Cablegate: Libyans Seek Renewed Commitment From U.S. In Return For
DE RUEHTRO #0941/01 3341719
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 301719Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5510
INFO RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA IMMEDIATE 0083
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW IMMEDIATE 0098
RHMFISS/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6060
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TRIPOLI 000941
STATE FOR NEA/FO AND NEA/MAG. STATE PLEASE PASS TO ENERGY (KELLY
CUMMINS AND SARAH DICKERSON).
E.O. 12958 DECL: 11/30/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, MNUC, PARM, PINR, RS, KGIC, KNNP, KRAD, ENRG,
SUBJECT: LIBYANS SEEK RENEWED COMMITMENT FROM U.S. IN RETURN FOR
PROGRESS ON HEU SHIPMENT
REF: TRIPOLI 938
CLASSIFIED BY: Joan A. Polaschik, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. This is an action request; see para 13.
2. (S/NF) Summary: Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi told the Ambassador November 27 that Libya had halted the shipment of its final HEU stockpiles because it was “fed up” with the slow pace of bilateral engagement. Saif claimed that Libya had not received the “compensation” it was promised in exchange for an end to its WMD programs, including cooperation in the military, security, nonproliferation, civilian-nuclear, and economic spheres. Libya sought a high-level reaffirmation of the United States’ commitment to the bilateral relationship, in the form of a message to Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, in order to move forward on the HEU shipment. Saif al-Islam, who claimed that he was “back” on the U.S. portfolio, said his father did not want to move back to “square one” and wanted to develop a positive relationship with the new U.S. Administration. The Ambassador underscored the gravity of the situation and noted that the Libyan Government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique. He also noted that many of the holdups in the bilateral relationship had been due to Libyan political missteps and bureaucratic bungling. The Ambassador told Saif he would try to get some kind of statement along the lines requested, but the HEU shipment should in no way be held hostage to any specific actions beyond that. Saif assured the Ambassador that once that message was conveyed to Tripoli, he would immediately “fix” the problem. End Summary.
3. (S/NF) Once again exhibiting their flair for the dramatic, and after almost one week of stonewalling regarding the decision to not allow the departure of the HEU shipment to Russia, the Libyan leadership authorized a meeting between Saif al-Islam (accompanied by an assistant) and the Ambassador (accompanied by Pol-Econ Counselor) as the Ambassador was departing for the airport to travel to Washington. During the November 27 meeting, the Ambassador expressed his deep concern about Libya’s decision to halt shipment of its remaining Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) stockpile to Russia for treatment and disposal. The Ambassador said that Libya’s WMD commitments were the cornerstone of the relationship, and the last-minute, unexplained disapproval of the shipment seemed to renege on those commitments. He emphasized that the Libyans must move forward with the shipment as soon as possible, for security reasons and to preserve the bilateral relationship. The Ambassador pressed Saif to explain why the shipment was held up and insisted that the Libyans must improve communication in times of crisis, stating that Libyan officials cannot simply ignore calls from high-level USG officials and refuse to explain their decisions that negatively affect bilateral interests. This was no way to conduct a relationship. The decision to halt the shipment and create this crisis was intensified by the timing and the international context, given the President’s focus on non-proliferation and the problems engendered by Iran. By its actions, Libya was jeopardizing its relationship with the whole international community.
4. (S/NF) Saif al-Islam explicitly linked Libya’s decision to halt the HEU shipment to its dissatisfaction with the U.S. relationship. Saif said the shipment was halted because the regime was “fed up” with the pace of the relationship and what it perceived as a backing-out of commitments to bilateral cooperation. The areas of specific concern were Libya’s purchase of military equipment (non-lethal and lethal weapons), an update on what was being done with Libya’s centrifuges, movement on the Regional Nuclear Medicine Center, and financial assistance for the chemical weapons destruction program, including construction of the destruction facility. Saif pledged to solve the HEU crisis and to allow the shipment to move forward as early as next week if the USG expressed a renewed commitment to the relationship and to deeper engagement. Saif noted that the message needed to be conveyed to (or addressed to) Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi.
