Today’s successful Contact Group meeting was a powerful statement that our coalition remains united and committed. We reaffirmed there is only one way forward for Libya, attacks against civilians must stop, Qadhafi must go, and the Libyan people deserve to determine their own future.
We continued our ongoing dialogue about steps we can take to protect the Libyan people, pressure Qadhafi to hasten his departure, and lay the groundwork for a successful transition to a unified, democratic, Libya. On each of these goals, we are making progress and we have increased the pressure on Qadhafi. But as long as he continues his attacks on his own people, our military mission to protect them will continue.
We are pleased that NATO extended the mandate of Operation Unified Protector for another 90 days. We have stepped up the pace of our strikes and added British and French attack helicopters to our arsenal. With coalition backing, the people of Misrata have expelled Qadhafi’s forces from their city and they are bravely standing against those forces which, unfortunately, are renewing an assault.
We are escalating the political, diplomatic, and financial pressure on Qadhafi, and his isolation is deepening. The list of former officials who have now abandoned him is growing. He’s lost two foreign ministers, an interior minister, ambassadors to the United States and UN, an oil minister, and five generals, and just this week his labor minister defected as well. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has sought arrest warrants for Qadhafi, his son Saif, and the intelligence chief Senussi. And we’ve again begun to see brave protestors taking to the streets of Tripoli.
We have very good reason to believe that time is on our side, so long as we sustain the pressure. Since our last Contact Group meeting in Rome, Russia and many others have joined the chorus of nations working to achieve Qadhafi’s departure from power. We recognize the important role that the African Union and African states are playing, and we are consulting closely with them and welcome the recent statements from South Africa, Gabon, Mauritania, and others. The old tactics of divide and rule that Qadhafi mastered in Libya will not work with the international community.
Our support for Libya’s Transitional National Council is also deepening. The United States views the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period. We expect to see Libyans coming together to plan their own future and a permanent, inclusive, constitutional system that will protect the rights of all Libyans. This is in stark contrast to the Qadhafi regime, which has lost all legitimacy to rule. The TNC is the institution through which we are engaging the Libyan people alongside our work with civil society.
We are all working to put the TNC on firmer financial footing. We’ve taken steps in the United States to license oil sales by the TNC, and we’re pleased that an American company was able to make a purchase, which was delivered yesterday. To help the TNC secure credit, we embrace the idea that a future Libyan government should honor any financial obligations that the TNC assumes on behalf of the Libyan people. We welcome today’s announcement that the temporary financial mechanism has been activated for this purpose. Already, Kuwait announced it will transfer about $180 million, and Qatar will transfer 100 million through this mechanism. We are also continuing to provide non-lethal supplies and working to deepen all of our relationships.
Finally, we will continue to work to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the Libyan people, including those who have fled the violence into neighboring countries. And yesterday, a group of bipartisan United States senators announced they had agreed on a framework to use Libyan assets frozen by the United States to provide humanitarian aid to the Libyan people, and we look forward to the Congress passing that legislation so we can begin to implement it.
And also today, we announced $26.5 million of new funds to help all victims of this conflict, bringing the American total to nearly $81 million.
We’re optimistic also about the Libyan information exchange mechanism, which will serve as a clearinghouse to match in-kind contributions of non-lethal assistance with the most urgent needs of the TNC. We welcome Italy’s announcement that the mechanism is now in operation.
This is a moment to reaffirm our commitment to our common purpose and continue our progress together, and that is exactly what we did today in Abu Dhabi. Libya is not, however, the only country in the region in the midst of extraordinary changes, and I took the opportunity today to consult closely with a number of our partners on the full range of regional challenges. We spoke about how more we can pull together to support the historic transitions underway in Tunisia and Egypt, which remain critical priorities for the United States. Our European and regional partners are sustaining their focus on supporting Tunisians and Egyptians.
We also talked about the rapidly evolving situation in Yemen. We continue to urge all sides to honor the ceasefire, and we support an immediate, orderly, and peaceful transition consistent with Yemen’s constitution. Violence is not the way forward, and Yemen’s instability is a challenge for us all. The Yemeni people need a government that addresses their needs and aspirations.
And finally, we discussed ways to support the Syrian people and sharpen the choices facing the Asad regime. Syrians took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully for a government that respects their rights, reflects their aspirations, and is accountable. What they have received instead has shocked not only Syrians but people around the world. We are working with our partners in the international community to bring an end to the violence and to support political and economic reforms. President Asad may try to delay the changes underway in Syria, but he cannot reverse them.
This is a remarkable and very busy time. In each of these and other countries, there is simply no going back to the way things were, and yet the full story of each of these transitions remains to be written. All of us are humbled by the risks and the rewards of this moment. A great deal of hard work lies ahead and we must get it right. So speaking for the United States, we will continue to work closely with our partners to help the people of Libya and throughout the entire region navigate this season of change and arrive at a better future destination.
And I’d be happy to take some questions.
MODERATOR: First question goes to AFP, Lachlan Carmichael.
QUESTION: Hello, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, Lachlan.
