Paul Salem: My name is Paul Salem. I’m Senior Vice President for Policy Research and Programs at the Middle East Institute. The second panel of ours will go down from 30,000 feet a bit more into the details. We will be looking at the four civil wars in the Arab Middle East, at least. That’s Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. We will be focusing on the national dynamics of those conflicts. We will be looking to zero in on negotiations or settlement approaches that might bring some of these civil wars to an end. We will then also be looking at the regional and international efforts, regional and international positions, vis-a-vis, these conflicts.
Tolstoy famously said, “Happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in different ways.” The four countries that we’re looking at in a sense had their own reasons for internal collapse or implosion or explosion -- some of them relating to the pressures of the Arab Spring, some of them relating to different regional and international tensions. But these civil wars that, in some cases, lead to partial or full state collapse, they provided the ungoverned space where armed non-state actors have been able to proliferate in a very extensive way, and among them, the most virulent terrorist groups that we worry about. These implosions and civil wars and collapses were also drivers for regional players to be sucked in and to add fuel to the fire and to raise tensions regionally as well.
With me to discuss these four civil wars, how to approach them, where might settlement of them lie in the future, are four of my MEI colleagues. I’m very thrilled to have them all with us today. They are all involved in research and writing and, in some cases, previously, certainly, diplomacy to one or another of these four conflict countries. And we are all involved at MEI in a project to keep looking at these four conflicts. I’ll introduce them quickly.
From my extreme right is Ambassador Jerry Feierstein. Jerry currently heads MEI’s Gulf affairs and government relations department. He was a long-term Foreign Service officer, ending with being the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East. He also served as Ambassador to Yemen in the uprising days and the first days of the transition. To my immediate right is my colleague, Dr. Randa Slim. Randa heads the MEI’s conflict resolution and Track II diplomacy program. Randa has been very involved in leading Track II initiatives, or Track 1.5, which often involves government officials from the region, countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Emirates, Egypt, and also further afield, from China, Russia, Europe, and the United States, and has been very active in Iraq for several years, looking at conflict resolution approaches to Iraq itself as well as Syria and Yemen. I’m very happy to have Randa with us.
To my immediate left is Mr. Jonathan Winer. Jonathan is an MEI scholar, and he was also the U.S. Special Envoy to Libya with Secretary Kerry. It’s great to have you with us, Jonathan. And to my extreme left, most of you know Ambassador Robert Ford, also an MEI scholar today. Obviously, he was, as you know, the last ambassador to Syria. He has also served in Iraq and many parts of the region. And good to have you, Robert, with us.
Randa, let me start with you. And let’s start in Iraq. I want to start in Iraq because, perhaps, even with all of its travails and difficulties, there are pathways forward. There is a constitution, electoral institutions. There’s been negotiations, now and in the recent past, but it’s gone through two major shocks in the last few months. One, more positive, the liberation of Mosul and the defeat of ISIS in several places. And the other one, the Kurdish referendum and the sort of conflict over Kirkuk. But, Randa, I want to ask you, in a few minutes, how do you see the path forward for Iraq, moving from the instability and precariousness that we see now towards a more stable near future?
Randa Slim: Thank you, Paul. And I think Iraq today is -- I think what best describes Iraq is that we are back to the future. Iraq today is where it was in 2010. But the conditions Iraq lives under right now are harsher than it was in 2010, primarily because of low oil prices. So, less cash in the government coffers. And there are more political, social, and economic stressors than in 2010. However, the positive aspect of today compared to 2010 is that you have a prime minister in Mr. Al-Abadi. Unlike in 2010 when we had former prime minister Al-Maliki, you have a prime minister today who has a better vision about where Iraq needs to go, is a moderate figure, believes in a pluralistic Iraq where different communities need to co-exist together, and has shown ability to take tough decisions when it matters and to compromise when it matters.
So, when we talk about where Iraq is going, we need to talk about what needs to be done short-term, immediately. And what needs to be done medium to long-term. Short-term, I think, key to stability, or to moving Iraq down the sustainable path of stability and peace, is stabilizing Iraq after the war against ISIS is winding down. And the key to that is ensuring that the IDPs [internally displaced persons] will return home. We have, so far, 2.2 million Iraqis, including more than a quarter million Muslawis [residents of Mosul] who have returned home. But there are still 3.2 million Iraqis who are IDPs. So, immediately, the focus should be on humanitarian assistance, stabilization effort, including demining, rubble removal, providing shelter, local security, and providing essential services.
Now long-term, there will be huge financial needs and challenges for Iraq in terms of reconstruction, especially in areas, Sunni majority areas, which were decimated by the fight against ISIS. And that will require a number of measures, including, among others, private-public partnerships, reviving the private sector in Iraq that requires regulatory measures, and to promote the investment climate in Iraq. Again, the Abadi government is making, has made, recently with the assistance from the World Bank, the right moves on the fiscal front, on the economic reform front. But he has a long way to go. And the major obstacle here is the corruption, which is everywhere and which is going to be a major challenge for him to overcome, if he’s elected.
Now, political challenges. We have one immediate, short-term challenge – and I think the panel in the morning has talked about –the upcoming elections. These upcoming elections are important in April 2018, both as bellwether, but also as a determinant of Iraq’s future political trajectory. There are legal, and there are institutional obstacles. But there are simple, operational obstacles to how these elections are going to be conducted. In May 2018, not April, as I said earlier. How are you going to ensure that these millions of IDPs can vote? How are you going to ensure that they can vote in an environment that’s secure from intimidation by armed militias and non-state actors?
And that is some of the issues that are going to taint the integrity of the election process and need to be attended to, partly because these elections need to be done right, partly because they need to be the entry point, or the starting point, of a long process of restoring trust between citizens and government. There’s a lot of talk about national reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, between Kurds and Arab. I think even beyond that, we need to talk about internal reconciliations between citizens, writ large, and their government. A trust that has been decimated over the past years. There is a base of good will that can be built on. The fight against ISIS and the victories achieved by the Iraqi forces against ISIS have created a lot of confidence, national pride. And that’s a goodwill that could be built on.
There is a civil movement of youth, primarily who are looking, or pushing for, transparency, accountability in governance that also need to be brought into this. The question going forward is how can you enhance this relationship between citizens and government? The kind of political reforms that need to be put in place, decentralization, empowerment of local communities. That’s something that also needs to be addressed in the long-term.
Now, medium- to long-term political challenges. The first one is managing the relationship with the KRG. I think there is already now a pathway to move away from the zero-sum framework, within which this conflict between Erbil and Baghdad has been stuck in. And this started last October when Ayatollah al-Sistani basically made a sermon, a Friday sermon, through his spokesperson, calling for Iraqi unity, but at the same time calling for respect of the Kurds’ constitutional and political rights. There has been a ruling on November 6 by the Supreme Court about Article 1, basically saying the secession is unconstitutional, or the constitution does not enable that. Yesterday, the Kurdish leadership has accepted the ruling of the federal court. There will be another ruling of the federal court on November 20. And I think there is now a pathway that has been accepted both by Baghdad and by the KRG to follow in settling this conflict, and in starting a dialogue.
