Menendez Opening Statement at U.S.-Libya Policy Hearing

Menendez Opening Statement at U.S.-Libya Policy Hearing

  

  

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing exploring the current state of U.S.-Libya Policy.

“As I see it, the Administration’s approach to Libya is emblematic of its overall approach to foreign policy: an absence of U.S. leadership, inconsistent public statements, and a seeming internal lack of clarity have left our partners and allies confused about the United States’ commitments, and paved the way for our adversaries to advance their own interests,” said Ranking Member Menendez.  

Below are the Senator’s full remarks as delivered:

“I recognize that the start of this year has been somewhat unusual, so I want to thank you again for today’s hearing. There is a lot of important work for us to do, and a full agenda for hearings for this Committee. In particular, I look forward to working with you on a hearing on Iran Policy, as we have discussed and agreed, as well as getting hearings scheduled as soon as possible with Secretary Pompeo and Administrator Green to review the State and USAID FY21 budget requests. Those budget hearings are vital for the exercise of our oversight authorities.

As you know, I’ve been eager for the committee to take a more assertive role in understanding the Administration’s policy regarding Libya. As I see it, the Administration’s approach to Libya is emblematic of its overall approach to foreign policy: an absence of U.S. leadership, inconsistent public statements, and a seeming internal lack of clarity have left our partners and allies confused about the United States’ commitments, and paved the way for our adversaries to advance their own interests. 

Military strongmen, militias, tribal politics, migration patterns, smuggling networks, and proxy actors have beleaguered Libya for years. There are no easy answers. 

But I am not even sure today what questions the Administration is asking, or if they’re asking any at all. What are the factors driving our policy?

In early April 2019, Secretary Pompeo expressed deep concern about Khalifa Haftar’s military offensive against the internationally recognized – and United States’ supported - Government of National Accord. Two weeks later, following reports of attacks on civilians and possible war crimes, the White House reported that President Trump had directly praised Haftar and discussed a shared vision for Libya’s future in a telephone call.

In the meantime, the United States joined Russia to block a British-drafted, U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, a reduction of negative foreign influence, and supporting humanitarian access.

What message does this send to our allies?

“More than 150,000 people have been displaced and thousands have been killed. There are reports about potential war crimes and violations of humanitarian law. More than 700,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Libya, held captive by violence and questionable political agreements that effectively prevent them from seeking recourse. Because of ongoing security concerns, UNHCR was recently forced to cease operations at a facility serving highly vulnerable refugees. 

Haftar and his backers, including the Emiratis, Egyptians, and others, have targeted hospitals and migrant detention centers. And Russia, as it so often does when the United States has ceded leadership, has recently increased its presence, deploying mercenaries from the infamous Wagner group.

With the United States equivocating and the European Union split, Turkey has found a deepened foothold for its longstanding ambitions in the Mediterranean. In November, Turkey and the GNA announced an expanded maritime agreement that critical U.S. partners including Greece and Cyprus called ‘illegal’ and ‘absurd’.

The parameters of this agreement undermine U.S. policies, partnerships, and security in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s deployment of troops, including from Syria, adds to the list of violations of the UN Arms Embargo.  

Our absence is a declaration of policy itself. 

So I am hopeful that today we will gain a clear understanding of what this administration believes our interests are in Libya, what our objectives are -- and what concrete plans the Administration has to achieve them. 

First, fundamentally, I believe we must work with our partners to reduce the influx of weapons and proxy fighters and ensure that Libya does not once again become a home for international terrorist organizations seeking fertile ground to regroup, reconstitute, and threaten the United States or our partners.

Second, we also have an interest in upholding the integrity of international humanitarian law and UN Arms embargoes. If we fail to hold our ostensible partners accountable we are sending a devastating message that the United States will not use our diplomatic voice or leverage to uphold the integrity of the international system. 

Yesterday’s vote in the Security Council however was a welcomed step. 

Additionally, we must look beyond Libya’s borders to ensure that our partners, allies, and adversaries alike know that the United States will stand by its commitments, will embrace the international institutions and systems of governance we have fought for, and will invest in promoting our own interests and security.

As in Syria, Russia and Turkey are eagerly stepping into the void in that this Administration’s equivocation and diplomatic retreat creates.  They are creating in Libya a world conducive to their interests and values, not ours.  And that is a much bigger problem than just Libya itself.”

  

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