Briefing: Issues Related to US / Libya Relations
Issues Related to United States Relations With Libya
C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern
Affairs; Coordinator for Counterterrorism Henry A.
Crumpton; Assistant Secretary for Verification, Compliance
and Implementation Paula A. DeSutter
May 15, 2006
(11:05 p.m. EDT)
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning. Thank you for coming to this special briefing. We have a statement by the Secretary that has been put out. The topic of today's briefing is "A New Era in U.S.-Libyan Relations." The Secretary made a series of announcements in the paper statement that you have. We have several briefers here who are going to be able to answer your questions you may have about today's actions. We have Assistant Secretary David Welch for Near Eastern Affairs, our Counterterrorism Coordinator Hank Crumpton, we have Paula DeSutter from the Verification and Compliance Bureau and for any legal questions, Mr.. Jonathan Schwartz from our legal bureau. So I'll turn it over now to Assistant Secretary Welch.
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Hi, everybody. If you don't mind, let me make a few opening remarks, in addition to the statement that you have before you. This announcement today is the culmination of a lot of diplomatic effort and monitoring of Libyan behavior by the United States. Successive American administrations, both parties have worked hard on this issue to see justice brought. Diplomacy in this case has produced results.
Let me briefly remind you of some key points in the U.S.-Libyan relationship. Libya was designated by us as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979 and relations deteriorated during the 1980s. Libya was implicated in terrorist incidents, including the La Belle discothèque bombing in Berlin and the bombing of French UTA Flight 772, as well as the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December of 1988 in an incident in which 270 people perished.
As a result of this horrific series of events, the United States decided to bring Libya's actions into the court of world opinion together with the United Kingdom. And the United States pursued an investigation of the Pan Am 103 incident. And in 1991, we indicted two Libyan agents and issued a public statement demanding that Libya accept responsibility for the actions of its officials and pay appropriate compensation.
With France and the UK we issued a declaration demanding that Libya stop committing acts of terrorism and providing assistance to terrorists. The demands in those declarations became part of Security Council resolutions and the Security Council eventually imposed economic sanctions on Libya for its failure to comply with these demands.
In 1999, Libya began to seriously address our terrorism concerns and began the process of fully meeting the requirements to distance itself from terrorism by surrendering the suspects in the Pan Am 103 bombing for trial. Some of you were probably in the room when I briefed on that process back in that period. The U.S. and UK began direct talks with Libyan representatives in 2001 and in August 2003 Libya confirmed its renunciation of terrorism in a formal letter to the UN Security Council. Then, on December 19, 2003, Libya announced its historic decision to dismantle WMD programs and long-range ballistic missiles.
The United States has responded to Libya's actions through a careful, step-by-step process designed to acknowledge progress by Libya while continuing our review at every stage of this process. I'd like to mention that the work of my predecessor, Ambassador Bill Burns, in opening this dialogue up with the Libyans.
Today's announcement demonstrates that when countries make a decision to adhere to international norms and behavior, they will reap concrete benefits. Libya serves as an important model as we push for changes in policy by other countries such as Iran and North Korea.
As a result of successful diplomacy, we are taking three separate actions today. First, effective today, we are omitting Libya from the annual list of countries not fully cooperating with U.S. antiterrorism efforts, and we have notified Congress today of this decision. We are doing this in recognition of Libya's outstanding regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism.
We have also announced and advised Congress of our intention to upgrade our existing liaison office in Tripoli to an embassy following a 15-day* waiting period that starts today, waiting period following the notification to Congress, that is. We believe that having a full diplomatic relationship with Libya will give us the best opportunity to expand our engagement and will let us more effectively press our case on the issues of concern between us.
Finally, and probably the most significant step that we're taking today, is the announcement of our intent to rescind Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. This was not a decision that we arrived at without carefully monitoring and assessing Libya's behavior. The relevant U.S. Government agencies conducted a thorough review of Libyan conduct since 2003. For a number of years now, Libya has ceased its direct support for acts of terrorism and has taken concrete steps to distance itself from terrorist organizations with which it maintained active ties.
The steps we announced today don't eliminate our concerns over other aspects of Libya's behavior. Instead, these steps will enable us to engage with the Libyans more effectively on all issues. In particular, we continue to call upon Libya to improve its human rights record and to address in good faith cases pending in U.S. courts with regard to its terrorist activities of the 1980s..
We remain very concerned about the case of Bulgarian and Palestinian medics imprisoned in Libya on charges of intentionally infecting children with HIV/ AIDS. We have great sympathy for these children and their families and we are supporting efforts to help them. That said, our position on the medics has not changed. We believe a way should be found to allow them to return home and we are committed to helping resolve that issue as soon as possible.
We are going to broaden and deepen our bilateral relationship with Libya as it continues forward with implementing these commitments. Today's announcement marks an important step forward not only in our relationship with Libya but in Libya's continued reintegration into the international community.
