Panetta Promises Continued Support to Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec. 17, 2011 — Pay­ing trib­ute to the courage and deter­mi­na­tion of the Libyan peo­ple, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today joined Libyan lead­ers in wel­com­ing a new chap­ter in U.S.-Libyan rela­tions.

Panet­ta, who made his­to­ry today as the first defense sec­re­tary to vis­it here, said dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with Prime Min­is­ter Abd al-Raheem al-Keeb that he’s proud of the role the Unit­ed States played in help­ing free Libya from Moam­mar Gadhafi’s regime.

“Even though Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor has end­ed, I want to stress that the Unit­ed States … will con­tin­ue to stand by the Libyan peo­ple,” he said, U.S. and Libyan flags behind him.

“To that end” he said, “we are look­ing for­ward to build­ing a close part­ner­ship with the Libyan gov­ern­ment and we stand ready to offer … assis­tance in the spir­it of friend­ship and the spir­it of mutu­al respect.”

Panet­ta not­ed that yes­ter­day the Unit­ed States lift­ed most of the sanc­tions on the Libyan gov­ern­ment and released all gov­ern­ment and cen­tral bank funds with­in U.S. juris­dic­tion.

This amounts to about $30 bil­lion. Panet­ta said the Unit­ed States did­n’t want these funds falling into Gadhafi’s hands, but said he now hopes they will be released soon. “These funds belong to the Libyan peo­ple and will now be returned to Libya,” he said.

That means the Libyan gov­ern­ment can now access most of its world­wide hold­ings as the coun­try moves for­ward with recon­struc­tion and tran­si­tion.

The sec­re­tary said he made clear dur­ing his meet­ings here today with al-Keeb and Defense Min­is­ter Usama Al-Jwayli that the Unit­ed States stands ready to offer secu­ri­ty assis­tance coop­er­a­tion when the new gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fies its needs.

“I believe that this new and free Libya can become an impor­tant secu­ri­ty part­ner of the Unit­ed States,” he said.

A bloody eight-month civ­il war now behind it, Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan peo­ple, the sec­re­tary said, and they will chart their future. “They will deter­mine what assis­tance they require from the Unit­ed States and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty,” he said.

The talks did not get into spe­cif­ic forms of sup­port, he told reporters, re-empha­siz­ing that the Unit­ed States is will­ing to pro­vide “what­ev­er assis­tance Libya believes it needs.”

Panet­ta offered a mes­sage to the Libyan peo­ple: “The blood that you have spilled has earned you the right to deter­mine your future, to work through the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that you are going to con­front.”

Dif­fi­cult chal­lenges inevitably will be ahead, he rec­og­nized. Libya will need to secure weapons stock­piles, con­front ter­ror­ism, pro­fes­sion­al­ize the army and police, and devel­op the insti­tu­tions of a free, rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment.

It also will have to uni­fy the rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces, an effort Panet­ta said he feels con­fi­dent that Libya is tak­ing the right steps to do.

Al-Keeb said he plans to unveil sol­id pro­grams soon that will attract Libya’s “free­dom fight­ers” and direct their efforts toward fight­ing now for a bet­ter future for Libya.

“It’s not a mat­ter of just say­ing, ‘Put down your guns and go back to work,’ ” he said.

Panet­ta not­ed that the Unit­ed States, too, expe­ri­enced rev­o­lu­tion and expressed hope that Libya will con­tin­ue on its cur­rent path to enjoy a future of peace, pros­per­i­ty and free­dom.

“This will be a long and dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion, but I have con­fi­dence that you will suc­ceed in real­iz­ing the dream of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment and a more secure and pros­per­ous future,” he said.

Al-Keeb said the unfold­ing of the “Arab spring” in oth­er parts of the region influ­enced Libya’s rev­o­lu­tion, and said they all share the same aspi­ra­tions of dig­ni­ty, free­dom and respect for human rights.

Panet­ta empha­sized that there’s no rub­ber-stamp solu­tion to how each coun­try will advance its efforts to put the insti­tu­tions of gov­ern­ment and rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy in place.

What’s impor­tant, he said, is that each coun­try makes sure it is respond­ing to “what the peo­ple want.”

Al-Keeb called the changes these rev­o­lu­tions have brought about “one good sign of why democ­ra­cy in the Mid­dle East is some­thing every­body needs to sup­port and stand by.”

As he trav­eled from the air­port to the defense min­istry for today’s meet­ings, Panet­ta passed reminders of Libya’s past and its appre­ci­a­tion for a new future. Graf­fi­ti scrib­bled on a con­crete wall sur­round­ing Gadhafi’s dam­aged for­mer com­pound declared, sim­ply, “Thanx US/UK.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter