Teleconference Background Briefing on North Atlantic Council (NAC) Discussions on Libya

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Officials
Washington, DC
March 24, 2011


OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. All participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question-and-answer portion of today’s call, please press *1 if you would like to ask a question. Today’s call is being recorded. If you have any objections, please disconnect. I’d like to now introduce Mr. Mike Hammer, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Public Affairs, and he may begin.

MR. HAMMER: Thank you, everybody, for joining us late this evening. We thought it’d be important to just provide you on background as senior Administration officials a little bit of what has transpired through the course of today in terms of the movement to a NATO mission to take over the no-fly zone over Libya. I will be – probably we’ll be doing this fairly brief, as it’s late. And so with that, let me just turn it over to the first senior Administration official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton was involved intensively over the last couple of days working on this. She spoke yesterday with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu and NATO Secretary General Rasmussen. During the course of today, she spoke separately with French Foreign Minister Juppe as well as with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and then they convened a four-way call with their other counterparts from the UK. So it was a four-way call with the French foreign minister, the British, the Turk, and Secretary Clinton, during which time they hammered out the deal that was later announced.

Then after, subsequent to that four-way call, Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey called the Secretary back up and praised her for being a consensus maker. And then finally, when the deal was struck at the end of the four-way call, Foreign Minister Juppe remarked, “Bravo, Hillary.”

During the course of the afternoon, the Secretary also spoke with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who informed her of the decision of the UAE to join the coalition, and she thanked him personally for this. This followed intensive discussions she had had with him in Paris on Monday and subsequently on Saturday about Libya.

With that, let me turn it over to the other senior Administration official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks. Great to be with you guys. Let me focus on what happened in – at NATO. We made a major step forward with an agreement to transfer the command and control of the no-fly zone from the coalition to NATO starting immediately. It will take some – a couple of days to really complete the transfer, but the decision to do the handover was done today.

As important was an agreement by all 28 NATO allies now to take on responsibility for the military implementation of all aspects of UNSCR 1973. As you know, NATO already took on the responsibility for enforcing the arms embargo. It has now agreed to do the no-fly zone, and it has also agreed to take on the protection of civilian and civilian areas through the use of counter-military power, the kind of things that the coalition is doing now.

So we – as the President promised when we started this operation, we would be engaged in the initial phases with our unique capabilities to make significant military advances, which we have in the past five, six days, saving Benghazi from what would have otherwise been a major onslaught, taking down much of the air defense system in Libya, and in effect creating a no-fly zone. Now that we’ve accomplished that, NATO and particularly all the partners within NATO, as well as Arab partners, as well as perhaps others, can now join in a large international effort to enforce the no-fly zone and to provide protection for civilians against the threat of attack.

This was a hard diplomatic battle. Building consensus among 28 nations is never easy. But the United States, just as it showed leadership in getting the UN to approve the new UN Security Council resolution and with a very robust mandate, the U.S., starting with the President in his personal engagement with key leaders in Turkey, France, and Britain, and the Secretary of State worked assiduously, as the other senior official just described, to bring together all the parties into the agreement that was reached tonight here in Brussels.

And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MR. HAMMER: Operator, if we could go to the first question, please.

OPERATOR: And if you would like to ask a question please press *1. Again, please press *1 to ask a question. We do have a question from Mary Beth Sheridan. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks a lot for doing this. [Senior Administration Official Two], I just wanted to clarify what has actually happened tonight, because the Secretary General portrayed it differently than you have, and I just want to make sure you’re both talking about the same thing. He said basically that the – NATO has agreed to take military command of the no-fly zone and of the arms embargo enforcement, right, but not yet of the other stuff to protect civilians, meaning, as I understand it, the, like, air operations that would be hitting Libyan troops, Libyan tanks, that kind of thing. And my sense from the Secretary’s comments was that NATO has begun military planning for those sorts of things, but there’s not yet an agreement that it will take over that part. Am I – is that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, I think what – here’s what we – we have executed a decision to take over command and control of the no-fly zone, so that’s done. NATO now is responsible for the command and control of the no-fly zone. The actual handover, because you’re dealing with a whole bunch of national militaries that need to be brought together in – within the NATO structure, will take a few days. But the fundamental decision to do that has been taken.

The other fundamental decision that’s been taken is that now NATO will take over the command and control of the other part, which is the protection of civilians. That decision was made. That’s the – the key deal was reached by Secretary Clinton in the call that she had with the foreign ministers for France, the UK and Turkey. There is now consensus at 28 members of the alliance that NATO should include in its mission and under its command and control not just the no-fly zone but also the need to protect civilians.

There are a couple more steps in the planning process that will need to be taken. Those will be taken over the weekend. So within a matter of days, NATO will have taken command and control of the entire operation that the coalition is engaged in. It’s a sequencing issue, not a fundamental issue. The political decision to make this a NATO decision is now one in which every country in NATO agrees. And indeed, those who are not NATO members are willing and eager to participate in a mission that NATO will command and control.

MR. HAMMER: All right, thank you very much. If we can go to the next question.

OPERATOR: All right. The next question comes from Elise Labott. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, [Senior Administration Official Two]. I just have to push back a little bit on what you just said. That’s actually completely opposite than what the Secretary General said, so I’m hoping you can clarify. The Secretary General said specifically that you’ve only agreed to, as Mary Beth said, to the no-fly zone and the naval blockade. And so – and then we’re hearing also kind of on the side about this idea of no-fly-plus, that yes, you would control the no-fly zone but that also, if there were specific areas that needed protection or airstrikes, that on a case-by-case basis you could decide.

I mean, could you just be a little bit more equivocal? Because what he’s saying is that – and then there’s talk about possibly two commands. So it’s really confusing in terms of whether you already have agreement on some of these non-no-fly aspects, or do you think that this is – more has to be worked out over the next couple of days, the dotting of the i’s and the crossing of the t’s and worked out more in London?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, we’re going to do this before London. Let me make it very clear what we did. Today, the NATO alliance agreed - two things: number one, to execute a decision to take over command and control of the no-fly zone. So as of today, NATO will have the authority to run the no-fly zone under NATO command and control. The actual transfer of the command and control, because this is complicated, will be done in the matter of a few days, one to two days.

NATO also reached a political agreement that it needs to include under – within that mission and within the command and control all other aspects of UNSCR 1973, including the protection of civilian and civilian areas against the actual threat of attack, to use the language of the UNSCR 1973. We will need to take a couple of more steps in order to be able to execute a command and control of that operation, but the political --

QUESTION: Could you say what those steps are?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: We need to approve the final operational plan, which will happen in the matter of – over the weekend, and then we need to execute it. But these are – the key issue here is a political agreement. Up to this point, there was no agreement in this alliance on two things: one, whether NATO should take over any mission in the no-fly zone; or take over the mission of civilian protection. Today, there was agreement by all 29 allies – 28, sorry – all 28 allies for NATO to do this mission, under NATO, under the control of the North Atlantic Council, with NATO command and control, and working with as many partners as we can find. That is the big political shift. You may have heard - some country said this is not something that NATO should do. Now every single country agrees this is something that NATO will do. That is a very significant political decision.

We then need to move forward in order to finalize the operational plans, which will be done in the next few days. By this weekend, we should be able to execute not only the command and control for the no-fly zone, which we did this evening, but also the command and control of the protection for civilians. So I think what the Secretary said is correct. We are continuing the operational planning, but we have made a fundamental agreement on how to move forward, and even what the Secretary General has said, we are in the midst of a stage. But the key to understand is that what had divided this alliance, which was the question, “Should NATO take control of this entire operation or not,” that division has been overcome. NATO – all 28 members, every single one – has now agreed that this is something that NATO must take on and will take on.

MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much. Operator, if we could go to the next caller, please.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Elcin Poyrazlar. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much. [Senior Administration Official Two], I have two questions on Turkey, if I may. The first one is Turkey was very much against the NATO involvement in Libya in the beginning. What do you think the reason behind Turkey’s shift in the position? And was there any kind of condition by the Turks put on the table in the NATO discussions?

And secondly, will there be any usage of American bases in Turkey in this process?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: With respect to Turkey’s position, I would suggest you’d ask the Turks. All I know that within the discussion that we have been having at NATO from day one, Turkey has made very clear that it wanted to support the planning for any operation, including an operation with respect to the arms embargo, humanitarian assistance, and the no-fly zone. It was Turkey that early on said that if NATO gets involved in this operation, particularly in the no-fly zone, it ought to take responsibility for all of it. That has been the position of Turkey for quite a while and that is indeed the position that the NATO alliance has now taken on.

With respect to operational details on which bases get used where, these are issues that the military commanders are still sorting out, and I’m not in a position to comment on it at this point.

MR. HAMMER: Thank you. If we could go to the next question, please.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Daniel Dombey. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, [Senior Administration Official Two]. Two questions as well, if I may. First of all, you’ve cleared up some of the things that the Secretary General has said so far. I wonder if you can keep on doing that. Who’s going to be in charge of this on the military side? Is this going to be run through SACEUR’s office? Who’s going – how is this going to work? Is it going to be completely orthodox NATO consistent*, or something more like ISAF?

And secondly, if I may, are you not worried about a protracted, prolonged state of affairs? Admiral Gortney today made the point that NATO is – that the coalition was shirking from striking Qadhafi’s forces in cities because of the fear of collateral damage. Doesn't that increase the risk of a stalemate?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Let me leave the operational military questions to the folks in the Pentagon and whoever is going to command these – well, and the commanders of these operations down the line. I’m not the right person to answer that question.

