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Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - "Libya: Defining U.S. National Security Interests"


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following opening statement this morning at a hearing entitled, "Libya: Defining U.S. National Security Interests:"

"The President's address to the nation on Monday on the situation in Libya was a welcome development, but left many questions unanswered. The President justified intervention by asserting "There will be times … when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.' The President has also said that he authorized military action to "enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973' and the "the writ of the international community.'

"Whether we agree or disagree with the decision to intervene in Libya, concerns have now been raised across both sides of the aisle about implied future obligations under the "Responsibility to Protect,' a vague concept first articulated in a UN General Assembly Resolution more than a year ago, which the UN has endorsed but failed to define.

"Compounding those concerns are reports that Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs on the National Security Council Staff, Samantha Power, reportedly helped lead the charge to intervene in Libya based upon this principle and over the objection of military planners

"Some Americans therefore question whether we have assumed obligations to forcefully respond to crises elsewhere, including Ivory Coast, Sudan, or Syria. Another area of concern is that the scope, duration, and objectives of the NATO-led operation and the political mission have not been sufficiently defined. Nor have the anticipated short, medium, and long-term commitments of the United States.

"The President has called for Qaddafi to step down in favor of a government that is more representative of the Libyan people. However, Administration officials have also said that Qaddafi himself is not a target and that the United States is not pursuing regime change.

"But then, Reuters reported yesterday afternoon that the President had signed a "secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust the Libyan leader' and that the President had said the objective was to apply "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.'

"Mr. Deputy Secretary, which is it? What is our objective?

"Further, what are the contingency plans if Qaddafi is able to cling to power? Would a political agreement that left Qaddafi in power be an acceptable outcome? What are the implications for Libya, for the region, and for the United States if this civil war reaches a stalemate? When referring to the Libyan opposition, is the President referring to armed rebels, to members of the Transitional Council, or to both? And what do we know about the armed forces? What do we know about the members of the Council? What assurances do we have that they will not pose a threat to the United States if they succeed in toppling Qaddafi? How will opposition forces, both political and military, be vetted?

"Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton stated that Resolution 1973 amended or overrode previous UN Security Council resolutions imposing an arms embargo on Libya. The Secretary said the resolution: "amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya, so that there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country should choose to do that.' How is the U.S. defining "legitimate?' Does the Administration contend that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 overrides U.S. prohibitions? That UN resolutions create U.S. laws?

"There are reports that some opposition figures have links to al-Qaeda and to extremist groups that have fought against our forces in Iraq. My constituents are asking me: Just who are we helping and are we sure that they are true allies who won't turn and work against us?

"These are valid concerns, particularly given the Administration's less than stellar record on promoting democracy and good governance in Libya, which would have included funding organizations run by the Qaddafi family had this Committee not intervened by not signing off on the funding.

"The record on transfers of military-related items involving Libya is also disconcerting. For example, for over a year, I requested a detailed national interest justification for two proposed weapons transfers to Libya. The Department failed to give us the justification. Ultimately, the cases were withdrawn after Qaddafi began the slaughter of civilians.

"Remarkably, however, the Committee received a letter from Secretary Clinton earlier this week regarding the overall Congressional consultation process for defense sales and seeking to limit the time for Congressional review. It is ironic that ill-advised weapons transfers to the Qaddafi regime were only stopped as a result of this Committee's due diligence, yet the State Department now complains about our efforts to carry out careful due diligence on all weapons transfers.

"I hope the Administration will commit to working with Congress effectively and transparently to address vital national security and foreign policy concerns relating to arms sales.

"The Committee will continue to press for answers on the U.S. strategy in Libya going forward and our short, medium and long-term commitments.

"With that, I turn to the esteemed Ranking Member, Mr. Berman, for his opening remarks."

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