US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he does not believe the American military should have a direct role in helping stabilize war-ravaged Libya, where violence and political instability has reigned since the overthrow of the country’s dictator.
“I do not see a (US) role in Libya,” Trump said during a joint news conference Thursday, moments after Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called the US role in the country “critical.”
Trump’s comments came during a White House news conference with Gentiloni, who implored the United States to step up its “critical” involvement in Libya, a former Italian colony.
“We need a stable and unified Libya,” Gentiloni, who has been in office since November, said, discussing a conflict that has sent thousands of asylum seekers across the Mediterranean to Italy and other European countries. “A divided country, and in conflict, would make civility worse.”
In his scripted opening remarks, Trump hailed Italy’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya. He thanked Italy’s leaders “for your leadership on seeking stabilization in Libya, and for your crucial efforts to deny ISIS a foothold in the Mediterranean,” adding, “You fought hard.” Ansar al-Shariah, an affiliate of the ISIS extremist group, based in Syria and Iraq — has been operating in Libya since 2012.
But the president— who was not wearing an earpiece that would have allowed him to understand Gentiloni’s challenge, issued in Italian — quickly dismissed the notion that the US would get involved in Libya.
“I think the United States has, right now, enough roles. We’re in a role everywhere,” Trump said.
After a White House meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Trump stuck to his demand that European allies meet their financial obligations in their partnerships with the US, including NATO. He urged Italy to address the refugee crisis through a policy that “seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so they can help to rebuild their own nations.”
Gentiloni, who took office in December, stressed the need for burden-sharing in the refugee crisis, given Italy’s proximity to Libya, where large numbers of migrants take the risky voyage across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Gentiloni noted Italy and America’s “common commitment against terrorism.” He said it requires social and economic collaboration with Muslim communities to be effective.
He said that despite budgetary limitations, Italy was committed to increasing its defense spending from 1 percent of gross domestic product to 2 percent — the threshold that Trump has called for all NATO members to adhere to.
Trump has complained that the United States contributes more to the military alliance than it receives.
“We are used to respecting our commitments,” Gentiloni said.
Thursday’s US-Italy meeting took place against a backdrop of high uncertainty in Europe, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the upcoming French presidential election — the first round of voting is Sunday.
Trump, who once celebrated Britain’s decision to leave the EU, insisted that he wants the bloc to remain strong.
“Yes, a strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the united states,” Trump told reporters at the news conference with Gentiloni.
“And it is also in my opinion — in my very strong opinion — important for the United States. We want to see it. We will help it be strong.”
Trump’s past comments predicting that other countries “will leave” the EU after Britain voted to do so last year irked European leaders.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even responded with a joke he was ready to encourage US independence movements if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support.
But more recently, Trump has endorsed the European bloc, which describes itself as a bastion against the nationalistic rivalries that so often tore it apart in wars in past centuries.