The Cable

Obama administration now dealing with rogue Libyan ambassadors and ignoring faxes from Qaddafi

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 On March 1, State Department P.J. Crowley told reporters that Aujali, who had publicly resigned his post on Feb. 22, "no longer represents Libya's interests in the United States" and that State would now deal with the charge d'affaires, who is still loyal to the regime.But yesterday, a State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.

The Cable

Polish FM on Libya: No no-fly yet, let them work it out internally

As the United States contemplates implementing a no-fly zone in Libya, don't expect Poland to lead the campaign among European powers to support international or NATO military intervention. "It's an internal Libyan conflict so far," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Foreign Policy in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Poland is a NATO ally and will assume the presidency of the European Union in July. But it does not currently support an international no-fly zone over Libya, or any NATO military involvement there.

"If Col. Qaddafi continues to bomb his own people, then we might have to consider it," Sikorski said regarding the establishment of a no-fly zone. "But it's a very tough issue because he hasn't yet provoked us, so it would be under a humanitarian or ‘responsibility to protect' justification."

"It would be best if Col. Qaddafi did us the favor of just resigning and preventing further bloodshed," the foreign minister added.

Sikorski, a former fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has longstanding ties to the conservative foreign policy community in Washington. He awarded Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland on Tuesday at an event at the Atlantic Council.

In accepting the award, McCain plead for the imposition of a Libya no-fly zone and accused the Pentagon of avoiding such a move.

"We are spending over $500 billion dollars, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, on our nation's defense. Don't tell me we can't do a no-fly zone over Tripoli," McCain said. "I love the military, I love it, it's been my life, but they always seem to find reasons why you can't do something rather than why you can."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been warning of the difficulties of implementing a no-fly zone and testified on Wednesday that doing so "begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses."

Either way, Sikorski threw cold water on the notion that NATO should be the organization to take on such a mission.

"NATO is a defensive military alliance. We are already engaged in Afghanistan on a huge scale. I don't know if anybody has called on NATO to have a role in this," he said. "We have to hope that the Libyans themselves resolve this internal civil war."

Sikorski also rejected the comparison of the humanitarian crisis in Libya to past crises in Rwanda and Bosnia.

"In Rwanda, it was military forces slaughtering innocent people. Here you have a split within the military -- with some units backing the opposition and others remaining loyal to Col. Qaddafi -- so it's not a directly comparable situation," Sikorski said.

"In Bosnia, it was months and years of ethnic cleansing. That's not, thank god, the Libyan situation yet. What we have in Libya is a popular revolt against the tyrant and hopefully it will be resolved before we can intervene," he added.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, raised the Rwandan and Bosnian examples in calling for intervention in Libya. Vice President Joseph Biden also recently criticized the slow response to war crimes in Bosnia, although he did not directly connect that to the unfolding crisis in Libya.

"It's amazing how in the Balkans it took so long," Biden said on Feb. 25. "Our administration also believes that holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable is an essential component of our prevention efforts. And that's why we have to reinvigorate efforts to bring some of the worst war criminals to justice."

Sikorski will meet with Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman on Wednesday evening, and with Clinton on Thursday. This weekend, he'll join AEI's off-site retreat on Sea Island, Georgia, where Libya is sure to be a hot topic of discussion.

His message to the assembled group of conservative thinkers will be that drastic, bold intervention by the U.S. government into the ongoing Arab revolutions is not such a great idea.

"I believe the U.S. has to be very careful, because it's not as if everyone in the Middle East sees the U.S. as a beacon, so I believe we all have to tread very carefully," he said.

Joshua Keating contributed to this report.