VIENNA Major powers including the United States are ready to consider demands from Libya's new unity government for exemptions from a United Nations arms embargo to help establish its authority over the country.
The West is counting on the U.N.-backed unity government to tackle Islamic State militants in Libya and prevent new flows of migrants heading north across the Mediterranean, though the new government's leaders are still trying to establish themselves in Tripoli.
Speaking after a ministerial meeting of about two dozen ministers in Vienna, Fayaz Seraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said that with his administration now taking shape, he would provide a list of weapons to relevant authorities "as soon as possible".
"We have a major challenge facing us in fighting Daesh," Seraj told reporters, referring to the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. "We hope for assistance on training and equipping our troops."
International powers have repeatedly said they would support Libyan efforts once a unity government was in place and had made its demands clear.
"We have now had a request come to us and obviously (it has) to be discussed and go through the process with respect to the U.N," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, adding that it made sense, but would need to be "carefully sculpted".
"It's a delicate balance, but all of us here are supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and the legitimate government is struggling against terrorism, that legitimate government should not be made the prisoner, or should not be victimized, by virtue of the UN action."
The Libyan government is allowed to import weapons and related materiel with the approval of a United Nations Security Council committee overseeing the embargo imposed in 2011.
In March last year, eight Security Council members delayed approval of a request by Libya to import weapons, tanks, jets and helicopters to take on Islamic State militants.
U.N. sanctions monitors had told the Security Council committee they were concerned that if the request was approved then some of the weapons and equipment could be diverted to militia groups.
Sanctions were renewed this March.
Major powers are banking on the GNA, which sailed into Tripoli on March 30, to end the bloody chaos that Libyans have endured since Muammar Gaddafi's fall five years ago.
Seraj's government is supposed to replace two rival administrations - one based in Tripoli, the other in the eastern city of Tobruk - that have been battling each other for more than a year.
It has won the backing of factions in western Libya but the Tobruk parliament has yet to accept it. Both sides command the loyalty of armed brigades that have fought for power and oil wealth in the North African country, an OPEC member.
"We are ready to answer to requests from the Libyan government," Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who was co-chairing the meeting told reporters.
Western powers have ruled out a military intervention, although the United States has already conducted air strikes against Islamic State militants in Libya.
French and British military advisers have also been operating on the ground, sources in Libya and from those two countries have said. Both Paris and London have also ruled out direct military intervention.
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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Updated Date: May 17, 2016 00:47 AM