Remarks at the Libya Ministerial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj
Vienna, Austria
May 16, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening, everybody. Thank you for your patience. For my part, let me just say that I’m very pleased to be able to be back in Vienna. I’m very grateful – we all are very grateful – to the Government of Austria for its continued hospitality and for hosting this latest round of talks.

I’m very grateful as well to Foreign Minister Gentiloni and UN Special Representative Martin Kobler for their deep engagement and leadership on this issue. Italy has long had a special relationship and interest in what happens in Libya and obviously is on the front lines in many ways in this effort. I want to thank Prime Minister Sarraj for taking the time to be here and to make his entire team available to us from yesterday through today as our team has been working together, and I thank the Libyan representatives who made this journey. And particularly, I want to express - we all want to express - our gratitude to the many other foreign ministers and senior officials who came from many different countries, which is a strong statement about the international commitment to this current effort. We have senior officials or foreign ministers from Algeria, Chad, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Niger, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations, the League of Arab States, and the African Union, and every single one of them participated in this meeting. Their presence is a powerful statement about the international community’s commitment to the GNA, to Prime Minister Sarraj, and to the effort to bring unity to Libya and the long-term goal of a stable Libya that is at peace with itself, which is unified and secure.

That goal is important, but it is also urgent - and I think no one understands this better than the Libyan leaders who are here with us in Vienna - the urgency of resolving certain issues quickly. They know the unacceptable price that personal rivalry and/or internal strife are inflicting on the Libyan people, on the Libyan economy, on its security; and the rise of extremism which has taken advantage of this. And so they are here, all of us, concerned about the social cohesion of the country and the importance of taking steps rapidly to address those concerns. Everyone has seen the hardships that are being felt by the Libyan citizens in all regions and by members of every clan and every tribe in Libya, and they have witnessed the emergence of a new threat to their country’s future in the form of the terrorists who are affiliated with Daesh.

As the communique that we produced earlier makes clear, it is imperative to put the international community’s full weight behind the Government of National Accord. And the GNA is the only entity that can unify the country and address the economic crisis and humanitarian suffering. Libyan people want a government; the government is here, supported by the international community and ready to go to work. It is the only way to ensure that vital institutions, such as the central bank and the national oil company – that they fall under representative and acknowledged authority and that they receive the supervision and the direction that they need. And it is the only way to generate the unity and the cohesion that is required to defeat Daesh and other violent extremists who want to pull Libya backward into thuggery and violence and a battle over ambitions of individuals who are not serving the broad interests of Libya itself, but serving their own interests.

To that end, the international community spoke today with a single voice on several key points.

First, the House of Representatives must take a vote on the GNA and honor the Skhirat agreement, and the international community can help that by being present when that takes place.

Second, the unified Libyan Government must move forward to counter Daesh and other terrorist groups through the joint command under civilian authority.

Three, the international community must support the Presidency Council decision on GNA entry into the ministries so that the government can begin to provide Libyans with essential services.

Fourth, humanitarian aid to the Libyan people must be accelerated.

Fifth, the international community will support the Presidency Council as it seeks exemption from the UN arms embargo to acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Daesh and other terrorist groups.

And finally, the international community will stand behind the Skhirat agreement and its principles of Libyan sovereignty, stability, security, and unity.

Now, given the stakes, I want to be absolutely clear: Those who engage in acts that threaten Libya’s peace and security or who obstruct or undermine a successful political transition will face the prospect of sanctions outlined by various UN Security Council resolutions.

And to those like Prime Minister Sarraj who are ready to choose reconciliation and who are focused on solving problems rather than on sowing discord, our message is just as clear: The United States and the international community represented here today and beyond will back you every step of the way.

That means working hard through the UN to prepare security arrangements so the new government can further establish itself in Tripoli. It means helping to ensure that such key institutions as the central bank and the national oil company receive the oversight and the direction that they need. It means doing more to address urgent humanitarian requirements. It means laying the groundwork for sustained support in the fields of security, finance, counterterrorism, and overall governance. And it means a true partnership between the people of Libya and the international friends of Libya to see that the future of that country is one of unity, prosperity and peace.

