Background Briefing by Senior State Department Officials On Libya Contact Group Meeting
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we just wanted to take a minute -- we’ll catch up with you guys at some point, too, to talk further about some of the color both related to the Contact Group meeting today as well as some of her side conversations with the regional actors on a range of pressing challenges from Syria to Yemen to the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. But I wanted to just take a minute to put a little bit of context around the recognition issue. So I thought I would just talk for a minute and then take a few questions, and then maybe talk for a minute off the record to give you a little bit more background.
So we have been taking steps progressively over the course of the past few months to increase our engagement with the TNC to understand better its functions, its purposes, its objectives, and how it’s acting in its capacity as a representative of the Libyan people. And we’ve also steadily been increasing our diplomatic exposure and our sort of level of support -- diplomatic support for the TNC. So we sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi, and we declared that we saw the TNC as the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people for this interim period.
And then today, we took the additional step, as you guys have seen, of stating that until an interim authority is in place, we will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority of Libya and deal with them on that basis and that we no longer recognize the Qadhafi regime as having any legitimate governing authority.
And there are a couple of dimensions to this. The first is that as we have engaged substantively with the TNC, we’ve become increasingly -- we’ve come to increasingly understand better and grow more comfortable with their stated commitments and efforts thus far to live up to those commitments, and we heard a number of assurances from them, both publicly and privately over the past several days, including their outline of a roadmap and a presentation today on the future of Libya and how they see the transition unfolding.
Those assurances go to issues like upholding their international obligations, pursuing a democratic reform process that is inclusive both in the geographic and in the political sense and dispersing any funds under their control in a transparent manner for the benefit of all the Libyan people.
And so one of the first predicates for us moving to the next step of recognizing them as the legitimate governing authority for this interim period was the statements and actions that they’ve taken to date. We’ll continue to watch closely how they perform their functions moving forward both in terms of providing for those parts of Libya under their control and as they work through a political process and an eventual post-Qadhafi Libya.
The second motivating force behind today’s statement was that we wanted to send a very clear signal to Qadhafi and the people around him that we are looking past Qadhafi to a future without him, a future in which there will first be an interim authority and then, ultimately, a new democratic government that reflects and responds to the aspirations of the Libyan people, and we felt that taking this step today sends that message loud and clear.
Finally, I would say that there is a practical consequence to this step of recognition, which is that we expect it will allow us to help the TNC access additional funds, and we are consulting with the TNC and working through a number of technical and legal details internally, and we’re also consulting with our international partners on both the most effective and appropriate method for helping the TNC access those funds. So that’s where we are.
The Contact Group as a whole has embraced the proposition that participants of the Contact Group will deal with the TNC as the legitimate governing authority of Libya until a new interim authority is in place, and that like us, they view the Qadhafi regime as not having any legitimate governing authority in Libya at this time. So this is not merely a statement by the United States of our position with respect to this issue, but a reflection of a growing international consensus about the way forward. So with that, I’ll take any questions that you --
QUESTION: Can you talk about any -- how this is going to affect your diplomatic representation in terms of -- I know you have Chris on the ground as kind of like an envoy. Does that mean you’re going to formalize any kind of chargé or establish a consulate or anything like that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have a --
QUESTION: And vice versa in Washington?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: In Washington, we had already suspended the operations of the Libyan --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- Embassy as a representative of the Qadhafi regime and further expelled those diplomats in Washington who were representatives of the Qadhafi regime. So as a practical matter in Washington --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- we had already taken the steps that you would normally associate with this kind of act. With respect to Benghazi, I think we are very pleased with Chris Stevens and the work that he’s been able to do and the engagement he’s had. We haven’t yet made a determination on any further formal steps there in terms of titles and so forth. I would say that our focus really is on ensuring that he maintains the depth and face of engagement that he’s had so far.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Does that mean, like, if the international community -- are you going to go to the UN to try to get the TNC as the legitimate authority, that they represent Libya at the UN and other international fora?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Again, I think we haven’t made any final determinations about steps along those lines. I think our focus is on our bilateral dealings with the TNC and ensuring that other countries in the world are increasing their scope, level, and nature of engagement with the TNC. In terms of formal membership in international institutions and the like, that’s something that we’re continuing to look at and consult with others on.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], can you talk about the impact a little bit, the sanctions and the challenges? Are you talking about – it’s not only U.S. sanctions, right? It’s UN sanctions, that you have to deal with the legalities?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There are issues related to the United Nations sanctions and their impact on the freezing of assets, and there are a number of technical and legal details both with respect to domestic law and with respect to the international sanctions regime that’s in place, and those will be the subject of further review by the U.S. Government and further consultation with our international partners. I don’t want to go into detail on what exactly it is.
