April 16, 2016 / 4:29 PM / 3 years ago

NATO ready to help Libya build defense institutions if asked: deputy NATO chief

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - NATO is ready to assist a new United Nations-backed Libyan government if it requests help to build up security institutions, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said on Saturday.

A fire is seen next to the Libyan cement factory during clashes between military forces loyal to Libya's eastern government, who are backed by the locals, and the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels, who have joined forces with the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, Libya April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

The European Union is expected to consider moving security personnel into Libya to help to stabilize the chaotic country, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters, and Vershbow said NATO may also play a role.

“The progress toward the consolidation of this new government of national unity in Libya is encouraging and we stand ready to assist the government if it requests,” Vershbow said when asked if NATO could also get involved.

“Two years ago we were very close to implementing a program to assist the government at that time in Libya ... to develop and reform its defense institutions,” he told reporters at the Globsec security conference in Bratislava.

“If this new government requests NATO assistance in the same area, we stand ready to help them out,” he added.

EU foreign and defense ministers will hold a special dinner in Luxembourg on Monday, when they are expected to agree to look into police and border training missions for Libya. Any such support would initially be in Tripoli, where the new government is trying to establish itself.

Diplomats said there had yet to be a detailed discussion with the new U.N.-brokered Libyan government in defining what kind of assistance they wanted from the EU, and that it is keen to avoid the impression of moving into the country uninvited.

In separate comments on a planned meeting of the NATO-Russia council on April 20, Vershbow said NATO would call for implementation of the Minsk agreement on eastern Ukraine and also discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The meeting in Brussels will be the first for the council since 2014. NATO froze cooperation with Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea and the start of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, which NATO says is directed by the Kremlin. Moscow denies this.

But the planned talks do not mean a return to normal relations between NATO and Moscow, Vershbow said.

“The meeting of the NATO-Russia council on Wednesday next week is not meant in any way to signal normalization of relations with Russia. This is more of a resumption of dialogue, not normalization,” Vershbow said.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones

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