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Chairman Kerry Opening Statement At Libya Hearing

Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired the Committee’s second hearing to examine the situation in Libya. The Honorable Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations, Tom Malinowski, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch, and Dr. Dirk J. Vandewalle, Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth College, testified.

Full text of Chairman Kerry’s statement as prepared:

Thank you all for coming. We convene today to again examine the evolving situation in Libya.

It’s been nearly three weeks since the international coalition began airstrikes against Libyan military targets in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. For now, the danger of a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted. But civilians are still dying and the road forward is not yet clear.

I want to welcome three excellent witnesses to help us understand what’s happening today and to offer their ideas about how this conflict might end.

Richard Haass is a friend of the committee and of mine. His government service was marked by his clear-eyed appraisal of difficult situations. As president of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has been a champion of telling it like it is. And we expect nothing less this morning.

Tom Malinowski served in a number of senior positions in the Clinton administration, but he is best known as the Washington director for Human Rights Watch. From that post, he has been a tireless advocate for human rights and we look forward to his assessment.

Our third witness, Dirk Vandewalle, is a professor at Dartmouth College who has spent much of his distinguished career focused on Libya. He brings a wealth of expertise and we appreciate his presence and look forward to his insights.

As I said at last week’s hearing, I believe we do have strategic interests in the outcome in Libya – in keeping alive the hopes of reformers across the Arab world, in countering the violent extremism of al-Qaeda, and in demonstrating to the region’s leaders that peaceful protests cannot be met with repression and large-scale violence.

These uprisings have spread with enormous velocity, a testament to new interconnectivity of the world and the pent up frustrations of people throughout the region. It’s going to take time to fully appreciate this transformation. But we can agree that these events are setting a direction for a New Middle East. We in the United States have values to uphold and a role to play. It is a role that differs from country to country, depending on our interests and our capabilities.

When it comes to Libya, the President faced a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, he had a responsibility to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. On the other hand, he had to make sure that America did not become bogged down in another ground war. I think he struck the right balance – and America’s military role, which was limited from the beginning, is diminishing further. 

There is still a need for robust military protections for the civilian population in Libya and we are counting on NATO for that. Even as we continue to assist the NATO mission, we will also apply other means to influence the outcome. We need to use stringent economic sanctions and aggressive diplomatic pressure to help convince Qaddafi that his time is up.

There have been some encouraging signs. One of his most influential and longest-serving advisers, Moussa Koussa, defected last week, opening the possibility of new insights into how to persuade Qaddafi to go. Defections are critical indicators of which side is likely to win, and we should be heartened.

Yet, despite the best intentions, the opposition is poorly trained and poorly armed. They have not proven capable of holding on to gains deep in pro-Qaddafi territory. They obviously need assistance and it is appropriate that the international community is stepping up to the task.

Libya’s Transitional National Council has put forward a commendable political program that imagines a more stable, more tolerant, and more democratic Libya. They will need outside support, too. I hope that we will get a couple members of the council here soon so my colleagues can hear directly from them.

However the situation ends in Libya – with regime collapse or a rebel military victory or an extended stalemate – the process of putting Libya back together will be a difficult one. But it is a task where the United States, the United Nations, and the Arab League all have roles to play.

I hope that our distinguished witnesses can provide some clarity on where we go from here – and how we best get there.