Libya meeting hopes to break political stalemate, focus on economy

October 28, 2016 1:09 PM EDT

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By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A meeting on Libya in London next week will seek to break a political stalemate over the country's U.N-backed unity government, which has struggled to extend its influence beyond the capital, Tripoli, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Monday's ministerial meeting, convened by Britain and the United States, takes place as Libyan forces close in on the key city of Sirte, hoping to flush out Islamic State forces that grabbed it during factional infighting more than a year ago after the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

"The goal in London is to ... see if we can make some progress and get beyond the stalemate, which is preventing the government from doing what it needs to do," the senior State Department official told Reuters ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's arrival in London.

"Libyans are going to have to find a way forward even in the absence of any cooperation; you can't allow a small number of spoilers to destroy an entire country," the official added.

Expelling Islamic State from Sirte would shut down the militant group's main stronghold in North Africa and its only base outside Iraq and Syria.

Since Gaddafi's fall, factional fighting among brigades of former rebels, who first battled the strongman and then turned against each other, has increased while militants have profited from the security vacuum.

The United States and allies are concerned about the resistance to Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Seraj and the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). He has been in a standoff with General Khalifa Haftar, who has waged a military campaign against Islamists and other opponents in Benghzai and the east, and blocked a parliamentary vote to endorse the GNA.

The eastern-backed parliament has twice rejected lists of ministers put forward by the GNA's leadership, or Presidential Council, which is meant to represent all sides of Libya's fractured politics.

Seraj has said he is open to talks with Haftar, whose recent seizure of oil ports has risked deepening divisions.

The State Department official said the London meeting would also discuss ways to move forward with economic decisions and a budget until a finance minister is appointed.

Officials from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will also participate in the meeting.

Libya is highly dependent on hydrocarbon revenues and needs oil exports to resume to save its economy from collapse. The conflict has reduced oil output to a fraction of the 1.6 million barrels per day the OPEC member once produced.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)



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