February 12, 2020

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S.-Libya Policy

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on U.S.-Libya policy, with witness testimony from the Honorable David Schenker, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and Mr. Christopher Robinson, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“I thank our witnesses for appearing today to discuss a topic of growing concern – the worsening political and humanitarian situation in Libya.

“Many of the reports coming out of Libya are troubling and recent developments warrant attention. 

“Libya is in the midst of its third civil war in nine years.

“This latest round of conflict was triggered last year when Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self–proclaimed “Libyan National Army,” launched an offensive against the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, just days before the UN was set to launch a carefully constructed peace conference.

“Months of fighting between his LNA and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, the GNA, have failed to yield tangible results on the ground, and it remains a stalemate.

“Foreign influence has only complicated matters and continues to flood Libya with illegal arms, advisory support, and training – all in direct violation of a UN arms embargo.

“These outside actors have a variety of reasons for their involvement, and all of them – from the Middle East to Europe – often pursue their agendas at the expense of the Libyan people.

“Chief among these actors are Turkey and Russia.

“Turkey has deployed uniformed troops and questionable Syrian-based militias to Libya in an effort to pursue its own agenda. 

“The GNA recently signed a troubling agreement with Turkish President Erdogan that threatens to rewrite the exclusive economic zones of both countries, challenging gas exploration and the construction of the pipelines between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. 

“Erdogan clearly intends to extend his military assistance to Libya as a means to cement Turkish economic influence and political control over the Eastern Mediterranean.  

“Russia, fighting on the side of Haftar, has dramatically increased the number of Wagner mercenaries operating in Libya.

“And as we see in Syria, Russia seeks to secure its foothold in the Mediterranean and extend its sphere of political influence into the Middle East and North Africa.

“Again, following a Syrian model, Putin floods Libya with mercenaries and weapons while he simultaneously attempts to supplant the UN-led political process through sham peace talks.

“I have serious concerns about a Russian foothold in the southern Mediterranean where the Kremlin controls the flow of refugees and migrants, complicates our CT mission, sows discord within the EU, and ambushes an already beleaguered UN political process.

“Finally, there is the human cost. The fighting has killed over 2,000 Libyans with over 150,000 displaced.  Military activity recently forced the UN to close its refugee center.

“The United States remains concerned about a very real terrorist threat, particularly ISIS, emanating from Libya. ISIS has taken advantage of the instability and increased its activity in southern Libya. 

“In addition to CT, the US is concerned with security in an increasingly militarized Mediterranean – a vital corridor for international trade. Our NATO allies in Europe remain concerned that migration and terrorism will further destabilize their countries, causing the kind of disorder that Russia wants and will exploit.

“Third, the stability of Libya’s natural resources is a concern for Libya’s sake and for global markets.  Oil remains Libya’s most important avenue to prosperity. Disappointingly, Haftar has dramatically reduced Libya’s oil supplies in an effort to undermine the GNA.

“Aligned with these national security interests, US policy should be to proceed along three tracks: support the UN recognized government, discourage foreign powers from meddling in Libya’s affairs, and encourage a return to UN-led peace talks.

“The German-led dialogue convened in January was promising. However, countries continue to violate the arms embargo and the ceasefire has been punctuated by violence.  

“The most effective way to stop foreign involvement in Libya is to end the conflict. I agree with the administration and UN’s call for countries to live up to their Berlin commitments, and to comply with their obligations to implement the UN arms embargo. 

“We must also consider the appropriate scope of US involvement in Libya. 

“As we explore the right tools to support a stable, peaceful Libya, I hope our witnesses will shed additional light on what leverage the United States has to affect a better outcome.”

The witness testimonies are available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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