On February 28, a senior State Department official (unnamed) offered a press briefing on the US’ engagement in Libya. Following are the key points given, including from the q/a session with reporters, and our take.
The US seeks to help bring an end to the conflict in Libya, and sees the key to this as minimising “toxic” foreign interference. The US seeks to foster a stable, unified democratic Libyan state that will one day partner with the US to fight terrorism and stabilise global energy output.
The US meets regularly with all sides and leaders in its efforts to deescalate, and show that the underlying drivers can best be solved through political negotiations and not war. The front lines have not moved since April, further backing this point. The US is concerned Libya is quickly becoming an out-of-control proxy conflict, as both sides have foreign backers and the war over Tripoli is being taken over by foreign actors seeking to raise their own political and economic clout in the region.
The US ambassador and State Department continue to support the UN efforts to bring the sides together, and coordinate regularly with the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Egypt, the UAE and Turkey. The US is involved in the dialogue process that followed the Berlin conference.
The US calls on Haftar and the LNA to immediately suspend their military efforts in Tripoli, which risk escalating the fighting even further, and in order to give the political dialogue a chance. The US stresses that Haftar can have a role in Libya’s future but needs to achieve this at the negotiating table.
The US will continue to support the UN as it convenes military, political and economic talks, and calls on all sides to support these efforts.
Lastly, the US is determined to reopen its Tripoli embassy as soon as is it safely can, in order to improve its engagement with Libya’s leaders and people. The ambassador has operated until now from outside of the country and has only been able to visit the country a handful of times over the past year.
Questions and Answers – in Brief:
We can learn from this that while the US is keen on acting as a convening figure and supports the diplomatic UN-led process, it has no intention on taking the lead on Libya, preferring to leave this to the Germans or other European powers. We further get a clear sense that Libya remains low on the list of American foreign policy concerns, and certainly has no intention to get military involved, beyond its occasional efforts to take out ISIS, Al-Qaeda or other Islamist terror elements as they regroup. Russia’s increased role may have sparked some interest in Washington in the conflict, but it is difficult to see the US doing much more than it currently is doing.