The Obama administration has decided switch the focus of its Libya diplomacy toward dealing with Libyan representatives in Washington and New York who have decried the regime, after the Libyan government in Tripoli stopped taking its calls.
The Obama administration, and especially the State Department, had been maintaining its relationship with the government of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi until early this week. Even when President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Qaddafi on Feb. 25, the State Department did not break diplomatic relations.
Undersecretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman were in regular contact with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa for the first two weeks of the crisis. But as of yesterday, Kusa won't come to the phone. The State Department therefore has now decided to ignore Kusa's request, sent via fax, that the administration stop dealing with Amb. Ali Aujali, Libya's top representative in Washington, who State had announced they would no longer deal with only days ago.
The United Nations is taking a similar approach, refusing to act on Qaddafi's fax to the U.N. that it expel Libya's two top diplomats in New York, Mohamed Shalgham and Ibrahim Dabbashi.
At first, State appeared willing to honor Qaddafi's request to cut off dealings with dissident Libyan diplomats. On March 1, State Department P.J. Crowley told reporters that Aujali, who had publicly resigned his post on Feb. 22, "no longer represents Libya's interests in the United States" and that State would now deal with the charge d'affaires, who is still loyal to the regime.But yesterday, a State Department official told The Cable that Aujali is still regarded by the administration as the chief of mission at the Libyan embassy, and is now State's top interlocutor there. The official said that State is not acting on a fax it received from Kusa demanding they stop dealing with Aujali.
"We received the fax but we have not been able to verify its authenticity," the State Department official said. "Normally the fax is followed by a diplomatic note, which has not occurred."
But can't State simply verify that the fax is genuine by asking Kusa himself?
"We have tried to reach him since receipt of the fax. He is not taking calls," the State Department official said, implying that if the fax could be verified, they might honor it.
Similarly, in New York, the U.N. and the U.S. mission there have yet to act on Qaddafi and Kusa's demand that they stop dealing with Shalgham and Dabbashi, who have both disavowed the Libyan regime. Dabbashi accused Qaddafi of war crimes on Feb. 21. Shalgham, an old friend of Qaddafi's, followed suit Feb. 25 in an impassioned speech before the Security Council, where he urged the United Nations to act swiftly to save Libya.
Now several days later, Shalgham and Dabbashi are still in charge of the Libyan mission at the United Nations, and are still meeting with senior U.N. and U.S. officials. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice met with Shalgham earlier this week, according to a U.S. official based at the U.N.
The official said that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office had also received a fax from Kusa, but had not acted on it. Therefore, the U.S. mission still regards Shalgham and Dabbashi as Libya's credentialed representatives -- until Ban's office tells them otherwise.
"It's not entirely clear how it will play out," the U.S. official said. "It's not actually our determination whether they are the representatives to the U.N."
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the secretary general's office, confirmed to The Cable that Ban had not acted on Kusa's request to strip Shalgham and Dabbashi of their credentials. However, he said that they were expected to be replaced and were no longer attending all U.N. meetings.
"We have formally received the request from the Government of Libya and are studying it. That's where we stand. While that happens, the existing officials remain in their current positions," he said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.