Now, KRG is calling for this general dialogue to focus on all the elements of the relationship between Erbil and the KRG. I think it’s going to be difficult for Al-Abadi, given where we are, given the election season that Iraq is going to be in between now and May 2018, for him to make serious concessions to KRG on this front. I think what needs to happen is, maybe, confidence building measures, steps, dealing with joint administration of disputed territories or revenues, fiscal matters. There has been talk also about the United States mediating this dialogue. I happen to think that the United States needs to work in a supportive, behind-the-scenes role. There is already a strong negotiation infrastructure and architecture that has been in existence between the KRG and Baghdad. And that needs to be supported and cultivated and pushed forward. And so, that’s one way, I think, where this relationship could be helped, could be managed.
The second challenge, which is most crucial for the state itself of Iraq, is the future of the Popular Mobilization Forces or Units. There is in November, a law which deemed the PMF as part of the Iraqi security system. But the law did not outline what is the future of the PMF. I think, in thinking about the threat, of the challenge, that the PMF poses to the state of Iraq going forward, I think there are two questions that need to be addressed.
And one set of questions is what role do the PMF leaders want to play in post-ISIS Iraq? Do they want to engage in the political process and, if so, how they are going to do so? And we have different models, there is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon, there is the IRGC model in Iran. But I think there are going to – it’s going to be different in Iraq than what we have seen in both [those] countries.
And the second set of questions that need to be addressed in thinking about the challenge that the PMF poses for Iraq is, what future role does Iran want the PMF to have in the future? Pre-2014, there were three large Shiite blocs. There were the Sadrists, there was ISCI [Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq], and there was Dawa. Today, we have division, we have, ISCI itself has split. But also, we have this big, fourth block, which is represented by the PMF. And I have to say that the way we should approach the PMF, also should not approach them as a monolithic group. They are, within them, groups that are beholden to Iran, but also, there are groups that are affiliated with Sistani, there are groups that affiliated with al-Sadr. And so, this is a challenge, I think, that post-election in May 2018, this is something that needs to be addressed.
And right now, I don’t see a process in place to address that. The Iraqi government is talking about DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration] processes going forward, maybe. But it all depends on how the elections, what will be the outcome of the elections? And what role or what position the PMF leaders will have after the elections? I will stop at this point.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Randa, for, I think, your really masterful and concise but very clear exposition of some of the trend lines. Let me, though, ask you about the Arab Sunnis?
Dr. Slim: Yes.
Dr. Salem: Their absence of leadership, where do they stand, and how do they fit in to the system?
Dr. Slim: Look, there is a major problem when you talk about reconciliation, national reconciliation in Iraq. And you and I have traveled to Baghdad in the past and met with a lot of leaders from Sunni and Shia, and the first question that Shia leaders say, “Okay, if we’re going to reconcile, who are the representatives of the Arab Sunni community in Iraq?” There is definitely, how to say, the Sunni-Baghdadi leaders, if we can put it, or the Sunni leaders that are in Baghdad, from Nujaifi to Al-Jabouri, have a problem in terms of how much they speak for the Sunni community.
But at the same time, between now and the election, I don’t see the possibility of other Sunni leaders emerging beyond what we have today. So, I think for the next cycle of election, what we see in terms of Sunni leaders is what we are going to get going forward. And that will impact how Sunnis themselves feel about who represents them, who speaks for them. The hope, eventually, is that there will be local voices emerging from different Sunni communities around the country, who have a stronger bond with the local[itie]s from where they come and local communities from where they come, and where they can be seen as a better spokesperson for the needs of the community and the aspiration of the community.
Look, national reconciliation, eventually, needs to happen. But the question is how? There have been, now, a number of proposals about this grand deal. Al-Hakim made a proposal about a grand deal that needs to happen between Sunni and Shia. And al-Sadr made another proposal, a little bit – an amendment to what Al-Hakim proposed. But then you have two different proposals also from Al-Nujaifi and Al-Jabouri, within the Sunni community, about what this deal is going to be. Eventually, there needs to be some kind of a national dialogue. The problem is that there is a reluctance on the part of the Shia communities to engage in this because they are not ready to make any concessions, feeling that they are now in a strong position and this is their time. And on the other hand, the expectation of the Sunnis from this dialogue are, in my opinion, too high. They are unrealistic, un-pragmatic.
There is a demographic reality today, there is a political reality today, and the Sunni community and the Sunni leadership need to understand that what they can get from, in terms of political inclusion and political partnership going forward, is going to be much less than what they would hope to get. And so, both communities, the leaders of both communities, need to sell this message to their respective constituencies. The Shia leaders need to sell the message to the Shia communities, “We need to make concessions. We need to change this political partnership in a way that makes the Sunnis feel inclusive and own the political process.” And the Sunnis need to sell the message to their communities that we cannot restore the status-quo entity - that is gone. And right now, I don’t think they are already there. And partly, it has to do with the presentation. Partly, it has to do with the fragmentation inside the Shia community. But also, it has to do with the fragmentation inside the Sunni community.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Randa. Thank you very much. Jerry, let me turn to you. When you were in Yemen, the transitions seemed to be –
Gerald Feierstein: Everything was [inaudible].
Dr. Salem: Kind of a positive example of post-Arab uprising negotiations, followed by transition. There was a national dialogue conference that kept ongoing. And then we had the events, both internally with the Houthi movements, Ali Abdullah Saleh and their opponents, and then external intervention and a very serious humanitarian disaster, let alone the political mess. But let’s try to look at the pathways toward positivity. There have been peace talks in Geneva and Kuwait. There’s a UN envoy. The Yemenis have fought, and then agreed in the past. It’s not a pattern that’s very unfamiliar to them. What would you identify as, where are we between now and some potential settlement of this conflict? What is going on? What still needs to go on?
Amb. Feierstein: Thanks, Paul. And you’re absolutely right. What I would say is that, particularly, the events over the last week or ten days have highlighted the urgency of finding a way forward. As you said quite correctly, although there was some optimism, a year, year-and-a-half ago, that indeed we were about to see a political resolution to the conflict, that negotiation in Kuwait did not succeed, in the end, in finding a way forward. And in fact, since that time, both on the political and the military front, the conflict has been frozen. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN Special Envoy, despite his efforts, has not been able to convince the two sides to come back to the negotiating table. Particularly, the Houthi side has indicated that they no longer have confidence in the UN process. And in fact, the last time that Ismail was in Sana’a, he was attacked physically by Houthi elements.
So, we have a stalemate on the negotiating side. In the meantime, there has been little movement on the front lines of the military. The coalition is in control of most of the territory of Yemen, including Hajjah and areas in the east. And the rebel coalition, the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh, control the north. Much smaller area, but 75 percent of the population. So, there has been very little movement.
