Readout of the North Atlantic Council Meetings on Libya

Special Briefing
Ivo Daalder
Permanent Representative to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) 
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
March 7, 2011

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. To ask a question at that time, please press *1. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

I would now like to turn the meeting over to Mr. Mark Toner. Sir, you may begin.

MR. TONER: Thank you, and thanks everyone for joining us on such short notice. Here to update us all on discussions at the North Atlantic Council today concerning the situation in Libya and try to frame some of the options being discussed there is our Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. Just a reminder, before Ivo speaks, this is on the record and before questions – before you ask questions, please give your name and media affiliation.

Ivo, over to you.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Great, Mark, thanks. Great to be with you guys here. We’ve been closely monitoring the situation here in Brussels for many days now, of course, and we met today to have a first briefing update on the military planning for how we, as an alliance, can support international efforts for humanitarian relief, including how we could help on evacuations. This is part of a whole series of plans that the military authorities are looking at – for example, ways to enforce the arms embargo, how to establish a no-fly zone, but today and the real focus for now is on what can NATO do uniquely, what kind of capabilities does NATO have that are uniquely useful to support the international effort on humanitarian relief.

And we had that discussion today. I made a number of proposals on the part of the United States that said let’s look to our countries now, and let’s look at what capabilities does NATO have that can uniquely contribute to this – things like setting up our own command-and-control capability, which we as a military alliance have to help coordinate an effort to support humanitarian relief; looking at some of the ships that are now engaged in an exercise in the Mediterranean and see whether it’s possible to actually re-task them so they would be available to support any humanitarian sealift; looking at NATO-owned sealift assets that might be available so that assistance could be brought – food and other kinds of aid can be brought into the country, and if necessary, to help evacuate people; looking at airlift assets. NATO has and owns a variety of different airlift assets which could be used, again, to varying assistance and bring out people and bring them to other parts of the world if necessary. And finally, looking at enhancing our surveillance capacity by deploying NATO-owned and operated AWACS systems, the big airborne coordination surveilling aircraft.

Generally, this was well received within the NAC. The decision was made to indeed increase the surveillance of the NATO-AWACS capability to make it 24/7, to have a better picture of what’s really going on in this part of the world, and it was an agreement that we would look at these issues a little closer over the next few days so that when defense ministers meet on Thursday here in Brussels, they may be in a position to make a decision.

So that was the focus of what we’re doing today, just to put it back into context. We’re looking at all the options that are out there in some – in a pretty focused way. But the most immediate options that are now most available and that we’re really looking at is how can NATO support the humanitarian effort that is ongoing by the international community.

And I guess with that, let me open it up and bring it back to Mark and perhaps open it up for questions.

MR. TONER: Thanks, Ivo. Yes, we’re ready for questions now, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. Please stand by.

Our first question comes from David Sanger from New York Times. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ivo, thank you very much for doing this. A quick question on the options beyond the humanitarian one: You’ve heard a lot of concern recently, including from Secretary Gates, about doing a no-fly zone. I’m wondering, within the Atlantic Council, what you’ve heard on that subject matter. And especially on the question of whether or not the no-fly zone, if you did it, would actually have to cover the entire country, as Secretary Gates seemed to suggest, or whether you believe, given this AWACS capability now that you’ve got going, you can do this largely along the coast which is when – been where most of the action has been.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Thanks, Dave. Good to hear your voice. I mean, we’re looking at the no-fly zone in a variety of different options. We haven’t actually had a discussion yet. The military authorities haven’t finalized that planning. That will happen in the next day or so. We will have a discussion at our level, and then of course, we’ll have a more in-depth discussion when the defense ministers come here.

And I think the options that they’re looking at is a variety of different ways in which you could put a no-fly zone into place, but none of the details are yet available and that’s why we really haven’t had an in-depth discussion within NATO as such on what it would take, what capabilities are required, and indeed, what the purpose of such a no-fly zone would be.

QUESTION: And if --

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Those are the kinds of issues --

QUESTION: If I could just follow that up.


QUESTION: Just given what you’ve seen happen on the ground, how useful would it be? And most of the attacks – there have been some by air – but most of the attacks we’ve seen have either been artillery or just machine guns on the streets and so forth.


QUESTION: Do you have an assessment of how much of the trouble has actually been from the air?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I mean, our sense is that a no-fly zone is one possibility. But when you really look at what’s going on, we have actually seen a decrease in both fighter and overall air activity over the weekend. It really peaked late last week and it’s starting to come down. And indeed, to date, the overall air activity has not been the deciding factor in the ongoing unrest; just as you stated, other things are really determining what’s happening on the ground.

