London Conference on Libya
London, March 29, 2011
LONDON CONFERENCE ON LIBYA/CONSENSUS
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to see me.
This conference in London has been a very good one, and I’d like to congratulate our British friends, Prime Minister David Cameron, who introduced our discussions, and the Foreign Secretary, my colleague and friend William Hague, who guided them to this successful outcome.
Why can we talk about a success? Well, because among the 40 participants – countries or international organizations, the United Nations of course, the representative of the Arab League, the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference – there was a total unity of outlook. The shades of opinion were really miniscule.
There’s very strong consensus in this international coalition, consensus around several ideas I’d just like to remind you of before answering your questions.
First of all, the intervention that’s been under way for about 10 days now by virtue of UNSCRs 1970 and 1973 has, it’s generally agreed, enabled us to prevent a blood bath, the blood bath that was announced by Gaddafi himself. This blood bath was prevented in Benghazi, and in general terms the net that was closing around the opponents to Gaddafi has been loosened. I’d like to remind you – as I have done since the start of this intervention – that fewer than 10 days ago France provided around a third of the air power that intervened above Libya.
The second point of consensus is that, despite this, nothing is in the bag. The civilian population isn’t yet safe from attacks by Gaddafi and his troops. The proof is what’s happening in Misrata, which is being bombarded from both land and sea. So we must continue our intervention, and we trust in NATO to conduct the operations until the aims of UNSCR 1973 are achieved – that is, until the civilian population is no longer under threat.
The third point of consensus is that the military intervention isn’t an end in itself. It’s a means, not an end. Only a political process will provide a lasting solution. It’s up to the Libyans to undertake this political process, define it and see it through. It’s the Libyans who will choose their future, their political regime, and certainly not the international coalition.
However, we can help them, and this was the next point on which consensus was reached – first of all through a reminder of certain principles that aren’t negotiable for us, namely Libya’s territorial integrity and respect for the people’s will as it’s being expressed in Libya today.
We can also help them through ambitious humanitarian aid, because unfortunately the humanitarian situation is extremely precarious or has deteriorated in many places in both the east and the west. Under the coordination of the United Nations all the countries present, as well as the European Union, pledged to step up their humanitarian efforts. As you know, this is the priority action the European Union has decided to focus on.
We can also help this process by boosting the National Transitional Council’s resources. I was glad to hear most of the speeches acknowledged that this National Transitional Council was an entirely valid interlocutor; several countries also recognized the Council. Its leaders, who were here, were received; I myself met three of them late in the morning.
Finally, we can help by facilitating and encouraging dialogue among all the parties, which should participate in a sort of national conference to determine Libya’s future centred on the National Transitional Council. This of course means representatives of civil society and also, probably, certain figures or leaders who are currently in Tripoli alongside Gaddafi and whom we call upon to abandon the Gaddafi clan, because there’s no future for Gaddafi in Libya.
The Security Council resolution doesn’t call for Gaddafi’s expulsion, but most of the coalition countries believe he must stand down. I remind you that very tough sanctions have been taken against him and that proceedings have been initiated at the International Criminal Court.
NATO/CONTACT GROUP/AFRICAN UNION
Finally, the last point – on which there was also consensus and which was particularly important for France – was that we fully clarified our various responsibilities. NATO took over military command of the operation from the United States. It’s a matter of common sense: it’s the organization best suited to doing so. I noted that those Arab countries that have committed themselves to the operation – namely, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – completely agree to this military command [being] entrusted to NATO.
But it was absolutely essential to establish a political body charged with reflexion and strategic initiative, to facilitate what I mentioned just now, namely the peace process, and of course NATO can’t play this role.
That’s why – at the end of the meeting, as a synthesis of our work – the creation was announced of this Contact Group, whose composition hasn’t yet been completely decided; it was agreed in principle to have about 15 States, plus the international organizations, namely the United Nations of course, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union: a total of about 20 participants. We even proposed – and it was accepted by everyone – that the next meeting of this Contact Group should be held in Qatar and the following one in Italy. Now, don’t ask me the exact timetable yet, but it will be in the coming weeks, because this Contact Group will aim to follow very precisely, very carefully how the situation evolves, in coordination with NATO, of course, regarding the military aspect.
As you know, France was very keen to ensure the creation of this Contact Group, and from this standpoint too we regard the London meeting as a success.
Q. – How do you explain the absence of the African Union from this London meeting today? Do you regret it?
THE MINISTER – We regret the fact that the African Union isn’t present, and we made every effort to persuade it to come. I myself spoke to Jean Ping on the phone yesterday at some length. I don’t think there was any consensus among the African States. Because there’s no consensus in this international, intergovernmental organization, the decision couldn’t be taken to come. But we hope the African Union will agree to join the Contact Group, and we’re going to propose this to it. It has a clear role to play in helping us, chiefly in the process of reconciliation or national dialogue.
