18 Mar 2011

Obama: UN Libya resolution ‘not negotiable’

After Libya declares a ceasefire in line with a UN resolution President Obama voices strong warning to Gaddafi to adhere to the terms of the agreement.

President Barack Obama has given a stern warning to Colonel Gaddafi that if he does not agree to the terms of the Security Council resolution then military action will be taken. President Obama reiterated that this was ‘non negotiable’ in the most definitive speech yet given from the U.S. in relation to the crisis in Libya.

If he does not comply, the international community will impose consequences President Barack Obama

The President said: “Moammar Gaddafi has a choice, the resoultion lays down very clear conditions that must be met.” He declared that the U.S. “did not seek this outcome our decision has been forced by Gaddafi” and that without action, democratic values would “be overrun and the words of the international community would be rendered hollow”.

President Obama laid out definitively the terms that Gaddafi’s forces must abide by.

– All attacks against civilians must stop
– Troops must be stopped from advancing on Benghazi
– To pull back from Ajdabiyah, Misrata and Zawiyah
– Establish water, electricity and gas supplies
– Humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach people across Libya

It has been clear that President Obama has taken his time over the decision to agree to the possibility of military action in Libya and he re-asserted that this was not an issue of regime change but protection of the people who were being targeted by Gaddafi forces:

“The change will not and can not be driven by the US or any other foreign power.”

The President issued a strong warning to Gaddafi: “If he does not comply, the international community will impose consequences.”

He also commended the process that brought about the resolution as an example of international co-operation: “This is precisely how the international community should work, bearing the responsibility for imposing international law” and later, “Our goal is focused, our cause is just and our coalition is strong.”

The Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Karim spoke following Mr Obama’s comments. He said that Benghazi was surrounded by military forces but that they would not enter Benghazi, in accordance with the ceasefire. He declared that there was a “media and psychological war” from some media organisations “spreading lies of Libyan shelling and killing Libyan civilians”.

He also declared that the Libyan government believed that rebels had committed crimes against humanity and that they would give names to UN individuals entering Libya, and that if justice is being done, these people will be dealt with appropriately by the international community.

Libya have chosen observers to come from Malta, China, Turkey and Germany, who they claim have a ‘moderate’ opinion towards the Libyan government, to enforce the ceasefire.

In response to claims that air strikes had been launched on Misrata on Friday, Mr Karim said that the air force had been grounded for a few days.

Moussa Koussa earlier declared a unilateral ceasefire, accepting the UN resolution that backs military action to protect civilians under threat of attack.

Mr Koussa said: “We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations.”

“Libya takes great interest in protecting civilians,” he added.

He expressed his “deep regret” at the resolution passed on Thursday, which imposed a no-fly zone, increased economic sanctions, and demanded Libya to respect the human rights of it’s people.

“Libya also finds that it is very strange and unacceptable that the Security Council allows in its resolution for the use of military force and there are signs that this might indeed take place,” he said, adding that this violated the UN charter and Libya’s sovereignty.

But Koussa said Libya would comply with the resolution, opening dialogue with all parties including the the UN.

Libya would “comply with the resolution in protecting civilians and the territorial unity of Libya, and therefore the country will open all channels of dialogue with all sides interested in the territorial unity of Libya,” he said.

Libya takes great interest in protecting civilians. Moussa Koussa

“We insist and emphasise for all international NGOs to check the facts on the ground so they take the right course of action,” he said.

Read more Special report: Middle East uprisings

‘Sceptical’ reaction

France, which had been at the forefront of calls for a no-fly zone and military action said it remained cautious after Koussa’s comments and believed the threat on the ground in Libya had not been lifted.

We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words, we would have to see actions on the ground. Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was not impressed by words and the Libyan government would need to show actions demonstrating a cease-fire.

“We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words, we would have to see actions on the ground and that is not yet at all clear,” Clinton said.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Gaddafi to leave and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.”

Ten of the UN Security Council’s 15 members – including the UK, US, France, and Lebanon – backed the resolution last night but Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained to vote.

Before the ceasefire announcement, Saif Gaddafi told reporters that Libya was not afraid of the UN resolution and military intervention, warning of swift retaliation ‘even beyond Libyan frontiers’.

He said pro-Government forces will deploy around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi but will not enter it.

Saif Gaddafi’s comments came around the same time as reports of heavy bombing in Misrata, the last remaining rebel city in the western part of the country.

Libya's Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa holds a news conference in Tripoli (reuters)

‘Canny move’

Defence expert Shahshank Joshi -from the Royal United Services Institute think- tank told Channel 4 news “it’s a canny move in many ways because it allows Gaddafi the time to reassess his forces on the ground, especially in terms of artillery.”

This resolution could provide a fig leaf of legality for an attack on Gaddafi’s ground forces but Gaddafi is a very shrewd operator Shahshank Joshi, defence expert

But a no fly-zone will also relieve the pressure on anti-government forces Mr Joshi said.

It “remains the greatest hope of checking the unfolding humanitarian crisis, giving the beleaguered opposition the breathing space it so desperately needs.”

UN resolution 1973 authorises member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilian populations. Mr Joshi says the phrasing of the resolution is “extremely elastic,” and that could raise it’s own set of problems for coalition forces.

“The question remains, what is included or excluded in that phrase ‘under the threat of attack? This resolution could provide a fig leaf of legality for an attack on Gaddafi’s ground forces but Gaddafi is a very shrewd operator, he will undoubtedly move his troops in plain clothes, near hospitals, next to schools. How this resolution will be imposed practically will remain very interesting” he said.

‘We will be crazy too’

Speaking shortly after the UN vote, the Libyan defence ministry took an aggressive tone warning that “any military operation against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean to danger.”

We will come. House by house, room by room, the matter has been decided, we are coming. Colonel Gaddafi, speaking before the ceasefire

“Any civilian or military moving traffic will be the target of a Libyan counter-offensive,” he told the Jana news agency.

That was in contrast to Khalid Kaim, the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister, who took a conciliatory tone in line with Moussa Koussa. Speaking to reporters after the vote, he offered to negotiate a ceasefire with the rebels.

“We are ready for this decision (a ceasefire) but we require an interlocutor to discuss how to implement it,” Kaim told a news conference.

“We discussed last night with the UN envoy (for Libya, Jordan’s Abdul Ilah Khatib) and asked legitimate questions on the application of a ceasefire,” he said.

Kaim indicated that Libya would “react positively to the UN resolution, and we will prove this willingness while guaranteeing protection to civilians.”

In an interview broadcast just before the Security Council voted on the resolution, Colonel Gaddafi said the UN had no mandate, before adding: “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.”

He said that his troops were closing in on the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi and that “there would be no mercy”, adding “we will come. House by house, room by room, the matter has been decided, we are coming.’

Front Line

The front line has moved rapidly in the last two weeks as Gaddafi has rolled back the rebels using his air power and heavy artillery.

Residential areas of Ajdabiyah, a strategic town on the coast road to Benghazi, were the scene of heavy fighting on Thursday and around 30 people were killed, Al Arabiya reported.

In Libya’s third city, Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, rebels and residents said in the morning they were preparing for a new attack by Libyan troops, who had shelled the coastal city overnight.