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Pompeo says U.S. wants to work with Russia on Libya, reminded Lavrov of arms embargo

By Humeyra Pamuk
Secretary of State Pompeo makes a statement to the press in Washington

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States wants to work with Russia to end the conflict in Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but he added that he reminded Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a day ago of the arms embargo that is in place on the North African country.

Speaking at a news conference at the U.S. State Department, Pompeo said there could be no military solution to the fighting and that Washington had warned countries against sending weapons to Libya.

"We want to work with the Russians to get to the negotiating table, have a series of conversations that ultimately lead to a disposition that creates what the UN has been trying to do," Pompeo said.

"Foreign Minister Lavrov told me directly yesterday he is prepared to be part of that, to continue it. I reminded him that there is a weapons embargo that is still in place in Libya, and that no nation ought to be providing incremental materiel inside of Libya," he said.

Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east. Fayez al-Serraj's government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.

Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying since April to take Tripoli. He is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials. The LNA denies it has foreign backing.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Haftar in the first weeks of the offensive, in a move that some diplomats took as sign Washington might be backing the former Gaddafi officer. But the United States last month called on the LNA to end its offensive on Tripoli. It also warned against Russia's interference.

"We have reached out not only to the Russians but to others who are providing weapon systems there and saying it's not in the best interest," Pompeo said.

Diplomats say Turkey has supplied drones and trucks to forces allied to Serraj, while the LNA has received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Two weeks ago Libya's internationally recognized government and Turkey signed an expanded security and military accord, and a memorandum on maritime boundaries, a step that angered Greece, triggering it to expel the Libyan ambassador in response.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)