And therefore it’s important to understand that no-fly zones are more effective against fighters, but they really have a limited effect against the helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we’ve seen, which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn’t really going to impact what is happening there today. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at it – and we are and we will – but it is not going to be the solution to every problem.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Alex Spilius with Daily Telegraph. Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hi. Yes, thanks very much. A couple of sort of British-angled questions, if I may. There was a report in the Independent this morning by Robert Fisk claiming that the U.S. had asked Saudi Arabia to supply weapons to rebels. I wonder if you could shed any light on that.

And also, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has made a speech in parliament this morning. I’ve spoken to diplomats here, and the British and the French are moving toward pretty strongly the no-fly zone resolution at the UN, which they want to have a set of sort of pre-agreed triggers which, if Qadhafi crosses a line, then to enforce – the no-fly zone could be quickly implemented. I just wondered, is the U.S. comfortable with the pace that the British and French are moving?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: With respect to the Independent report, I’ve not seen it and it’s news to me, but I’ll leave it to Mark if he wants to comment on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: On the no-fly zone and the pace at which Britain and France are moving, we are comfortable with the pace at which our planning is proceeding. And I think by towards the end of the week we will be in a position to know what it would take to do a no-fly zone, we would have a pretty good idea what kind of options are available. And we really want to get that data and that information on the table so that everybody knows what is involved, and frankly, who will be doing what and where and how. And that is right now our focus. Our focus is getting our ducks in a row, making sure that we have the information so that we can make the rights kinds of decisions if and when it is decided that we should move in this direction.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Elise Labott with CNN. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. I was wondering who specifically is NATO dealing with on the ground in Libya. Have you decided to kind of, as an organization, recognize this kind of transitional (inaudible) council, Libyan council that’s been declaring itself as representative of the Libyan people, because obviously there would need to be a lot of coordinating? If you’re talking about setting your own – setting up your own command-and-control capability to use – deploy assets on the ground in the east, even for humanitarian relief, that would dictate some kind of communications with the Libyans. So if you could talk about that.

And if you could talk about whether, at this point, NATO is considering this a civil war, or do you still see this as kind of a – the Libyan Government using force against its people?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: On the question of who NATO is dealing with, right now NATO is dealing with international organizations. We are offering support to those organizations as they engage in the activities to provide humanitarian relief. So we’re – the secretary general is in contact with the NATO – with the UN secretary general. He’s in contact with the AU, with the Arab League, with UNHCR, the IOM, OCHA -- all of the agencies that are really involved on an international side providing humanitarian relief. And our effort here is to suggest – we have some capabilities that may be very useful to meet the needs, the dire needs that you face right now.

So there’s no intent to have either a presence or indeed – inside Libya at this point. If and when ships with aid may have to go to Benghazi, that’s already happening as we speak. I think the Italians are in Benghazi today in order to deliver aid. And that will be done by nations, but it will be coordinated by the NATO effort. The command-and-control aspect is only for the NATO effort.

If you would have surveillance capability that we’re now increasing, when you have air transportation capability that is owned and operated by NATO or tasked by countries to NATO authorities, that’s the command-and-control that will fall within NATO. The larger coordinating process remains an international one based in Malta at the moment in which NATO will be one of many other players.

So there really isn’t a sense that we need to get involved into the internal politics of Libya at this point in order to provide the kind of humanitarian relief support that we’re seeking.

QUESTION: Well, on the issue of the civil war? And I mean if you say you don’t need to get involved in the politics at this point, I mean, many nations – many NATO member-states have said that they don’t recognize the Qadhafi government as legitimate or having any authority. So at some point, do – does NATO as an organization have to make some kind of political determination over whether you’re going to recognize the government or the opposition?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, I mean, NATO is not in the recognition business. That’s not what we do. And we have members who are members of NATO who don’t recognize Kosovo. So there is a – there’s been a difference of opinion on which countries should be recognized by whom. And we, as an organization, are – take whatever marching orders we get from the 28 nations, of which the United States has a view and, in fact, a pretty strong vote. But it’s a consensus-based organization, so that – in that sense, we don’t take a political stance. NATO doesn’t recognize countries; countries recognize countries, and we don’t have to do that.