Nearly five years ago, Libya overthrew a dictator. The question mark that we have to ask ourselves even still today is: What is Libya going to look like five years from now? That’s what motivated us to come here today and build the consensus that we have produced. Libya has an opportunity to be a safe country for its citizens or could be a safe haven for terrorists, trapped in division and chaos and beset by personal, international, and tribal rivalries. Or Libya could be a country with a functioning government, with an entrepreneurial economy, and a population that is both diverse and unified at the same time. The choices required to shape Libya’s future are in the hands of its leaders, and they were here today. But they’re going to need our support, and if they do their part, we are here today to say that we’re willing to do ours. For the sake of Libya’s future, we need to seize this moment.

Now I turn the floor over to my friend and colleague, Paolo Gentiloni.

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: Well, thank you very much, John, especially for your extraordinary commitment on this Libyan crisis which was absolutely decisive to reach the first results that we are reaching since a few months. Thank you to Martin Kobler for your efforts and for the results that the UN activity produced on the Libyan dialogue. And thank you very much to Prime Minister Sarraj. I think that your courage on March the 30th to go to establish the Libyan Presidential Council on Tripoli will be remembered as a turning point in the crisis, and it is something we can invest in now.

I think that the meeting today of a so large number of foreign ministers is very clear in itself. There is a large support to the Presidential Council and to the Government of National Accord – a large support because we all know, as John just said a minute ago, that the stabilization of Libya is the key answer to the risk that we have. And to stabilize Libya, we need a government. And we have a government with the support of such a large number of member states and international and regional organization.

So stabilization is the key. With stabilization, we can fight terrorism; we can assure development to a country with rich potentialities but with a strong humanitarian crisis now. We can tackle the migration issue; we can develop the resources of Libya. Without stabilization, we risk tensions, divisions, and intra-Libyans fights.

So this is, I think, the message of our meeting. It is a political message because we are supporting the recent decision of the GNA, first of all, the constitution of a presidential guard that we will support; second, the constitution of a joint command to fight Daesh; and third, the decision to give a transitory legitimacy to the ministers until the formal swearing will be accomplished.

With this support, I think that we have the possibility to reach several goals. The most urgent one – and Italy and several other countries are working on this – the most urgent one is to give humanitarian aid to hospitals and cities not only in the west, but also in the east of country, through the Government of National Accord. Then we have to begin our cooperation for development of Libya.

And finally, we have to cooperate on security to make possible a Libyan ownership of the anti-terrorism fight. We all know that to make this possible, the Libyan process should be – you should have new steps. We will look for a validation for the Libyan parliament. We will look for inclusiveness of all the subject that are on the field fighting Daesh, including the general after. But this will be something based on the authority of the Government of National Accord and on the support, the international support, to GNA. This is, I think, the reason why we can be satisfied with what we have done today, but we know that we will have further steps to work on.

And now, John, maybe we give the floor to Prime Minister Sarraj again, thanking him for being here.

PRIME MINISTER AL-SARRAJ: (Via interpreter) First of all – salute Secretary Kerry and the Italian minister for organizing this and Austria for hosting this meeting. The presence of the ministers today will (inaudible) message of support for the National Accord Government and (inaudible) is interested in Libya. It was a fruitful, frank, and transparent meeting. We talked about the political, economic, and social aspects.

Regarding the political situation or the political track internally, we authorized ministers to take over their ministries. We called upon the House of Representatives to assume its responsibility in playing its role. We can overcome this political impasse. We call upon all countries and parties active in Libya to cooperate with us positively. The situation in Libya is extremely bad – I’ll be very frank – economically, financially, and security-wise. It requires the collaboration of all parties. We need the collaboration of the active parties in Libya in a positive manner. The situation cannot afford any political maneuvers by any party internal or external. The situation in Libya involves humanitarian suffering, misplaced people or displaced people, forces of terrorism that are lying in wait for Libya. The international community and the neighbors will not be spared this danger if terrorism were to grow outside Libya.

We’ve called for lifting the embargo on arms to support the joint command and the military establishment. We’ve called for equipping and arming – (interruption) – the (inaudible) presidential guard, which will have a clear role in fighting extremism and securing key institutions, and it’s not a substitute to police or the army. We’ve also talked about securing our borders to enforce or to prevent illegal immigration so that it can play its role effectively. We call upon all neighbors or friendly countries to coordinate with the Presidency Council in any initiative they put forward toward a national reconciliation based on the Libyan political agreement. We continue to expand the basis of participation and accord among all Libyans to ensure – to – that we reach our goal of reconciliation and accord in general.

