’s European trip takes him to Rome. He will also participate in a ministerial meeting in Italy to discuss Syria and the humanitarian needs in that country.

Blinken will also visit France to meet with President Emmanuel Macron, following up on U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent meetings with allies in the region to boost transatlantic relations.

“This is really an opportunity for Secretary Blinken to reiterate the president’s message and speak with our oldest ally about areas of cooperation, including global security, again, recovery from the pandemic, and repairing and modernizing our alliances,” Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters Monday.

Blinken is also scheduled to visit the Vatican, where Reeker said the agenda includes combating climate change and human trafficking.