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Background Press Call on the Vice President's Engagements in Paris, France

November 12, 2021

Via Teleconference
Paris, France

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello and good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. Today is Friday and we are still in Paris. This briefing will be on background today, attributed to "senior administration officials."

The Vice President has a robust calendar ahead. Part of today is also a press conference with a number of you here on this phone. I will start off with some brief remarks looking ahead to today and then we'll take your questions.

I would like to note that we are on background, attributed to "senior administration officials," but today, we are joined by [senior administration official]. And [senior administration official] is [redacted], and he will be available to answer some of your questions, specifically as it relates to Libya this morning.

So, as you know, the Vice President will be having a press availability later today. During that availability, she will use that time to recap her trip thus far and take questions.

On the pressing global issues the Vice President has worked on while in Paris, whether we're talking about global health, space, cybersecurity, or her speech to the Paris Peace Forum on addressing inequality -- she will touch on all of these and we'll talk about why these issues matter to the United States and why these issues matter to the world.

The Vice President will talk a lot about the future, which has been a focus of this trip. She'll talk about how the United States intends to continue to move forward and how we are working to establish the rules and norms of the 21st century in a way that benefits our people, our partners and allies, and that reflects our values.

The Vice President will also discuss the importance of the United States alliance with France, which she spoke about yesterday and will expand upon more today.

And you can, again, expect her to signal the strength of the alliance and discuss the many areas in which we are working together and around the world. That includes transatlantic security, the Sahel, and the Indo-Pacific.

Lastly, I would argue -- I would note that the Vice President spent a lot of time with President Macron while in Paris this week at various events. And I think the warm relationship and wide-ranging discussions they've had really demonstrate how closely our nations are working together and, frankly, to the state of the relationship.

Next, as you know, she will be participating in the Paris conference on Libya. The Vice President's participation will demonstrate the United States' support for the Libyan people as they approach national elections. Elections are slated for December 24. And ultimately, the United States wants to see a stable and prosperous Libya, that we believe that these elections are a critical chance for the Libyan people as they work to reestablish their sovereignty and establish lasting peace. And we are also focused on the importance of withdrawal from foreign forces.

And I would actually like to pause there and invite [senior administration official] to say a few words about the Libya conference and the United States in Libya. So, [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks very much. And thanks, everybody, for the interest in this. I know I've had a chance to meet with some of you, and you're, I think, basically familiar with what's going on.

But just to say -- the main thing from our point -- I think the main question in everybody's mind is, "Is proceeding with these elections going to be more destabilizing or less destabilizing for Libya?" And from our perspective, this is -- the key question is, "Who decides?" And basically, our sense is, the overwhelming majority of Libyans want these elections to happen.

Our job is to try to support them, help them make that happen, try to use our influence to contain spoilers, and try to make clear that, you know, to the extent that people want a good government -- and even as has been said in some quarters, that you need a good government in order to hold decent elections -- our view is, without these elections, you're not going to have a functioning government in Libya next year, and so it's really important that they happen. It's a Libyan call, but we want to do everything we can to support them.

I'll leave it there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official].

As I will -- lastly, before we take your questions, I just want to note that, as was the case throughout this entire trip, the Vice President believes in the importance of showing up, rolling up her sleeves to engage with other world leaders on these challenging issues. And today, at the Paris conference on Libya, it will be another opportunity for her to do so.

So with that, we will open it up for some questions. And I will turn it over to [senior administration official].

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, [senior administration official]. And thank you, [senior administration official]. If anyone has any questions, just click the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen and we'll call on you. So, we'll give it a couple seconds to let those queue up.

Okay, we'll send the first question over to Cleve. Cleve, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Good morning, everybody. Hear me?



Q: Okay. Thanks for doing this, first of all. I guess my question is whether or not -- or I guess there have been some questions about whether the international community is asking Libya to move too fast towards elections. I wonder what signs you guys are looking at: at further destabilization or that that is moving too fast, or that things are kind of souring over there in a negative way. And if that happens, what do you intend to do, you know, other than just calling for the elections to happen?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Well, I think the important thing to remember is just it's the Libyans who set the pace for this through the U.N.-facilitated process called the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which met late last year and early into this year, set up the interim government in March, and set December 24th as the date for presidential and parliamentary elections. So, what we're trying to do is help the Libyans meet that timeline.

The people who really gauge whether it's moving too fast or not are the folks who are technically running the election, what's called the HNEC -- the High National Election Commission -- whose chair is Emad Al-Sayah. And I have to say it's a very robust, very professional, very competent organization -- in many ways, the most competent organization in Libya.

And, you know, they are setting what they consider to be a realistic timeline once they get the go-ahead from the politicians that there's an agreed basis to move forward.

Now, establishing that basis has been the delay -- the controversy. You've got those who say, "You need a constitution before you can have elections." You've got those who say, "You've got to have the presidential elections before the parliamentary elections." Those who say, "You've got to have the parliamentary elections before the presidential elections."

Underlying a lot of this is the controversy around the candidacy of General Haftar, who, you know, a year and a half ago was bombing Tripoli, and now wants to be a presidential candidate. And you've got half the country saying they're outraged that he would be a candidate, and what if he wins?

