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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Update on the Libya Peace Talks and U.S. Policy in Libya

Jonathan Winer, Special Envoy for Libya
New York, NY
October 2, 2015


Date: 10/02/2015 Location: New York Foreign Press Center, NY Description: Jonathan Winer, Special Envoy for Libya, briefs foreign media at the New York Foreign Press Center in New York, NY - State Dept Image

1:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR:  Well, welcome, everybody, on this rainy day.  I’m glad you guys could come out to this.  So today we have Special Envoy Jonathan Winer – Special Envoy for Libya – I believe that’s the title.  We had a very important meeting today at the UN to talk about moving forward on the political process there, and he’ll provide an update on that and where we are and what can we expect moving forward. 

This is a small group.  We’re going to go ahead and do this on the record.  So with that, I’ll hand it over.  And please, if you ask a question, please state your name and who you’re affiliated with, please.  Thank you.

MR WINER:  Hi.  I’m Jonathan Winer.  I’m the United States Special Envoy to Libya, and perhaps I can begin by trying to describe where I think things are and why, where they may be heading, what our policy is.  You should feel free to ask me any question when I’ve stopped speaking, and if I’m going off the (inaudible) feel free to interrupt me.  That’s all right too. 

The current Libyan governments, which were formed more or less in the period of June to August of last year, 2014, are not capable of delivering services to the Libyan people.  They have not succeeded in acting as governments, and they spent most of their existence fighting with one another over who was legitimate and who was not. 

They both have declining legitimacy, both internationally and domestically.  And the UN peace process, which has been underway under the current UN SRSG Bernardino Leon, who began his mission in the beginning of – actually it was the end of September, actually – 2014.  His term is nearing its close and he is trying to, as he concludes his term, bring the parties into a deal which would re-establish a unitary government – a united government back in Tripoli, which everyone agrees is Libya’s capital.  And the fact is that nothing can really function very well without Tripoli being Libya’s capital, because the governmental infrastructure of Libya is weak under the best of circumstances, and you take it out of a Tripoli-centric functioning and it can’t function at all.

There are now central banks, two Libyan claimants for control of Libyan investment authority, two claimants for a national oil company, double sets of ministers on practically everything, competing ministries of foreign affairs in terms of ambassadors being appointed by one side or the other side, two presidents, two prime ministers, and a very large number legislators in both bodies. 

It doesn’t work.  Benghazi has been engulfed in an ongoing conflict now for 15 months, which has destroyed substantial portions of the city.  Sirte has been taken over by Daesh.  Derna was taken over by Daesh but then developed antibodies, and Libyan members of Ansar al-Sharia kicked Daesh out only a few months after embracing it.

You’ve got the migrant crisis into Europe through Libya, which is causing generous amounts of money to be generated for criminal gangs who, in turn, like to keep the money flows going and thus insidiously further build their capacities and weaken governmental structures.

Everyone says it can’t go on like this.  The Libyan public doesn’t want it to go on like this, it’s pretty clear from polling.  The majority of the legislative bodies in the House of Representatives in Tobruk and in the GNC in Tripoli believe it can’t go on like this and are ready to embrace a deal.

Everybody’s sick of it, and at some point the situation, which is already pretty terrible, becomes intolerable as Libya continues to eat its seed corn, consume its inherited capital, and the money starts to run out.  I would note that Daesh did take over the central bank’s offices in Sirte about three weeks ago.  It got away with some millions of dollars.  It’s good that it wasn’t hundreds of millions, but it was millions.  And its efforts to build that geographic space in that area are threatening to Misrata, which is the city most in its proximity. 

The Misratans would very much like to fight back, but it’s hard to fight back while you’re also having to watch your back against the political forces in the context of ongoing civil division.  So the Misratans have been very, very central to the changed appetite for a political accommodation, a political deal.  There were important Misratan elements as part of Libya Dawn formed after Operation Dignity.  It was formed by Hafter.  And at this point, the Misratans, by and large, very much want to be part of the deal and to help deliver a deal.

