White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
Washington, DC
February 28, 2011


MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As I mentioned this morning, we have with us today the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. She was just in a meeting with the President and the U.N. Secretary General, and I would like her to speak about that meeting. And then she’ll take some questions from you. And I'll step aside. Thanks.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Thank you very much, Jay. Good afternoon, everyone. I want to start by giving a brief readout of the President’s meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that just finished a little while ago.

As you might expect, a significant portion of that meeting was devoted to discussing the situation in Libya. The U.N. has played a positive and very important role in efforts to end the bloodshed there and to hold the Qaddafi regime accountable, and support the Libyan people. Indeed, in Libya, the United Nations is demonstrating the indispensable role that it can play in advancing our interests and defending our values.

We'll come back to Libya in a few minutes, but let me just finish with the brief readout of the President’s meeting with the Secretary General.

The President and the Secretary General also discussed the situation elsewhere in the Middle East as well as the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. And with respect to Côte d’Ivoire, they expressed their concern about the escalation of violence there and the need to enable the legitimately elected president, Alassane Quattara, to assume responsibility for governing Côte d’Ivoire.

They also discussed the historic referendum that recently took place in Southern Sudan, where the people overwhelmingly voted for independence. And they discussed the vital work that the U.N. and the international community have still to do, along with the parties to the Sudanese conflict, to resolve outstanding issues and ensure lasting peace as the South gains its independence in July of this year.

The President and the Secretary General also discussed their shared agenda to build on the strengths of the United Nations while pursuing and implementing very important management reforms as well as budgetary discipline.

And finally, President Obama reaffirmed the administration’s strong belief that the United Nations continues to play a vital role in addressing tough, global and transnational threats, and in doing so, its work enhances the safety and well-being of the American people.

Now, coming back to Libya, as you know on Saturday night in New York, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, a tough and binding set of sanctions aimed at stopping the Libyan regime from killing its own people.

As you know, from the very beginning of the crisis in Libya, we’ve been clear that it’s vitally important for the international community to speak with one voice, and it has done so with an unusual and important sense of urgency, determination and unity of purpose.

This resolution that we passed had several important components. First, it refers the situation in Libya directly to the International Criminal Court. This is the first time that the Security Council has unanimously voted to refer a case of heinous human rights violations to the ICC.

Secondly, it includes a travel ban and an assets freeze on key Libyan leaders. It imposes a complete arms embargo on Libya and mechanisms to enforce it. And finally, it takes new steps against the use of mercenaries by the Libyan government to attack its own people, and it facilitates the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance.

These sanctions and accountability mechanisms should make all members of the Libyan regime think about the choice they have before them: Violate human rights and be held accountable, or stop the violence and respect the Libyan peoples’ call for change. There’s no escaping that critical choice.

Meanwhile, all the members of the United Nations Security Council are united in their determination that these sanctions work and work as swiftly as possible. But the Security Council has not finished its business and will continue to monitor the situation in Libya quite closely.

And I’ll reiterate what the President said over the weekend. Now is the time for Colonel Qaddafi to step aside to prevent further bloodshed and to allow the Libyan people to have a government that is responsive to their aspirations.

I’m happy to take a few of your questions.

MR. CARNEY: I just want to, if I could, just -- I'll call on people. What I'd like to do is do all questions for Ambassador Rice now, and we can get to other issues after that.

But, Darlene, why don't you start?

Q Thank you. Madam Ambassador, can you update us on the status of the talks for instituting a no-fly zone? How far along are those talks?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, as Secretary Clinton said today in Geneva, these talks are underway with our partners in NATO and elsewhere. We have made clear that it is an option that we are considering and considering actively and seriously.

MR. CARNEY: Steve.

Q Are you prepared to offer material support to the anti-government rebels in Libya?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, we are, first of all, in communication with all sort of elements of Libyan society -- civil society, leaders of all sorts -- to understand their perspectives and be able to be as supportive as we can of the Libyan people’s aspirations for freedom and for justice.

It’s unclear at this point who will emerge as the critical opposition elements, and we await to see how the opposition will coalesce. In that context, it’s certainly premature I think to begin to talk about any kind of military assistance.

Q Dr. Rice, thanks for being here. In an interview with several reporters, Moammar Qaddafi said that he’s not going anywhere, he’s never used force, all my people love me. And he expressed surprise that the United Nations would impose sanctions and implement a travel ban based purely on media reports. I was wondering if you had any response to any of the things he said in the interview.

