The Cable

Libyan ambassador: The U.S. must do more to stop Qaddafi’s massacre

Libyan Ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali, who joined the opposition in the early days of the crisis, issued an urgent plea for the United States to take more aggressive actions against the Libyan government in an interview with Foreign Policy today.

Aujali strongly supported the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, calling it "a historic responsibility for the United States." He also criticized the arguments about the risks of no-fly zone, which have been made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military officials. "When we say, for example, that the no-fly zone will take a long time, that it is complicated -- please don't give this regime any time to crush the Libyan people," he said.

The ambassador, who began his diplomatic career four decades ago, raised the flag of the Libyan opposition over the ambassador's residence in Washington after resigning last week.  He told Foreign Policy that he decided to resign following Saif al-Qaddafi's speech on Feb. 21, in which Qaddafi's favored son warned protesters of "rivers of blood" if they did not cease their demonstrations.

Aujali warned that further delay in organizing an international response raised the risk that Qaddafi would be able to reconstitute his strength.  "Time means losing lives, time means that Qaddafi will regain control," he said. "He has weapons, he has rockets with about 450 kilometers' distance, and we have to protect the people. These mercenaries now are everywhere."

Aujali said that the Qaddafi regime's strategy was now to cut off the liberated Libyan cities from each other, in order to prevent them from uniting their forces and from sharing arms and supplies. With Qaddafi's forces gathered in the south of Libya and Tripoli, he said that the regime's strategy was now to mount a major strike on the northwestern cities of Misurata and Zawiyah, while also continuing the crackdown against protesters in the capital of Tripoli.

Soldiers and mercenaries loyal to Qaddafi have recently attacked Zawiya and the strategic oil town of Brega. Reports suggest that the anti-Qaddafi forces have managed to hold both towns, but have still been unable to mass a large enough force that could threaten Qaddafi's stronghold in Tripoli. Aujali referred to the possibility that Libya could be approaching a long-term stalemate as "the most dangerous thing" for the country. "We are one nation, we are one people, our capital is Tripoli, and we will fight for our unity," he said.

The Obama administration first appeared poised to cut off ties with Aujali following his resignation, after State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on March 1 that the ambassador "no longer represents Libya's interests in the United States." The State Department appeared to reverse that decision, however, as officials there told The Cable yesterday that Aujali was still regarded as their top interlocutor at the Libyan embassy.

Aujali said that he protested the initial decision, accusing the Obama administration of encouraging the Libyan people to rise up against Qaddafi but then maintaining relations with his government. However, he said he was encouraged by the State Department's subsequent affirmation of his position, as well as President Barack Obama's strong condemnation of Qaddafi yesterday.

The ambassador made the case that, with the Libyan opposition fully engaged in organizing the revolt against Qaddafi, Libyan diplomats who have broken with Qaddafi "have to be recognized as the legitimate representatives of the new Libya," or the movement will have no voice overseas.

The Libyan charge d'affaires is still loyal to Qaddafi and working out of the embassy. Aujali, meanwhile, is working out of his residence. However, he claimed that the embassy was "under my control." Aujali chalked up some staffers' unwillingness to break with Qaddafi to the fact that some still have family in areas controlled by the regime, but also said they "have to go back" to Libya if they are unwilling to adapt to the new political order. "Let them fight with Qaddafi if they are really sincere in what they are doing," he said.

Aujali, played an important role in guiding Libya's rapprochement with the West over the past decade, and said that he had hoped his efforts would help convince Qaddafi to allow more freedoms in the country. As relations with the United States began to normalize after 2003, Aujali said, "I thought maybe the man [Qaddafi] will change, he will feel more safe...then there will be a chance for reform in Libya."

However, just the opposite happened. Once Qaddafi was no longer under threat from the United States, Aujali said, he felt that he had a freer hand to crack down on his own people. "The way he treats his people, the way he punishes people, the way he kills his people -- it is only Mussolini and Hitler who have done that," he said.

David Kenner is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.


The Cable

Russia and Georgia are talking again but U.S. not involved

Three years after the war between Russian and Georgia, the two countries have started a process to discuss Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, top White House officials said. However, the U.S. government is not involved in those discussions.

Russia's bid to join the WTO this year will be at the top of the agenda when Vice President Joseph Biden travels to Moscow next week. The Obama administration strongly supports Russia's entry and sees U.S. assistance in that regard as part of the reset of U.S.-Russia relations. But Georgia, a WTO member, can single-handedly thwart Russia's accession. And while the White House sees some progress between the two foes, they don't want to be any part of that conversation.

"We have worked very closely with our Russian counterparts... to help them in the multilateral process so they can meet their goal of joining the WTO this year," NSC Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul told reporters on a conference call Friday.

Responding to a question from The Cable, McFaul acknowledged that Russia cannot join the WTO unless Georgia agreed but said he saw movement on that front.

"There are definitely issues remaining between Russia and Georgia regarding trade relations that have to be addressed," he said. "There is a process underway. I don't want to prejudge it because we're not involved in it."

But McFaul was firm that the United States would not insert itself into the effort to help Russia and Georgia come to an agreement on the issue.

"We're not going to do that," he said. "At the end of the day this is a bilateral issue, not a trilateral issue."

Some insiders believe that this message from the Obama administration is meant to push both the Russian and Georgian governments to make a deal on WTO without depending on U.S. incentives or pressures to get it done. Regardless, McFaul said that he believed Georgia was willing to limit the discussions to "deal specifically with the economic and trade issues involved and not make it into a larger debate."

So what does Georgia want from Russia? Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri spelled it out in an exclusive interview with The Cable.

"Georgia's support to Russia's WTO membership is conditional. The precondition is fulfillment of obligation taken by Russia in our bilateral accession protocol in 2004 and solving issues of customs administration on the Georgian-Russian border," he said. "Unregulated illegal trade as it takes place now is counter WTO rules. Russia should become member of this rules-based organization but only if it respects trade rules."

Of course, one huge problem is how to define the "Georgian-Russian border." If you are Georgia, that includes the borders between Russia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it considers breakaway republics.

When Biden meets with Russian leaders next week, he can tell them that the administration is intent on repealing trade restrictions under the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was imposed in 1974 to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration.

"We plan to terminate the application of Jackson-Vanik in the near future," McFaul said.

However, lifting the law requires the support of Congress, so the White House can't count on it being done right away. "It's not something the White House can't simply press a button and have it done," added Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken.

Biden will arrive in Russia on March 9. He will stop by the U.S. embassy for lunch with U.S. business leaders, and then take those businessmen on a tour of Skolkovo, Russia's new "Silicon Valley." That evening he'll meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. On March 10, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then with civil society leaders, and then give a speech at Moscow University.

After Russia's WTO bid, the top agenda item for Biden in Russia will be cooperation on missile defense. The United States has been talking to Russia about missile defense cooperation for a long time, but most in Washington are skeptical that it will ever be possible to satisfy's Russia's objections to U.S. missile defense in Europe.

"We are on the verge of trying to take an issue that used to be extremely contentious... and to try to make it an area of cooperation," said McFaul. "Without some sort of cooperation on missile defense, it will be difficult" to make progress on further reductions of nuclear stockpiles in Europe, he said.

Several reporters on the call asked McFaul and Blinken what Biden's message would be to the Russian government on the international response to the bloodshed in Libya.

"We don't want to address Libya specific questions on this call," Blinken said.