The text that has been negotiated by the Libyans, brokered by Bernardino Leon, is, as far as Leon is concerned, final.  It is final as far as the United States is concerned.  It’s final so far as the major European countries involved in Libya are concerned.  It’s final as far as the regional players are concerned.  It’s – that process is done.  What’s going to happen next is this – a process needs to be undergone very rapidly – two days, three days, four days.  There is at most less than three weeks until the house by all accounts loses its current legitimacy; its current authorities run out on October 21st.  So there is a process that needs to take place for agreement on five names for a new government – a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and two cabinet positions which become part of something called the presidency council, which collectively make all the decisions pretty much for the new government. 

So it’s envisioned that Bernardino Leon will be able to, by talking seriatim to all of the Libyan delegates who’ve been participating in the process that’s taken place in Skhirat and Morocco over the past year, mostly in Skhirat, sometimes in Geneva, that they will say okay, this the right person for prime minister, we can live – all of us can live with this person.  This is the right combination for deputy prime minister, the right combination for the other two.  And by looking at a package of five people they can say yeah, we like that – this person, we’re not thrilled with that person but we can live with him.  So that you have a total package that works for Libya that says this is a group of Libyans who represent enough of us that we will all feel reasonably safe and give them our authority.  

So the idea is to get that done over the next few days and to have Bernardino Leon fill in Annex 2, which is where these five names would go – there’s a place for it in the actual political agreement in the second annex – and then say, “Here, House of Representatives in Tobruk, here GNC in Tripoli, vote yes up or down.”  And if they vote for it, the new government is formed.  If they don’t for it, you could still have a situation in which enough Libyan constituencies ultimately come together to provide a basis for governance, but that’s less clear.  We’re seeing growing momentum for it.  Representatives from both the GNC and the House of Representatives have in New York today committed themselves to trying to get from here to there. 

We’ve seen this process evolve where they’ve gotten closer and closer and closer, and then they go back to their home cities.  And there are elements in both cities who have not wanted a deal and who basically tend to make demands which are not answerable, and they’re obstacles to a deal.  The goal is to reduce that to the absolute minimum, to the smallest number, and find a majority, indeed a supermajority, to go ahead.  Reports that we have had from discussions within the house and discussions within the GNC are that somewhere between two-thirds and to five-sixths of the representatives are in support of an agreement, depending on how far along you are in the process.  It’s gone more or less from two-thirds to five-sixths over the last three months.  We get pretty detailed vote counts, and it’s quite clear to us that the people who don’t want to deal are in the absolute minority. 

That said, when the negotiating team of the GNC left Tripoli last week to prepare to come to New York – it might even have been this week, a few days ago – there were people who tried to prevent them from getting on planes.  The GNC negotiators are tough GNC members.  They are not pushovers.  They are not – no one would call them soft on the other side.  They are tough, well-regarded people within their caucus, within their body, their institution.  Yet there were still people who tried to intimidate them and prevent them from leaving.  We’ve seen the same phenomenon from time to time in the House of Representatives.  And so this is going to be a rocky road to success if we get there.  Libya needs to get there and the Libyans need now to move ahead, not to take any more time.  And if you listened to the discussion or heard about the discussion today at the UN, the message from every country that spoke, without exception, was no more negotiations, no delay, now, because legitimacy is declining in the absence of a deal.

So what about security?  The question of security is a multifaceted question, but the first issue on security is security in Tripoli.  Everyone agrees Tripoli has to be the seat of the government, not only for historical and affectional or emotional reasons but because physically that’s the way the ministries are constructed.  And the IT and administrative systems in Libya are no so strong that you can just plug and play from anywhere.  It doesn’t work. 

The various militias that control various parts of Tripoli need to participate in security discussions in the next few weeks.  Those have been slow.  The security discussions have not gone at the speed that lots of people have wanted, both inside Libya and outside Libya, but there’s one good reason for it in addition to any number of bad reasons one could come up with.  A bad reason is the person is waiting till the last minute to extract whatever they can would be a bad reason.  A person who never wants to share power, is going to stop anyone from coming back, would be another bad reason.  Those bad reasons may – I’m a criminal group, I don’t want more people to oppose me, I want to just do my criminal things would be a third bad reason. 