QUESTION: I was just going to say, can you give any idea of the timeframe that this working out these legal issues will take?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our hope is – I mean, this is something that we are doing intensively now. The Secretary has had conversations already just today with the TNC and with other international partners about this. And our hope is that in a relatively short timeframe we will be able to make progress, but it’s not – it’s impossible for me to put a specific timeframe on it because there’s a lot of moving pieces here.
QUESTION: And the French and Italians, they announced today, like, an unfreezing of two 50 million – a hundred million. Is the U.S. coming out with any kind of direct or immediate infusion of money for the TNC or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There will be no announcement today or tomorrow, and I can’t give you a specific date on when there will be an announcement. So there won’t – we’re not sending any cash. We don’t have any announcements of cash to the TNC now. What this step that we have taken allows us to do, we believe, is put us in a position to ensure that the TNC can access additional funds, and our focus is now turning to working out the mechanics of that.
QUESTION: And I’m unclear exactly how to frame it in terms of – has France and Italy, have they taken this step of formally recognizing the TNC as a governing authority? Or is this something new for them, like for all these countries and the full --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m having trouble --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is one where I think it’s most appropriate for each country to speak for themselves about the exact nature of the recognition that they’ve pursued for the following reason: That every country has a slightly different set of conventions around what recognition means, what it entails, both legally and policy-wise. What I can tell you is that the Contact Group today stated unequivocally in the statement that will be released later that they will deal with the TNC as the legitimate governing authority of Libya until an interim authority is in place and will no longer treat the Qadhafi regime in this way.
What that means in terms of how they would describe that for purposes of their domestic law or for their kind of recognition conventions are issues that really are best addressed by them because this has been an area where there’s been a lot of confusion, I think, both in the media and elsewhere over the past couple of months about what exactly the impact and nature of recognition has been. So I, for one, am not in a position to resolve that today. What I am in a position to do is to point to this piece of the Contact Group statement that shows a certain unity around the way in which we will be dealing with these entities --
QUESTION: A couple of things. Firstly, in the Secretary’s remarks that she again refers to the terms of any ceasefire being clear, one of the things --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Qadhafi’s departure --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- physical departure from Libya, stepping down from office. Is there – I mean, departure is a word -- doesn’t have to use that word, but what does that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our position is that he needs to depart from power.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ve also said that it’s up to Libyans --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- where he ultimately ends up physically.
QUESTION: But departure from power is the –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second is we understood that this was sort of up in the air about whether or not you guys were going to take this step today contingent on what kind of assurances the TNC could give you. I’m wondering if you could tell us a couple of things that you were unsure about that have now become more sure following their presentation today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I guess what I would say is that this is less about a turnkey where they said a few magic words and all of the sudden we decided to go ahead and take this step. It’s been an evolutionary process that’s built over time and has turned both on the commitments they’ve made and the actions that they’ve undertaken. So over the past several days, the nature of the assurances that they’ve offered, both to the Contact Group and to the United States, on those items that I described – the commitment to their obligations, the commitment to an inclusive democratic reform process as laid out in their roadmap, the commitment to disburse funds in a transparent manner for the benefit of the Libyan people, and the commitment to ensure inclusivity both geographically and politically . We feel like, not just through any one conversation or one act but through a series of assurances and actions we arrived at a point where we felt that this was the appropriate step to take.
QUESTION: So you think today is a big deal?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We think it’s --
QUESTION: I mean, in terms of sending this message to Qadhafi --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We think it’s important. We think it’s important. We think it’s --
QUESTION: -- and in terms of support for the TNC.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. We think it’s important diplomatically and practically.
QUESTION: So, then can I ask why, for months, whenever we would ask why aren’t you recognizing them, one of the – everyone from Gene and you and, God, even, I think P.J. Crowley when he was still there, well, diplomatic -- yeah, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a kind of a sideshow; you guys aren’t affecting us.
QUESTION: And you said it wouldn’t come until the election, until all Libyans are able to --
QUESTION: So – but that’s not my question. My question is why, if this is such a big deal, I mean, you think it would be the turning point, why didn’t you do it earlier?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, that --
QUESTION: I mean, why were you saying it wasn’t a big deal before when it so clearly is?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I guess I’d have to understand --
QUESTION: You were among people saying, oh, why do you guys keep asking about recognition all the time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, it may be that I said why do you keep asking about recognition all the time. But I think what I’ve described as being the tangible and symbolic benefits of recognition are things that have been apparent to all from the get-go. And all I can say is those are – I can lay out for you what we see the benefits as being and explain why we think that, which is what I’ve done here today. And really, I think that’s the only way I can answer that question.
QUESTION: But you just can’t explain why it was that you would refuse – that you weren’t willing to say that this was a big deal beforehand when you hadn’t done it and then all of the sudden you do it --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll be totally honest with you; I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly. I’m really not.