Similarly, with regard to whether it’s a civil war or something else, an important analytical question, I think, for everyone to ask and appreciate it, NATO as such doesn’t have to get into the definition business. What it is in the business of doing now is to respond to the requirements of its member states. And our immediate requirement, the one that we put on the table today, is: What capabilities do NATO and the NATO countries have that – can you add value to the humanitarian support operation? And that’s what we’ve – that’s what we’re trying to push.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mary Beth Sheridan with Washington Post. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks a lot, Ivo, for doing this.

Just a quick question about the NATO AWACS: You mentioned that they’re now going to go to 24/7. What were they doing before, and will this require sending more assets from the U.S. or something like that?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, no, NATO – thanks, Mary Beth – NATO has its own AWACS. It’s one of the capabilities that is owned and operated by NATO. They have been providing surveillance about 10 hours a day, and so now increasing to 24 hours a day.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Ivo. Do you mind speaking up just a little bit?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Sure. I think these are – they’re NATO assets, NATO operated, NATO paid. They are owned by NATO, these aircraft, and they have been operating about now – providing surveillance about 10 hours a day, and they’re going to increase that to 24 hours a day. It just means a little bit more rotation, a little bit more flying than we were doing up to this point. But this is a decision that we – that NATO itself can make without having to rely on assets coming from any other country because they’re NATO assets.

QUESTION: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Rosslyn Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Ivo, good to talk to you. I wanted t come back to this schedule that you were outlining in your original comment. NAC met today to look at ways of supporting the humanitarian effort. Then there is this process where defense ministers are coming together. Walk us through again exactly what’s being discussed and what sorts of decisions could be taken on Thursday, because I just wasn’t clear on what’s exactly happening then.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Sure, no – happy to do it, Rosslyn. I mean, we met – we are going to meet on a daily basis to make sure that we monitor the situation as closely as possible. So we met today. We’ll meet again tomorrow. We always meet on Wednesday; that’s our regular day. And then on Thursday, defense ministers come into town and we’ll devote their first session of the four that they will have to Libya. So what we expect is that in the course of the remainder of the week, the military authorities will come back to the NAC, the North Atlantic Council, to provide their views on the military planning they have conducted. They did initially so today on humanitarian. They’ll do some more tomorrow.

We will also get their views on how to enforce an arms embargo and how to establish a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people against military attack. That will happen all in the course of the first half of this week, so that by the time the defense ministers get here on Thursday, we will have had intensive discussions, both at the military level and the political level, within the NATO apparatus. And at that point, defense ministers can tackle the issues themselves. We would expect and hope that the kinds of issues that I put on the table, the kind of capabilities that NATO should now offer the international community as means of support for humanitarian operation, that by the time the defense ministers get there, we would agree to move in that direction.

QUESTION: Now, would it be too early to assume that once the defense ministers meet on Thursday, that there could be an actual decision on whether or not to try to implement a no-fly zone? Or would more time be needed, in your view, for that sort of discussion?

And then more particularly, since you’re representing the U.S., would there be any sense of trying to get other countries – notably France and the UK – to take the lead on running such operation?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, if it’s in – in terms of what NATO could do, we should be in a position, more or less, to at least have a discussion, and if necessary, make a decision, if there is a consensus, on the issue of a no-fly zone, or indeed on any of the issues that I have laid out.

Whether or not there will be such a decision is too early to tell. I don’t think that all governments have made up their mind. I think there are – governments are looking to the situation on the ground. As I laid out, when we look at the situation, we see a decrease in air activity in Libya. Perhaps the talk of a no-fly zone helps to that extent, but it’s clearly decreasing. And the kinds of capabilities that are being used to attack the rebel forces and, indeed, the population will be largely unaffected by a no-fly zone.

So yes, we could be in a decision – in a position to make a decision. I have no idea whether we, in fact, would make a decision. If there is a decision for NATO to implement the no-fly zone, that will be a NATO decision, which would then require NATO assets to be used, as – including national assets assigned to NATO command and patrol. It would be a NATO operation, not a British UK operation.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks so much.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Viola Gienger, your line – Bloomberg News – your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hello, yeah, this is Viola Gienger, yes. Thanks for having the call. Just a couple questions: How would NATO be involved in enforcing the arms embargo? What would be involved in that? And what sort of discussions has NATO or the U.S. had with allies in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and North Africa regarding their own capacity or willingness to support the Libyan rebels in lieu of the alliance or in conjunction with the alliance? And how much support do you see in the region for NATO involvement in any kind of interaction there other than humanitarian release?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: On the issue of the arms embargo, we haven’t yet had our first discussion of how NATO could help on this issue. I expect that to happen in the course of the week. So the actual details are difficult to – for me to know at this point.

