Kerry: Libya conflict a 'stalemate'

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday described the Libyan conflict as a “stalemate,” while the panel's top Republican called the mission a “diversion” for Washington.

Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said it appears neither Libyan government forces nor NATO-backed opposition fighters have a clear upper hand, though he suggested there is reason to be optimistic the latter can seize momentum.

ADVERTISEMENT
But Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican, sounded much less upbeat, raising concerns about U.S. involvement and NATO’s willingness to remain in the lead.

With so many other pressing issues for Washington and its military, Lugar labeled the Libya military intervention “an expensive diversion.”

He said “the American people need answers” about a number of issues related to how the U.S. got involved there, and what its future role might be.

Lugar raised concerns that NATO nations might not be willing to continue doing the heavy lifting on the missions to enforce a no-fly zone and assist rebel fighters.

He and other Republican panel members criticized the Obama administration for failing to consult Congress, at least officially, before the onset of the military mission.

Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg responded to those charges by saying the administration believes it gave lawmakers ample consultation ahead of time — and have continued to do so. He also noted several times that administration officials believe they have complied with War Powers Act congressional notification provisions.

Lawmakers from both parties have for months panned the White House for giving top members little input into the decision to enter the mission or shape the U.S. involvement.

Just 24 hours before Lugar’s comments, the House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved a measure that would require the Pentagon to provide to Capitol Hill all written congressional consultation materials.

The HASC measure would, if adopted, direct the Defense secretary to give Congress all “copies of any official document, record, memo, correspondence, or other communication ... in the possession of the secretary of defense that was created on or after February 15, 2011.”

Panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) noted on Wednesday that some congressional leaders got a telephone call from senior Obama administration officials notifying them of the decision to launch military operations in Libya. But “a phone call” does not constitute proper notification under the War Powers Act, McKeon contended.

The panel’s ranking member, Adam Smith (D-Wash.), called it “a very appropriate resolution,” saying he shares McKeon's concerns that lawmakers were not properly consulted.

Kerry said the U.S., NATO and Arab League intervention has given the Libyan rebels “a fighting chance” to oust Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The top opposition group there, the Transitional National Council, has made “remarkable” progress in “organizing itself” and drawing up a road map “for the future,” Kerry said.

Kerry said he and other senators are working to “craft and pass” legislation that will allow Washington to funnel some of Libya’s frozen assets to the council.

Steinberg said Washington and its allies are stepping up pressure on Gadhafi, and it is “having an effect.”

President Obama is scheduled to meet Friday at the White House with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general. The duo is slated to discuss the Libya mission. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and other senior officials are also scheduled to meet on Friday with Mahmoud Gibril, head of the Transitional National Council.

State Department officials intend to seek congressional approval for whatever steps the administration decides are necessary to unfreeze Libyan funds and get them to the opposition council.

He described the actions as “targeted unfreezing” of the assets.

Among the most effective moves thus far have been ones to cut off Gadhafi’s ability to export oil. U.S. officials believe it has been some time since Libya exported any oil, its top revenue-producing activity.

Under questioning from panel members, Steinberg said there is some evidence members of Gadhafi’s regime are ready to jump ship.

Typically, it is hard to know with certainty whether someone is ready to do so until it actually happens, the outgoing diplomat told the senators.

While he did not make clear exactly how Washington, NATO and Arab League members see it happening, Steinberg said those parties agree Gadhafi will eventually give up power or be forced from it.

“It may not happen today or tomorrow,” the deputy secretary said, “but there is a consensus that there’s no long-term future” for Gadhafi.