AMBASSADOR RICE: It sounds, just frankly, delusional. And when he can laugh in talking to American and international journalists while he is slaughtering his own people, it only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality. It makes all the more important the urgent steps that we have taken over the course of the last week on a national basis, as well as the steps that we’ve taken collectively through the United Nations and the Security Council.

And we’re going to continue to keep the pressure on. You’ve seen reports about the massive quantity of resources, some $30 billion that the Treasury Department has seized since the assets freeze went into effect on Friday -- and this in light of the fact that Colonel Qaddafi and his son Saif say they have no resources out there to be seized; they led a clean and uncorrupt life.

Q Ambassador Rice, when you talk about Colonel Qaddafi slaughtering his own people, he was -- he appeared to be doing that a week or so, even longer, and yet the President stopped short of calling for regime change until this weekend. So if -- why did it take so long for you to call for regime change? The President was saying it’s up to the Libyan people. Now you’re saying Qaddafi has to go. He’s been slaughtering these people for days. Why did it take until this weekend to say he has to go?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, it is up to the Libyan people. And we will continue to be very supportive of their efforts to achieve the universal rights and the freedoms and the opportunity that they are seeking. I think we have been very, very clear about what is right and what is moral in this situation, and what has been unacceptable and inexcusable violence. And we have taken very strong and very swift actions to confront that.

On Friday, we froze the assets of Libya’s leaders, and on Monday, $30 billion -- an unprecedented quantity of resources have been seized in just over the last several days. On Saturday, the Security Council with the U.S. and leadership of others moved at a speed that is, I can tell you from my experience, almost unheard of, to pass unanimously a resolution that not only imposed a travel ban, an assets freeze, and arms embargo, but referred the situation in Libya for the first time on a unanimous basis to the International Criminal Court.

Q What changed from February 23rd? What changed from February 23rd when the President --

AMBASSSADOR RICE: Well, first of all --

Q -- did not call for regime change?

AMBASSSADOR RICE: First of all, the situation has evolved. We have been, as the President has said, focused very urgently on the protection of Americans and ensuring that Americans are safe. But we have also, as the same time, been actively working and planning to enable the swift and decisive response that you’ve seen forthcoming from the U.S. government.


Q There’s been some talk about oil embargos. But does that make any sense now that it appears that most of the oil production is in the hands of rebel forces?

AMBASSSADOR RICE: Well, I think, from a sanctions point of view, the United Nations has historically, in recent years, moved away from sweeping measures, and focused most precisely on targeted measures that go after the leadership of the country and isolate those that are responsible for atrocities. We’re in a different world than we were 15, 20 years ago and have learned some lessons from regimes like Iraq and elsewhere that didn’t have the targeted effect that was desired and was more scattershot. So I think at least in the context of the Security Council in New York, when we look at sanctions, whether it’s on Iran, North Korea, or Libya, we aim, first and foremost, at targeted measures that go after those that are responsible for violations.

Q So in this case, not oil?

AMBASSSADOR RICE: We have not had active discussions in New York on oil.

MR. CARNEY: Chuck.

Q Dr. Rice, two questions. One, can you walk us through what the process would be for the United Nations to recognize the sort of opposition in Libya, or recognize maybe the eastern part of that controlled territory? And number two, is there a message in there for the Iranian government, the government of Bahrain about how swiftly the U.N. seemed to respond in this case, and maybe the lack of quickness they responded to the Iranian uprising a year and a half ago?

AMBASSSADOR RICE: The question of recognition is a very complicated one. And to recognize or seat a changed government requires a vote of a U.N. credentials committee. And depending on the murkiness of the situation, that can be more or less complicated. We’re dealing now with a request to the Secretary General from Qaddafi to withdraw accreditation for his diplomats in New York who stood up -- his perm rep, his deputy perm rep -- to the regime, and have been very clear in calling for the kinds of measures that the Security Council took on Saturday.

It’s too soon to say, in all honesty, how issues of credentials and issues of recognition will be sorted out. Unless and until there’s an obvious alternative government, it’s hard to give credentials to --

Q How long will this process take? Weeks? Months?

AMBASSADOR RICE: It depends on how it evolves. Unless and until there’s an obvious alternative, it’s hard to take from one and give to another because there’s not a clear other to whom recognition can be given.