QUESTION: You said that Qadhafi’s days are numbered. It sounds that he could leave much more imminently than we even thought a few weeks ago. So do you think that the Libyan people, through the Transitional National Council, could fill a void very quickly, that they’d be capable to establish order? And the other question is: Have you heard and can you confirm reports that the Qadhafi family is reaching out to Senegal and South Africa to find an exit for Muammar Qadhafi?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Lachlan, to the second question, let me say this. There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Qadhafi. And we are aware that those discussions include, among other matters, the potential for a transition. There is not any clear way forward yet, but we will be focusing between now and the next Contact Group in Istanbul in July on making sure that all of those contacts are understood and evaluated because they occur with many different interlocutors, and that we begin the very difficult but necessary work with both the TNC and the Qadhafi regime to try to bring about the kind of transition from power in the first instance that is necessary to see from Qadhafi, and then in the second, going to your first question, the necessary work that lies ahead so that if Qadhafi were to leave tomorrow, there would be a receptivity by the international community to redouble our efforts to help the TNC and others throughout the country who wish to be part of an inclusive process that establishes the necessary institutions, such as a constitution, that can begin to guide the democratic reform that is sought.
We have seen a great deal of improvement in the efforts of the TNC. We are obviously doing all we can to assist them in better organizing themselves and building those institutions that any state needs. But they know and we know there’s a long road ahead. However, we all stand ready to assist them and have begun discussions with them about what more they would need once the transition occurs.
MODERATOR: Al Jazeera, please. Mahmoud Hamdan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Excuse me. Do you believe that the Council now qualified to use this financial aid and – or is – do you think that they still – are you still thinking that they have to go in some procedures to be able to use this aid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, we are ready, through the establishment of the financial mechanism, to begin money flowing to them through this mechanism but also through bilateral efforts. So we do think that they are prepared. As you may know, there was a lot of work done, led by the Qataris and the Emiratis and the Kuwaitis and many of the rest of us, to establish this mechanism with sufficient transparency and accountability, because the last thing we want is to put to the TNC in a position where the money flows but they are not – they don’t have the systems in place to actually put it to good use. We think that they do now, and we’re working to assist them. So the money is being deposited in the financial mechanism that we announced today.
MODERATOR: Next question, Reuters. Andy Quinn.
QUESTION: Hi, Madam Secretary. If I could just turn briefly to Syria and Yemen, on Yemen there are reports today that the U.S. is stepping up air strikes on suspected militants to keep them from exploiting a power vacuum while President Saleh is undergoing treatment. How concerned are you that al-Qaida is gaining ground while the situation tips further out of control in Yemen? Do you have any position now on whether or not he should return? And what are you and the Saudis doing to try to breathe new life into the GCC roadmap?
On Syria, please, Russia said today it will veto any UN Security Council resolution on Syria. How can the international community increase pressure on President Asad if he has such powerful protectors at the United Nations?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I’m not going to comment on the first part of your question regarding any operations. I think it’s clear that we have worked very closely with our partners in the Gulf and others to try to bring about a peaceful transition. On several opportunities, President Saleh did not go forward with what we thought had been agreed to. He remains now in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment. The vice president, in accordance with the Yemeni constitution, is now currently serving as the acting president.
Our ambassador and other ambassadors continue to meet with a cross section of the Yemeni population, including senior Yemeni Government officials as well as members of the opposition because, obviously, we are committed to doing what we can to create a stable base for Yemen to make the changes that are necessary. We don’t think that the instability can be fully addressed until those changes commence. And so we’re going to continue to consult closely with our friends in the region to determine the best way forward.
I can’t speculate on what President Ali Abdullah Saleh will decide to do. That’s obviously up to him. But Yemen has a strong constitution, and we believe if their constitution were actually implemented, Yemen would be moving in the right direction. So whatever happens in Yemen needs to be in line with their own constitution, and we’ve been urging that, and we will continue to do so.
With respect to Syria, everyone that I spoke with here today is deeply concerned about events in Syria. We are seeing a continuing use of violence by the government against their own people, and we’re seeing violent responses by elements of the Syrian population against security forces. And we know that, repeatedly, that President Asad has said over the last several years that he wanted to make changes, and, as President Obama said, he either needs to make them or get out of the way.
We believe that Syria can play a positive and leading role in the region as a pluralistic democracy contributing to regional stability. But sadly, under President Asad, it is becoming a source of instability in the region, exporting its problems. People are fleeing their country, seeking safety beyond their borders, and therefore, we think the international community has an important role to play, and I don’t think anyone looking at the situation can conclude that this is going to end well unless there is a change in the behavior of the government. So we’re going to continue to press for changes and do everything we can to try to bring international pressure to bear on the government to take action immediately and to cease the violence.
MODERATOR: Last question, Al Arabiya, Abdullah Mataran (ph).
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) the countries in this group – they – we say that the legislative council has not been recognized, although, it is the only council that represents the Libyan people. So what does the U.S. think about this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: You’re talking about the Transitional National Council? Yeah. I think that it is important to look at how far the Transitional National Council has come. It is a very young institution, and it is trying to represent the entire nation, which is a challenge given that the opposition controls a significant part of the east and is fighting in the west. But I think that the progress that the TNC has made should be encouraging. But as I said, it’s important to be clear about how much more needs to be done.
There is a lot of work ahead of the TNC – work to expand its reach, to be more inclusive, to build institutions, and we’ve had very open conversations with the representatives of the TNC about that. But I think that they have issued statements of their intent, of the kind of Libya they would like to see in the future, which are very impressive. So what we hope to be able to do, along with all of our international partners, is to help them improve their capacity to serve as the transition leader of Libya.
What we seek are open, fair, legitimate elections, as Tunisia is facing, as Egypt is facing, that will determine what the makeup of the next Government of Libya will be. But we think that the Transitional National Council is in a position to guide and lead that process. And that’s why what happened today was so important in ensuring that they got additional financial support and validation from the Contact Group.
MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.
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