Q. – Ms Rice, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, no longer rules out supporting the insurgents militarily. Is this an idea you think France could take up? And secondly, aren’t we moving from a strict application of UNSCR 1973 on the ground… to helping the insurgents militarily, in practical terms?
THE MINISTER – On the first point, let me remind you that that isn’t what either UNSCR 1970 or UNSCR 1973 envisage. So for the moment, France is sticking to the strict implementation of those resolutions. Having said that, we’re ready to discuss them with our partners.
On the second point, I think we’re exactly in line with UNSCR 1973, which gives us a mandate to use the necessary means to protect the population.
You’ve been able to note that the coalition forces have been extremely careful to avoid any collateral damage, as the phrase goes, and we’re attacking solely military targets in order to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from using the resources they have against the civilian population.
Today, Gaddafi still has aircraft: not many now, but he uses them for bombardment. He has ships which he uses to bombard the civilian population, cities. That’s when we intervene. No, I think we’re perfectly in line with the mission of the Security Council resolution.
NATO AND CONTACT GROUP ROLES
Q. – Can you explain to us the linkage between the different bodies? We understood there was also a group of 11 that met before the conference as such; so what’s the linkage between this group of 11, the Contact Group and NATO? Is it the Contact Group, for example, that will perhaps set the goals to achieve?
THE MINISTER – What goals?
Q. – Military ones.
THE MINISTER – Military ones? Oh, certainly not!
Look, there aren’t three bodies, there are only two. We held an initial meeting of contributor countries this morning, and a wider meeting this afternoon. But I think today the organization is fairly clear: it’s a political Contact Group that’s charged with setting the general direction and following developments at the political level.
Let me take an example: Gaddafi agrees to a cease-fire. Do we believe this cease-fire offer is valid or not? Is it a veiled way of freezing the situation on the ground and achieving a sort of separation of Libya into two parts? Does it mean strict respect for the Security Council resolutions, which demand not only a cease-fire but also the return of Gaddafi’s troops to barracks? It’s obviously the job of a political structure to make such considerations, and that structure will be the Contact Group.
Likewise, we have initiatives to take to facilitate national dialogue around the National Transitional Council with the other partners in this dialogue; it’s not the North Atlantic Council – the NAC, as they say – that will deal with it, it’s the Contact Group.
I would point out that this Contact Group will probably continue to operate even if the military intervention ceases. And alongside it, there’s the North Atlantic Council, whose rightful role is organizing operations, planning, operational leadership and military decisions.
So to answer your question, it’s certainly not the Contact Group that will choose the targets; that’s NATO’s responsibility.
Q. – Was the question of Colonel Gaddafi’s fate discussed? Are there any favoured options?
THE MINISTER – Let me remind you that the Security Council resolutions don’t ask Gaddafi to be eliminated, I mean politically. So it’s for the Libyans to decide. We’re confident in what I called national dialogue or the national conference which will meet to decide on it. That’s the collective position. There are many States that regard Gaddafi as out of the running. When you’ve behaved as he’s behaved, when you’ve used heavy weapons, planes and tanks to fire on the population, when you’ve threatened a city’s entire population with a blood bath, when you’re facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court and extremely tough sanctions at the United Nations, you’re out of the running. That’s France’s position, of course, but also that of many of our partners.
Q. – Is there a favoured option?
THE MINISTER – I’ve told you, it’s up to the Libyans to get rid of him.
Q. – Is there a consensus?
THE MINISTER – It’s not a subject we focused on.
Q. – Does the creation of the Contact Group mean the dissolution of the coalition?
THE MINISTER – I don’t really understand your question. There aren’t two groups. It happens that we started the day with one group that didn’t exist institutionally, to prepare the afternoon meeting. This afternoon, we created a Contact Group. There’s no ambiguity. Let’s not try to bring in complexity where there is none. There’s a Contact Group whose format will be defined in the coming days, and there’s also NATO.
Q. – Will there never be any more meetings of the group?
THE MINISTER – We’ll see about that. We like meeting when we agree. There’s a good atmosphere; that’s why we finished on time. There was no disagreement; it was fairly quick.
Q. – Regarding Syria, what are you expecting from the change of government? If the violence continues, do you envisage sanctions, as with Libya and Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – We’ve taken a very clear position on what’s happening in Libya [sic]. We condemn all violence in the reaction and crackdown against public demonstrations. For us, the right to demonstrate – again, non-violently of course – is a fundamental right that must be respected everywhere, and we’ve said so. We’re also calling for reforms and dialogue, because it’s what the people clearly want; that’s our position. We’re not yet at the stage of considering United Nations Security Council sanctions or resolutions on Syria.
LIBYA/PARTITION/CEASE-FIRE/RUSSIAN STANCE/FRENCH ENVOY
Q. – Have you discussed arming the Libyans with your partners? Do you wish for it? Are you afraid of a partition of Libya?
