Now that the Gaddafi regime has finally been overthrown by a combination of sustained western military intervention and an assorted amalgamation of 'freedom fighters' can we expect that a new democratic government will emerge? It was earnestly hoped that this would be the one positive result after the overthrow of the discredited regime and that the new regime would be democratically elected and all inclusive in character. That Gaddafi would eventually be toppled was never in doubt, after NATO and particularly France and the UK, supported from the outside by the US, took the lead in taking military action. Reports indicate that NATO flew some 7459 sorties to 'soften' pro-Gaddafi elements. From its original public intention of only 'preventing a massacre' the whole western intervention quickly morphed itself into an enterprise for a regime change.
There is sufficient evidence available already that the National Transitional Council [NTC] is already beset with problems and if it degenerates into quarrelling factions owing allegiance to Libya’s various tribal groups, it would probably surprise no one. The murder of the TNC army commander much before the fall of Tripoli is a case in point. Then there are the assorted Jihadi outfits, each wishing to take a piece of the pie. The more well known amongst them is Abdelkarim al-Hasadi, leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who in his earlier incarnation had been detained by US forces as a suspected 'terrorist'. On the other hand there is the former Professor of Economics from the University of Washington/Seattle, Ali Tarhouni who is now the NCT Minister of Oil and Finance and who undoubtedly will be a major player in decision making when it comes to handing out oil contracts. No one expects that he will not 'sympathise' with his erstwhile benefactors.
Conscious of the stakes involved the French moved smartly to be the first off the blocks. While the Italian Foreign Minister was making public statements on TV, even before the NTC fighters entered Tripoli, that 'Italian oil company ENI will have a number one role in the future', the French according to a letter published in the French newspaper Liberation had already tied up their share. The letter purported to show an undertaking by the National Transitional Council (NTC) to reserve '35% of total crude oil in exchange for the total and permanent support for our council'. The document was addressed to the Qatari government, which Libération described as acting as an intermediary between Libya and France, and said that the NTC had 'authorized brother Mahmoud’ to sign the deal with France – a reference to Mahmoud Shammam, the NTC's Information Minister.
The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe did not deny the existence of the letter, but simply said he was ‘unaware of the letter' that referred to the reported deal and published in the French daily newspaper Libération . Juppe however significantly added that it was only 'fair and logical’ that those that had helped the NTC be given ‘preferences’. It may be noted that in 2010 the French 'share' of Libyan oil was about 15%, much behind Italy, but if the new promise was to materialise it would translate itself to about 500,000bpd of oil. France would have left Italy trailing behind!
Not to be left behind, the UK had also set up a 'Libyan oil Cell' in the Foreign Office much before the fall of Tripoli. The cell was reportedly the brainchild of the UK Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan. Its main purpose was to ensure that the UK did not get left behind its other co-partners. Duncan a former oil trader had served as a 'consultant' to the oil firm Vitol, the largest trader of oil and refined products in the world and which handles about 5mb/d of oil and controls about 200 super tankers to move oil around the world. Vitol was fined and paid $17.5 m for violations during Saddam’s oil for food programme. It is alleged that Duncan insured that Vitol received the contracts to supply and market the oil for the NTC during the period leading up to the fall of Gaddafi and Tripoli.
Not to be left behind are BP and Shell. The British press has published stories of the fact that BP officials are already in contact with the NTC and that private talks are fairly at an advanced stage. It would be recalled that BP was seriously involved with Libya even during the Gaddafi regime and reports have appeared that the then British government had released the Lockerbie bomber as a part of a deal involving BP.
While European governments continue to manoeuvre to obtain a slice of the cake, it is ultimately a call that US oil companies will make. Without US support none of the Europeans would be able to sustain their Libyan enterprise. Therefore the space to watch would be in the United States.
Views are those of the author
* The author is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
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