Senior US official says Washington willing to reopen embassy in Libya

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood met Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah and affirmed the US’s full support for Libya’s interim government and urged an end to foreign military intervention in the North African country.

Tuesday 18/05/2021
US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood meets Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, in Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2021. (REUTERS)
US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood meets Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, in Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2021. (REUTERS)

TRIPOLI - A top American diplomat arrived Tuesday in Libya’s capital, marking the first visit by a senior US official since the UN-backed formation of an interim government in February.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood affirmed the US’s full support for Libya’s interim government and urged an end to foreign military intervention in the North African country.

Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) is expected to enforce a cease-fire agreement signed in October and lead the country into general elections this December.

“Today’s meetings demonstrate the commitment of the US government and our strong diplomatic support for the progress the Libyan people have made towards an inclusive negotiated political solution,” Hood said at a joint news conference with Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Manqoush.

Along with US ambassador to Libya Richard Norland, Hood met  Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Mohammad Younes el-Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidency Council.

“We urged the US to help us pressure all concerned parties to meet their obligations, respect UN resolutions and support the cease-fire,” said Manqoush.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. The uprising divided the oil-rich country between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east. Each were backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the interim government and December elections.

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush speaks as she and US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood deliver a joint statement, in Tripoli, May 18, 2021. (REUTERS)
Libyan Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush speaks as she and US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood deliver a joint statement, in Tripoli, May 18, 2021. (REUTERS)

In a report obtained by The Associated Press last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres complained there has been no reduction of foreign fighters or their activities in Libya and that a UN-imposed arms embargo continues to be breached.

The UN estimated in December there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal Security Council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats.

“The goal of the US is a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference and a state that is capable of combating terrorism,” said Hood.

Hood said the US hopes that Libyans reach an agreement soon on the constitutional mechanism of the upcoming elections.

He added that America is willing to re-open its embassy in Libya but that the process would take time and require “a lot of logistics.”

“We are not waiting for that; we will be visiting frequently and we will be inviting her Excellency to Washington,” he said in reference to Manqoush.

The US suspended embassy operations in Libya in 2014 as fighting between Libyan factions neared its embassy in Tripoli. The US diplomatic mission to Libya is now located in safer Tunis, Tunisia.

In recent months, several European governments, including France and Greece, reopened their embassies in Tripoli after years of closure, as an act of support of the newly-elected transitional authorities.