But the main good reason or legitimate reason is until there is a political deal, until there’s a political agreement, it’s hard to expect security forces to come aboard for discussions with one another on solutions.  This is not a security problem first and foremost, though there are massive security problems.  It is in the first instance a political problem in which the various political components of society at play politically in Libya need to come together.  And that’s been the process in Morocco over this period now of eight or nine – nine months, really, since we started in Skhirat, something like that – nine months, anyway, since we started Geneva, which we’re seeing in Skhirat.

So that’s basically where we are.  The delegates are going to back to Skhirat immediately tomorrow and start discussing names of the quintet, quintropod, whatever the correct name is for five people – Pentium – I guess that’s copyrighted – for the five people who would control the country, be responsible for running the government.  Then, if they can come to that and Bernardino was able to find five names which are in accord with the independent delegates as well as the house and the GNC, it then goes back to those two bodies for approval as the second annex of an entire integrated text.  So that’s where things are.

MODERATOR:  All right.  We’ll take your questions.

MR WINER:  I actually had a couple things.  The UK, the U.S., France, Italy, and other countries made it clear to the Libyans that we will all be involved and support Libya rebuilding if they form a government of national unity; and that if they fail to do so, not only would that assistance not be forthcoming, but they’re going to be running on fumes and then those fumes are going to – even the fumes are going to run out.

QUESTION:  Can I ask a quick question?  In his – when President Obama spoke on Monday, he acknowledged that the international community had not done enough after Qadhafi was overthrown to help nation building, I guess one would call it, or security assistance in country in Libya.  What – it was interesting that he made that acknowledgement.  What motivated him?  What lessons have you learned and what would you do differently now should the Libyans succeed in forming a government?  Because he seemed to be saying it wasn’t handled right the first time, and that raises the question of what’s going – how different is it going to be this time?

MR WINER:  Well, when something fails as much as Libya has failed after such a bright moment when people were really excited about throwing off the chains of 42 years of being enslaved or shackled by Qadhafi’s megalomania and capriciousness, you say, “Well, we must have done something wrong.”  However, the Libyans really did not want a variety of kinds of international help.  I was personally involved in trying to get the Libyans to move ahead with general purpose force agreement with the United States, never could get them to sign a peace of paper.  When they finally signed the peace of paper, couldn’t get them to pay for their share.

When it came to military training, the United States tried to do various types of training missions.  They all went awry in different ways due to the Libyans not doing what they should be doing.  The Italians had a bad experience, the Turks had a bad experience, the Brits had a bad experience, the French had a bad experience with police.  I can’t find a country that engaged with Libya in the period of 2012 to 2014 that was successful.

QUESTION:  So then what is the point the President was making if – because he seemed to be saying that it wasn’t – enough had not been done, and you seem to be saying that it wasn’t possible to do anything.  So what are you planning to do that’s going to build on these lessons?  Or is it – or – I just don’t understand what the President was saying and where you’re going with it.

MR WINER:  I really can’t speculate about what was in the President’s mind on what he had to say, because it’s not something that I was involved in during the preparation of his materials or – so I don’t know where that came from.  I can’t speculate --

QUESTION:  So how – what precisely will you do to help this new government should it ever manage to coalesce?

MR WINER:  Sure.  They need public financial administration so that they can take advantage of their resources in ways to deliver services effectively.  If you’ve ever gotten an email from a Libyan, I can tell you it didn’t have a Libya suffix at the end.  They don’t have electronic recordkeeping systems that are systemic.  They’ve got some sophistication at the central bank, the ministry of finance, and the diwan, the oversight office or audit office.  But overall, their IT systems are way behind what a country should have, so there’s a lot of technocratic things once could do in the first instance to try and make the ministries function post-Qadhafi. 

