- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will not lift the ban that keeps Libyans from coming to study aviation or nuclear sciences in the U.S., he told Congress on Wednesday, pushing back against an initiative supported by the State Department and the White House.

Other administration officials had said it was time to lift the ban, which President Reagan imposed in 1983, saying Libya has evolved from those days and should be rewarded for recent changes in its government. The White House budget office approved the proposal over the summer and sent it to Mr. Johnson for final sign-off, but the secretary said “given the current environment,” he’s not going to approve it.

“I do not intend to lift that prohibition at this time,” Mr. Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing.

Republicans in Congress had vehemently protested the administration’s proposal to lift the ban, which prohibits Libyans from obtaining visas to train in aviation or learn nuclear science.

Both the Obama State and Defense departments had said the ban was outdated and said allowing Libyans to train in those areas could help them reconstitute their own military. Obama administration officials also said the U.S. has gotten better at screening out potentially dangerous people who might try to use the visas to do harm.

But lifting the ban needed Mr. Johnson’s final okay, and he said he’s not going to give it.

SEE ALSO: Key Republicans push to keep Libyans from training at U.S. flight schools

Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and two fellow Republicans, Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, wrote a bill that would have stopped the process altogether.

Under questioning by Mr. Chaffetz on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson said he doesn’t want Congress to tie his hands, but also said he won’t lift the ban on his own right now.

The three GOP congressmen said Mr. Johnson made the right call, but added that “this should never have been a hard decision to make.”

“Libya’s government remains unstable today and the country is becoming more dangerous as rival rebel groups battle each other for control of Libya’s cities,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s necessary that we keep this ban on Libyans in place so that we protect Americans and our national security from threats in Libya.”

The lawmakers said they’ll push ahead with their legislation in order to lock in the ban.

The security situation in Libya has been grim since the U.S. provided military power that helped oust former leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Missing Libyan jetliners raise fears of terror attacks on 9/11

Most recently, the Washington Free Beacon reported that nearly a dozen jetliners had been captured by potential terrorists from an airport in the country.

A spokesman for the Libyan embassy in Washington denied that report on Wednesday.

“There is no truth regarding the availability of a dozen jetliners that had been captured by militias at the airport last month,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said an armed group did take control of the airport and was then ousted, and the airport is once again under control of the government, and neither the airport nor the Libyan defense ministry have any jetliners missing.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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