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Trump's call to Libyan National Army leaders signals potential US allegiance shift in North Africa

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Trump's call to Libyan National Army leaders signals potential US allegiance shift in North Africa


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350,000 b/d of Libyan oil output under immediate threat

Washington — President Donald Trump spoke this week with the leader of the Libyan National Army, a signal that the US support of the Government of National Accord may be weakening in an attempt to prevent the loss of roughly 1.2 million b/d of Libyan output from the global market.

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The phone call between Trump and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar took place Monday, but the White House did not publicly disclose the call until Friday morning when ICE and NYMEX crude futures were closed due to Easter holidays.

In the call, Trump "recognized Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system," the White House said.

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, did not respond to a request for further comment Friday.

Related story: Trump Libya shift likely driven by oil, gasoline price fears: analysts

Haftar's LNA is attempting to capture the west of the country. However, a stalemate has increased risks of supply outages, not only in the west but in key eastern ports already under LNA control, including eastern oil infrastructure which moves about 700,000 b/d of Libyan oil exports.

There are concerns that former Petroleum Facilities Guards leader Ibrahim Jadhran and Benghazi Defense Brigade militia could attack the oil ports in the Eastern Crescent as Haftar's LNA moves west.

On Thursday, rival forces attacked a Haftar-controlled airbase on the road to southern fields which produce about 400,000 b/d.

"The UN hopes for a ceasefire, but Haftar is unlikely to back off at this point," Paul Sheldon, Chief Geopolitical Advisor, S&P Global Platts Analytics, said in a note Thursday. "Needless to say, significant risks overhang Libya's 1.2 million b/d of crude output."

The key oil ports of Libya are Zawiya, Mellitah, Bouri and Farwah in the west, along with Marsa el-Hariga, Brega, Zueitina, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider in the east.

Platts Analytics said almost 350,000 b/d of oil supply in the west is under immediate threat, adding that "risks of a prolonged fight are high."

While Libyan crude oil production and exports remain unaffected as the LNA and groups linked to the GNA continue to escalate their armed conflicted. Still, the town of Zawiya, which is home to a 300,000 b/d oil export terminal and a 120,000 b/d refinery, along with Sabratha, where the Mellitah gas terminal for the Greenstream pipeline to Italy is located, are key flashpoints.

Almost all of Libya's key oil terminals and infrastructure, except for those in the west, are already controlled by the LNA.

Libya produced 1.04 million b/d in March, according to the most recent forecast by the US Energy Information Administration, down from the recent output peak of 1.15 million b/d in November, but up from 250,000 b/d in August 2016.

Haftar's LNA has the backing of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, while global support of the United Nations-backed GNA may be eroding, analysts said.

This week, Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, decided not to speak at the International Oil Summit in Paris, due to what he saw as inadequate support from the French government, according to a source close to the matter.

-- Brian Scheid,

-- Eklavya Gupte,

-- Edited by Pankti Mehta,