The systems that were in place before were designed to only be workable with Qadhafi often just saying, “Do it.”  That was the basic structure.  When you lost that impulse – he had also – if things didn’t work, he had also told Libyans for 42 years, “I’m not running the country.  You’re running the country.  It’s the people’s revolution.  It’s the people’s Libya.”  And so with him gone, people have said to themselves, “Well, I’m running the country now.”  And so you had instead of a single impulse a multitude of impulses, many of which could not be carried out to conclusion.

So in each period of time you try to learn from what went before.  If you were to try and go back and say what should have been done differently, probably more focus quickly day-to-day when things didn’t happen that should have happened, when Libya was not responding to what the UN was trying to do, to what the EU was trying to do, to what the UK, France, Italy, the United States, Spain, Germany were trying to do, perhaps there should have been more of a reckoning of it earlier.  That you could have done.

QUESTION:  But you – would be willing – this is my last question, but would you be, the international community, provide security assistance in-country?

MR WINER:  The way in which the political agreement was struck --

QUESTION:  Not just --

MR WINER:  Yeah.  The way the political --

QUESTION:  Substantial assistance.

MR WINER:  I’m absolutely going to answer – I’m answering the question.  The political agreement lays out a process in which the Libyans can ask the international community for help on security – various types of security assistance, including help on countering terrorism, it’s expressly there; help on countering criminal groups and illegal migration, expressly there; help in fulfilling the carrying out of all the other terms of the political agreement.  So there’s a whole section in security relating to what the international community can do. 

There will be donors conferences and efforts by donors to kick up various types of help to Libya that would increase the capacity to deliver services quickly in such areas as public financial administration, as I’ve mentioned.  There’s going to need to be a national security structure, so there’s going to need to be defense institution building.  There’ll be a need to train and equip, but focus on training first Libyan national forces who are depoliticized, who are seen as representing the country rather than being responsive to a particular militia leader.  The document talks about the reconstitution of militias into a national force.  That’s there in the political agreement.

So the framework provides for a way in which Libya can ask other countries for help.  It has to begin with the Libyans wanting the help.  Part of the problem after 2011 is various successive Libyan governments did not particularly want help and declined it in various ways repeatedly.  When they did accept, it was – it didn’t come out well because of inadequate preparation of the environment, of the Libyan environment, and the way in which it was being carried out by the internationals to have it succeed.  I left out the Jordanians.  Their efforts to train also didn’t go well. 

Maybe the Libyans themselves have learned from this process that more – that they have to work a bit harder and be a bit more flexible too.  They were very determined not to have foreigners dominate the country post-Qadhafi and tell them what to do.  After the losses of this past period of time – the suffering, the misery – the suffering, the misery, the unhappiness – they are clearly more open to getting help internationally.  A number of countries are willing to come back and try and do that both within the region and beyond.

QUESTION:  Worst case scenario of the political --

MODERATOR:  Sorry, can you state your name and your --

QUESTION:  Vasili Sushko, Sputnik News.  If a political agreement isn’t reached – correct me if I’m wrong, you said that international support will cease?

MR WINER:  Well, there’s almost no internationals in Libya today.  There’s almost no international assistance today – very, very little.  It’s not safe for people right now because there isn’t a government one can rely on to provide protection.  So you have very few foreigners living in Libya, let alone providing services, and assistance programs have by and large been cut off de facto, already.  And the resources of the country have declined from 135 billion at the end, I believe, of 2013, to 88 billion at the end of 2014, and to some number below that today.  I don’t have up-to-date numbers, but they’ve been continuing to bleed.  They’re producing oil at about 30 percent of what their capacities were – instead of 1.5 million barrels a day, they’re producing somewhere from 250,000 to 400,000 barrels a day, the first bit of which is used for the domestic market.  And oil prices, of course, are 50 cents on the dollar of what they were so their revenues have just been decimated – literally reduced 90 percent. 