I mean, what would help is having surveillance capability that we’ll – now we’ll have 24/7, which could – there could be some monitor flags going in and out of the country, which is not unimportant for this purpose. We have had a longstanding operation since September – the terrorist attacks on September 11th in the Mediterranean called Operation Active Endeavor that has ships monitoring the possible flow of terrorists which also could be used to monitor any arms flows that are there. But the specifics of that are still to be laid out, and we’re waiting for the military authorities to come to us on that.

My responsibility here at NATO is to talk to my 27 allies, so that’s my focus. I don’t know what discussions we’ve had with our friends in the Middle East and partners on these issues. So –

QUESTION: And you don’t know what discussions that NATO Secretary General or –

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Yeah, the NATO Secretary General had --

QUESTION: -- might have had with – in the region?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: -- has had discussions with (inaudible) the head of the Arab League, Secretary General Amr Moussa, with Jean Ping of the African Union, and with the UN Secretary General, as well as with some international relief organizations. So he has had discussions about it. There have been initial discussions without any decision about them since that – where we’re going because (inaudible) informed them. We are looking at what is possible, we’re planning. We haven’t made any decisions and such.

MR. TONER: We have time for just a couple more questions.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Stephen Fidler with The Wall Street Journal. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Ivo. Just a couple of things: One, the first thing is whether you – the U.S. has been satisfied with the sort of pace of – with which this discussion has moved in NATO and whether you think it could have been more proactive.

The second: What your view or the U.S. view is of the Secretary General’s repeated assertion that a no-fly zone would require another UN Security Council resolution, and whether so far in the surveillance that NATO has had, there’s been any evidence of arms trafficking into Libya.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Regarding the later, I’m not aware that we have had any information on that. In terms of the pace of discussion, the pace has been, for NATO standards, very rapid. And indeed, the whole international community has moved out very rapidly. The UN moved very quickly in UN Security Council Resolution 1970. The international community is about as united on this issue as it has ever been, as was shown by the vote in the General Assembly to kick the Libyans out of the Human Rights Council.

Within NATO, we are steadily increasing the pace of our meetings, particularly since now the military authorities have had the time they needed to get the detail on the planning down. So as I said, we’re meeting today – we met today, we’re meeting tomorrow, we’ll again meet on Wednesday and we’ll meet on Thursday and Friday.

With respect to a Security Council resolution for a no-fly zone, all of us want to know – want the – a Security Council resolution to – for that eventuality. So there is – that’s a pretty clear – a pretty clear stand.

QUESTION: And that’s an absolute – that’s a requirement; without one, there wouldn’t be a no-fly zone?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: What I said is everyone would want a UN Security Council resolution. We would certainly seek one.


MR. TONER: Last question, Operator.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Sara Sorcher with The National Journal. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I’m just curious. We’ve been hearing reports that these NATO surveillance planes have been tracking Qadhafi’s whereabouts. I’m just wondering if there’s anything else you can tell us specifically about what the surveillance is looking for. Thanks.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, the NATO surveillance planes are really looking for aircraft and ground traffic, both in Libya but also on – at sea, so that’s what it’s looking for. It really is a way to find out what’s going on in terms of traffic patterns, and it’s – it is not looking for individuals.

QUESTION: And for how long has – have you been doing the surveillance?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, because, as I mentioned, we have this Operation Active Endeavor, which is an operation that’s been ongoing for many, many years. So we have AWACS flying around the Mediterranean at all times. And as the situation develops in particular regions, we may redeploy our assets in that way.


AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Okay. Well, thanks all for your time.

MR. TONER: Thank you, Ambassador. And thanks, everyone, for joining us.

Alex, I was slow off the mute button. The Ambassador invited me to weigh in on the Saudi story. That story is inaccurate. P.J. can speak to it more at the briefing today, but that’s inaccurate. Our focus, as Ivo just stated, remains working with our allies in NATO, working with – working through the UN to bring as much humanitarian assistance. Certainly, all options remain on the table, but that particular story is inaccurate.

Thanks, everyone for joining us today. And thanks, Ivo, again.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Absolutely, my pleasure.

MR. TONER: Yeah, take care.

OPERATOR: Thank you for participating on today’s conference. The conference has concluded. You may disconnect at this time.

PRN: 2011/345