And then what we saw last week, the firing of a longer-range missile. Apparently, an effort by the Houthis with support from Iran and Hezbollah, appears intended to increase pressure on the Saudis and embarrass Riyadh. So, we see a potential for an expansion of the conflict and deepening the proxy element of the conflict in a way that’s quite dangerous, not only for Yemen but also for the region. So, there are three levels that we should talk about in terms of a way forward. There’s an effort to address the humanitarian element of the conflict. And then secondarily, the military conflict. And finally, the political elements. And what I would say is that the events of last week, and particularly the coalition response to the firing of the missile towards Riyadh, underscores the urgency of addressing the humanitarian crisis now and separating it from the discussion of the other two parts of the conflict.
And I think that it’s important, at this juncture, for the international community to insist that the coalition reopen commercial air traffic as well as the ports. There is a report I saw this morning that the Saudis had struck the Sana’a international airport again. Obviously, a step in the wrong direction. When Dr. Rabeeah from the King Salman Center was here a few weeks ago, he had pledged at the time that the Saudis would ensure that all humanitarian shipments would be cleared for delivery to Yemen within 48 hours of the request. It’s important that, at this juncture, we remind the Saudis of that commitment and try to make sure that they stick to it. We also need to put more pressure on the Houthis to accept a plan that the UN has endorsed that would allow for third-party control of the port of Hodeida and the Sana’a airport. And people have observed over these past months that, indeed, there are alternatives to Hodeida that you can come up from the south. Aden and Mukalla and Mocha ports are, of course, in the hands of the coalition and the Yemeni government, that’s true. But the fact of the matter is that Hodeida for many years has been the main port of entry for the north part of the country. And we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of allowing that port to operate. Same thing for Sana’a international airport.
And the bottom line has to be, for all parties, that humanitarian relief cannot be held as hostage to the political and military conflicts. We do need to address it. I think most of the people in this audience are familiar with the elements of the humanitarian challenge in Yemen, not only the famine but also the cholera epidemic. So, we need to address that.
On the political side, the approach that Ismail has taken is, in fact, a framework that has been established by the international community, including the United States and all of the members of the UN Security Council. Composed primarily of the recognition of the GCC initiative and UN Security Council Resolution 2216 as the core elements of a peaceful resolution. Although, as he negotiated, Ismail indicated that there would be some flexibility, particularly in the implementation of 2216. It’s important in my view that the Yeminis understand that, in fact, these are key elements of the international community’s views on how to move forward on this. And that, in fact, we do have certain requirements in terms of how the parties are going to resolve this conflict. In particular, in my view, that a political transition which is supported by the international community. And we shouldn’t forget that the GCC initiative was negotiated by, and with a strong assistance of, the international community, the UN Security Council, as well as the GCC. And that it is a reflection of our view of a legitimate blueprint, a legitimate road path, for a way forward. And also, that that agreement, which does reflect the views of the international community shouldn’t be overthrown in, what amounted to, a coup d’état. So, we need to make those points clear.
But having said that, I think it’s also important to remember that what we’re facing here is primarily a Yemeni civil war. This is not a regional conflict, primarily. Although, there are elements of it. It is an internal matter. And that, at the end of the day, the Yemeni leadership and the Yemeni people are going to have to determine the way forward and what is an approach to that suits their needs is. As we move through this process of negotiation, and I do think that the UN role is going to remain extremely important and central as a way of facilitating, and coordinating, and providing a framework for a negotiation. As we move forward, I think it’s important that there be confidence that the negotiators are, in fact, committed to a successful result, a successful conclusion to the negotiation. I think part of the problem that we’re confronting here is that there’s a strong sentiment among many of the Yemenis that, in fact, many of the people who are sitting at the table trying to negotiate an end to the conflict are, in fact, people who are benefitting financially and in other ways from the continuation of the conflict. And perhaps, not doing as much as they can or should be to resolve their issues.
The good news is that, in a way, that’s very typical, in my view, of the Yemeni approach to things. On the margins and quite apart from the UN process, we do have a number of Yemeni political leaders and others who are engaged in their own efforts to find solutions to some of the obstacles. There have been a number of s and conversations in recent weeks in Abu Dhabi, in Oman, and Cairo, and elsewhere, that, in fact, show some promise in trying to find ideas and answers to some of the problems. And what we need to do, I think, is find ways of channeling some of those ideas back into the UN process. And see whether that can’t be a way of priming the pump for a resolution of the problem.
So, in terms of the way forward, what I would say is 1.) That we have to immediately take urgent steps to address the humanitarian crisis. We need to reinforce the point that collective punishment is unacceptable. We also have to make the point that both sides have the responsibility for imposing obstacles on the distribution of assistance and that both sides need to be pressured to cooperate in fixing problems. Open the port of Hodeida, the Sana’a airport, the land border crossings, which was another commitment that the Saudis had made. And also, to remove obstacles to the internal distribution of relief to all elements of the Yemeni population, regardless of where they are on the political side. We also need to resolve the issue of the central bank and its operations, keeping in mind that contributing to the humanitarian crisis is the lack, frankly, of cash. And the fact that 25 percent of the population of Yemen was dependent on either salary payments or other kinds of relief payments from the government. That those have stopped for many months, because of the collapse of the central bank. And that even if food is available, even if medicine is available, many people can’t afford it because there’s no money in the economy. We need to resolve that.
On the elements of a political agreement, I think that, still, the focus of what we do right now has to be an agreement between the two primary adversaries in this conflict. That is, the Hadi government and its allies on one side, and the Houthi/Ali Abdullah Saleh alliance on the other side. That, in the short-term, the effort to stop the fighting and to get a basic agreement in place has to be resolved between those two sides. And then, to move beyond that, to restore government services, provide for security in Sana’a, and, again, get the central bank functioning again so that we can revive some economic activity. It’s understood, I think, that there are other issues that still are on the table, that still have to be addressed and resolved at some point. But I would say that, at this juncture, those are secondary. And that the focus has to be on the basic elements of a deal that would allow for a continuation of negotiations in Sana’a, that we should be focused on keeping this round of negotiations simple. Stopping the fighting should be the top priority. And then other issues can be addressed later on.
Again, both sides need to take steps to reassure the population that they’re serious about finding ways out. There are too many questions about the commitment of the negotiators to end the fighting. And then, to make two final points.
Dr. Salem: Quickly.
Amb. Feierstein: Two issues that won’t work. One is that there’s still some people who are looking for a role for Ali Abdullah Saleh to somehow manage a negotiated solution. My own view is that Saleh can’t play a positive role. One is that he’s not trusted by anybody now, including by the Houthis. And that he has little or no influence on the negotiations. Having said that, I would also say that the General People’s Congress, his party, does need to be a party to the negotiation. We need to find new leadership. GPC is the party of government in Yemen. And then the last point is, those who argue we should expand the negotiations to include women, civil society, youths, southerners. Although I think that, later on, there does need to be some new negotiations that involves them, I don’t think it’s now. We’ve already been through many of the issues that people want to put on the table that were addressed through the GCC initiative and the National Dialogue Conference. There’s no reason to believe that trying to introduce those elements now would lead to a better result. In fact, I think it would probably be worse than what we got from the NDC. And it would take years to organize that kind of an expanded negotiation. So, I think that we should get the fighting stopped, address the humanitarian issue, and then save the other issues for later.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Jerry. Thank you very much. I’d asked each of the scholars to prepare, as you see, kind of a detailed blueprint of how they see things going to try to cover the bases in their initial statements. And Jerry, thank you for that.