We have a major challenge ahead of us – terrorism, fighting ISIS. We’ve established operations room, special operations room. We hope that there will be a joint operations room that will lead the fight against terrorism. We urge the international community to assist us. We’re not talking about international intervention; we’re talking about international assistance and training, equipping our troops and training our youth.

Once again, we thank the international community for their interest in Libya, and we hope for the best. Thank you.

MR TONER: We have time for just two questions. The first goes to Dave Clark from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Prime Minister, Minister, Secretary. Mr. Prime Minister, were you able today to present a detailed breakdown of the kinds of equipment and training your forces will require? And Minister and Mr. Secretary, when do you think the international community will be able to begin meeting these needs? And when do you think you’ll be able to get waivers from the UN arms embargo?

PRIME MINISTER AL-SARRAJ: (Via interpreter) With respect to our call for the embargo to be lifted, all the authorized authorities in power to lift this embargo will be provided with a list as soon as possible.

SECRETARY KERRY: The – we have now had a request come to us. Now, this obviously has to be discussed and go through the process with respect to the UN. The arms embargo does allow for the Government of National Accord to request weapons if it needs them specifically to secure the country and to combat Daesh. So that is the consideration, and we will measure whatever requests there are for their legitimate arms requests with our call to all states to improve the enforcement of the arms embargo itself in order to prevent arms transfers from taking place to people outside of the GNA’s authority. So it’s a delicate balance, but we are, all of us here today, supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and the legitimate government is struggling against terrorism, that legitimate government should not be made the prisoner or it should not be victimized by virtue of the UN action that has been taken that has always awaited a legitimate government. So we believe it makes sense, but obviously, carefully sculpted. And that’s what we will make sure we do.

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: We are ready to answer to requests from the Libyan Government. The prime minister said the request will be about training and assisting, and we will consider them with absolutely rapidly and with great interest. And as Secretary of State Kerry said, and we are not discussing of eliminating the embargo. But the embargo in itself allows exemptions given certain circumstances. And these are circumstances that we all are appreciating. So we will face the list that will be asked not to eliminate the embargo, but to authorize exemptions to the embargo for certain kind of arms.

MR TONER: Second question goes to Lucia Goracci from Rai TV.

QUESTION: Thank you. For months we have talked about some international military intervention against Daesh in Libya. And now it does not seem imminent anymore. And today we read an open letter written by Prime Minister Sarraj, who says we don’t need foreign soldiers. I would like to ask both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gentiloni what are their comments.

SECRETARY KERRY: What we recommend?

QUESTION: Yeah. Comments, comments about the -

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, to comment about that. Go ahead.

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: Well, I don’t think we have to comment, but we have to take note of the position of the Libyan Government and we are to be ready to cooperate. I think that the Libyan Government said not only today but in several occasions that they will not ask in this moment for, as we say, boots on the ground or such kind of intervention but they will ask for support in several security dimensions, and I think that we will respond to these requests. And I think they are legitimate in having these requests because they are stressing the Libyan ownership of the stabilization process.

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me confirm that, first of all, we made it clear today and we’ve made it clear from our last meetings in January and then in December we support a Government of National Accord in Libya and we are supporting this government, and we are working with them to help them to be able to respond to the terrorist threat that is posed by ISIL, by Daesh. And we’re also working with them to try to de-escalate the level of conflict in the country. So there’s a lot of political component of this also. But the United States stands ready and the international community stands ready to provide humanitarian, economic, and security support to the new Libyan Government on their request. And right now, the government is requesting assistance in certain ways, but as Paolo said, we’re not talking about troops and boots and that kind of intervention.

We continue right now to assess the ISIL activity that’s taking place, and we’re working with our partners to determine the best way forward to help Libya to be able to deal with that threat and – but also let me make clear, President Obama has already acted and will act whenever he deems it necessary to defend United States national security interests. And since Daesh plots against us and others, those interests are real. But there’s been no request otherwise at this point in time for some other kind of intervention. We’re simply in a mode of trying to help and assist and develop a Libyan capacity to be able to respond to the challenge of security within Libya.

MODERATOR: Thank you. I don’t think we have any more time. So thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all.