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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Roger Hearing of BBC World Service


Interview
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
London, United Kingdom
March 30, 2011

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QUESTION: So although the policy of the U.S., the UK and France on Libya is to be as non-interventionist as possible, according to President Obama it could be possible to intervene a little more to get the right outcome which is the departure of Colonel Gadhafi. But can the U.S. legally arm the rebels without breaking a UN mandate?

Philip Gordon is the United States Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. He joins us live.

Dr. Gordon, welcome to the World Today. Can we clarify this business of possibly arming rebels? Isn’t this a striking example of so-called mission creep?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. I think the first thing to say is that, as President Obama said, he has not ruled that out if we want to complete the mission of the international community and protect civilians in Libya. But it’s also even more important to make clear he hasn’t ruled it in. We’ve said we haven’t made a decision on that issue. What we’ve said on the legal basis is that Security Council Resolution 1973 provides for taking all measures necessary to meet the objectives of the resolution which is to protect civilians.

QUESTION: And that’s sufficient in your view? You wouldn’t need another United Nations Resolution?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. The Resolution 1973 specifically underscores that notwithstanding the provisions of the previous resolution, 1970, which included a measure on an arms embargo for the entire country, it says notwithstanding that, states can take all necessary measures in order to protect civilians.

So if it got to that point our understanding is that it would be legal. But again, I want to underscore that that is not a policy option the United States has embraced --

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fair enough, and there are many legal niceties that have to be thrashed out here, but another sort of rather tricky issue would be protecting civilians by arming them and therefore, at what point does a civilian with a gun stop being a civilian? This applies not only to the rebels who in principle you are supporting, but also to people on Gadhafi’s side.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s right, and that’s why beyond the legal question there is a policy question which, as I say, is not one that we have pursued, nor have the other members of the international coalition. We just had some 40 representatives here in London and the focus was on fully implementing the Security Council Resolutions, and we made clear that coalition actions will continue until that takes place. But nobody decided on and I daresay even focused on at all the question of arming the rebels.

QUESTION: It would be much easier, though, if you could just come out and say we would like regime change, wouldn’t it? It’s a phrase that or course has become a bit toxic. It seems to me that everyone is sort of saying that they would like the regime to change, but they don’t want regime change, if you see what I mean.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, they’re two different things. I think we have been absolutely crystal clear that Gadhafi needs to go. President Obama made that clear several weeks ago and our position has not in any way changed and I think it’s the consensus view of everybody who was here in London. That’s different from making that a specific military mission backed by a UN Security Council Resolution, which it’s not.

QUESTION: But he’s not going to go of his own accord.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think limiting the military mission doesn’t take away from our conviction that you can’t really imagine a stable and peaceful future for Libya under Colonel Gadhafi.

QUESTION: One final thing, leaving aside this business of arming rebels, do you have anything that you can tell us at all about a possible political deal? Interestingly, analysts have said this is one thing that no one is talking about at the moment, and yet to actually settle Libya in the future you’re going to need a political and not a military solution. Can you tell us anything about political feelers about negotiations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I can tell you that one of the topics on the agenda for the conference here in London was just that and I think everybody is conscious that even if and when Gadhafi leaves, which he must and he will, there is going to need to be a discussion of Libya’s political future. We are --

QUESTION: But what about talking with his side as well? This is not just, many people say, one man against an entire country. That one man has divisions, he has support, he has tribes. So who is reaching out and doing that political hard work now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well there’s a lot of reaching out going on, and there are emissaries and feelers coming out of Tripoli. But as I say, we’ve been very clear that the Gadhafi regime must go. After that, yes, you’re absolutely right, there needs to be a political --

QUESTION: So you’re trying to separate the Gadhafi enclave, sort of the people around him from a more wider support group?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think that’s where the process starts. Right.

QUESTION: Okay. Many thanks indeed for joining us. That’s Dr. Philip Gordon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs.

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