LONDON - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spearheaded renewed efforts Monday to bolster Libya's U.N.-backed government against continued chaos and a collapsing economy, but the meeting appeared to yield little more than an expression of support for the embattled Libyan leadership.
Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson convened the gathering in London that included ministers from France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, who met with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
The ministers reaffirmed what a State Department official said was "strong international support" for Libya's Government of National Accord, the U.N.-backed interim governing body that has thus far been unable to establish control outside the capital, Tripoli.
Since the fall of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi following a 2011 popular uprising, Libya has been divided by factional fighting. A government in the east of the country headed by General Khalifa Haftar has refused to recognize the GNA.
Libya dependent on oil, gas
"There is a crisis of legitimacy that is now much deeper than at the beginning of the civil war," said Wolfram Lacher, Middle East and Africa Associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs at a forum in London earlier this year.
The crisis, along with the prospect of economic collapse, have deepened concerns about widening opportunities for Islamists in western Libya.
Libya's economy is nearly entirely dependent on oil and gas exports and is on the verge of collapse after crude prices last year dropped to seven-year lows and production plummeted to a third of its pre-war levels as a result of factional fighting.
"The ministers underscored their support for increasing the capacity of the GNA led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj to respond to the needs of the Libyan people," said State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau in a statement after the meeting Monday in London.
There were no concrete proposals of aid, but ministers said technical talks will be held to follow up and implement their effort.
U.S. airstrikes supported
The meeting was held as Libyan government forces supported by a U.S. air campaign make gains in their efforts to wrest control of the coastal city of Sirte from about 100 Islamic State militants who reports say are holed up in the city.
State Department officials said ministers meeting Monday in London noted the "important progress" the GNA and its allied forces are making in Sirte. The U.S. officials reaffirmed their "continuing and strong" support of al-Sarraj's efforts against Islamic State militants.
The statements follow criticism by observers who note the operation to retake Sirte, launched in May, was originally expected to take a few weeks but, after several months, is still ongoing.