May 25, 2019

U.S. and EU discuss their foreign policy in the MENA region

By Guido Lanfranchi.

In mid-April, the U.S. State Department and the European External Action Service held their regular dialogue on their foreign policies in the Middle East and North Africa. On the agenda there were the many tense situations unfolding in the region, chiefly the current crisis in Libya.

Traditional allies such as the United States and the European Union try to cooperate on as many issues as possible. As foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa region is crucial for both sides, the two parties usually hold regular policy dialogues on this matter, generally twice a year, in order to achieve some coordination in their efforts. The latest U.S.-EU MENA Dialogue took place in Brussels on April 15th, 2019, when high-level officials from the U.S. State Department and the European External Action Service discussed a number of thorny issues. The agenda included the crisis in Libya and Algeria’s transition, as well as the situation in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. 

Ambassador David M. Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department, commented on some of these issues in the wake of the dialogue, just ahead of his planned trip to Paris for talks with his French counterparts.

The unfolding crisis in Libya naturally featured in the talks in a prominent way. Ambassador Satterfield reiterated the U.S. administration’s concern over the escalation of violence in the country, and in particular for damage inflicted to civilians. He called on all sides to refrain from violence, reiterating the U.S. support to a political agreement among the parties. Ambassador Satterfield also commented on the influence of other actors in Libya. Commenting on the position of U.S. allies such as Egypt and the UAE on Libya, he noted that, while there might be some differences on how to achieve stability in Libya, this is the shared aim of all allies. By contrast – he noted – Russian involvement is “opportunistic”, and “it does not serve any useful purpose”. 

Questioned by journalists on a wide variety of issues, Ambassador Satterfield outlined the U.S. position on other thorny regional issues. On the situation in Northern Syria, he reiterated that the U.S. will maintain a number of troops on the ground, and that diplomatic efforts are ongoing to find a solution that will meet the needs of both the Turkish and the Kurdish people. As for the standoff between the U.S. and Iran, Ambassador Satterfield defined the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization as a natural step in the U.S. campaign of maximum pressure on Iran. Finally, while refraining from commenting on the electoral campaign in Israel, Ambassador Satterfield touched upon the thorny issue of the Middle East Peace Process, reiterating that “the U.S. will support whatever solution the two parties support”.

In all these crises – Ambassador Satterfield concluded – the role of the United Nations is “absolutely vital” in order to advance political processes, and the U.S. strongly supports the mandates of the UN Special Envoys, whose work is “invaluable and irreplaceable”. In addition to that, the U.S. and the EU will continue to pursue common efforts to achieve peace, security, and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.

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