State Department Live: U.S. Engagement In Libya

Gene Cretz
U.S. Ambassador to Libya
Washington, DC
September 7, 2011

MS. JENSEN: Hi. Welcome to State Department Live, the State Department’s new web chat platform that lets us interact with our audiences from all over the world. I’d like to welcome you today. Today, we’ll be talking about U.S. engagement with Libya, and we will be speaking with our U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz.

I’d to welcome you, too --


MS. JENSEN: -- to our program today. Just as a quick reminder, I would like to remind you that if you have questions, you can actually start typing them in now in the lower left hand side of your screen that says Questions for Ambassador Cretz. Please make sure that you identify yourself by your name and your news organization so that we can know who we’re speaking with at all times. We have about 30 minutes today, and we’ll get to as many questions as you can in the 30 minutes we have.

With that, I’d like to turn it over to Ambassador Cretz.

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, good morning, or good afternoon, wherever you are. I’m very pleased to be here today. I’ll just open up by a few comments saying what an incredibly – incredible historic moment we have witnessed over the past six months, a courageous Libyan people rising up against a tyrant who had basically suffocated them for almost 42 years, and taking up arms for the first time against him in a quest for human rights and dignity and democracy.

We know that the past six months have been extremely difficult. It’s not over yet. Muammar Qadhafi remains on the run, along with two of his most dangerous sons. But the Libyan people, along with the leadership of the TNC, with Mr. Mustafa Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril, have made extraordinary strides in bringing this revolution to where it is. And I think that all of us who have been able to support the Libyans in their quest are extremely proud and at once also admire the courage that they have shown during these past six months. Thank you.

MS. JENSEN: With that, we’ll start with our first question.

Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador. My name is Walter Minya(ph), a reporter with Nation Media, Nairobi, Kenya. My question is whether the U.S. agrees with the African Union position that a political rather than a military solution should be found to deal with the Libya crisis.

And secondly, what is your reaction to the level of AU’s engagement in the Libya crisis?

And lastly, do you believe the world would be safer without Qadhafi?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, I think that those are very good questions. Look, we’ve had a lot of interaction with the AU over the past several months, and certainly we’ve encouraged the TNC to improve their relationship with the AU. I think along the way, there have been some misunderstandings on both sides. And as you know, several weeks ago Mr. Mahmoud Jibril visited the headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa, and I think they had a good discussion in which they clarified a lot of their views. And I think on the TNC side, Mr. Jibril clarified that Libya – a new Libya would in no way turn its back on Africa. Libya was an African nation, and they’ll look forward to good relations with Africa.

For it’s part, the AU had a roadmap. They had a – for some of the countries had a different approach, believing perhaps that a – that they – the political solution was the best way to go and that should be the focus of our efforts. There were efforts to try to bring a political solution to this, but unfortunately, they didn’t come to fruition, and this is why it ended in the way it did, as we see right now.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Mark Clussiner(ph) from ETV, South Africa. Is the U.S. worried about reports that weapons used in the Libyan conflict have left the country and might fall into the hands of military groups?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, I think in general, the fact, number one, that there was such a profusion or a proliferation of arms during the conflict is worrying for all of us. You know that Qadhafi and his regime also opened up their stores to allow a population that had not been armed before to become armed. So of course this is an issue. We are working with the TNC. They are very aware, I think, of the potential problems that this proliferation of arms has brought. And I think that they will be very judicious in trying to devise a program to make sure that we can decommission and collect these weapons as time goes on.

We also hope that Libya and the international community, along with the African nations, will be able to work together in this next period to make sure that no groups – for example, like al-Qaida in the Maghreb, or that other groups that may want to threaten the stability of other African nations – are allowed to gain any support or gain any benefit from this profusion of arms. But it is something that is worrying, and it is an issue that the international community, all of us, have to work together on to stem very quickly.

MS. JENSEN: Great. Can you tell us when the U.S. will reopen its Embassy in Tripoli?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Right now – well, I think you know if you’ve followed the news, certainly, our Embassy was – along with that of the British, French, and Italians – was trashed the evening, I believe, of April 30th by Qadhafi’s goons when he discovered that his son had been killed in one of the attacks. We don’t know exactly right now what the complete status of our Embassy is. We’ve sent a small team in to try to do an assessment. As soon as we get an assessment from that team back, we will then take the appropriate steps to reinstate our diplomatic presence, which I believe will be done in a very, very quick time.

