Good evening. I’m just returning from the White House, where I met with the President and the national security team, and I want to give you an update on the international community’s efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 and protect the civilians of Libya.
Events have moved very quickly, so let’s be clear about where we stand and how we got here. When the Libyan people sought to realize their democratic aspirations, they were met by extreme violence from their own government. The Libyan people appealed to the world to help stop the brutal attacks on them, and the world listened. The Arab League called for urgent action.
In response, the UN Security Council mandated all necessary measures to protect civilians, including a no-fly zone. But the regime’s forces continued their assaults, and last weekend they reached Benghazi itself. We faced the prospect of an imminent humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were in danger. So an international coalition was compelled to act. French planes were the first to reach the skies over Benghazi. Cruise missiles from the United States and the United Kingdom followed, striking the region – the regime’s air defenses and clearing the way for allied aircraft to implement the no-fly zone.
Many other nations have now joined this effort. After only five days, we have made significant progress. A massacre in Benghazi was prevented, Qadhafi’s air force and air defenses have been rendered largely ineffective, and the coalition is in control of the skies above Libya. Humanitarian relief is beginning to reach the people who need it. For example, just today, we learned that at least 18 doctors and nurses from an organization funded by the United States Agency for International Development had arrived in Benghazi and were beginning to provide support to the city’s main hospital.
Qadhafi’s troops have been pushed back, but they remain a serious threat to the safety of the people. From the start, President Obama has stressed that the role of the U.S. military would be limited in time and scope. Our mission has been to use America’s unique capabilities to create the conditions for the no-fly zone and to assist in meeting urgent humanitarian needs. And as expected, we’re already seeing a significant reduction in the number of U.S. planes involved in operations as the number of planes from other countries increase in numbers.
Today we are taking the next step. We have agreed, along with our NATO allies, to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO. All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protection mission under Resolution 1973.
NATO is well-suited to coordinating this international effort and ensuring that all participating nations are working effectively together toward our shared goals. This coalition includes countries beyond NATO, including Arab partners, and we expect all of them to be providing important political guidance going forward.
We have always said that Arab leadership and participation is crucial. The Arab League showed that leadership with its pivotal statement on Libya. They joined the discussions in Paris last weekend on implementation, and we are deeply appreciative of their continuing contributions, including aircrafts and pilots from Qatar.
This evening, the United Arab Emirates announced they are joining the coalition and sending planes to help protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone. We welcome this important step. It underscores both the breadth of this international coalition and the depth of concern in the region for the plight of the Libyan people.
In the days ahead, as NATO assumes command and control responsibilities, the welfare of those civilians will be of paramount concern. This operation has already saved many lives, but the danger is far from over. As long as the Qadhafi regime threatens its people and defies the United Nations, we must remain vigilant and focused.
To continue coordinating with our partners and charting the way forward, I will travel to London to attend an international conference on Tuesday, convened by the United Kingdom. Our military will continue to provide support to our efforts to make sure that Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 will be enforced.
This is an important effort that has garnered the support and the active participation of nations who recognize the significance of coming together in the international community, through the United Nations, to set forth a clear statement of action to be taken in order to protect innocent civilians from their own government. It is an effort that we believe is very important, and we’ll look forward to coordinating closely with all those nations that are participating.
Thank you very much.