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Diplomacy in Action

Press Availability in Tripoli, Libya

Press Availability
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Tripoli, Libya
April 24, 2014


DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good morning. A year and a half ago, I was here in Tripoli to honor the life and service of my friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other fallen American colleagues. On that very painful day, we committed ourselves to never lose sight of our shared hope for a free, secure and prosperous Libya.

Libyans know better than any outsider how hard the path has been since then, and how many obstacles remain. Chaos sometimes threatens to overwhelm the promise of the revolution, but Libyans have also shown the will and capacity to overcome the challenges before them. Only they can make the difficult choices that lie ahead. As Secretary Kerry made clear at the Rome Ministerial in March, we stand ready – together with Libya’s international partners – to support their efforts.

I want to thank Acting Prime Minister Thanaie and GNC First Deputy President Ezzedine al Awami for their hospitality. And I want to thank General National Congress and National Dialogue leaders, and representatives of Libya’s diverse civil society and political groups, for taking time to share their perspectives about Libya’s complicated transition.

Together, we looked back at recent achievements, from the elimination of Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile to the election of the constitutional drafting assembly. Together, we looked ahead at significant milestones on the horizon, including the drafting of the constitution, the national dialogue, and the elections. And together, we also talked about how we can put our partnership to work to advance Libya’s security, democratic transition, and economic growth.

We discussed ongoing international support for Libya’s efforts to reform the security sector, improve border security, control the proliferation of conventional weapons, and enhance the rule of law. And we talked at length about the hugely important task of training Libya’s General Purpose Force and the steps that need to be taken to accelerate progress.

We also had the opportunity to review steps we can take to support Libya’s political transition and Libyan efforts to navigate past their ideological, regional, and tribal differences. And we discussed how to advance Libya’s economic revival and deepen the ties of friendship between Libyans and Americans after many years of mutual isolation.

None of this will be easy. Much uncertainty remains. No one can make Libyans’ choices for them. But the courage and determination that defeated a dictator can defeat the odds against a successful transition too, and it is very much in the interests of the United States and all Libya’s international partners to help make that a reality.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Recently there are rumors in the media about possible international community or U.S. military intervention in Libya or in some parts in Libya. What are your perspectives/thoughts if the Libyan government asked you to intervene against targets in Libya?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I can only address what the Libyan government has asked, and that is for the U.S. and other international partners to provide assistance and training for Libya’s General Purpose Force and for other parts of the military and security services. We recognize the importance of that task, because it is impossible to foresee a successful political transition or successful economic revival without a greater sense of security. But we have no plans beyond that.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about the growing presence of extremist radical groups in Libya especially as the government seems to be incapable or unwilling to deal with this problem. What is the U.S. doing about this? There have been many claims about ongoing drone strikes. Is the U.S. doing anything about this threat?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The rising threat of violent extremism, whether it is people using violence for political purposes or the role of terrorist groups, is an enormous challenge first and foremost to the people of Libya, but also to Libya’s international partners as well. We recognize the severity of that threat. We have all suffered from it, whether it is Americans or Libyans or others around the world, and that is why we have such a sense of urgency, and such a sense of determination, to help Libyans build their own security capacity, to deepen counter terrorism cooperation, and also to promote the kind of healthy political process and economic process that increases the chances for greater security over the long term. Thank you all very much.

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