MS. JENSEN: In your view, how has the TNC acted so far?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: I think from the start, there were questions on the part of the international community, and certainly on the part of the United States and its allies, with respect to who were the TNC, this group that arose from what really was a grassroots rebellion? And we – I went out early on during the crisis at the request of the Secretary of State to meet these people, some of whom I knew from the previous regime when I was ambassador and had dealings with them. And my initial sense was that they were a well-meaning group. They were composed of doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, people really who hadn’t had a real feel for politics because under the rule of Qadhafi, there hadn’t been one milliliter of oxygen to breathe any fresh air of politics or civil society.

I think as time went on, and we saw statements from the TNC with respect to how they envisioned a new democratic Libya, how they wanted this to be one Libya, how they were going to deal with the question of human rights, how they were going to deal with international obligations, I think the international community became very, very comfortable, and we saw that in the various Contact Group meetings that took place in Doha, in the UAE, in Rome, and in Istanbul, and finally in Paris last week.

So I think that the TNC has done very well. They’ve made some mistakes along the way, there’s no doubt. But look what they started with. And I’ve been – in my comments to audiences, I’ve said let’s look at the achievements that they have been made, given what they were bestowed by a Qadhafi regime that had basically ruled the country with a policy of divide and conquer. So the TNC has made great strides, they’ve made mistakes, but they also, I think, have done the right thing, by and large, both in word and deed.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Arnut Alayam(ph), Palestine. Were you surprised with the way Qadhafi responded to his people? And when do you expect him to leave?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Anybody who’s followed the – Qadhafi and the history of 42 years of repression and suppression in that country wouldn’t be surprised at anything that Qadhafi did. I think we were particularly shocked with the level of violence – to immediately, in the first days of a conflict, I mean, of people asking only for basic human rights, that this regime would turn on its people with such ferocity and such violence, I think it impacted all of us.

And words count. And I think that that was always the message that was given to us when we were in Libya as diplomats, that we needed to be careful with the words that we said because whenever they were of a kind that offended or potentially offended the regime, we were told to be careful. Well, when Qadhafi said that he was going to go to Benghazi and clean out these quote/unquote rats that he called his own people, we took it very seriously. And it was on that basis, on the humanitarian basis, on the potential of a humanitarian catastrophe, that President Obama and the rest of the coalition acted. So were we surprised? No. I don’t think we were surprised.

MS. JENSEN: Next question comes form Caldoon Al-Hayat, Al-Jadida(ph) newspaper from Palestine. What is the U.S. vision for the new Libya? And if democratic processes bring Islamists to rule, how do you describe the U.S. position then?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, I think that it’s very clear that, from the start, the vision of a new Libya has been a democratic one. Well, I don’t know, we don’t know right yet what that democratic process will look like at the end of the day, but what we do know is that in the first few weeks of the flush of freedom in Benghazi and the areas under the TNC and opposition rule when they broke free from Qadhafi in those first few weeks and months, we saw people coming out into the streets calling for democracy. We saw them debating in the streets the meaning of a constitution. We saw them helping each other. We saw them developing a civil society of nongovernmental organizations. So I think that the Libyan people pretty much know the kind of democracy that they want to create, and it will be a Libyan democracy. But we’ll have to wait and see what it is. We will help them in whatever way they want, but it has to be a Libyan-led and a Libyan-devised process.

With respect to Islamists, I think the Libyans acknowledge that there are -- there is an Islamic element within the body politic that could play a role as long as it’s a moderate one, and I think that it’s been made very clear by the leadership and by the people of Libya that they have no intention of swapping, after six months of blood and violence, of swapping one dictatorship fo a tyrant for another dictatorship of any ideology that would tend to keep them down again and not give them the human rights and the kind of -- allow them to develop the kind of democratic institutions that they fought so hard for and died so hard for.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Mina al-Oraibi from Asharq Alawsat. Do you seek to open the Megrahi case?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: We have said in public and certainly the Secretary in her discussions with the leadership of the TNC has said that the Megrahi case remains very sensitive, one for the United States, and that we will continue to raise it as appropriate. The leadership of the TNC, I think, recognizes that this is a sensitive case, and they understand the sensitivity of this case for the United States and certainly for the UK as well.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Sarah Carter from CBS News. Could Libya descend into tribal warfare after the war against Qadhafi? And how concerned are you about this scenario?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: When you look at the kind of “nation”, quote , unquote, that Qadhafi left to the opposition, it’s one that , as I said before, was built on a philosophy of divide and conquer. There are divisions between north and south, there are divisions between east and west, there are intertribal problems, there are problems with how minorities were treated, so they’ve inherited a shattered nation. Are we concerned? Certainly. This is a -- this is not just a task for the new leadership -- the new Libyan leadership to recreate a nation. In fact, what they have to do is to create a nation. So the tribal rivalries certainly are important, and they have to be dealt with, but I think that the TNC has shown a lot of wisdom in, first of all, acknowledging the various problems that face Libya, and secondly, in terms of the kinds of plans that they have to hopefully reconcile these various -- the body politic that has been torn asunder by the Qadhafi regime for 42 years. They know the challenge ahead of them, but they -- I think they’re up to it at this point.

