U.S. Yet to Decide on Whether to Arm Libya Rebels, Ambassador Rice Says
The U.S. is weighing “very carefully and deliberately” whether to provide weapons to rebels in Libya who have been fighting forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi since February, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said.
Rice, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” said the Obama administration for now is pursuing other measures to remove the Libyan leader from power, including further enforcing an arms embargo on the Qaddafi regime and giving the rebels political and economic support.
“With the weapons that they have, the rebels are holding on,” Rice said yesterday, referring to firefights in the besieged city of Misrata. “It is natural and to be expected that it is going to take some time for them to be constituted into an effective fighting force.”
Rice’s interview, airing this weekend, came as Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican, said in the rebel-held city of Benghazi that the U.S. and its allies must act to give the rebels greater financial and military support, including training and weapons.
The Obama administration may reconsider the issue of whether to expand military support, Rice said.
“We are also taking that decision very carefully and deliberately, and we haven’t ruled it in or out,” Rice said of arming the opposition. “We are still in the early stages of our relationship with the opposition, getting to know them, understanding their motives and objectives, understanding their needs and requirements.”
Fighting has halted most oil exports from Libya, home to Africa’s biggest oil reserves. Oil prices are up more than 30 percent from a year ago. Crude oil for June delivery rose 84 cents to settle at $112.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Markets were closed for the Good Friday holiday.
Turning to another part of the region, Rice said the U.S. wouldn’t be able to prevent a UN vote on recognizing the Palestinian territories as a state. She added that such a move would be worth little in the absence of negotiations with Israel.
If such a vote goes forward and Palestinians get the recognition they seek, “we’re simply passing a piece of paper that doesn’t change anything on the ground,” Rice said.
Rice spoke as news agencies reported explosions in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Qaddafi’s base of power.
President Barack Obama has deployed armed Predator drones on missions to Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced April 21. The unmanned aircraft previously have been used for reconnaissance and provide better visibility of targets, an important factor when Qaddafi’s forces are fighting in and around cities, according to Marine General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The remotely piloted aircraft were unable to complete missions on their first outing April 21 because of bad weather, Cartwright said. The Predator is made by closely held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego.
France, Italy and the U.K. are sending military advisers to help rebels with communications and training, and Obama authorized drones armed with air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), in a bid to break the stalemated fighting on the ground and to help protect civilians. Rice said the U.S. supported European efforts even as it chose a different approach.
No Regime Change
“We’re not trying to topple Qaddafi by military means,” she insisted. “If we were going to do that, as has been said, and use military force, then we would be doing more than simply protecting civilians. And as the president said when he ruled out ground troops, we are not engaged in regime change by military means.”
Asked about the implications if Qaddafi remains in power in a protracted civil war, Rice insisted that the NATO mission was to protect civilians such as those in Benghazi threatened by Qaddafi’s forces. “That has been accomplished,” she said.
“The president has been very clear that we are not doing regime change by military means,” she added. “We are protecting civilians. That’s what NATO’s doing.”
She denied that there is an inconsistency in U.S. policy toward Middle Eastern leaders facing unrest. Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and Libya are among countries in the region facing protests and demonstrations.
“The U.S. supports the democratic aspirations of people in all those countries, but has not specifically called for regime change,” Rice said. “We’ve been very consistent that the United States stands behind the universal rights of individuals to express themselves, to protest, to organize, to chart their own futures.
“And we have condemned from Bahrain to Syria to Egypt to Tunisia any use of violence against peaceful protesters,” Rice said.
Obama has said repeatedly that Qaddafi must go and earlier this year said he had told Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak “that an orderly transition must be meaningful and it must begin now.”
In January, amid violent protests against the rule of Tunisian President Ben Ali, Michael Hammer, a spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, said the administration has determined that “the Tunisian people have the right to choose their leaders.”
Rice stressed U.S. support for an “independent, viable Palestine living next to a secure state of Israel, but that can only be accomplished through direct negotiations.”
The U.S. can’t stop the Palestinian move to seek recognition of their territories as a state at the UN in September, Rice said. “There is not a step that we could take to prevent such a vote,” she said, noting that “the Palestinians have always had a great deal of support at the United Nations.”
She said such a move would do nothing to address unresolved issues including where borders will fall, the fate of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem, Rice said.
“The Palestinians have said -- and it’s certainly our view -- that their preference is to resolve this directly through negotiations,” Rice said. “That is what has to happen.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.