Briefing with Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker On the U.S.-Iraq Dialogue and Developments in Libya

SPECIAL BRIEFING
DAVID SCHENKER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY
BUREAU OF NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS
VIA TELECONFERENCE

JUNE 11, 2020

Opening Statement on Libya

And this week we have also been focused on Libya. Despite the end of the LNA’s siege on Tripoli and last weekend’s event in Cairo, which brought eastern Libyan leaders together and opened the way for greater political dialogue, fighting has intensified with the involvement of foreign actors. We’re particularly concerned about the continued influx of Russian military equipment, weapons, and Russian Wagner mercenaries, whose presence led to the significant Turkish intervention now underway. We see the continued interference from external actors as a challenge to U.S. interests and regional stability in the Eastern Med, but also as a tragedy for the Libyan people. Libyans want peace and an end to foreign intervention. They are alarmed by this level of foreign involvement in their affairs. We continue to call for de-escalation, a ceasefire, and a return to political negotiations. Now is the time for Libyans on all sides to act so neither Russia nor any other country can interfere in Libya. GNA and LNA agreement to re-enter UN security talks was, as the Secretary noted, a positive first step which requires quick follow-through with good faith negotiations, implement a ceasefire, and the relaunch of UN-led intra-Libyan political talks to achieve a long-term solution.

We’re encouraged that both the GNA and the LNA are now engaged in UNSMIL-hosted 5+5 talks, but showing up is not enough. We want to see all Libyans coming together to take charge of their country. It is vital that all sides exercise restraint and ensure civilians are protected as the Libyan public faces multiple challenges from conflict, COVID, and economic hardship. Those challenges have been intensified by the five-month oil sector shutdown by forces aligned with the GNA – sorry, by forces aligned with the LNA. Putting Libya on the path to economic recovery, as the Secretary said, means preserving Libyan oil facilities and restoring access by the National Oil Corporation. Using critical infrastructure that belongs to the Libyan people as a tool of war, whether for oil that feeds the economy or water upon which Libyans depend on for survival, is reprehensible and it must end.

We are troubled by reports that GNA forces are discovering bodies of civilians, IEDs and land mines in areas retaken from the LNA. We are similarly concerned that a GNA offensive on Sirte would have serious humanitarian consequence. When armed groups and their external backers escalate, the Libyan people suffer. We continue to call on all parties in Libya to protect civilians and prevent further damage to infrastructure, including water and oil facilities, hospitals, airports, and schools. Let me say once again loud and clear, if you can help me get out the message, the U.S. calls on all sides to lay down their arms and resume UN-led negotiations immediately.

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