THE MINISTER – We’re ready to talk. I won’t go beyond that; I won’t tell you how the discussion might end. On the other hand, the possible partition of Libya is a cause for concern. Again, there was absolute unanimity around the table in rejecting this possibility. We’ll do everything to maintain Libya’s territorial integrity.
Q. – In the event of a cease-fire request from Gaddafi, under what conditions would it be acceptable?
THE MINISTER – It’s very clear. It mustn’t be yet another trick. Let me remind you that he also proposed a cease-fire last week, while continuing his offensive against Benghazi. There will only be a cease-fire after verification by the United Nations of the reality of that cease-fire and of respect for the Security Council resolutions, which demand an end to hostilities but also the withdrawal of the troops from the cities where they’ve taken hold, a return to barracks, strict respect for all the Security Council resolutions and, in particular, no stratagems or tricks to achieve a sort of de facto partition of Libya. (…)
Q. – How do you respond to the recent Russian position, according to which the countries engaged in this operation are parties to a civil war? Furthermore, what happens if the insurgents themselves fire on civilians during the operations? I’m referring particularly to Misrata.
THE MINISTER – On the first point, we know Russia’s position. I’ll simply answer our Russian friends with a single question: what would they have said if UNSCR 1973 hadn’t been passed, if the Paris meeting hadn’t been held and if the – mostly French – planes hadn’t intervened over Benghazi the following Sunday to halt Gaddafi’s attacks, with the intentions he’d clearly expressed of exacting revenge through a blood bath? There. I’ve answered one question with another. We’re not there to wage war, we’re there to protect the population, and that’s exactly what we’ve been demonstrating for 10 days now.
In answer to the second question, regarding the rebels, that’s not what they’re doing today.
Q. – Was the idea of some sort of safe passage for Gaddafi discussed, either at the conference or perhaps in the margins? What’s the French position on that idea, the idea of allowing Colonel Gaddafi to leave, to go to exile in another country?
THE MINISTER – I told you this is the responsibility of the Libyan partners in the Transitional Council; they have to organize the future of the country and decide what will become of Gaddafi. We think, as the French government, that he has no further role to play in Libya, he’s illegitimate, and this view is shared by many other countries, like Britain and many others. But it’s up to the Libyans to decide and to choose the fate of Gaddafi.
Q. – There’s a French special envoy now on the ground in Benghazi. What will his role be? And secondly, regarding Yemen, is it true that the international community and certain countries have issued an ultimatum to Mr Abdullah Saleh to step down?
THE MINISTER – We have indeed organized a French diplomatic presence in Benghazi with the National Transitional Council, in the person of one of our diplomats, who volunteered, M. Sivan. He arrived in Benghazi today, I think. His role will be diplomatic, but he’s not an “ambassador” because we haven’t formally recognized a State through the National Transitional Council. He’s the diplomatic official in charge of relations with the National Transitional Council; there are other countries which have consulates in Benghazi and also envisage increasing their diplomatic presence.
As for Yemen – as we’ve done with Syria and as we’re doing everywhere – we’ve asked the Yemeni authorities to refrain from using violence against the civilian population, to undertake reforms and to hold dialogue.
LIBYA/NATIONAL TRANSITIONAL COUNCIL/HUMANITARIAN AID
Q. – Do you want the Transitional Council to join the Contact Group?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think we should mix things up. We can listen to it, we can talk to it, but I think the Contact Group is an international body charged with leading the international intervention. It’s also a question we haven’t discussed amongst ourselves, it’s true. Perhaps we can move forward on that, but on the face of it I don’t think it’ll play a participatory role: as an interlocutor, yes, but not as a fully-fledged member of the Contact Group.
Q. – Still on the NTC, are other countries ready to recognize the NTC, and in general are we moving towards a recognition of the NTC?
THE MINISTER – Several countries have already done so; I mentioned Qatar. I know that the NTC’s representatives, particularly Mahmoud Jibril, were received by William Hague and David Cameron. I think they must be in touch with the Germans. So I think there’s a very marked evolution and everyone today believes the NTC is a valid interlocutor.
Q. – Last question: on the humanitarian side, were any decisions taken?
THE MINISTER – Not concrete decisions, but rather decisions to make the maximum effort in the humanitarian field, and the United Nations Secretary-General, who was there, said there would clearly be huge involvement by the different relevant United Nations agencies. Mrs Ashton, who was also there, recalled that the European Union had decided to do the maximum. There are already things being done: there are several countries, as you know, which have sent planes, ships… France has done so. So we’re going to continue. We’re currently also studying the idea of a humanitarian corridor, which would make it possible to provide humanitarian aid to the areas where there’s the greatest need. There aren’t only difficulties in the west: in Tripoli too there are very difficult humanitarian situations. I think all this will be organized in concrete terms with the organizations competent in that area.
Q. – Could those humanitarian corridors be secured militarily?
THE MINISTER – There’ll be no intervention on the ground; that’s very clear. They could be secured by the Libyans themselves, by the Libyan opposition, but that’s another matter. (…)./.