5. (S/NF) Saif continued that prevailing domestic opinion and conservative forces were critical of Libya’s decision to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Noting that he personally had played an important role in Libya’s re-engagement with the West, Saif asserted that “If something goes wrong, people will blame me, whether I am in a certain official position or not.” Saif stated that Libya’s decision to give up its WMD programs was contingent upon “compensation” from the U.S., including the purchase of conventional weapons and non-conventional military equipment; security cooperation; military cooperation; civil-nuclear cooperation and assistance, to include the building of a Regional Nuclear Medicine Facility; and the end of “double taxation” and economic cooperation, such as the signing of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
6. (S/NF) Saif noted that Libya was a small, rich country, surrounded by large, powerful, poorer neighbors. Yet Libya, the only Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) signatory in the region, had given up all of its conventional weapons and could not purchase replacement systems or military equipment from the United States. He highlighted Egypt, a non-MTCR signatory, as an example of a neighboring country that receives millions of dollars in U.S. aid and military assistance but did not have to share Libya’s nonproliferation commitments. Relative to such neighbors, Libya’s decision to dismantle its nuclear programs had weakened its ability to defend itself. He stated, “We share rich natural resources -- oil and gas -- along the borders, yet we have no capacity to defend that wealth.” Saif complained that Libya could not purchase conventional weapons from the United States or even from Sweden or Germany due to U.S. holds on the sale of those weapons to Libya -- “even until now, seven years later, there is an embargo on Libya’s purchase of lethal equipment.” He specifically mentioned a problem purchasing “Tiger” vehicles outfitted with American-manufactured engines from Jordan, due to a U.S. legal restriction on Libya’s purchase of American-equipment.
7. (S/NF) Inquiring about the status of the centrifuges Libya gave up as part of its WMD commitments, Saif argued that the U.S. had used the “deal” as a public relations coup for the previous administration. He said that the fact that the centrifuges were sent to the United States and are still there, rather than under IAEA surveillance and control was a “big insult to the Leader.” The fact that Libya was never “compensated” for the centrifuges added to the insult. In addition to the centrifuge problem, he complained that Libya had to pay for the destruction of its chemical weapons. Saif insisted that Libya was not able to pay to destroy its chemical weapons stock, noting that the construction of the destruction facility alone was estimated to cost US $25 million. For these and other reasons relating to “non-compensation” for WMD decisions, he stated that certain voices in Libya were pressuring the Leader to withdraw from the MTCR agreement. He lamented that “slowly, slowly, we are moving backward rather than forward.” He told the Ambassador that in order for the relationship to progress, the U.S. needed to make a move. “The ball is in your court,” Saif urged.
8. (S/NF) Continuing his lament, Saif said the U.S.-Libya relationship
was “not going well.” Since his last visit to the United States in 2008, Saif said that both sides had deviated from the roadmap that had been agreed upon at that time, which specified cooperation in the military, security, nonproliferation, civilian-nuclear, and economic spheres. He asserted that the roadmap had gotten “lost” due to his own “disappearance” from the political scene and “preoccupation with other issues overseas.” He acknowledged that he was disconnected for a long time but that he was back on the political scene -- although he was careful to caveat that he had not yet accepted an official role in the regime.
9. (S/NF) Saif raised a few recent incidents that he argued illustrated how things were going wrong. First, he pointed to Muammar al-Qadhafi’s recent trip to New York, which in Saif’s opinion had not gone well, because of the “tent and residence issues and his [pere Qadhafi’s] inability to visit ground zero.” He said that all three issues had been complicated by local U.S. authorities and had humiliated the Libyan leader -- “even tourists can see ground zero without permission, but a Head of State cannot?” Secondly, Saif believed that his father’s UNGA speech had been misinterpreted by U.S. audiences; he specifically focused on statements involving moving the UN Headquarters outside of the United States and various assassination investigations (JFK, Rafik al-Hariri, etc.). Saif stated that the elder Qadhafi meant no offense by his statements, but was merely trying to “pave the way” for any future decisions that POTUS might make related to those issues. Lastly, Saif noted that the Libyan leader was worried about U.S. intervention in Africa. The elder Qadhafi was also against the linguistic and political division of Africa into “North” and “Sub-Saharan” Africa and wanted countries such as the United States to treat Africa as a single entity rather than two blocs.