Again, thank you all for coming and I'll take any questions you have. Sean, would you like other people to make statements briefly first or shall I go right to questions and answers?
MR. MCCORMACK: Why don't we go right to questions.
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Okay.
QUESTION: All right. When the report, the annual report came out a few weeks ago, they were credited with improving. But one thing you cited, if I remember right, was continuing allegations -- you didn't actually credit them -- of an attempt to assassinate the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Those -- whatever the word would be -- those concerns or those -- is that a -- how did that get removed or has it been removed? Is it an issue still out there?
And if I may, just a couple fast. With our thirst for oil, what is the practical -- I'm not saying that motivated it -- but what is the -- is there a practical benefit for the energy-oppressed West?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: The energy-oppressed West?
QUESTION: To having normal relations with Libya. Can everybody run out there now and start signing up contracts?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: First, with respect to the annual report on terrorism, of course Hank can answer this better than I, but my understanding is that report looks backward at calendar year '05. We did address the issue of relations between Libya and Saudi Arabia. The case has been closed ever since King Abdallah pardoned the accused conspirators shortly after he rose to the throne in August of last year.
In September of '05, Libya and Saudi Arabia announced that this issue was resolved between them. Both countries have reestablished diplomatic relations and have representation in their capitals of ambassadors from each side. So they've closed the door.
The second issue you asked about was in terms of our commercial relations with Libya. We do have some. Given the resource base of Libya, if anything, it's a little surprising that those are not more evolved and mature. But since we lifted economic sanctions on Libya a while back, our companies have been able to operate there.
The presence on the terrorism list does bring into bear some other kinds of sanctions and there would be a different effect in that sense. This decision is not undertaken because Libya has oil; this decision is undertaken because they've addressed our national security concerns which are in the legislation. Libya remains a problematic place to do business; we would appreciate greater openness as would any number of potential foreign partners for Libya, including in Europe and Asia.
QUESTION: Some of the relatives of those killed in the Pan Am bombing are very angry by this decision and they say that it's premature and that it's rewarding people who are responsible for an incredibly violent act. And they also say that they believe that it has more to do with oil than anything else. You've responded to that but what would your reaction be to those, those that complained that they were not told beforehand of this decision.
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, first of all, these families who've been through a tragedy that we hope is never again repeated, played an important role in seeing these remarkable changes. I think their courage and commitment has to be recognized. Libya is out of the terrorism business and that has saved additional lives. The families' concerns, I don't think in terms of the emotional damage to them, speaking as a parent of children, I don't think we could ever really address those. I want to repeat that I have a lot of sympathy for their loss, having lost a friend myself onboard that Pan Am 103.
That said, the requirements we put in front of the government of Libya to address this issue have been met. The Libyans, for example, were asked to address the compensation question and the legal representatives of the Pan Am 103 families have worked out an arrangement directly with Libya to address that request for compensation. We, the U.S. Government, were not part of that negotiation; at their request we were not part of it, but we did support those efforts.
QUESTION: A couple of things: First, what is the status of the Fathi al-Jahmi case and how is this going to have an impact on that? What does this say more broadly about U.S. policy regarding democracy promotion, given that Muammar Qadhafi is still the leader of that country and the last time I checked it was no more democratic than it was five or six or seven years ago? And are you hopeful that this will serve as a model, as you appear to mention for Iran, North Korea, was the most important point in this the fact that Qadhafi gave up nuclear weapons?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, as I mentioned -- let me begin with the last question first. As I mentioned, it could be a model. Libya made forthright decisions, including to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, an historic announcement on their part, and more than an intention; it is a reality. We have undertaken a very thorough review of their WMD capability and they're out of that business.
Now, it's up to other nations how they look at that as a model or not. We think it does represent, of course, the best of the alternatives, which is people not pursue these weapons. But it's, you know, the sovereign right of every country to make a mistake, like the case of North Korea and Iran, and we hope that they would correct it.
Second, we do believe that this decision actually strengthens our ability to press our freedom agenda in Libya. Our desire to do so is fully known to the Libyan Government. We don't think that they should be inhibited by trying to work with us on these kinds of issues and we certainly will have no inhibition in trying to press that agenda when we have a fully functioning embassy in that country.
We do remain concerned, as I said, about Libya's human rights record. The case of Fathi al-Jahmi is troubling. We've raised this with the Libyan Government. I continue to do so in every meeting that I have with their representatives and with the leader of Libya himself. We believe that two serious countries can sit face to face and have a conversation about issues like that that are sensitive to both sides and it's our job to discharge that, which, as I said, we've done.
QUESTION: Is that where you would say the possible model for Iran falls short? Because you opened direct talks with Libya before they renounced terrorism, or before they at least effectively stopped the terrorism business and before they gave up their nuclear weapons. So for those who would say you should be having the same kind of talks with Iran, what do you say?
And also, the behavior of Qadhafi is still quite erratic. He has these outbursts at Arab League meetings and screams obscenities at other world leaders. I mean, is that a serious -- someone you should sit across the table and have serious talks with?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, with respect to the process that we went through with Libya, I mean, if you freeze the timeline at any given point you can analyze where you freeze it at. But let me observe the following. Reasonable demands after a terrorist crime were put in front of the court of world opinion. Taking a decision upon those reasonable demands, they were embodied in Security Council resolutions. Libya underwent a long period under sanctions as a result of their noncompliance with those resolutions and those demands and the demands in them. That is a process, in my judgment, that could be emulated in other cases.
The Libyan Government addressed each one of the requirements in the Security Council resolutions in turn.
QUESTION: Before you sat down to talk with them?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: That's correct. They began that process when they turned over these two criminals for trial in 1999, then they later accepted to renounce terrorism directly. Look, you know, we sat with them and we worked through this and never compromising in what the requests were made in the Security Council resolutions.
What was the second part? Oh, his --
QUESTION: About the screams -- he screams crazy things at Arab League meetings, et cetera.
AMBASSADOR WELCH: I work in the business of commitments by governments and in leaders, and in this case, since we are certifying pursuant to legislation, according to American law, both about Libya's past behavior and about our confidence in their future behavior, we have to have some confidence in those assurances. We would not have undertaken those steps today unless we were confident about what they had done in the past and it not being a problem, and second that we believed that we could hold them to these commitments for the future.
In terms of mercurial personalities, I don't want to go there. You know, I deal in my business with a lot of colorful people and I'm concerned about what our positions are.
QUESTION: David, on the matter of the Bulgarian and Palestinian nurses which you've raised, have the Libyans given you anything privately to indicate that if this were -- steps taken today were done, that there might be a favorable outcome based on this?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: I don't want to go into the details of our private conversations. In these decisions today, they were linked to our national security concerns with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. In the case of the terrorism issue, this is embodied in American law, so the process we went through is very clear and straightforward.
We raise these issues with the Libyan Government and we speak to them publicly, as I just did here earlier. And we have worked hard with the Libyan Government to try and find solutions, especially recently on the Bulgarian medics case.. These people have been in jail for some seven years. We don't believe that there's merit to their incarceration and we believe they should be released.. We've tried to put the parties together in order to produce a process that could get to that goal. We're not there yet. There's some promise that things are improving, but the judicial process is still underway in Libya and I believe they have further court hearings in the month of June on the subject so we'll have to see how that turns out.
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's go to James and then Sylvie.
QUESTION: I wonder if I call Mr. Crumpton and Ms. DeSutter to the witness stand here. (Laughter.) I just have questions for each of them.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: (Off-mike)
MR. MCCORMACK: He's not leaving. We're not letting him go yet, so go ahead with your question and then we'll go to Sylvie.
QUESTION: First for Mr. Crumpton, in announcing that we are immediately removing Libya from a list of nations that is not fully cooperating with U.S. anti-terror efforts, I wonder if you could describe for us the nature and extent and the scope of Libyan cooperation in anti-terror efforts and give us an idea of how it's paying benefits for U.S. interests in the global war on terror.
MR. CRUMPTON: Right. Good question. This is not only about Libya not supporting terrorist groups; it is about their cooperation with us and with other partners in this global fight. The cooperation in intelligence is strong and getting stronger. They have made direct and important contributions to our national security. They have worked with us to track operatives and networks of terrorist groups throughout the region, some leading into Iraq, so we're very encouraged by their assistance in that regard.
QUESTION: Is al-Qaida among those groups?
MR. CRUMPTON: Al-Qaida and affiliated groups with al-Qaida, like GSPC and others.
Secondly, in terms of their diplomatic efforts, we are encouraged, as noted earlier, by their work with the Saudis, reestablishment of relations there. I should also note that Libya has signed 12 of the counterterrorism conventions and I am very optimistic that we can work with them, both in the multilateral fora regionally and also bilaterally.
QUESTION: And my question for Ms. DeSutter, recently we read for the first time this briefing to the Iranian parliament that Hassan Rowhani gave in August of last year, in which was a very frank history of the Iranian nuclear program from its inception. And in that briefing he mentioned repeatedly that the "defection" of Libya to give up its weapons programs had a deleterious effect on Iran's own nuclear progress. Is that true? Can you confirm that? Can you flesh that out for us somewhat?
MS. DESUTTER: Not all that much, but I do think that the -- we talk about the Libya model, a part of what we're talking about is that this is a country that made a decision, a strategic decision to give up weapons of mass destruction. And then didn't just assert that it had done so or that it was entitled to the programs that they had, but said we're going to give up these programs and we're going to do so with international inspectors and U.S. and UK experts there available. They did so with tremendous transparency and with great rapidity. And so in terms of the heat that they've taken from Iran and the criticism that they've gotten form North Korea, I think it's a good example..