Jonathan, let me turn to you. Libya also had bright spots, unlike the sort of more violent situation in Syria. But an attempt at transition, an attempt at negotiations, again and again, has sort of not lead to an outcome. There was a UN agreement that lead to the GNA [Government of National Accord]. There was recent diplomacy by the French president, where both Haftar and Serraj committed to a number of things. And now we have a new UN Envoy, Ghassan Salame, with a fresh blueprint. How do you see potential steps forward in ending the conflict in Libya?
Jonathan Winer: First, in order to make progress in Libya, and I think probably in general in these civil war situations, you need to have one diplomatic process, not competing ones. If there are competing ones, people will forum-shop. In 2014 and 2015, we got to where there was one process. In 2015 in particular, it wound up with the Skhirat Agreement, which was due to last a year, maximum two years. That period of time winds up depending on how you think about it. In December, in January, or maybe in April. But it’s pretty much done, which suggests that there’s going to need to be something further.
So, first principle: one process, not competing processes. It’s great to have senior people from France and Italy meeting with senior Libyans in Russia. But everybody needs to be directed back to one process. Second principle: sponsors must tell their clients, “You have to participate in that process. We won’t support you in unilateral solutions for the country.” Because if sponsors choose to support clients going different directions, the clients will gladly take advantage of the arms, or the money, or the political support to avoid having to make tough compromises. And they won’t. There will never be concessions.
Skhirat resulted from literally every regional actor, and the P5, and everybody else involved, all pointing anyone they had a relationship with, say, “You have to go participate in this process. You can’t go your own way.” I watched the Qataris do it, I watched the Emiratis do it. They were not fully aligned in any number of areas, but they told their clients, “You have to deal with Skhirat.” Very important.
Third principle is there have to be benefits for people throughout the country. Libya will not return to a Tripoli-centric state, where others have to beg Tripoli for bargains. The Gaddafi system is broken. Revolution broke it. Any deal is going to have to reward more than one region. Notably, the Skhirat Agreement had nine members of the Presidency Council, which was at least, maybe, six too many. Three regions in Libya, typically seem to be three regions. So, some people call Misrata a fourth region. The nine were distributed among three regions, representing South as well as Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. So, those are three core principles.
The Skhirat Agreement, at this point, is stalling out. But there is a Government of National Accord, at least in name, accord. It does function, some. It controls some resources. And most importantly, it has been backed to the extent that other parties, who would like to be in the government, and particularly those in Tobruk and Bayda, have not been able to take advantage of Libya’s oil. So, maintaining unitary control over Libya’s oil, which after all is pumped from south to north, going through all three regions, with infrastructure going from the south, southern fields, up to the ports in the north and northeast and northwest. It isn’t simple for anyone to capture it, unless they capture the country.
And so, those who are have suggested partition on napkins, like the short-lived White House advisor Sebastian Gorka, need to recognize that Libya’s oil doesn’t follow the patterns that can be drawn on a napkin. And therefore, dividing the country, even in terms of that core resource, is not practical or feasible. It would lead to more conflict.
So, what did Libya have to work with as you try and get to a peace deal? Well, it is a rentier state. Most Libyans, one way or another, are supported either directly or indirectly by salaries, regardless of whether they’re working. That is, whether they’re going to jobs. Given that, that creates a stabilizing element to Libya under most circumstances. And gives almost everybody something to lose. Something they don’t want to give up. So, by stabilizing on the one hand, it also limits the dynamism of solutions on the other. But it’s important to continue to think about that. Most Libyans continue to get salaries. Nobody wants to give up what they have, and you also can’t blame people for not wanting to give their enemies more than they have already. A further stabilizing principle, which you need to think about from the point of view of what it can buy you, or what it can get you, in addition to what its limitations are.
So, there is a UN roadmap again, under Ghassan Salame, and it’s a good, sensible roadmap. The roadmap begins with reforming the Presidency Council, bringing it down from nine to three. Then you have to agree who the three are. “And if it’s not me and my cousin and my cousin and my uncle, I’m not sure I can agree.” “But you have different cousins and different uncles. Everybody at the table.” Yes, that’s why it’s going to take a while to get to a reformed presidency council. I’m not sure it’s going to happen. But that’s the first part of the roadmap.
The second part, and with that roadmap is some agreement having to do with security. Last year, General Haftar’s colleagues came and met with me as I was on my way out from being Special Envoy and said, “It’s alright, by Christmas” – that is, by Christmas 2016 – “General Haftar will have conquered the country by a mixture of conquest and acclimation.” He also was going to conquer Benghazi in two weeks, beginning in June 2015. So, there are these kinds of announcements from time to time, with people who I continue to talk to, continue to tell me military conquest is not going to work. The country is not going to rally behind a single figure to take over where Gaddafi left off. That brings you back to a pressure from the outside to cut deals with one another.
As Ambassador Feierstein said about Yemen, “Ultimately Yemenis have to decide their fate together.” Well, it’s the same with Libyans. So, what we can do is to discourage sponsors from encouraging Libyans to act badly. And have sponsors, and have other countries, regardless of whether they’re sponsoring, push them consistently towards having to get a deal. Now what would produce progress before? Well, in part it was ISIS produced progress. As we heard when it came to Iraq, the pride of defeating ISIS. Misratans worked closely and the Tripolitanians with the United States government to go after ISIS. The extremists in Derna kicked ISIS out of Derna after inviting them in, because they weren’t Libyans. And non-Libyans will try and tell Libyans what to do. Libyans don’t like anybody telling them what to do.
So, we don’t have, “unfortunately,” an economic crisis. We don’t have a political crisis. And we don’t have a security crisis right now. We did. And that helped lead to Skhirat. What we have instead is human misery, human suffering, anxiety, depression, fear, lack of opportunity, a slow disintegration of existing institutions slowly deteriorating and providing less, lots of periods where there’s not enough electricity, bank crises, people unable to get their cash, the banking system not working very well. That’s miserable. And water could get worse, and electricity could get worse, and healthcare has already gotten worse, and education has gotten worse.
So, there are these ongoing pressures, which younger people in Libya in particular don’t want the previous generations, who are still running things, to continue to perpetuate. But Aguila Saleh, the Speaker of the House in the east for example, has had more power and more money to spend than he would have ever dreamed about having. He doesn’t want to give that up. Can’t blame him for not wanting to give it up. It’s in the interest of the country. So, the country will move forward, but it’s probably not his. And that’s another thing that we’ve heard already, of people not wanting to give up what they’ve already gotten. And revanchism on all sides.