So, you know, there are concerns about this. But the mechanics of it, the setting the pace of -- are -- is something that the Libyans themselves have to determine. The HNEC is the tool by which this will be determined.

And if -- you know, how will we know if it's moving too fast? I mean, it's a good question. Because there will be those who are already trying to sort of take it to the streets and say, you know, we're -- there are demonstrations and protests and petitions. But I think you have to look very carefully at these. We've noticed that some of the petitions, just earlier this week, were fabricated. People who were alleged to have signed these, in fact, had not.

We don't want to let the process be held hostage to manufactured opposition. So, while we recognize there are genuine concerns about where this process could lead Libyans, our sense is still that the overwhelming majority want to move forward on it. And our job is to help them realize that.

If there are spoilers who really are manifestly, you know, stoking violence, the international community has sanctions available that it can deploy to penalize those kinds of spoilers.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Next, we will go to Jeremy. Jeremy, you're line should be unmuted.

Q: Hey, thanks so much for doing this. Let me ask you: In terms of the Vice President's role today, do you feel like she'll be playing the same role as other heads of state at the table, or is the U.S. playing a more secondary role at this conference? And what would be kind of the ideal outcome for you at the end of today?

And, secondly, what is the United States prepared to do in Libya to help facilitate these elections? Are there any actions the U.S. is prepared to take, including sending election monitoring resources or anything else? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Well, look, it's no secret to any of us that Libya has been a controversial issue for the United States. And it's also fair to say that, as an issue for national security, it's something that directly affects the Europeans, so whether it's the migration issue, terrorism.

And so, the Europeans -- particularly the co-chairs of this conference, the Italians and the French -- have direct interest in all of this and of playing, you know, a very leading role.

The Germans started the Berlin Process two years ago, and that has been an instrumental framework for advancing the political process. So, they're deeply involved.

The U.N., of course, is a co-chair. They're on the ground in Libya and playing a very important role. And, for the first time, the Libyans themselves are co-chairing an event like this. And that's actually pretty significant.

To be honest, the French, in the past, have gotten themselves into some trouble organizing events about Libya, and the Libyans say, "Hey, you know, what are you doing organizing something on Libya without even consulting with us?"

Now, having said all that, every one of these actors considers the U.S. role and voice to be important and even critical, because we're seen as a disinterested party. We're not after land. We're not after oil.

And so whether it's the Libyan actors or the French or the Italians of the Germans, they all want to know -- they all want the U.S. to be aligned with them. And the fact that we're playing this kind of, you know, shepherding role, a kind of -- you know, helping everybody to keep their eye on the ball -- I can tell you, just very operationally, in the process of developing the communiqué for this conference, the American role is considered to be very important.

And the fact that the Vice President is attending this is a very big deal. It shows that the United States really is taking this seriously. The Biden administration has tried to signal that U.S. diplomacy on Libya is going to ramp up since -- you know, since the previous administration. That was symbolized by [redacted]. It was signified by Secretary Blinken attending the Berlin Conference in June. And it's signaled by having Vice President Harris attend this conference today.

Sorry, so you asked about, you know, the ideal outcome. From our perspective, you know, already there are very promising signs that this conference will produce a very unified, strong voice -- none of the kind of divisions that you had in the past. Maybe a slight, you know, footnote from the Turks on withdrawal of foreign forces because they consider their forces to be there at the legitimate invitation of the Libyan -- the previous Libyan government.

But everybody understands that, you know, Libyans want to see their country demilitarized and everybody has to play a part in that, even if some of this has to wait till after the elections and you have a new government in place to push for that.

So, I think an ideal outcome is this strong, unified message on elections and on foreign forces and foreign fighters and foreign mercenaries.

And then, to set the stage for following up -- very quickly, you know, the U.N. Security Council will meet later this month to talk about Libya. The U.N. mission mandate needs to be renewed by January. And there is a proposal to restructure it with a new Secretary-General special representative on the ground in Tripoli. This event, I think, can lend momentum to that.

And to help, you know, reassure Libyans who are worried that the electoral process could lead to instability, that the international community is prepared to try to support them and deal with those who are -- who might want to foment instability.

In terms of our own role in facilitating the elections: You know, if you look at the USAID programming in support of the -- you know, our governance and democracy programming, it's quite robust in supporting the High National Election Commission technically, financially.

We are supporting calls for observers. I think the Carter Center has expressed some interest in sending observers. And we're supporting efforts by the EU, the African Union, and others to send observers, because you're quite right that the integrity of the election is going to be a very important factor, and you need people on hand to evaluate that. But there'll also be thousands of Libyan observers organized through the HNEC -- through the High National Election Commission.

So, yeah, I think we're playing a fairly active role in supporting the mechanics of this election and also election security, which, you know, some U.S. NGOs have also been helping to organize.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official].

For folks who have who may have joined us during this briefing, I will note that this briefing is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials." And today we are joined by [senior administration official.]

I will ask if you have any other questions at this time. Checking the queue. Okay, hearing none, I want to thank [senior administration official] for joining us today. I want to thank you all for your time. And if you have any additional questions in between now and the press conference, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team. We will be reaching out to you.

Thanks so much. See you later, guys.

Kamala Harris, Background Press Call on the Vice President's Engagements in Paris, France Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353375

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