WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday questioned U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Robinson during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Libya policy. During the hearing, Murphy pressed the administration on sanctioning the Haftar government for violating CAATSA by working with malign Russian actors in Libya. Murphy also pressed the administration for leaving out the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its criticism of outside involvement in the conflict in Libya.
Referencing Section 231 in CAATSA to sanction Haftar, Murphy asked: “CAATSA says that ‘the president shall impose sanctions on individuals who knowingly engage in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Russian Federation.’ The Wagner Group has been designated under CAATSA, and they are clearly in business with [General] Haftar. So are we planning on sanctioning Haftar? Is that a discussion that's underway? And if we are not planning to do so, why not?”
Murphy continued on the administration not holding the UAE accountable for its involvement in Libya; violating arms embargo: “…[I]t's just been striking to me that we have this rhetoric about trying to put pressure on outside actors who are supporting destabilization inside Libya. And yet, with the Emirates, it doesn't seem like we're really willing to go to the mat, we're not willing to tell them: if you continue to fund Haftar and others, we won’t sell you arms and we don't seem to be willing to call them out with the exception of your statements today. So tell me why I'm wrong about that.”
Today, Murphy urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hold Khalifa Haftar accountable for his cooperation with malign Russian efforts and aggression in Libya. In November, Murphy joined Senators Coons, Graham and Rubio in introducing legislation to clarify and strengthen U.S. policy in support of a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Libya.
A complete transcript of Murphy’s exchanges with Schenker and Robinson can be found below:
MURPHY: “I want to stay for a moment on our policy with respect to General Haftar and ask you a very specific question about how we can try to make clear which side we are on. You've obviously gotten a good number of questions, deservedly so, from members of this committee who are confused and who reflect a general confusion around the world about where the United States stands. And I thank you for your very clear testimony today.
“But we have a tool at our disposal that has not yet been engaged and that is CAATSA sanctions. CAATSA says that the president shall impose sanctions on individuals who knowingly engage in significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Russian Federation. The Wagner Group has been designated under CAATSA, and they are clearly in business with Haftar. So are we planning on sanctioning Haftar? Is that a discussion that's underway? And if we are not planning to do so, why not?”
CHRISTOPHER ROBINSON: “Just a general comment, overall, the administration's fully committed to implementation of CAATSA sanctions, as you will know, Senator. We are very engaged with this committee on that issue. The administration has sanctioned over, nearly 350 Russian individuals and entities, but sanctions are always one tool in the toolbox. And they need to be used to achieve change [in] behavior and achieve a specific outcome. And it's an issue of choosing of how we apply the tool and at the right time.”
DAVID SCHENKER: “Senator, thank you. On CAATSA—well, let me get back for a minute. We have sanctioned a number of individuals in Libya under UN authorities. We have a similar [Executive Order] that that echoes a UN authority for undermining stability in Libya. We've done that to including the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Libya has been has been designated. So we use these tools when we think it appropriate.
“Right now, Haftar is participating as a member of the 5+5 [mil to mil] Committee, cooperating with the UN. We want to encourage this. And we're hoping that he goes to the next step in these talks, which is the political talks. I can't get into the internal deliberation, though, of what we're talking about on designating him or not.”
MURPHY: “I understand the balance. I think it would be important to have these internal discussions in part because the statute is not permissive. And so if he, in fact, is operating in coordination with an entity that has been designated, I don't know that there's a lot of discretion involved there.”
“I wanted to get into question about the UAE. As far as I can tell, your testimony, Secretary Schenker, today is the first time that the administration has acknowledged that the UAE is a bad actor here in the sense that they have clearly, according to many reports including from the United Nations panel of experts, have been in violation of the arms embargo. And they are one of, if not, the primary actor funding much of the activity inside Libya today.
“And yet we're still in business with the UAE. The administration used emergency powers to sell 8 billion dollars’ worth of arms to them in 2019; 7% of all of our arm sales are to the Emirates. So we have levers that are available to us to play with the Emiratis. Both in public statements and in the mechanics of how we do business with them. But it's just been striking to me that we have this rhetoric about trying to put pressure on outside actors who are supporting destabilization inside Libya. And yet, with the Emirates, it doesn't seem like we're really willing to go to the mat, we're not willing to tell them: if you continue to fund Haftar and others, we won’t sell your arms and we don't seem to be willing to call them out with the exception of your statements today. So tell me why I'm wrong about that.”
SCHENKER: “Well, the fact that the Secretary called the UAE as well as Turkey and Egypt and others out in Berlin at the Berlin Conference, so we're not shy about pointing this out. We do believe, however, that diplomatic engagement with them will be more likely to get better results in the long run. And they appear to be cooperating now and adhering to the framework of the Berlin process. We also have a broad range of equities with the Emirates, frankly right now as well.”
MURPHY: “Do you, have you come to the conclusion that they're in violation of the arms embargo?”
SCHENKER: “I think that would be a question for the Office of Legal Counsel.”
MURPHY: “All right, I would contest the fact that they are cooperating. I think they continue to be in violation of that embargo. I'm happy to follow up with them. I just would urge you to use some firmer measures. I don't think you're getting what you need from the Emirates right now, and I don't know that these quiet diplomatic back channels are going to get you there.”