Sunday, May 14, 2017

Trump says only US role in Libya is to combat terrorism

In a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the only role he saw for the U.S. in Libya was to defeat any remaining Islamic State militants.

The statement is somewhat surprising. Some have thought that Trump would lean towards supporting eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) government, a rival to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. Russia has been supportive of Haftar although it has also kept open lines of communication with the GNA. Perhaps Trump does not want to be associated with Haftar since he is associated with Russia!
Trump said at the news conference: "I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We're in a role everywhere. So I do not see that. I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS, we're very effective in that regard ... I see that as a primary role and that's what we're going to do, whether it's in Iraq, or Libya or anywhere else,"
Trump did praise the Italian role in Libya. Italy has helped out the GNA with a field hospital and is providing boats to the GNA Coast Guard to help combat trafficking. Italy's Coast Guard has already donated two rescue boats to Libya and it will give ten boats to Libya as part of an agreement to help stem migrant from crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. Near the end of March a Libyan court suspended the Libya Italy deal but it still seems to be going ahead.
Trump urged Italy to adopt a policy that "seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so the can help to rebuild their own nations." Gentiloni was perhaps hoping that Trump would offer some help sharing the burden of the refugee crisis which is putting a strain on Italian resources. However Trump said: "I do not see a role in Libya. We have enough roles. We have a role everywhere." Perhaps the policy is meant to offset criticism by those such as Bannon who note that Trump campaigned on a promise not to be involved in wars that were expensive and not in the U.S. interest. Gentiloni noted that Italy and the U.S. had a common commitment to fight terrorism. He also told Trump that Italy would boost defense spending from one percent of GDP to two percent. Trump has demanded that all NATO members should reach this threshold to pay their fair share of NATO costs. Gentiloni claimed that Italy would respect their commitments. Gentiloni is very critical of protectionist trade policies that Trump sometimes supports. He has withdrawn form the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is demanding changes in NAFTA in favor of the U.S. However, globalists such as Jared Kushner appear to be gaining power in the Trump administration and nationalists such as Steve Bannon are declining in power. However, Trump policy can change very quickly.
Italian officials played down suggestions that Trump had actually rebuffed attempts by Gentiloni to get the U.S. more involved in helping to bring political stability to Libya. Gentiloni had said the U.S. role was critical. A pro-government newspaper La Repubblica said that Libya divided the U.S. and Italy and that the alliance was in difficulty.. However, an official close to the PM said the meeting had gone well and that there was no snub at all. Italian officials noted that GNA head of the Presidential Counci Fayez al-Sarraj was slated to meet with eastern commander Khalifa Haftar for talks in Washington later this year. There was no confirmation yet from Washington of any such meeting.
Before meeting with Trump, Gentiloni had said: “Now is the moment for the U.S. and Italy to work together to stabilise the situation and broaden the support for the Tripoli government to other actors. The division of Libya is not a good idea. It would be dangerous for Egypt, dangerous for Tunisia and for the interests of Europe.” Gentiloni claimed the U.S. had a special responsibility for helping Libya out of its crisis because the 2011 military intervention had lacked a vision of the future and resulted in mayhem. Numerous countries have been attempting to unify the two main Libyan factions. A recent tweet notes: #Libya Civil war mediation: Algeria, Italy, Russia have each held series of meetings with key leaders from opposing Libyan factions. As yet there appears little sign that the two sides can unify. In fact forces from the two sides have recently clashed in southern Libya near Sebha.


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