MS. JENSEN: We have a follow-up from Mina. She would like to know: What would you like to see happen to Qadhafi? And do you seek extradition or just house arrest, which it appears he is under?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Look, the final decision about whatever happens to Qadhafi and his sons and any other members of the regime that are found to have blood on their hands is an issue for the Libyan people to decide, the Libyan leadership. We have obviously made our point clear that the ICC warrant, those nations should, who have him in their -- who are able to control him should turn him over to the ICC. But as I said, this is a question for the Libyan people and the Libyan Government to decide.

MS. JENSEN: I have a quick correction -- follow-up on Megrahi. What would you like to see happen to him? And do you seek extradition or just house arrest?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: This is a question for our Department of Justice. We’ll be dealing with these issues as time goes on. Right now, I think we’re -- we’ve made our point clear about Megrahi, and we’ve made our position clear also to the TNC leadership, and we’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out over the next few days and weeks.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Brooke Tenier (ph) from EU NATO Affairs Correspondence from Defense Weekly. NATO says it will take a no-boots-on-the-ground role in an immediate post-conflict Libya, nor does it seek any defense sector reform role in the country right away either. However, Libya will need a newly trained and professional army soon. Does Washington have any intention to do this instead?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: This is an issue -- each country, whether it’s NATO or whether it’s each individual country, will have discussions with the Libyan leadership as time goes on. Certainly, the new leadership will want to be able to defend its borders, and I think that as the situation clears up and as it develops, we among others will have that kind of discussion with the Libyan leadership to make sure that the Libyan -- the new Libyan nation is afforded the kind of military for defensive needs that it requires to protect its people and its borders.

MS. JENSEN: Next question comes from Laurence Norman from Dow Jones. How long are you prepared to give Libya before moving to election? Is it your understanding, as a European official said yesterday, that the TNC will respect existing oil contracts?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: They have said publicly that they will respect oil contracts. I think that they’ve got a tremendous amount of work ahead of them to review all the different contracts that have been let out -- these are hundreds of billions of dollars -- in all of the different sectors. How long are we willing to give them? This is a question that the Libyan leadership and the Libyan people are going to have to decide for themselves. They have a -- the TNC has laid out a fairly specific timeline for the kind of development of democrat -- a path to a democratically elected government that they would like to see. But I think a lot of that is going to depend on the situation on the ground. They have to get settled in, and they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them. So I think that we shouldn’t necessarily hold them to a specific timeline, but certainly should support them in whatever they need to make sure that they are able to achieve what they would like in terms of democratic vision of the future of the Libyan nation.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Caldoun (ph) from al-Hayat, a newspaper in Palestine. You have been in middle diplomacy for years. What is the difference between Libyans, Syrians, Egyptians, Tunisians seeking freedom from dictatorships and Palestinians seeking freedom from military occupation that has been imposed on them for decades?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, I think there was always the -- there was a sense among observers over the past many years that somehow or other, that the freedoms that were enjoyed by the rest of the world somehow just didn’t apply to the people in the Middle East. I think what we’ve seen over the past several months starting with the Tunisians and the Egyptians and then moving onto the Libyans and what we see in other countries of the Middle East is that Arabs are no different than anybody else in terms of the freedoms that they want, in terms of the human rights that they would like to enjoy, in terms of the civil society that they would like to see, and in terms of the future that they see for their children and the generations to come.

So there may be cultural differences among the different countries in the Arab world, but as far as my experience has told me, and I think others would observe, that the basic -- the rights that certainly the Libyans have fought for and others have fought for over the past several months are not distinguishable or not peculiar or particular to any one people, whether they be Arab or Asian or South American or anybody else in the world.

