Cablegate: Swiss Pondering Tough New Measures in Light of Libyan Intransigence
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INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000832
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM CVIS SZ LY
SUBJECT: SWISS PONDERING TOUGH NEW MEASURES IN LIGHT OF LIBYAN INTRANSIGENCE REF: TRIPOLI 763 TRIPOLI 00000832 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: Swiss State Secretary Michael Ambuhl, in Tripoli for talks on the detained Swiss citizens, met the Ambassador October 19 to brief him on current state-of-play and seek U.S. views on the way forward. Ambuhl, clearly frustrated by the Libyans' unwillingness or inability to articulate a solution to the standoff, stressed that domestic pressures were growing in Switzerland for a tough, new approach to resolving the problem. The Swiss are considering imposing visa restrictions on Qadhafi family members and/or raising the case in UN or international judicial channels, but worry that these approaches could serve only to exacerbate tensions - particularly since the Swiss citizens were taken into custody immediately following a Swiss decision to block a Schengen visa for Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. Ambuhl confirmed that the Swiss had no information regarding their two citizens' welfare or whereabouts, and asked for U.S. assistance in pressing this humanitarian issue. The Ambassador agreed to raise the issue with Libyan Government officials, and urged the Swiss government to think carefully before resorting to public measures which would embarrass the regime and cause it to become even more intransigent. End summary.
2. (C) Swiss State Secretary Michael Ambuhl, in Tripoli for talks on the two detained Swiss citizens, met the Ambassador October 19 to brief him on current state-of-play and seek U.S. views on the way forward. Ambuhl was accompanied by Marcel Stutz, head of the Swiss MFA's Africa and Middle East Division; Elisabeth Meyerhans Sarasin, Secretary General of the Federal Finance Department; and Stefano Lazarotto, Swiss Charge d'Affaires in Tripoli. Ambuhl thanked the Ambassador for the U.S. Government's active involvement in this issue, noting that he had met regularly with a variety of senior officials, and that the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs had just discussed this issue with the Secretary.
3. (C) Although Ambuhl had meetings October 18 with the head of the Libyan normalization committee, Khaled Kaim (MFA A/S-equivalent for International Cooperation), the two sides had not made any progress in resolving the diplomatic standoff. The 60-day normalization period called for in the August 20 agreement with Libyan Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi had expired, and the Swiss still had no information on the two citizens' welfare and whereabouts or the Libyan Government's preferred approach to resolving the problem. Ambuhl said the Swiss Government believes the two citizens were taken in custody in direct retribution for Switzerland's decision to veto a Schengen visa for Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. (We understand that the Swiss had intervened to veto other Schengen visas for regime figures with other European nations but did not confirm that with Ambuhl.) The Libyan Government insists that the two businessmen were taken into custody to protect them from a planned Swiss military operation to free them, a claim Ambuhl dismissed as nonsense.
4. (C) During his talks with Kaim, Ambuhl proposed a way forward. The Swiss would drop all of their visa restrictions on Qadhafi family members and Libyan Government officials, and establish a joint committee on cooperation in exchange for the Libyans withdrawing all of their complaints against the Swiss citizens and releasing them immediately. Kaim was noncommittal, but promised to give Ambuhl a response today, October 19 - a promise Ambuhl was not sure the Libyans would keep. Khaim also pressed the Swiss to provide information on who had been responsible for the September 4 leak of photos of the Swiss policemen allegedly assaulted by Hannibal al-Qadhafi when he was taken into custody, a demand Ambuhl said the Swiss Government was unlikely to meet. Noting that this case touched directly on Qadhafi family equities, Ambuhl questioned whether Kaim or any MFA official was empowered to resolve the standoff and noted that the Libyans appeared to move the goalpost in every round of talks. Ambuhl was clearly frustrated by the impasse, telling us: "What I can offer, they don't want; what they want, I can't offer."
5. (C) In response to growing and intense domestic pressure, Ambuhl said the Swiss Government is considering a "more aggressive" approach to the problem, including visa restrictions "on a bigger circle within the government," a UN campaign to "name and shame" Libyan officials responsible for the crisis, and/or international judicial measures. Ambuhl said the Swiss Government was concerned about the risks posed by escalation, particularly with respect to the two Swiss citizens' safety. Nevertheless, the Swiss Government felt that it did not have any other leverage to push for a resolution of the crisis. Ambuhl emphasized that domestic politics were affecting the Swiss approach; calls were growing for the Swiss President's resignation following two "humiliating," unsuccessful meetings with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi on this issue. TRIPOLI 00000832 002.2 OF 002
6. (C) The Ambassador agreed to raise the issue with Libyan Government officials, stating that he would urge the Libyans to address the humanitarian angle and the impact of this standoff on Libya's broader international engagement goals. He suggested that the Swiss also request ICRC or some other neutral international organization access to the two Swiss citizens to confirm their welfare and whereabouts, an idea the Swiss said they had not yet considered. He urged the Swiss to think carefully before resorting to public measures, noting that any incidents involving the Qadhafi family were highly sensitive for the Libyan Government and were not likely to be addressed in a transparent, rational manner.
7. (C) The Ambassador also urged the Swiss to consider reaching out to other international and Libyan players with influence with the Qadhafi family, in hopes of reaching a solution. Ambuhl said the Swiss Government had reached out repeatedly to Qadhafi cousin and confidante Ahmed Qadhafadam, to no avail, and in "May or June," the Swiss Government had enlisted the help of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, also to no avail. The Ambassador suggested that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair or Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek might be effective interlocutors in this case given their apparent closeness to regime figures.
8. (C) Comment: While Ambuhl and his delegation appeared to understand the potential negative ramifications of upping the public pressure on Libya to resolve the case, they also appeared to be at a loss for any alternative measures. Ambuhl was insistent that the Swiss had been humiliated and had reached the end of their tether. We agree with Ambuhl's assessment that MFA officials will be unable to resolve the standoff on their own accord, as any solution will come from one man only - Muammar al-Qadhafi. Given this reality, Switzerland's best bet to resolve the conflict may be to pursue its case via other influential players. Ambuhl despaired of getting any coordinated help from other European nations. The Ambassador is seeking meetings to discuss the case with appropriate Libyan officials, and will urge the Libyans to provide immediate consular access to address the Swiss Government's legitimate humanitarian concerns. Coincidentally, the Canadian Foreign Minister is also visiting Libya to see if he can resolve the problems caused by perceived slights to Qadhafi and his traveling party during and after his visit to New York. The Libyans have taken actions against Petrocanada here and reportedly severely restricted visa renewals for resident Canadians. CRETZ