10. (S/NF) Saif said that Muammar al-Qadhafi was serious about deepening engagement with the United States and establishing a relationship with the Obama Administration. Saif said that his father did not want to “go back to square one,” but wanted to move the bilateral relationship forward. Saif emphasized the Libyan leader’s interest in meeting POTUS in a third country if a meeting in the United States was not possible. Such a meeting would help overcome the negative history that our nations shared, would support the rebuilding of trust, and might even help with U.S. Embassy operations and activities in Libya, according to Saif.
11. (S/NF) The Ambassador noted that the relationship had seen several advancements and several serious setbacks since Saif’s last visit to the United States, including the August 20 hero’s welcome accorded to Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi by Saif himself. Megrahi’s return had severely offended American sensitivities and renewed tensions that set the relationship back. Until that point, there had been significant progress, with a military-to-military agreement signed in January and the positive April visit of National Security Advisor Mutassim al-Qadhafi and his meeting with the Secretary. Although the death of Fathi el-Jahmi had been a setback to the relationship, the U.S. and Libya had found a productive way forward through the establishment of a bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. Regarding concerns about U.S. intervention in Africa, the Ambassador reminded Saif that Colonel Qadhafi and General Ward had had what we believed to be a very productive meeting several months ago, which we had hoped would have dispelled any concerns the Libyans had about U.S. intentions in Africa. The Ambassador explained that Americans were hoping for a more forward-leaning statement by Muammar al-Qadhafi in New York but instead heard a series of remarks that were not agreeable to the American public. As a result, the relationship has been placed on a “low-burner” since August.
12. (S/NF) In spite of these issues, the Ambassador said the U.S. had managed to keep moving ahead in the areas of security, military, political, civilian-nuclear, and economic cooperation. However, many of the delays in implementation were due to Libya’s opaque bureaucracy. The Section 505 end user agreement, for example, had languished in the GOL for months, as had Libya’s response on TIFA. Libya’s slow-rolling on visa approvals for official American travelers had delayed movement in areas such as civilian-nuclear cooperation and on the Regional Nuclear Medicine Facility.
13. (S/NF) Saif acknowledged that he was disconnected for a long time from the bilateral relationship and recognized that the hero’s welcome for Megrahi had set engagement back. He reiterated that he was “back” on the scene and could serve as the “trouble-shooter” for any future problems. He urged the Ambassador to contact his office directly in times of crisis. He also promised to resolve the visa issue, stating that he understood the importance of a transparent and reliable system of issuance. In their one-on-one discussion afterwards, the Ambassador asked Saif to explain his actions when he accompanied Megrahi back to Tripoli. Saif said he knew what the reaction in the West would be, but that it did not constitute an “official” welcome. He had worked on the release for a long time, he was not a public official, and there were no international media like Al Jazeera present. In addition, Saif claimed that the Libyans would someday find a way to show that Megrahi was innocent. The Ambassador reiterated the damage the welcome had done and said no amount of justification could undo that. Saif nodded his understanding. Saif also replied that if he is confirmed in his new position, he was as yet not sure whether he would retain his current position as head of the Qadhafi Development Foundation.
COMMENT AND ACTION REQUEST
14. (S/NF) The Libyan Government has chosen a very dangerous issue on which to express its apparent pique about perceived problems in the bilateral relationship, a point the Ambassador underscored with Saif al-Islam. If Saif is to be believed, it appears we might have a way forward. If the Department is willing, we would urge a phone call from the Secretary to Musa Kusa with a message for Colonel Qadhafi comprising a general statement of commitment to the relationship, a commitment to work with the Libyans to move the relationship ahead, and a strong point insisting that the HEU shipment be allowed to go forward immediately and not be held hostage to any further actions.
15. (S/NF) Saif met the Ambassdor in an office on the Bab Al-Aziziya compound. The office was filled with books, including a high stack of art and interior design books and several brochures distributed by the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. Saif conducted the meeting in English. He was accompanied by his personal assistant, Mohamed Ismail Ahmed (DOB 07/06/1968), who said that he was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and spent his childhood years traveling abroad with his diplomat father, including in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, where he attended the American School. Ahmed was soft-spoken and spoke fluent English. He asked Pol/Econ chief to provide him with additional information on the status of Libya’s military procurement requests and Letters of Offer and Assistance (LOA’s). POLASCHIK