The Cable

White House: Turkey on board with NATO command in Libya; France not so much

President Barack Obama spoke on Monday evening with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that NATO should have a command and control role in the Libya war, according to a White House read out of the phone call. But today in Brussels, the French government said it doesn't agree.

"The President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed their support for the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, in order to protect the Libyan people," the White House said. "The leaders agreed that this will require a broad-based international effort, including Arab states, to implement and enforce the UN resolutions, based on national contributions and enabled by NATO's unique multinational command and control capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness."

The Turkish government has been very clear that it does not support NATO-led enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya if the mission goes beyond the U.N.-sanctioned objective of protecting Libyan civilians.

"We do not want Libya to become a second Iraq.... A civilization in Iraq collapsed within eight years. More than a million people were killed there," Turkey's daily Hürriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Monday on the way back from Saudi Arabia. "We will not participate with our fighting forces. It is impossible for us to think that our fighters would drop bombs over the Libyan people."

Turkey laid out its position at Tuesday's NATO meeting in Brussels. The Turks are still upset they were not invited to the Paris planning meeting on March 19, the day the air strikes began. Turkey has also taken over as the protecting power of the U.S. in Tripoli, meaning they would be in charge of direct interactions with the Libyan government and responsible for the abandoned U.S. embassy, their government announced on Monday.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday that France now opposes NATO taking over the Libya mission. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the Monday meeting in Brussels over disagreements about NATO's role, albeit for very different reasons. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.

The confusion is causing problems for the rest of the coalition as well. Norway said Tuesday it was "suspending" its promise to use F-16 fighter jets in combat in Libya until the command structure issue was worked out, even though its jets had already arrived at the staging base in Italy.

All of this puts into question the viability of Obama's pledge on Monday that the U.S. will transfer command of the military mission in Libya in "a matter of days."

Adding to the questions over the endgame, Obama and Erdogan also "underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people's will," the White House said.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Mexico, Japan

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal about the situation in Libya on Sunday. Clinton is still in contact with the Libyan opposition but there are more extensive connections being maintained in the NEA bureau and under the management of Chris Stevens, Toner said. "We don't have eyes and ears on the ground in some of these places, so, you know, we're sharing information but also getting their impressions of what's happening."
  • Toner said the immediate goals of military action under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 "are to stop the fighting; you know, to force Qaddafi into a cease-fire and to provide humanitarian assistance." That's different from what Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham said was a strict mission to protect civilians and not get involved in the fighting at all. Pressed on this, Toner said the mission was not to remove Col. Muammar al Qaddafi. "We have been clear that in the long term we don't see Gadhafi as a legitimate ruler and we believe he should step down. We are going to in the long term continue to apply pressure on him and his associates... But that's separate and apart from what's going on right now with the military operation," he said. "But in any case, what we're trying to do is we're trying to convince Colonel Gadhafi and his regime and his associates that they need to step down from power."
  • The State Department press corps was skeptical that Qaddafi could be convinced of anything and furthermore pointed out that if he does step down, the U.S. government has called for him to be brought up on war crimes charges through the International Criminal Court. Toner admitted this was not a very tempting offer but said, "it is not for us to present him with some kind of golden parachute after what he's done against his own people." As for the support of Arab countries, Toner said, "We believe we have that broad support," but added it was up to those countries to announce their support. "It's going to be a short-term operation," he added.
  • Will the United States attack the rebel forces if they try to take back cities held by Qaddafi and are threatening civilians? "That's not happening right now. And that -- frankly, that's -- I'm just not going to answer a hypothetical," Toner responded. "I'm just looking at the text and saying it authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians."
  • On Yemen, Toner said he hoped the resignation of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar would convince Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stop killing protesters and move toward more reforms. "We believe that [universal rights] need to be respected and that President Saleh needs to take more steps. Clearly, what he's doing and what he's done so far is not enough to address the concerns of his people. He needs to do more," Toner said.
  • The State Department applauds Egypt's March 19 referendum, even though only 40 percent of Egyptians voted. "The Egyptians took an important step towards realizing the aspirations of the January 25th revolution," Toner said. "The sight of Egyptians coming forward in unprecedented numbers to peacefully exercise their newly won freedom is cause for great optimism and will continue to -- and will provide a foundation for further progress as Egyptians continue to build on their democratic future." State isn't worried that the amendments were decided in secret by a 10 member panel without opposition representation. "What's important to focus on is the substance of the reforms," Toner said.
  • Here's Toner's explanation of the resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pasqual on March 19, following his dispute with Mexican President Philip Calderon over WikiLeaked cable he wrote. "[Pasqual] made a personal decision. He, I believe, said in his statement that he didn't want to be a distraction to what is one of our most important bilateral relationships. He enjoyed all along the support of the secretary and obviously the president. We feel he accomplished a great deal in his role, but he made the decision that he didn't want to impede this important relationship. I'm not going to characterize it in any way whatsoever. It's really his decision."
  • Toner was feeling the heat of his first week at the podium full time, following the sudden resignation of P.J. Crowley. When one reporter asked "Can I go to Japan?" meaning the reporter wanted to change the subject to Japan, Toner joked, "Do you want to go to Japan, too?" The reporter said, "I would actually be happy to go to Japan right now, frankly." Toner sighed and said, "I'm with you."