MS. JENSEN: Next question comes from Sarah Carter from CBS News. She wants to offer her apologies for a few technical issues at the beginning and wants to know: What is your understanding of where Qadhafi is right now? And how involved is the U.S. in his exit strategy?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Well, I think right now the question of where Qadhafi is is one that’s being pursued by the TNC. It’s clear that he needs to be caught at some time because our own view is that a Qadhafi free in Libya could pose a continuing danger to the success of the new government to make sure that its writ is spread throughout the country. We will participate to the extent that we are asked to, but as of right now, the -- it’s a question for the Libyan authorities to find Qadhafi.

MS. JENSEN: Is the U.S. concerned about the reports that the TNC has been abusing and arresting Sub-Saharan Africans and Libyans of African descent? And has the U.S. addressed this issue with the TNC’s leadership?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: We have – we are extremely concerned by these reports. We have addressed this issue at the highest levels of the TNC. They have assured us that they’re going to take these allegations of mistreatment of Africans very seriously. And we have told them that we will hold them to that commitment and that, in fact, we intend to follow up not only on a bilateral basis but certainly in conjunction with the United Nations and its organizations, for example, the International Organization for Migration, to ensure a speedy resolution to the problem posed by the detention and general situation of African migrants in Libya in the context of the crisis of the last six months.

MS. JENSEN: We have about 10 minutes left, so I just want to remind you that if you have any questions, please feel free to start typing them in the lower left-hand portion of your screen now.

Our next question comes from Caldoun (ph) from Al Hayat again. What about Palestinians seeking freedom from Israel occupation?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Look, the question of people seeking freedom, I mean, it’s a question that we’re dealing with. Like I’ve said in previous speeches that I’ve made throughout the country in these past several months, there’s no one cookie-cutter approach that we can apply to every situation. We certainly – the tools – the diplomatic, economic, political tools that the international community applied to Libya are not necessarily the same ones that we would apply to Syria or issues elsewhere in the Arab world.

The United States had been intensively involved for many, many years in trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis together. And in fact, I believe our special envoy, David Hale, is in Israel today continuing to work the problem between the Israelis and Palestinians to try to bring them back to negotiations.

MS. JENSEN: Could you comment on the African Union’s handling and position of the Libyan crisis?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Like I said before, we have had extensive dealings with the AU during the past several moths. They have had – I mean, several African nations, in fact, have already accorded recognition to the TNC. There have been differences, I think, among the African nations about how to deal with the question of Libya. As you know, Qadhafi had had a lot of influence and a lot of relations with African nations over the past several years, so there were some countries that were kind of either sitting on the fence or continued to support Qadhafi.

While the AU as an organization perhaps wasn’t as forthcoming in terms of its position as the TNC would have liked, I think individual African nations, for their part, were more forthcoming in terms of support for the TNC.

I think that said, I think both the AU and African nations as individual nations and the TNC recognize that they need to develop a good relationship in going forward, because as the TNC leadership said, they will not – they consider themselves an African nation, and certainly the issues that – and the consequences of what has happened over the past six months are going to affect the African nations, whether they like it or not, and there’s going to be a very important need for the two to work together as time goes on.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Mina Al-Oraibi. What is the total sum of Libyan funds still in U.S. control, and has the $1.5 billion been handed over now?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: My understanding from the start is that we – the amount of Libyan assets were approximately $30 billion “controlled” by the U.S., although that wasn’t – it wasn’t necessarily all funding that we had complete control over. My understanding is that the 1.5 billion has begun to be disbursed to the TNC. I can’t give you the figure of how much has gone to them already, but I know that the process is underway to get those needed funds to them.

MS. JENSEN: Next question comes from Jean Jaques Cornish(ph), Eyewitness News. How do you respond to President Jacob Zuma’s criticism of NATO bombardment in Libya?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: I know that there’s been a difference of opinion between some nations in Africa and the campaign that NATO undertook, but let’s look – let’s go back to that period between mid February and mid March when the NATO coalition began to coalesce to take action. At that particular point, don’t forget that we had been asked by the Arab League and by the GCC – a very, very important precedent for Arab nations actually to ask for an intervention on the part of the West. This was not a crisis that we invited. This is not one that we necessarily wanted to intervene in. But when the humanitarian – when the potential for humanitarian catastrophe became so evident that – when Qadhafi was on the borders of Benghazi, it became imperative for us to act.