Q And the Iran question?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, I think when -- what enabled the Security Council to act so swiftly and decisively in this instance was that there was just an egregious and widely reported series of mass killings by security forces on innocents -- not only those protesting, but those who stuck their heads out of windows; going into hospitals, reportedly, and shooting those dead that had already been wounded; shooting people as they came out of mosques.

And all of this I think served to galvanize a sense of outrage and determination on the part of the Security Council and the rest of the international community that action had to be taken. And quite unusually, the first calls came from the Arab League and the African Union, and subsequently the OIC for this kind of action. And the fact that Libya’s own diplomats in New York were urging decisive action I think also was an important factor.


Q You’ve reiterated the call for Qaddafi to go, and yet the U.S. does not have significant contact with the Libyan opposition. If he were to oblige and get on a plane and go, what does the U.S. want to see happen next?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Obviously, the United States wants to see a responsible government emerge that respects the will of the Libyan people. They are -- there's a serious institution-building challenge that exists in Libya, as elsewhere in the region. We believe there are universal rights that need to be acknowledged and respected, and processes that are determined by the people in each of these different countries that charts a specific course that's suitable to that country. And it would be wrong of us to sit here with a road map for a political transformation in Libya.

But our consistent message across the region and indeed across the world is that the people deserve the right to chart their own future in a fashion that is -- that enables them to express themselves freely, assemble freely, select their leaders, and do so free of violence and intimidation.

MR. CARNEY: Why don't we get one more for Ambassador Rice?


Q Thank you. Ambassador, two questions. With regard to the military question, I know you’re saying it’s premature to decide whether to commit troops. Is it the U.S.’s position that that would need to be done through a NATO commitment and not through a U.S. military commitment?

And then, secondly, in the conversations with Ban Ki-moon, is the President discussing more broadly how to do a proactive strategy with the unrest that's sweeping the Middle East? And how do you get ahead of that?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, let me come to your second question first. The President and the Secretary General discussed the region broadly and the international efforts, including those led and coordinated by the United Nations, to be responsive to developments in each of these countries. So, for example, the Secretary General reported that he has sent high-level teams to both Egypt and Tunisia to engage those governments about the process of transition and the political support that the United Nations and the international community might be able to provide in support of those political transitions.

With respect to Libya, the Secretary General indicated that he intended to name a senior-level person to coordinate the United Nations humanitarian and political efforts with respect to Libya. That was something that we had encouraged and welcomed. And so there was a real effort discussed and agreed that would help to coordinate and consolidate both the humanitarian response, particularly with respect to Libya, and the political efforts to help support the democratic transformations that we hope are underway in various parts of the region.

Q And the military question?

AMBASSADOR RICE: With respect to the military question, we are in discussions with partners and allies in NATO and elsewhere. We have been very clear that we have a range of options, a wide range of options that we’re considering, but it would be premature to say more than that.

Q I’m sorry, but you don’t want the U.S. -- it seems like the U.S. doesn’t necessarily want a U.S. stamp on any action. The President has taken great pains to say there has to be a unified response. Is that a decision --

AMBASSADOR RICE: I think it’s, frankly, quite premature to speculate about any potential military action. We’re simply in the process of planning and discussing various contingencies.

Q One more, Jay?

MR. CARNEY: Maybe one more.

Q Okay, thank you. Ambassador Rice, you said something to the effect that we have not actively discussed oil at the U.N. Are you talking about specifically the Libyan issue or the increase, the request to increase oil in other countries like Mexico, Canada and some portions of Africa?

AMBASSADOR RICE: No, I was responding to the specific question of whether multilateral oil sanctions had been discussed actively in New York with respect to Libya, and the answer to that is no. The other issues have not been, to my knowledge, discussed in any formal venue and it’s really not the place where that kind of discussion would occur.

Q But also, could you quantify the $10 million of humanitarian effort that the United States has committed for those refugees who are fleeing into the other countries that are bordering Libya?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, the U.S. government has begun to mount a very robust humanitarian response that will include resources to the various concerned agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, like the International Organization for Migration. We’ll also be looking at other kinds of humanitarian needs. The Secretary General explained to the President today, for instance, that the U.N. is quite concerned about the dearth of medical supplies in Libya and the importance of urgent action being taken to ensure that those kinds of critical humanitarian needs are meet. And we’ll be supportive of those efforts as we always are.

Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Okay, guys, I’ve got to let the Ambassador go.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Thanks very much.

Q Thanks, Dr. Rice.


PRN: 2011/37