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US Weighs Options in Libya

  • Mohamed Elshinnawi

The Obama administration is considering moves in Libya including a possible evacuation of Americans and possibly shuttering the embassy as a political crisis has engulfed the unstable nation in violence.

Officials in Libya have proposed that national parliamentary elections be held June 25, an apparent effort to calm tensions after recent clashes between rival militias have killed at least 70 people and wounded hundreds.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki recently urged parties in Libya to seek a peaceful solution.

“We remain very concerned about the violence over the weekend in Tripoli and Benghazi,” she said. “We reiterate our call for all parties to refrain from violence and to seek resolution through peaceful means.” Psaki said.

She acknowledged that Libya has many challenges, but indicated that they cannot be overcome if its leaders don’t settle differences through dialogue and work together.

Assertive role

Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, agrees with the U.S. position.

“The only way out of the downward spiral is for a third party to mediate direct negotiations among the warring parties, with the objective of forming a national unity government and reaching consensus over a roadmap to address the country’s challenges.” Mezran said.

Mezran said that it is time for the U.S. to exercise a more assertive role in Libya.

“The Obama Administration has to support the Libyan government efforts to build the state institutions and use political pressure to push the international community to facilitate negotiations, as local interests are far too entrenched and distrust far too great,” he said.

Mezran warned of dire consequences for the U.S. interests if Libya is to become a failed state.

“Such scenario would pave the way for terrorist organizations to flourish and have safe havens in Libya, which would destabilize neighboring countries and threaten regional stability,” he said.While the U.S. is closely monitoring developments in Libya, the U.S. military remained poised to evacuate Americans amid escalating violence.

Agility required

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a briefing this weel that about 250 Marines plus seven Ospreys and three C-130 planes were in place as "a precaution, a prudent measure."

He said that no decision had been made to close the embassy but that one of the lessons learned when the U.S ambassador was killed amid violence in Benghazi in 2012 was the "need to be more agile."

“Such contingency plan is notable” said Ambassador David Mack, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former deputy assistant Secretary of State.
But Mack ruled out any U.S. military response or taking sides in the current dispute in Libya.

“The U.S. is not going to take sides but will continue to support stability and change through constitutional means and elections,” he said. “Disrupting the constitutional process is not something that the U.S. government would really want to see.”

Despite the violence and political turmoil in Libya, Mack foresees a continued effort by the U.S. to support the Libyan government in institution building.

“The U.S. is going to continue to work with a broad international coalition to provide practical support to the government in Tripoli like training and equipping Libyan personnel for a general purpose force,” he said.

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