So, what can we do? First, the United States and Russia, China, UK, France, need to be on the same path supporting the Salame plan. The plan, again, is reform the PC, National Conference, then get to elections. That’s the gist of it. We need to support the Salame plan, absolutely everybody. Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, UAE, Saudi, all need to support the plan. Algeria, support the plan. Morocco, support the plan. Malta, support the plan. Middle East, support the plan. It’s nice to recognize individual Libyans and bring them together, with senior people, prime ministers, presidents, that kind of thing. They need to be told, “Get with the UN plan if you want to meet with me again.” No alternative. If sponsors cut their clients off and tell them that if you don’t deal, we’re cutting you off, that would do a lot for Libya. Mostly, Libyans are not killing one another. There are relatively few Libyans who have lost their lives from being – of friends and family who have been killed by political opponents. This makes Libya in a much better shape than the other countries we’re talking about here. And they all have some stake in the current system.
So, get everybody together. Get them together in support of a UN plan with principles I talked about earlier. Insist that nobody gets the oil. The single most important thing we did is we stopped efforts to divert oil. Now, that was undermined when Russia decided to allow the folks in the east to have unlimited amounts of money printed by the Russian state printer. It was fake currency. We pushed hard to discourage the Libyan government from allowing that currency to circulate, the GNA government. Because of the liquidity crisis, they said, “Okay, let it circulate.” That, in turn, has produced a devaluation of the dinar. The other thing we can do is we can continue to encourage the Libyans – eliminate that black market, revalue the dinar. That brings everybody’s salaries down to a lower level, results in less spending and more misery. That more misery – you also at the same time have to get rid of subsidies. That greater misery may, in turn, impel from the bottom a pressure on the political leaders who are interested first and foremost in taking care of themselves, to take care of Libyans generally. And that pressure to bring about a roadmap.
If all else fails, look, it is time for the country to move ahead towards elections. Skhirat was never intended to last more than two years. So, pressure to do that is feasible. Libyans have done well with elections. If they are interested, it is not physically impossible, logistically impossible. So, in essence, that’s the roadmap. It’s not actually a very complicated one. Thank you.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Jonathan. And that’s a rather more hopeful note than what we’ve heard from some other countries. And I want to turn to Robert. In the three cases we’ve just discussed, one senses there is seriousness to the political negotiations when they happen. And I think a realization among many parties that there is no military solution. When we turn to Syria, I guess one tends to think the political track is not taken seriously, particularly by the regime. Although, everybody kept saying there was no military solution until Assad, the Russians and the Iranians are imposing a military solution. Where do you see the Syrian conflict heading? Is it heading towards de-escalation that is sustainable? Is there any life still in any political process, whether it’s Geneva or Astana? Or is there a third grey zone that we’re heading into? Your thoughts.
Robert Ford: Thank you, Paul. I hate going last and being the real pessimist in the group [laughter]. Couple of thoughts. Number 1: There is still hope – we saw it most recently over the weekend with the joint American-Russian statement issued during President Trump’s visit in Asia – there is still hope of a political settlement in Syria. And the joint American-Russian statement mentions such things as preparation of a new constitution, holding elections under UN supervision, withdrawing foreign forces. It was a great list. It’s great. I liked it. But I don’t know that it was particularly realistic. And I was very struck by an unidentified [Department of] State official’s comment that, “Syria will end up looking kind of like Iraq in 2004 or 2005.” Which, I guess, it’s a low bar, so yeah, maybe it would be better.
But even that, I don’t think is attainable, and here’s why. Number 1: Syria is not a constitution problem. This isn’t a problem that a new constitution can fix. The Syrian existing constitution may not be a perfect document, but it’s not really what the conflict has been about. It’s a conflict about a lack, a complete absence, of rule of law. And if you have no rule of law, if you have a police state that acts with total impunity, then it doesn’t really matter what the constitutional text says anyway. So, I’ve always thought this idea of a new constitution in the context of an unrepentant, unreformed, all-powerful police state – especially one like Syria’s – a new constitution is kind of irrelevant. Looks nice. Gives something for Russian analysts to work on in Moscow right now [laughter]. But it’s not going to fix the problem.
So, then there’s the question of elections. And I think the American State Department officials are probably thinking back to our time in Iraq in 2005, 2006, when they held a series of elections, even under difficult security circumstances. But there was a huge difference. The Americans dismantled Saddam Hussein’s police apparatus. Didn’t exist. Frankly, the CIA was running it. And we were cooperating with the United Nations. We were pleading with the United Nations to come forward and help. And frankly, under a guy named Carlos Valenzuela, a UN official, he was fabulous. And we organized a series of reasonably credible elections.
But in Syria, the police state is there. It’s not been removed. And it most certainly doesn’t answer to Westerners. And the idea that it’s going to allow a free and fair election? Really, think about that. Think about that for a minute. The United Nations tell it what it do? The United Nations can’t even oblige the police state to allow food into besieged areas. Even the Russians can’t oblige the police state in Syria to allow food convoys through. The police state opens and closes the taps, according to what the police state wants. And so, elections, you could hold elections but they’re not going to result in the kind of power sharing, transitional government that that American-Russian joint statement was talking about.
So, I have to say, I don’t see much hope for the kind of political solution that’s in that statement. Some other people, both in government and outside, have suggested, “Well, then, the way to go forward is to decentralize and allow local administrations to run affairs with minimal reference back to Damascus. That has two big problems: number 1.) Police state is still there, hasn’t gone away, and second there is very little local administration in existence in Syria right now. It’s largely been destroyed, if you look at places like Homs and Aleppo, which the government has retaken. Or Deir Al-Zour, which the government is in the process of finishing the recapture of. It’s been destroyed. There are functioning local administrations in some of the opposition-held areas.
But how has the government reacted to those? Well, number one it keeps attacking them, and number two when it takes them, it immediately dismantles whatever local administration the opposition had set up. And we’ve seen this consistently, whether in Homs in 2012, 2013. Or in the area around Damascus. The government’s been – Aleppo, same thing. The Syrian government’s Ba’athist ideology has no space for decentralization. The country has no experience with decentralization. In Iraq, the Americans pushed on it very hard. And we had leverage. We have no such leverage in Syria.
So, I don’t think the decentralization is going to work either. What I do see, instead, is the Syrian government continuing to gnaw, continuing to nibble, continuing to probe, to attack, on a very localized basis, village by village, neighborhood by neighborhood, extending its reach. When the Russians announced the first cease-fire with the Turks and the Iranians last January, the Syrian government immediately turned around and attacked the town of Barada, outside of Damascus, which is one of the main sources of water for the capital. Did it right under Russian eyes. Right under Iranian eyes. Right under UN eyes. No one did anything. And that pattern has continued throughout calendar year 2017. And I see no sign that it’s going to stop.
Earlier this week, despite the Russian-declared de-escalation zone to the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the government has been heavily bombing areas that the opposition still holds. And has been probing and attacking with Iranian forces, Iranian-backed militias, and what’s left of the Syrian Arab Republic army. I think that’s what we’re going to see, Paul, going into next year. This idea that there would be a cease-fire and the Syrian government would accept autonomous zones, I think is very hard. And I would apply that even to northeastern Syria. And I think that matters here in the United States, especially because that’s where our forces are on the ground, roughly 500 to 1,000, and our Syrian Kurdish and some Syrian tribal allies.
