Italian foreign policy flounders amidst Libyan blunders

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Vonte, right, shakes hands with Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Italian foreign policy flounders amidst Libyan blunders

  • In an embarrassing snub for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Libya’s internationally recognized leader Fayez Al-Serraj refused to see him
  • Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio found himself isolated at a meeting of counterparts from France, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus

ROME: Italy scrambled to salvage diplomatic credibility on Thursday after its bid to play a central role in resolving Libya’s long-running conflict came off the rails, revealing failures at the heart of the government.
Libya has been in a state of violent flux since a NATO air campaign in 2011 led to the downfall of its strongarm leader Muammar Qaddafi. Italy was most directly impacted by the resulting chaos, which triggered a wave of migration to its shores, and has sought to lead subsequent stabilization efforts.
But in an embarrassing snub for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Libya’s internationally recognized leader Fayez Al-Serraj refused to see him on Wednesday after discovering that his great rival General Khalifa Haftar had also been invited to Rome.
At the same time, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio found himself isolated at a meeting of counterparts from France, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, refusing to sign a final communique on Libya because he felt it was biased in favor of Haftar.
The twin developments left the Italian coalition government looking both forsaken on the international stage and divided internally, dealing a potentially fatal blow to diplomatic efforts by Rome to impose peace on a largely lawless Libya.
“What happened yesterday was frankly embarrassing,” said Arturo Varvelli, director of the Rome office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
“Our politicians don’t pay enough attention to foreign policy and they are paying the price for it.”
Conte and Di Maio, neither of whom had any diplomatic experience when they first entered government in 2018, met on Thursday to try to plot a way forward.
But foreign policy experts said Rome had lost the initiative to more pro-active countries, such as France, Turkey and Russia, while opposition parties accused the government of ineptitude.
“Conte really is dangerous and incompetent,” said far-right League leader Matteo Salvini, accusing the prime minister of making a simple error of protocol by receiving Haftar before first meeting Serraj. “We have amateurs on the loose,” he said.
In July 2018, US President Donald Trump gave Conte the nod to oversee efforts to stabilize Libya, saying he recognized “Italy’s leadership role.”
But even with this clear backing, Rome failed to secure universal support for its favorite Serraj, as France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates instead backed Haftar in a proxy conflict driven by divergent economic and strategic interests.
Italy subsequently sought to build its own ties with Haftar, hoping to safeguard its energy concerns in Libya should he win out in the end. But Conte was blindsided when Turkey unexpectedly announced last month it would send military advisers and possibly troops to bolster Serraj in Tripoli.
“The process by which Turkey and Russia are taking the diplomatic space is ruthless and largely irreversible. Italy is improvising alone and it is failing miserably,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, an independent, Dutch think tank.
Conte denied on Thursday any government inconsistency over Libya, while Di Maio acknowledged in a letter to la Repubblica daily that politicians had not always known how to harness the expertese of their diplomats and intelligence agency.
Speaking off the record because of the sensitivity of the issue, officials expressed frustration over the political line they had been asked to follow in recent months.
“The order was to maintain contact with everyone, but in an open conflict you need to position yourself clearly,” said one intelligence source, complaining that Rome had tried to be friends with everyone, and had lost influence as a result.
Diplomats fear Rome is losing influence beyond just Libya.
That was noticeable last week when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called officials worldwide after the US killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, but did not get in touch with Rome, despite the fact that Italy has the largest Western troop presence in Iraq after the US.
Varvelli said Italy was suffering the consequences of inconsistent policy-making and poor political preparation.
“Our political leaders are making blunders on the international stage,” he said, adding that Rome would have to stop trying to lead the way on Libya and instead seek European consensus. “We don’t have any more cards to play.”


US to pay over $1 bn for 100 mln doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 05 August 2020

US to pay over $1 bn for 100 mln doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

  • The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J
  • This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country

WASHINGTON: The United States government will pay Johnson & Johnson over $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, its latest such arrangement as the race to tame the pandemic intensifies, the drugmaker said on Wednesday.
It said it would deliver the vaccine to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a not-for-profit basis to be used after approval or emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
J&J has already received $1 billion in funding from the US government — BARDA agreed in March to provide that money for the company to build manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of the experimental vaccine.
The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J. Including the first $1 billion deal with the USgovernment, the price would be slightly higher than the $19.50 per dose that the United States is paying for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and German biotech BioNTech SE.
The US government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement. J&J did not disclose that deal’s value.
J&J plans to study a one- or two-dose regimen of the vaccine in parallel later this year. A single-shot regimen could allow more people to be vaccinated with the same number of doses and would sidestep issues around getting people to come back for their second dose.
This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country. Talks are underway with the European Union, but no deal has yet been reached.
J&J’s investigational vaccine is currently being tested on healthy volunteers in the United States and Belgium in an early-stage study.
There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19. More than 20 are in clinical trials.