And the result is a growing financial crisis which is not sustainable.  The day that they cannot buy medicine and food and refined oil – gasoline – and equipment – cars and so on – from the rest of the world is a bad day for – is a bad day for Libya.  And they’re going to come to that day if they don’t find a way to come together and regain the legitimacy of their national institutions.  They’re also having growing litigation and litigation risk as the result of the division of national institutions into competing sides.  In such a competition, potentially everybody loses because the transaction risk gets to be too great for partners to do business with them.  You’re an oil company – are you going to enter into a oil contract with anybody in Libya right now?  The risks are just enormous; it doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with if it’s a new contract as opposed to an existing one.

You play that against an entire economy, it creates a vicious cycle of deterioration.  As Libyans come to grapple with this, they get more willing to compromise and to recognize the need for national accord, for coming together to protect the country as a whole.  Daesh has also concentrated the minds.  Since the Corinthia attack of last January and the takeover of Sirte, in Tripoli and in Misrata we’ve seen people say, “This is a real threat to us; we want to be able to take action against it, to take action against it more effectively.  We need international support and we need to be united.”

Again, the speeches today were all about the need for unity, which is a good thing.  We’re not seeing people who want to break up the country.  There are some Libyans who would benefit from that at a local level if they themselves could control the energy.  And so there’s been the federalist movements, which at various times has tried to fan separatism.  But none of Libya’s neighbors want that, and the vast supermajority of Libyans reject that as well, and it has no teeth, it has no energy.

QUESTION:  Going back to what this gentleman said earlier about what the U.S. could’ve done differently – at all ever considered possibly not ousting Qadhafi, perhaps working with him?  Because since 2011, I mean, it’s been dismal, and we’re now in a situation with Syria which – I’m not sure if you can comment on Syria --

MR WINER:  I can’t comment on Syria.  I’m not an expert on Syria.

QUESTION:  So was that ever considered, perhaps working --

MR WINER:  I wasn’t in the Administration at the time the decisions were made about Qadhafi, and I can’t address the issue.  But I would say generally speaking I’m very, very poor at hypothetical situations and trying to imagine alternative futures.  I’m not a good writer of fiction.  I’m just not a good writer of fiction.  It’s just not my metier.  And any kind of trying to revisit history and do imagine-ifs and what-ifs for me aren’t very useful.  I don’t do it.

QUESTION:  Well, the President made the comment, so was that perhaps a possibility of what you might have --

MR WINER:  You could ask him.  I don’t know.

QUESTION:  Excuse me, thank you.  Fabiola Ortiz.  I write for IPS and (inaudible) in the news.  So I’m coming to understand a little bit more about the (inaudible) Libya.  I wonder, are we – in your opinion, are we heading towards next generation of Qadhafi, or we cannot, like, talk about the future, but a next future of possible another Qadhafi, or this General Khalifa Hafter – yeah.  Please, if you could make some comments on this.

MR WINER:  Yeah.  Sure.  Yeah.  I don’t know anyone I’ve run in – I have met in Libya who thinks it is a good idea to return to one-man rule of Libya.  I don’t know anyone.  I don’t know anyone who supports a coup.  I don’t know anyone who wants to see democracy and what was fought for in the February 17th revolution replaced by a return to the old regime.  People who are very upset by what’s happened in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15, are still not saying, “Oh, for the good old days under Qadhafi.”  Instead, people who long for the good old days say, “Well, maybe we should go back to having – adopting the constitution of 1951 and having a constitutional monarch and have Libya have some integration through that.”  It’s – those are not majority voices, I mean, but within the realm of things you hear, that’s one thing.  So when people have nostalgia for the good old days, they go back to before Qadhafi to King Idris.  They don’t go back, “No, we need a new Qadhafi.”

So that’s not something – the risk for Libya is not so much of a return to a Qadhafi as it is for continued fragmentation and collapse of institutions.

QUESTION:  And about this new – it’s not a new general, but this General Khalifa Hafter, you could make some comments on him.  Because he was close to Qadhafi, right?  Or --

MR WINER:  Hafter’s background, which you can read online --

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.