So, let me talk about that for a second. Number one, the Syrian government is flat, dead broke. One of its few likely sources of revenue is oil. Syrian oil is high in sulfur. It’s low quality. But it is marketable and it is a source of revenue for a government that is desperate for revenue to rebuild. Desperate for revenue to rebuild. Guess where the oil is? It’s behind the lines controlled by the American allies. The Syrian Kurds to the northeast, and the Syrian tribal allies, the Syrian democratic forces, so-called, down in the southeast. It’s very hard for me to imagine that the Syrian government is going to accept that over the long term. They will want to retake it. The idea that – revenue sharing? Go back to the Ba’athist ideology. Go back to the lack of administrators. Very difficult to imagine. So, I would anticipate that the Syrian government, with help from Iran, will continue to nibble away at areas controlled by the American allies, basically daring us to do something about it. The Americans may react sharply, the Americans may say, “To heck with it,” and quit. I don’t think the Syrian government is in a position to quit.
Final thoughts, then. As I think about a settlement over the really long term, three issues jump out at me. Number one: What do you about all the foreign troops in Syria right now? The Russians aren’t going anywhere. They’ve got their two bases. They’ve signed long-term leases with the Syrian government. They’re staying. Iran and the Iranian-back militias, mostly Iraqi fighters, Lebanese fighters, Afghan Hazara fighters, they may withdraw some. But I doubt very much they’re going to withdraw them all. They will have an invitation to stay from the “sovereign, comma, UN-recognized” government in Damascus. So, I don’t think they’re leaving, either. This will really aggravate Israel, but I don’t think the Israelis are in a position to change that.
That leaves two other countries. The Turks have a troop presence up in the north, but they’re not aimed at Assad, they’re aimed at the Syrian Kurds. My guess is that Turkish diplomacy will be adept enough, will be flexible enough, to find a way to work with the Syrian government and the Iranian government to sharply limit, and eventually terminate, whatever autonomy the Syrian Kurds in northeastern Syria enjoy. The only thing that will stop that, I think, is a long-term American presence. And so, one of the things that Washington will have to decide is, do they really want to get involved in phase III of the Syrian civil war?
And that then leaves, really, the question of the American presence. So, far, the Russians have sort of accepted it. But it’s very difficult for me to imagine, as the threat of ISIS diminishes very steadily – and the administration has made huge progress against the Islamic State – but as that diminishes, it’s going to be harder and harder for the Russians to say that “the Syrian government has officially demanded America withdraw its troops, but we think they should stay.” That’s going to be a very hard position for the Russians to argue publicly. It goes in great contradiction to the general thrust of their policy since 2011 and 2012. I’m not saying the Russians are going to attack the Americans. That’s a very different thing. But how much will the Russians act to restrain their Syrian allies? Not – it’s not clear. They don’t have a great track record with restraining their Syrian allies in the first place.
Second big issue. How to deal with the remaining, for want of a better word, rebels or resistance? The father, Hafez Al-Assad, took years to strangle and destroy the Muslim Brotherhood’s resistance in the 1980s. And I would expect the son learned that lesson. I could imagine, maybe, the government might put forward, at some point in the next year or two, an amnesty. They’ve already got an amnesty on the table. They might try to revive that, put some new frills around it. But it would be an amnesty that would say: there will be no accountability, whatsoever, for security force abuses, which are legion, the war crimes, etc. Those fighters who lay down weapons will probably not be involved in any kind of political process whatsoever. And, as in Algeria under President Bouteflika, the old system basically stays in place, unchanged. So, the fighting may, over time, gradually diminish. What fighting remains will be more localized and will gradually peter out as the government seizes villages, seizes neighborhoods, and the amnesty extends.
The Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years, Paul –
Dr. Salem: Mm-hmm.
Amb. Ford: I think, over time, it became more localized. There was not violence everywhere, every day, but fighting in pockets, here and there. My guess is that’s what Syria will look like as we go forward. And what’s left in Syria, at the end, is a very weak state. Lots of warlords. It will take Bashar and his circle a long time to bring all those warlords under control. Won’t have a lot of money to rebuild, unless Washington spearheads an effort. Sergey Lavrov asked us twice last – twice this year, twice this calendar year – to set up a “Marshall Plan” for Syria. I leave it to people here in Washington if they want to set up a Marshall Plan for Bashar Al-Assad’s government. If the rebuilding is slow and the police state is still there, some refugees will return, maybe half of the five million, maybe a little more, maybe 60, 70 percent. But there will still be millions of Syrian refugees outside the country. And finally, long-term geo-strategically, more than ever, Syria will be deeply entrenched in the Iranian camp, in the ongoing conflict, competition, between the Saudis and Iran. So, was there any optimism there, Paul?
Dr. Salem: No [laughter]. There was not. You were true to your word of being rather grim. Soon, I’m going to turn over to questions to the audience. So, those who have questions, please go to one of the two microphones. But I want to address a few questions to the panel. Randa, let me start with you. Lebanon used to be the poster child of having a civil war, and then a poster child of coming out of a civil war.
I have a two-prong question about Lebanon. Like Mary Louise said, the most recent headline is: the Prime Minister is missing, rising tensions possibly, there might be sanctions, the risk of security issues. Do you see Lebanon at risk of becoming, once again, one of those countries? Of being in conflict or some kind of collapse? But the second part of the question – the second part of the question, were there any lessons learned in how the Lebanese war ended and a type of government that was set up afterwards? Which, after all, has lasted for 27 years now. Are any of those lessons relevant to any of the countries we’ve been discussing?
Dr. Slim: First I want to say a comment that is common to all of these conflicts that we discussed today. And it’s a challenge that people in the region are going to be dealing with for generations to come, which is militarization of the society. I mean, right now across the board, people have somehow lost connection with the idea of politics as being the means to settle disputes, to address injustices, to claim and defend rights. And violence is being seen as the means. The first means to go to. And that doesn’t only, is not only present at the political elite level, but also at the masses level. And this is work that needs to be engaged in. How we can reclaim this concept of politics and the rule of law as the arena where all of these conflicts can be settled going forward.
That’s the challenge. And the approaches to any peace – in any peace-building approach, in the future, in any of these countries, this is a challenge that needs to be addressed. And that’s one lesson that the Lebanese have – we can take from the Lebanese experience. How much time and money assistance, spent after the end of the civil war, on citizenship, education, on political education, on dialogues, on creating platforms for the communities to come together, discuss small issues, economic, like development in a small locale, as an entry point to reconciliation. And that’s, in my opinion, what has saved Lebanon… is not only, people say, the memory of the civil war, which definitely is a deterrent, especially among the political elite. There is still this active memory of civil war and the realization that another civil war is not going to benefit their interest. That has been a deterrent. But at the level of the masses, there is this, all this money, time, spent on citizenship, education, and all of this – in my opinion, has created also, at the level of the masses, this deterrent of resorting to – of civil war as being the way to go.
Now, for the crisis going forward, I think – I’ve just come back from Abu Dhabi, where I had the opportunity to talk Lebanon crisis with a number of Saudi, Emirati, Kuwaiti experts. And I have to say, let me start by saying that when it comes to what’s going in Saudi Arabia, the one thing I took from my conversation is that those who know are not talking, and those who talk do not know [laughter]. So, I mean, that’s – and I’m about talk, so…
Dr. Salem: Well, keep talking [laughter].