So I know that the criticism has been out there, but this is – like I said, this was a response to a potential humanitarian catastrophe. And I think that the NATO coalition, including some Arab nations, has been very careful in terms of the way it conducted its mandate to protect civilians and to make sure that there was a no-fly zone, and I think they’ve been very, very discreet and very, very careful in terms of ensuring that there would be no damage to civilians when undertaking military targets in their campaign.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Ahnout(ph) from Iliam(ph), Palestine. Will the Qadhafi family in Algeria be arrested?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: That’s going to be a question for the Algerians, the new Libyan Government, and how the interpretation of the UN sanctions applies to that particular situation.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Laurence Norman from Dow Jones (inaudible). What are your greatest concerns about what happens next, and is it possible we could see the conflict continuing for many months if Qadhafi is not caught? And is the prevalence of guns the biggest obstacle about stabilizing the situation in Libya?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: The two things that the TNC needs to do very quickly are to establish security, which they have basically done throughout the country, and two, to make sure that the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people are satisfied. And I think they’re making great strides in both of those areas right now.

In order for them to begin to create a country, as I mentioned before, and to heal all the divisions that the Qadhafi regime created during its 42 years, they need an environment of security and they need to be able to show that they are a credible governing authority. And I think that they are doing that right now.

So I think the biggest problem right now or the biggest challenge for them is to create that environment and create that political space that will allow them to bring the Libyan people together as one and then to move forward on to creating that democratic process that they have envisioned for so many months and which is the result of the tremendous courage shown by the Libyan people over the last several months.

So they face a lot of challenges, but I think if they can make sure the security situation is established and make sure that all the humanitarian needs of the people are taken care of, I think they’ve got a very good chance at moving ahead. And there will be challenges and there will be problems that they face. I mean, that’s only natural after a conflict of this kind. But the international community stands to support them in whatever they need during this very challenging time.

MS. JENSEN: Okay, we have time for one more question and it comes from Brooks Tineya(ph) from Defense Weekly. NATO uniformly did not need a UN mandate for its involvement in Libya. It has no such mandate in Afghanistan, for example. The human rights abuses in Syria approach those of Libya. Why have U.S. and NATO not taken action against Syria as they have done in Libya?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: Like I said before, I think that as we’re witnessing a tremendous cataclysm in the Arab world starting from Tunisia and Egypt, Libya and Syria and other places, and I think as the Secretary and the President have said many times, it’s a new concept that we’re trying to apply. It’s called smart power. And that is that for each situation, you take a look at the circumstances and then you, along with the international community, try to decide what are the best diplomatic, economic, political tools to use in that particular situation.

In Libya, as I said, we looked at the situation and we determined that a certain kind of tools were available to the international community, and we used them and so far it’s been a very successful use of that. Each situation is not the same. I think in Syria, you’re seeing the international community as time goes on begin to use each of the different pressures and different measures that are available to it. But like I said, each situation is different and the international community has decided in its practical use of smart power to take a look at each situation and then to use the tools available as the circumstances require.

MS. JENSEN: Any parting thoughts on your behalf?

AMBASSADOR CRETZ: No, I think that – look, I think that we should salute the Libyan people for what they have done. I think that they are going to serve as a model for historians for centuries to come in terms of what they have achieved. We know that they have a difficult road ahead of them. A lot of the problems that they’re going to face – this new leadership – is not of their own making. So let’s give them the credit for what they have achieved and let’s not be so pessimistic about what the potential outcome will be here.

There’s going to be a period of time where there’s going to be a lot of challenges that they have to face, but the Libyan people have showed themselves to be up to the challenge so far, and I have every faith that the Libya of several years from now is going to be a very different Libya than we’ve seen over the past 42 years. And I think it’s going to be a democratic Libya, and I think at the end of the day, all of those who participated in this effort to support the Libyan people are going to be very proud of the fact – what we have done to help them achieve this new nation in the making.

Thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Great. That’s all the time we have for today. Just a quick reminder, a full audio and video copy of today’s program will be available shortly after the conclusion of the program. If you would like to continue this conversation, you can do so at – on our Twitter feed @state or you can continue this conversation on our in-language Twitter feed, which is @USAbilAraby.

I’d like to thank you, Ambassador Cretz, for joining us today, and I would like to thank all of you for joining us. Have a great day.