They also made a decision to do this -- and we did remove from Libya a number of items of great interest that have shed some light on what the Khan network was doing and that has been helpful in trying to decipher what has been out there, what was (inaudible). It doesn't tell us directly this is what Khan sold to Iran over time. But it does help us say, we know that Iran is buying things from Khan and we know -- or was -- and we know that the Khan network is selling these types of things. We didn't know until Libya told us, for example, that they had the nuclear weapon design documents. So can we demonstrate from that that Iran got them, no. But we can say we know that they were on the market..
So I think in that regard it's very significant. And also in terms of -- from the perspective of Iran and North Korea, Libya and its people have obtained already tremendous benefits from having made that decision. And those are benefits that are available to the people of countries that make a similar one. The President made no specific commitments in December 2003. What he said is that "leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations." That has happened..
So it's demonstrated that a country that we had perhaps even worse relations with than what we have with Iran, can make a decision to abandon WMD and make other changes without having to have regime change in order to move relations forward. That puts pressure on Iran; Iran doesn't like it. And I think that they have made comments, both in public and in private, to try to discredit Libya's decision.
Our point here is this is a decision that helps eliminate weapons of mass destruction from the threats everyone faces and also that opens the door for tremendously better relations.
MR. CASEY: Let's go to Sylvie and then Libby and I think we'll have to wrap up after that. Sylvie go ahead.
QUESTION: Since you are restoring full relations with Libya, I wanted to know if the Secretary plans to go to Tripoli soon?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, first of all, just to be precise, we announced that we intend to do this as this waiting period while we notify Congress. After that, we'll have an embassy in Tripoli and we are contemplating a continuation of high-level visits. Presently the Secretary has no visit planned, but we have improved the pace of American Government visitors to Libya in the past months and I would expect to see that continue in the near future.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just -- my question is on the timing. We talked a little bit about how this can be a model for Iran to follow. How much of today's announcement is there a connection to what's going on with Iran and the inability of the U.S. --
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Very good question, and thank you for asking.
QUESTION: -- to move forward on that. And also could you talk about the timeline, the 45 days, explain that a little bit further.
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Sure. Maybe I'll get help from legal counsel on some of the details of the law because congressional prerogative here is important.
This timeline is based on the merits of the case vis-à-vis Libya. On today, we have to decide on this listing of them or not among the countries that are not fully cooperating in the war against global terror. We thought on the merits they should not be on that list. We went through a lengthy process of engagement with the Libyan Government to satisfy our concerns in the two other significant areas: Libya's past behavior with respect to terrorism and its commitment not to do so in the future. As part of that process, we concluded a number of understandings with the Libyan Government, and you saw several of these publicly. When Secretary Rice met with the Libyan Foreign Minister in New York last September, there was a statement of assurance on his part about them not being involved in terrorism in the future. That's the kind of thing -- assurance that I'm talking about. This timeline was governed by those issues.
Now, that it comes in an environment of continued Iranian defiance of the international community's views with respect to its nuclear weapons effort, you know, that is, depending on your point of view, either coincidental or not. I cannot dismiss that the Iranian Government will read something into this because, as Paula pointed out, they've made Libya a target of their irritation because of Libya's good behavior. That path is available to Iran, should it wish to pursue it. Otherwise, I think we'll continue our diplomacy so that we can see further pressure brought on them to meet what we've requested of them.
QUESTION: Could I just ask were the relatives of the -- were the Lockerbie families informed? Because I spoke to at least one family that had no idea that this -- has said there was a meeting scheduled in Washington in a couple of weeks, but did you make any effort to reach out to these people?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: Yes, we did and I hope that that's gone through this morning. I'm told it has. It's a very large group of people so we chose the most expeditious way we could to communicate directly with them. We sent them a letter this morning.
Now, there may have been individual phone calls. I'm aware of only one, Barbara, one that I made to a friend of mine who's a member of the family. So, you know, the effort was made. How they received it, that is, their views of it, I can't address. Apart from the person I spoke to, I had no other direct communication this morning.
QUESTION: You sent them a letter a few hours before you were going to give the announcement?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: That's correct. I informed everybody once we started notifying Congress.
QUESTION: Do you mean e-mail or do you mean post?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: No, no, it went out by e-mail. And there may have been other calls, too. I was not handling this directly myself except for in the case of one person that I knew.
QUESTION: Who was the person with whom you spoke?
AMBASSADOR WELCH: I'd rather not say, if you don't mind. It's just that's a personal thing.
MR. CASEY: Thanks, everyone. Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
-------------------- Footnote: * 45-day
Released on May 15, 2006