Dr. Slim: Yeah, but I’m going to talk. But, I mean, there is a lot of confusion about what’s going on in Saudi Arabia. But there is, at the same time, a lot of fear and concern about how things can end up. And whether the young prince can pull this off successfully. Anyway, having said that, I think it’s clear that this Lebanese crisis is not something that happened yesterday. This has been boiling for some time as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned. There have been two immediate triggers to what happens, the push by Saudis for Hariri to resign. The first trigger is a statement by Rouhani weeks ago about, “No decision gets made in Lebanon without Iranian approval.” And the second immediate trigger for the move by the Saudis is a statement by Velayati, the advisor to the Supreme Leader, after visiting Hariri and standing outside the offices of the prime minister and declaring, “The Axis of Resistance has won.” That immediately, basically, pushed the Saudi authorities to recall Hariri back to Saudi Arabia and to force him to resign.
Why this is being done? I think the Saudis are all in, in this contesting Iranian influence. And they seek two spaces where this needs to be done. I think they gave up on Syria as being the venue where it’s going to be done. I think it’s Iraq and Lebanon. In Iraq, what they are trying to do is to peel away elements from within the Shia political elites who are not necessarily very much into Iran’s space, if we can put it – Al-Abadi, Al-Hakim, Al-Sadr, and others. And in Lebanon, the goal is to peel away Aoun from – so, not only denying Hezbollah the Sunni legitimization, but more importantly, denying Hezbollah the Aoun presidential seal of legitimization.
On the other hand, what will Hezbollah do? I think for Hezbollah, this regional role that they want, that they are now playing, is something that they have been working toward for all their existence. I mean, it’s definitely a Lebanese group, but it’s a Lebanese group that has always had, especially the leadership, regional ambitions, regional aspiration. And today, after what they see as a win in Syria, after their role in Yemen, they see this is a place that they are going to be. And I don’t see them willing to make concessions to the Saudis, whether in Yemen or whether in Syria. Because they see any concession-making at this point, will basically be a prelude to more concession-making and to pushing them to – so will that be a civil war? I think it all depends on what will be the Saudis’ next move. And more importantly, what will be Aoun and Jumblatt’s next moves?
Dr. Salem: Thank you very much, Randa. We have a number of questions. I urge the panelists to take notes, because we’ll take a number of questions at a time, one from each mic in succession. Sir, introduce yourself and a brief question.
David Fredrick: Thank you. I’m David Frederick, a citizen of Iowa where the caucuses for the President are less than four years away. We’re getting close. [laughter]. I was just wondering, I hadn’t heard about the bombing of the Sana’a airport. My history goes back a little bit on this. I’m not always sure if I get my facts right, but I believe next month, December, will mark two years since the Saudi Air Force obliterated the Sana’a International School. A strategic target, I guess. So, I’m wondering, when you mention that it’s up to the Yemenis to decide this – having worked there in the last century for a while, a few years, I didn’t see much evidence the Saudis were really interested in a strong and progressive and relevant country in Yemen. So, how can they – how can we leave them out of the solution? How can we say it’s up to the Yemenis to decide this? It doesn’t seem possible to me. And certainly, we have leverage on the Saudis. We’re providing technical assistance, direct and indirect assistance for the campaign in Yemen. Thank you, again.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, sir. Question from that area… microphone?
Matt Franco: I’m Matt Franco. I was wondering about decentralization as a possible solution across the conflicts. Ambassador Ford dismissed it pretty much out of hand for Syria. But I wonder, in the other contexts, if that is useful going forward? And specifically, Ambassador Feierstein, you didn’t really talk about the separatist movement in the south. Which I think has a lot of sway, brings in regional players. The UAE, obviously directly involved. We’ve seen the conflicts play out in Aden. And I’m wondering how that movement could facilitate or complicate a potential solution in Yemen specifically?
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Matt. Question from here?
Ali: Thank you. My name is Ali. I’m a student at the George Washington University and I’m originally from Kuwait. After a long, long time, we have seen recently some diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia to forge close ties with the Iraqi government. My question is: How can Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states help with the rebuilding process of Iraq that’s currently and profoundly influenced by Iran? Thank you.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Ali. Sir?
Blake Selzer: Yeah, Blake Selzer, humanitarian working on the Syrian crisis. This is for Ambassador Ford. I agree with you completely about the police state in Syria. A couple of questions related to that. One is: Can they continue that police state without the support of Russia and/or Iran going forward? And two, trying to take, maybe, some grain of optimism, not completely pessimism, do you see any accountability, moving forward, for some of the issues between those who perpetrated the crimes in Syria, separate from who will control it later, whether it’s The Hague or the UN, etc.?
Dr. Salem: Thank you.
Mr. Selzer: Or is that another pessimistic [laughter]…
Dr. Salem: Thank you. Let’s go to our panel in reverse order. Robert, your second chance to say something optimistic [laughter]. Going to keep trying here [laughter]…
Amb. Ford: Paul, you’re going to send me back to my cubicle and say, “Don’t come out until you’re optimistic.” Blake, two things. First, on the accountability side, there may be some tribunals set up, I could imagine that. I think there is a discussion about it. And several courts in Europe, including Spain and Germany, have agreed to hear cases related to alleged war crimes. Why do I say alleged? They were committed – related to war crimes in Syria. I don’t know how the individuals responsible for those war crimes will be held accountable if they stay in Syria, or if they only travel from Syria to garden spots like Iran and Russia. Sudanese President Bashir has had indictments from the International Criminal Court outstanding for at least seven years, and he’s not been held accountable yet.
And I think, I say this with great regret, but I don’t see how Syrian officials are going to be held accountable for the crimes that they have committed. In some cases, European countries are fining individual soldiers, fighters, from both sides, government and opposition who’ve been responsible for crimes. And they’re often in the refugee populations and those people are being held accountable because they’re on European soil. But I don’t think the big fish in Damascus will take that chance.
With respect to the continuation of the police state without Russian or Iranian support, it would be more difficult, but it would not be impossible. In particular, the Iranian support has been vital. And that support predates the uprising of 2011. But I don’t think the state will completely collapse without Russian and Iranian support. And frankly, the Iranian support is going nowhere. It’s going to stay.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Robert.
Jonathan, I wonder if you could take the question about decentralization, but really to touch on the absence of a centralized state in Libya, let alone decentralization. How would you address the challenges of state rebuilding, state building? And how much is needing to be centralized? How much might need to be decentralized?
Mr. Winer: It goes to where you can have political impulse and administrative capacity function together. And so, each state has its own differences in terms of the fundamental infrastructure. Libya worked for decades under Gaddafi, with Gaddafi’s impulse directing all the machinery to work. And the machinery was fundamentally focused on making sure the payment system worked, making sure the import of foreign goods worked, and of course making sure the oil was produced. This resulted in benefits to those who were closest to Gaddafi in Tripoli. And deprived, from the point of view of those in the east, was sufficient recompense for them. So, the federalist movement in Libya is a movement by easterners to grab more than they traditionally got. And the biggest functional barrier to success in Libya has been the sense of grievance by the east and a refusal by easterners, therefore, to participate in deals with the west because some of them really want to eat the entire thing. That is, to be able to grab and consume all the energy that is exported from Cyrenaica.
