Canada has an obligation to help Libya, which is under threat by Islamic State fighters, but will not play a role until a single government recognized by the West is in place, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says.
"We certainly have an obligation to help the people of Libya," he said Tuesday on the sidelines of the Rome meeting of the U.S-led coalition against Islamic State extremists. "The way to do is something we need to consider with our allies, not alone, and the first step is to have a government that will be our interlocutor."
The Americans have been putting pressure on the coalition fighting the self-styled Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) to prevent IS from forming a caliphate in oil-rich Libya, whose Mediterranean border is only an hour-long flight or less from the southern frontier of the European Union.
IS has already threatened to set "Rome on fire" and was behind the terrorist attacks in Paris in November that killed 130.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used the Rome meeting to lobby the 25 coalition countries that have a military role in fighting IS in Syria and Iraq to prevent it from gaining a "stranglehold" in Libya.
"We're still not at the victory that we want to achieve, and will achieve, in either Syria or Iraq, and we have seen Daesh playing a game of metastasizing out to other countries, particularly Libya," Mr. Kerry told reporters in Rome.
He added that, in Libya, "the last thing in the world you want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue."
Libya is a wreck of a country that is controlled by several rival groups, including IS; the Islamist government of the General National Congress, based in Tripoli; and the internationally recognized Council of Deputies, also known as the Tobruk government.
Canada was one of the Western coalition countries that bombed Libya in 2011, during the civil war that deposed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. But the coalition did not deploy ground forces in Libya, which soon descended into anarchy.
Mr. Dion would not say what role Canada might play in Libya, but no presence – military or humanitarian – would be launched until a single Libyan government is in place, he said.
"There is a national government that we are recognizing, but there are two other governments claiming to be governments," he said. "If you have three governments, you cannot really deal with the country."
Mr. Dion said that Canada's new role in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria will soon be revealed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is fulfilling his campaign promise of withdrawing Canada's six CF-18 fighter-bombers from the anti-terrorism campaign.
"Yes, we have a strong sense of where we will go," he said. "It will be comprehensive, integrated, sustained. The military aspect will be in close relationship with the humanitarian one, and the political one … and it will be in complimentary with what the coalition is doing."
Last week, Mr. Dion said that Canada's new role would include ensuring the stability of Lebanon and Jordan, the two countries that are under siege from the mass exodus of refugees from Syria. Canada has agreed to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees. "When we take 25,000 refugees that are in Lebanon and Jordan … it's clear that we are already a partner with Lebanon and Jordan," he said Tuesday.
Ministers at Tuesday's coalition meeting in Rome discussed stabilizing areas such as the Iraqi city of Tikrit, which had been under the control of IS, and plans to cut IS's flow of financing from oil sales and other sources.