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Is the US quietly returning to Libya?
US holding talks with Libyan government
The United States on Tuesday sent its highest-level official to Libya since 2014 in what it called a signal of Washington’s increased focus on efforts to resolve the country’s crisis.
Acting assistant secretary of state Joey Hood met Libya’s new Government of National Unity (GNU) head Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh and Presidency Council chief Mohamed al-Menfi.
“The goal of the United States is a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference, and a state that is capable of combating terrorism,” he said at a joint news conference with Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush.
The GNU’s appointment in March was accepted by both main sides in the civil war – and their foreign backers – in a move seen as representing the best hope for peace in years, though with many big obstacles remaining.
Libya has had little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, which splintered the country between armed groups who wielded power on the ground and eventually coalesced into two main factions in east and west that operated rival administrations from 2014 until this year.
Head of the Libyan Presidential Council Mohammed al-Menfi held talks in Tunis on Sunday with US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland, just days after Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar presided over a major military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi.
In a tweet, the US embassy in Libya, which is based in Tunisia, said Norland had a “good discussion on a full range of issues including unification of military, security and other institutions, reconciliation, removal of foreign fighters and elections in December.”
“We also discussed improving security conditions in the south to better deal with issues such as human trafficking and the presence of mercenaries.”
US appoints new special envoy to Libya
In a press statement released on May 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced that Richard Norland will serve as the special envoy for Libya.
Richard Norland will carry out his new mission as Special envoy for the United States in Libya while retaining his position as ambassador in Tripoli, the U.S. State Department announced Monday in a statement relayed by the U.S. Embassy.
According to the statement, the ambassador will increase diplomatic efforts to “keep the political process on track until the December elections.
Richard Norland, appointed ambassador in 2019 in Libya already exercised, in a way, the function of unofficial special envoy by multiplying the statements on mercenaries and moving between Tunis, Cairo, Ankara and Geneva to advance on the Libyan file.
His official appointment means that Washington will increase “its contacts with its allies and partners as well as the Libyan people” in order to organize elections at the end of the year, the statement said.
According to several observers, this decision constitutes a U.S. reversal on the Libyan issue. During the Donald Trump years, American officials had sent contradictory signals to the two rival camps: they had supported the government of Fayez el-Sarraj and at the same time encouraged the offensive of Marshal Khalifa Haftar on the capital Tripoli.
President Joe Biden is seeking to differentiate himself from the previous administration, particularly with regard to Africa, and is aiming for greater effectiveness in this Libyan crisis that has lasted for more than ten years.
Does the US want to re-establish itself in Libya?
It seems that the US sees a renewed opportunity to establish itself in Libya, and wants to be part of the process that forms the new government in December.
The United States is wading back into Libya, with the Biden administration launching a fresh diplomatic bid to pull the country out of a violent spiral and making plans to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli seven years after it was closed.
The moves are a contrast to the hands-off approach of the Trump administration, which chose not to impose pressure on governments — including U.S. allies — that have supported proxies in Libya’s civil war in blatant violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
Asked about the future of the embassy in Tripoli, the State Department declined to comment about when the mission might open its doors again.
“Our intent is to begin to resume operations in Libya as soon as the security situation permits and we have the necessary security measures in place,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The process for that to occur, however, entails careful logistical and security planning, plus interagency coordination to meet security and legal requirements. “
The European Union reopened its mission in Libya last week, and other governments have restarted their diplomatic missions since March, in a show of support for a transitional government that was established after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in October.
Libya’s envoy to the U.S., Mohammed Ali Abdallah, said his government had urged the Biden administration to move ahead with plans to reopen the U.S, Embassy, saying it would send an important symbolic message.
“We asked the U.S. government to expedite the process of reopening the embassy in Tripoli,” he said.
The embassy was closed in 2014 when officials decided that fighting near the city made operating in the capital unsafe. The embassy was moved to neighboring Tunisia.
“When I talk with folks around our [congressional] district. They are not talking about getting American presence back in Libya. They’re talking about the crisis on the border. They are talking about the fact that crime has spiked because Democrats defund the police,” Jordan said. “They are talking about the price of everything, inflation is driving the price of everything up. And they are talking about the fact that employers can’t find employees because Joe Biden keeps paying people not to work.”
Jordan, who notably questioned former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the attack on the U.S. embassy, said that going back into Libya is not what the American people want.