So, decentralization is absolutely essential. Localities can and do function in Libya. And if given more resources, if given revenue sharing, at the community level to city councils, and that kind of thing, that could really help Libya a lot. But there would have to be political acceptance of that. Now, if oil prices continue to go up – they’re at $60-something a barrel right now – and if Libya continues to be capable of producing 1.1 million, 1.2 million, rather than the 250 million [sic, thousand] they were producing last year – right now it’s right around a million – they could get up to 1.5 million and have energy prices be higher. They’ve got the revenue to be able to share. If you can corral the political people to agree to revenue sharing and power sharing. I don’t think that’s impossible in Libya. It’s very hard. Because enough people have enough of a competitive advantage in their micro-market – forgive me for mixing different kinds of terms – to say, “I can hold on to what I have, and maybe get a little more by holding out, rather than by making concessions.” And so, the international community’s goal needs to be to say, “Okay, what are the incentives and disincentives we can apply to get them to deal with one another? And if they do, how could we have that include benefits to people at the local level?”
I haven’t talked about the south, where the grievances are greatest. The south, I haven’t talked about, because it’s not as important to a near-term deal. Though, it’s very important to dealing with – making space governed, to giving Libya borders, and to addressing long-term participation of an important part of the Libyan population. So, there are opportunities there. It’s not easy, but the opportunities are profound in the case of Libya because the oil money can be divided up any number of ways.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Jonathan.
Randa, maybe on the issue of the Saudi-Iraqi relations, and if you might touch on decentralization in Iraq?
Dr. Slim: Quickly, I think one of the positive developments in the recent month is this progress in Saudi-Iraqi relationship. Partly, it’s driven by realization within Saudi political elites that their decision, post-2003, to exit the Iraqi political space has created – has let Iran play – contributed, directly and indirectly, to Iran playing the role that it’s playing in Iraq. And they are trying to reclaim that space in Iraq. And so, you are seeing economic relations, you are seeing direct flights, you are seeing visits. And now, there is this Kuwait conference that’s going to be done, I think, next month for the region to help and give assistance with the rebuilding of territories that have been liberated from ISIS, especially Sunni-majority territories.
So, that’s – and reintegrating Iraq in its Arab neighborhood is key also to its stability in the long term. Again, I think a year ago, when we went to Baghdad, you and I, the sense you get from being in Baghdad and talking with people, at the time a year ago, was a sense that this is a country that is somehow disconnected from its Arab neighborhood. And now, I think, the serious attempt that’s ongoing to reintegrate it in its Arab neighborhood is a positive development. And Iraq can be a positive force in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran in going forward. So, on so many levels, I think bringing a better relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, reintegrating Iraq and its Arab neighborhood, can help.
In terms of decentralization, there has been a lot of proposals from some Sunni leaders to establish Sunni regions, like akin to the Kurdish region in terms of autonomy and all of this. I think there is more now, realization, of the need for the central state and for, in terms of budgets, in terms of security, but also there is a realization by the central state, especially by the Abadi government, of the need to empower local communities, especially in terms of reconstruction, administering some of these funds, providing local security. There is a proposal about national guards, I think, that Vice President Nujaifi has been pushing again, partly with the ideas of creating Sunni militias to counter the Shia militias. I think that is a recipe for instability. I think, however, at the same time, I think local communities also need to be empowered to take care of their security. So, it is the way forward. Again, decentralization can help in restoring distrust that has been broken between citizens and government. Because at the local level, the relationship between local government and citizen is usually stronger, more accountable, and more transparent.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Randa.
And Jerry, on the issue, obviously, of the Saudi role in Yemen, and also the decentralization issue there. Your comments?
Amb. Feierstein: Right. In terms of the Saudi role, we haven’t really talked about the regional aspects of the conflict. I agree, absolutely, that essentially the Saudis are going to play an important role. When the conflict started in 2015, there was an understanding between the U.S. and the Saudis and within the UN Security Council as well that, fundamentally, we all wanted to see a solution to the fighting that would bring the political transition, the GCC initiative, back into focus and make that the central element of a political solution. The Saudis indicated that they supported a political solution. The last time that I was in Saudi Arabia, which was the spring of last year, we had an opportunity to talk to the leadership. And I was confident on the basis of those conversations and everything that we’ve seen since then that the Saudis continue to support a political resolution of the conflict.
I think that it’s important now, given the events of the last ten days, that they reiterate that that is still their goal and that’s still their objective. Having said that, I think that there’s also, clearly, some red lines that the Saudis have that I believe are legitimate. I think that it’s absolutely legitimate for the Saudis to insist that their southern border with Yemen be secure, and that there be a government in Sana’a that is friendly to them and that is prepared to provide the security that they need on their border. I think it’s also important for the Saudis to be assured that Iran is not going to be playing a role in Yemeni governance in a way that threatens Saudi security and stability.
So, within that context I think that the Saudis do support a way forward. One of the elements that I think is important is to get an assurance from them that they accept, as they said that they would, that they accept that the Houthis can play a role in a political government in Yemen. They’re not opposed to Houthi participation. They are opposed to a Houthi structure that replicates Hezbollah in Lebanon. And again, I think that that’s a position that the United States should endorse and embrace. So, within that context, I think that’s where the Saudis are.
On decentralization, I agree completely. In fact, the idea of the establishment of a federalized Yemen was part of the GCC initiative. It was one of the elements in the National Dialogue Conference. Unfortunately, the way it was negotiated and the tactics that were used, the implementation of it, was flawed. And that became one of the causes – casus belli – for the current conflict that we’re in. But I think that, eventually, we will come back to the idea of a federalized state.
And I think it’s important to maintain the principle that we support a unified Yemen. First of all, you can’t talk about a southern movement. There is not one southern movement. There are many southern movements. And the risk that we run is that, if you start talking about the separation of North and South Yemen, you may not end up with two states. You may end up with three or four or five states, all of which are failed, all of which are incapable of providing security and stability, not only to their people but also to the region and to the world. They will become areas for extremism to thrive.
And so, we should maintain the principle that we want to see a unified Yemen out of this, but recognizing that in order to address the legitimate concerns of the Southern people, of the Houthis and of others, there should be decentralization. There should be, in essence, some local government. And we will, at some point, hopefully circle back to that issue and come up with a better approach than we had in 2013 and ’14.
Dr. Salem: Thank you, Jerry. We’re going to have to end this session here. I give license to those who still want to ask questions, license to ambush our panelists in a friendly manner. And ask them the questions that way. Before turning back and thanking the panel, and before you leave, we will take a break until 1:30 p.m. I hope to see you back here at 1:30 p.m. We have two excellent panels in the afternoon. One on the humanitarian situation. And the second, on the role of women. And now, please join me in thanking these excellent panelists for the presentation [applause].
[End of Audio]
Duration: 87 minutes