Assessing the Situation in Libya

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Written Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
May 12, 2011

I thank the Chairman and Senator Lugar for inviting me today. I appreciate this chance to update the committee on our efforts and answer your questions.

During my last appearance, I reviewed for the committee the developments that led up to the international community’s engagement in Libya. Colonel Qadhafi met the peaceful protests of his own people with violence. When the UN Security Council, the Arab League, and the United States all demanded that atrocities must end, Qadhafi responded with a promise to show ―no mercy and no pity.

We quickly reached two important conclusions. First, we would not stand by as Qadhafi brutalized his own people. Second, Qadhafi had lost the legitimacy to lead, and he had to go to allow the Libyan people to reclaim their own future.

And so we assembled an international coalition of European and Arab allies with a clear, limited mission to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 and protect the Libyan people. We offered our unique military capabilities early on and then turned over full command and control responsibility to a NATO-led coalition. Three-quarters of the over 6,000 sorties flown in Libya have now been by non-US coalition partners, a share that has increased. All twenty ships enforcing the arms embargo are European or Canadian. And the overwhelming majority of strike sorties are now being flown by our European allies. We are proud of our continuing contribution and grateful as our allies increasingly carry the burden.

As the coalition continues to carry out its best efforts to protect Libya’s civilian population, we continue to pursue three tracks on the political and economic front: pressuring and isolating Qadhafi; supporting the Libyan people in determining their own future; and delivering humanitarian aid.

First, we are working to escalate the pressure, deepen Qadhafi’s isolation and convince those around him that Libya’s future lies elsewhere. 

The international community is increasingly united around a shared insistence that Qadhafi must go. Last week’s Contact Group – with the participation of 22 nations and representatives from the UN, Arab League, NATO, EU, OIC and GCC—issued its most forceful statement yet, including that ―Qadhafi, his family and his regime have lost all legitimacy. They must go so that the Libyan people can determine their own future.‖ Turkey, once an important partner to Qadhafi’s Libya, has now joined the chorus of nations demanding that he leave immediately. The British, Italians and French are expelling Qadhafi’s diplomats, as we did in March. And we are urging other nations to refuse their visits unless Qadhafi’s envoys are either defecting or coming to discuss his departure.

We are taking a wide range of steps to send a clear, forceful message to Qadhafi and those around him that there is no going back to the way things were. They now face a no-fly zone, an arms embargo, asset freezes, and travel bans. Libya’s National Oil Corporation and central bank are blacklisted. The United States and other countries are also taking further unilateral steps to tighten the squeeze on regime officials and regime-affiliated banks, businesses and satellite networks. This week, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced that he intends to apply for arrest warrants for three senior officials in Qadhafi’s regime ―who bear the greatest criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity.

These measures are having an effect. We have deprived the regime of funds and assets that could be used to support attacks against the Libyan people. Libya used to export 1.3 million barrels of oil per day. That has stopped, and the regime is having difficulty accessing refined petroleum. There are some indications that the regime can no longer afford to pay supporters to attend rallies and demonstrations. The longer international sanctions stay in place, the more the pressure will mount.

Second, we are supporting the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people, who deserve a successful transition to democracy just as much as their neighbors in Egypt and Tunisia.

Last time I testified, there were a great many questions about the makeup and intentions of the Libyan opposition. Our envoy, Chris Stevens, has been in Benghazi for several weeks now and has held meetings with a wide range of Libyan opposition members, including but not limited to the Transitional National Council (TNC). Secretary Clinton has met three times with Libyan opposition leaders and urged others to do the same. Several of you met with TNC leader Mahmoud Jibirl, including Chairman Kerry, yesterday. I will host him and his delegation at the State Department on Friday and he will meet National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House Friday afternoon as well. Though it will be important to ensure that words are matched by actions, we have been encouraged by the TNC’s public statements on democracy, treatment of prisoners, human rights and terrorism. We have continued to stress the importance of the TNC distancing itself from extremists who could seek to hijack the popular movement, and we have been pleased by the clear view of the TNC leadership rejecting extremism and calling for tolerant democracy.

As we have gotten to know the Libyan opposition, we have stepped up our political, financial and non-lethal military support. As we notified Congress, we are providing up to $25 million for the provision of non-lethal items to the TNC. The carefully-chosen list includes medical supplies, boots, tents, rations and personal protective gear. The first shipment, 10,000 MREs, arrived on Tuesday.

The TNC has also requested urgent financial assistance. The Treasury Department has published new rules to remove sanctions on oil sales that will benefit the TNC. In Rome, the Libya Contact Group created a Temporary Financial Mechanism to provide transparent financial assistance to the opposition. Kuwait has already committed to contribute $180 million.

As Secretary Clinton said in Rome, we hope to work quickly with Congress to begin unfreezing Libyan government assets to meet pressing humanitarian needs. On Wednesday, we continued our consultations with Congress and shared our proposal. The bill authorizes the President to vest Libyan government property within the jurisdiction of the United States and use it for costs related to humanitarian relief to and for the benefit of the Libyan people. We see this legislation as addressing unique circumstances in Libya for limited, humanitarian purposes. This money belongs to the Libyan people, and it should serve the Libyan people.

Third, protecting civilians remains at the core of our mission. We are engaged in robust humanitarian efforts to help those in need inside Libya and those who have fled the violence. Our government is providing more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, which helps to evacuate and repatriate third-country nationals, care for refugees on Libya’s borders and deliver food and medicine. The international community has already contributed, committed or pledged $245 million. We continue to look for additional ways to support humanitarian operations in response to the Libyan crisis.

Unfortunately, the Qadhafi regime has tried to block the delivery of desperately-needed humanitarian assistance. The brave people of Misrata have withstood a month-long siege as well as repeated incursions, assaults and atrocities. Qadhafi has blocked water, gas, and electricity. And this week, his regime laid anti-ship mines in Misrata’s harbor in a failed attempt to block humanitarian aid and medical evacuations. What has happened in Misrata is an outrage. Despite Qadhafi’s best efforts, we have now established a safe route for assistance to reach Misrata and its people.

We salute the determination and resilience of the Libyan people in and around Misrata. We are inspired by the way they have stepped forward to protect and care for their neighbors who managed to escape from areas under attack. We are also proud that NGOs we fund have provided much needed medical personnel and supplies to these cities, despite Qadhafi’s attacks.

Qadhafi knows what he needs to do. The violence must end and the threats must stop. His troops must withdraw from the cities they have entered. Humanitarian goods must be allowed to move freely and vital services must be restored. Qadhafi must go to allow the people of Libya to chart their own future.

Our approach is one that has succeeded before. In Kosovo, we built an international coalition around a narrow civilian protection mission. Even after Milosevic withdrew his forces and the bombing stopped, the political and economic pressure continued. Within two years, Milosevic was thrown out of office and turned over to The Hague.

I understand the desire for quick results, and of course I share it. But history teaches us that patience and persistence can pay off. We have already seen international pressure change the calculations of some of Qadhafi’s closest advisors, who have defected. It is impossible to predict which step will tip the balance.

The way forward is not easy. It will take sustained effort. And it will take continued close consultation with Congress.

We know what needs to happen. And so we are using as many tools and levers as we can to bring about our ultimate objective: the end of Qadhafi’s rule and a new beginning for a peaceful, democratic Libya.