But with respect to the command and control, this is going to be an orthodox military operation. It will be subject to the control of the North Atlantic Council and it will be run through the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, SACEUR, who has designated as the joint task force commander in Naples Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who will be the joint task force commander and will work with his naval and air component commands to be implementing this operation, both the naval and air part of the arms embargo, now the no-fly zone, and the civilian protection mission.

It will be similar to ISAF in this extent, that we – that NATO will welcome and does welcome the participation of non-NATO members in this operation. And indeed, Qatar and the UAE, which have now announced that they want – want to participate will – as non-NATO members do in the mission with regard to Afghanistan – be partners in and sit at the table where we make the decisions and review these operations. And NATO is going out, as we are individually as countries, to make sure that we get as many partners into this operation to underscore that this not something that NATO is doing or the United States is doing, but the international community writ large, and in particular with large degree of support of regional states.

So that’s the kind of operation we’re looking to have. And as I said with respect to the operational aspects, I’ll leave that the military commanders.

MR. HAMMER: Great. Operator, it’s getting late. Do you have anything further? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No. I was just going to ask, are you not worried about a stalemate?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Again, let me focus here on the issue of who’s going to do what and leave it to the military commanders to decide on how the best way forward is in terms of the military strategy.

MR. HAMMER: Right. If we could do just two more, just single questions, hopefully, and I know everybody’s trying to move on and do other things. Operator?

OPERATOR: Great. We have a question from Josh Rogin. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. I was late on the call, so I apologize if you covered this. But is the French idea of having a political steering committee made up of foreign ministers – is that dead, is that over? And also, how did you get the Germans to sign on? Can you give us a little insight on that? And have they pledged not to contribute militarily to this effort?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: With respect to the Germans, Germans have made from the very beginning a very clear – a clear statement that they would not participate militarily with their own troops in any operation. But they’ve also made clear that they would not block any activity by NATO to move forward. So Germany has joined the consensus at each and every stage, while making clear that it is not participating in the operation itself.

I should add, however, that while it may not participate directly in – with its own soldiers, it is taking other actions that make the operation that much more feasible. For example, it has decided to deploy its troops as part of the AWACS, the NATO AWACS crews for Afghanistan, freeing up crews for AWACS aircraft to be deployed in support of the Libyan operation. And of course, all the bases and infrastructure within Germany is open for the use of the NATO alliance in any operation, including many of our bases. So that’s how – while Germany hasn’t directly participated, it indirectly (inaudible) to the ability of the alliance to do what it has now decided to do.

With respect to the first question on France, there is an agreement that this operation will be commanded and controlled by NATO, and as such, it will be directed by the North Atlantic Council, which is the guiding and deciding body for any military operation that is conducted by NATO and under NATO. There are various proposals and ideas, which will be further discussed in the London conference on Tuesday, about how different groups can support that effort. But when it comes to deciding on what will or will not happen within a NATO operation, that gets done in Brussels by the North Atlantic Council in close cooperation with the allies who – and partners who are participating in the operation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. HAMMER: All right. We have time for one last question. Operator?

OPERATOR: All right. That question comes from Tom Cohen. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just to follow up one more time, I hear very clearly you’re saying that there was a political agreement to – NATO to adopt all of the aspects of the resolution. But Secretary General Rasmussen very clearly said that there isn’t such an agreement, that the only agreement at this point is what you’re calling the execution of the no-fly zone and that there’s still consideration of the other, and that for now at least, there’s two missions. So there’s a discrepancy between what you’re saying and what Rasmussen said.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I’ll just repeat what I said. And there is a political agreement, a fundamental agreement on an issue in which there was no agreement until today, that NATO, as an organization, will conduct all missions with respect to the enforcement of 1973. That includes the arms embargo enforcement, which has already been executed. That includes the no-fly zone, which is executed as of today. And it includes the protection of civilian and civilian areas against the actual threat of attack.

That latter part, we are still completing the operational planning and expect to have that done by this weekend. So in that sense, I think that what the Secretary General and I are saying is exactly the same thing. We have done the execution of two of those parts, the arms embargo and the no-fly zone, and we have an agreement to move – to plan for and execute by this weekend the third part. And in that sense, I think we’re both saying the same thing.

MR. HAMMER: Well, thank you very much everybody. Obviously, you all know it’s [Senior Administration Official Two], but for the purposes of this call it was a senior Administration official. Again, thank you for joining us late this evening, and we look forward to keeping you up to date as events warrant. Thank you very much and good night.

OPERATOR: Thank you. This concludes today’s conference. You may disconnect at this time.

PRN: 2011/469