MR WINER:  -- and my knowledge comes from online reading about him and some books about him – is --



QUESTION:  Only?  (Laughter.)

MR WINER:  Yes, essentially.  Everything relevant – is that he fought – he was part of the original revolution against the king, became Qadhafi’s chief general, was imprisoned in Chad.  Qadhafi was – didn’t treat him well because he lost his battles against Chad.  He then moved to northern Virginia; according to press accounts, is said to have worked with the United States Government; according to press accounts, is said then not to have worked for the United States Government; and then came back to Libya for the first time in decades in the course of the revolution; declared a coup in February 2014 and at various times has said that he’s free of civilian control currently.

Our view is that no individual should be free in security space, whether they’re head of a militia or otherwise – free of civilian control.  This is – has got to be a democracy in which you have elected governments and security is under the elected governments.  But beyond that, there’s no point in talking about individuals, because these are principles, and the principles here are what will be relevant.  I don’t know anyone, as I said earlier, who is supporting a coup or would support a coup – that is, any foreign government, period, across the board. 

QUESTION:  Can you --

QUESTION:  No, go ahead.

QUESTION:  No, you go ahead.

QUESTION:  No, I don’t care. 

QUESTION:  All right.  I’ll go ahead. 

Could you expand a little more on what ISIL and Daesh is doing in Libya?  You mentioned the central bank operation.  How many of them are there?  Where are they most active?  It’s been – I guess they’re getting some guidance from the --

MR WINER:  Yeah, I don’t --

QUESTION:  -- from Syria, from the caliphate?  What kind of – what can you tell us about --

MR WINER:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- the extent of this group in Libya proper?

MR WINER:  I do not feel comfortable at all talking about numbers, because whatever numbers I would give you would be wrong even if I tried to make them completely accurate.  To the absolute best of my ability, I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp. 

What I can say is that there appears to be foreign fighters in Libya of two different kinds.  There are Libyans who went into the Iraq-Syria territory and came back to Libya, having absorbed Daesh doctrine, Daesh strategy, and Daesh tactics.  In addition, there appear to be people who are from Iraq-Syria who are non-Libyans as well as people from other areas in the Maghreb region, such as Tunisia in particular, who have adopted Daesh branding, Daesh ideology, Daesh tactics, Daesh strategy.

There are also people have domestic extremist views – Ansar al-Sharia being the label that they had adopted in different towns – who merged with Daesh or joined Daesh.  And as I mentioned, in Derna, after they did that, basically they said to themselves, as near as I can tell, “We’re Libyans.  We don’t want to be told what to do by foreigners.  We’re going to kick them out.”  And they kicked them out, and they were almost entirely pushed out of Derna, as near as I can tell.

So it’s a complex dynamic in which there are, again, two types of foreign fighters – the Libyans who went and came back, and then people from Iraq-Syria.  The effort clearly is to capture territory; that is, it is territorial-based, to find a beachhead and then expand the beachhead outward as they can by terrifying and intimidating anybody who might get in their way to fleeing or joining, fleeing or accepting.  That’s their basic technique. 

There are a variety of Libyans who don’t like it, including, as mentioned, forces in Misrata, including militia forces who are pressing against them but have not fully taken them on, in part because of a question about correlation of forces; that is, are we strong enough to take them on?  There is probably a smaller presence – presences elsewhere in Libya in various cities.  I’m really not the qualified person to talk about that.  But there is probably some others.  But there’s also as mentioned – the word I used earlier – anti – Libyan antibodies to foreign – dominance by any foreigners of any type, whether they’ve got that brand or some other flag or brand.

So it’s a very complex picture with shifting alliances and shifting allegiances.  I’ve had some people allege to me that some components of Daesh in Libya are former Qadhafiites who never liked the revolution.  I’ve had political people say, “Oh, it’s the other guys who are stoking them up to create more problems for us.”  Sorting out what is true and what is not true in that is a tricky business. 

MODERATOR:  All right, we have time for one more, if anyone has one more question.  No?  All right, thank you.  

MR WINER:  Thank you.

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