May 12, 2011

Kerry Opening Statement At Hearing On “Assessing The Situation In Libya”

Washington, D.C. – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired a hearing to assess the situation in Libya and U.S. efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in that country.

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s statement as prepared is below:

This is the Foreign Relations Committee’s fourth hearing on Libya since the popular uprising began in February.  It’s certainly an issue that deserves our attention.

Secretary Steinberg, welcome back.  The last time you appeared before the Committee on March 31, we congratulated you on your new posting as the dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.  Six weeks later, you are still coming to testify about Libya.  Clearly, the Administration is not keen to see you leave government service so easily. 

There is no doubt that the situation in Libya is difficult. Qaddafi remains in power, and the opposition forces have yet to demonstrate an ability to sustain advances into hostile territory. A tense stalemate has emerged between Brega and Ajdabiyah in central Libya. There is an understandable frustration in Washington and in Benghazi at the pace of progress. 

But let’s put things into perspective. By taking military action when we did, we have given the Libyan people a fighting chance for a better future.  Unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have done it with broad international support – from the United Nations Security Council, from the Arab League, from the people of Libya themselves.  And we have done it without committing a single soldier on the ground and, to this point, without losing a single American life.

There is some debate here about whether a humanitarian catastrophe was averted in Benghazi. Judging by Qaddafi’s own rhetoric, I’d say it was. But there can be no denying that had the international community not taken action against Qaddafi in March, the situation in Libya would be far worse today than it currently is. The popular uprising would have been crushed and Qaddafi would have demonstrated to the region and the world that killing one’s own citizens does in fact work. The fighting in Misrata has been brutal, but the rebels, with NATO support, have held out against the odds for more than two months and now seem to have the upper hand there. Their success may have breathed new life in the opposition’s military efforts. 

Yesterday, this Committee met with Mahmoud Gibril, one of the leaders of Transitional National Council. Legitimate questions have been raised about who comprises the Council and where they are on the political spectrum. Dr. Gibril did an excellent job of answering these questions, which I hope allayed some of my colleagues’ concerns.

Given the repression of the last four decades, the progress of the Transitional National Council has been frankly remarkable. In three short months, they have organized themselves and articulated a roadmap towards a post-Qaddafi Libya that is tolerant, democratic and inclusive. They have begun to develop institutions that can provide basic public services for their people, all while trying to build an army and fight a war.

The institutions of government must be built almost from scratch. To do so, the Libyans will need technical and financial assistance.  I applaud the initiative announced last week by the Contact Group in Rome to provide the Transitional National Authority with access to financial resources.  As I announced yesterday with Dr. Gibril, I have begun discussions with the Obama Administration about legislation that would provide a certain portion of the frozen Qaddafi assets to an entity that would allow the Transitional National Council to provide humanitarian relief to its citizens consistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.  This will provide much needed assistance to the Libyan people without costing the American taxpayer a dime.

Secretary Steinberg, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the way forward in Libya.  What will it take to tip the balance in the opposition forces’ favor?  What will America’s rule be in the continuing NATO mission?  What can we do to increase the likelihood that the post-Qaddafi Libya will be more peaceful, more tolerant and more democratic than the last four decades have been? 

Secretary Steinberg, welcome again.


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