Part of the debate in Washington regarding the U.S. and coalition intervention in Libya is whether or not to arm anti-government forces there. While some, including President Clinton, support the idea, some Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are urging caution. “I think at this stage we really don’t know who the leaders of this rebel group are,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. And House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said yesterday that the U.S. should proceed with caution because extremists, including Al Qaeda elements, are operating within the Libyan rebel movement.
Ali Suleiman Aujali, former Libyan ambassador the U.S. and now the Transitional National Council’s official U.S. representative, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week that the U.S. must arm the rebels. “We need better arms and the training to use them.” Today in an exclusive interview, ThinkProgress asked Aujali if he could alleviate concerns that U.S. and allied arms might end up in the hands of extremists:
AUJALI: The Libyan people don’t want to change the Qaddafi regime with an extremist regime. This is number one. Number two, of course, if Libya, they received the armament or receive training assistance, of course it has to be used and has to be in the right hands. There is no way they will make these arms available for everybody to get them and do what they want with them.
This is a very serious issue. We have to be responsible and we are responsible. But we ask of course the international community to help the rebels, airstrikes by itself is not enough. We need weapons to fight Qaddafi. We need weapons to defend ourselves. We need weapons to protect the Libyan civilians which was recognized by the international Security Council.
We also asked Aujali to respond to a recent reported proposal from Muammar Qaddafi’s sons Seif and Saadi in which their father would be removed from power to make way for a transition to a constitutional democracy under the direction of Seif. “This initiative is born dead,” Aujali said, adding, “There is not much difference between Qaddafi and his sons.” Watch the entire interview:
Aujali also spoke at the Center for American Progress today and insisted that the opposition movement in Libya is not an extremist one. “Nobody can claim that al Qaeda is behind this or extremist is behind this,” he said, adding, “We will never allow al Qaeda, the Libyan people they will not change Qaddafi’s regime by al Qaeda or by extremists.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week appeared to concur with this sentiment, saying there is “absolutely no evidence” that Libyans support Al Qaeda.
WR: First welcome to the Center for American Progress. Since we are going to be talking a lot about the rebel movement, I wanted to ask you about some news of the day. It came out, it was reported today that a couple of Qaddafi’s sons are offering a deal in which they will remove him from power and have one of his sons lead the transition into a sort of more constitutional democracy. What is your response to that?
AUJALI: Thank you very much for inviting me, but, uh, Libyan people, they said they would not accept any offer for Qaddafi and his family to stay in power. There is not much difference between Qaddafi and his sons. This initiative is born dead, I believe.
WR: Okay, transitioning to a hypothetical post Qaddafi-era in Libya, it’s my understanding that Libya is comprised of many competing tribes. And that coupled with the fact that there are some elements, however small they are, of extremists fighting for the rebels. I’m wondering how you plan to unify all those competing factions in a post Qaddafi-era, and unify the country.
AUJALI: Well, I believe — strongly believe — that Libyan people, all of them, are against the Qaddafi regime. For the last 30 years, they’ve experienced the regime and experienced that there is no way to compromise it. And even the tribes that are under Qaddafi’s reach now, they don’t agree with him. I think the Libyan people are all agreed for one thing, Qaddafi must go, and freedom and democracy must be achieved.
WR: So right now they have the common goal of getting rid of Qaddafi, but after that happens is there some sort of plan to unify these competing factions?
AUJALI: There unified because all — all from East to West, North to South — Libyan are organizing the interim council, and that’s the body which will deal with the transition period. And I believe Qaddafi will have no way that they will be supported by Libyan tribes. Some of them are already split against him. This is a unique chance for the Libyan people to raise against this regime. And I believe with the support of the coalition, with support of the alliance, with the determination of the Libyan people that will make this a fact.
WR: Will the Transitional National Council reach out to those tribes who support Qaddafi and to Libyan citizens who also supported his regime?
AUJALI: Well if you go to the website there is no tribe supporting Qaddafi at all. I mean just that maybe some people they make some statement and even some statement like that I haven’t seen. The Libyan people they decided to get rid of Qaddafi. And the extremists you are talking about, I can’t see them and if there is some extremists, maybe some of them, now they have no chance, just to defend themselves against Qaddafi. We cannot say that this is Libyan, they have relations with Al Qaeda, they have relations with extremists, I think that is not true at all.
WR: Coming off of that, there obviously are some pro-government forces obviously fighting against the rebels. Will the National Council guarantee those pro-government forces right now, human rights and due process in a post-Qaddafi era?
AUJALI: Of course. We [have a] completely different mentality from Qaddafi’s regime: “if you are not with me than you are against me.” They have to observe human rights. They have to observe the rights of the prisoners of war – if you want to call them that way. Of course, if not than we, I am the one who will stop against them and condemn that, any action against human rights happen in Libya is not acceptable.
WR: One concern within the US and other countries that have been considering arming the rebels, one concern they have is they don’t know who they’re arming and I’m sure you’ll probably get into this a little bit later, but I’m wondering what you would say to them to alleviate these concerns that arms won’t end up in the hands of extremists and anti-American forces.
AUJALI: Of course, look, the Libyan people don’t want to change the Qaddafi regime with an extremist regime. This is number one. Number two, of course, if Libya, they received the armament or receive training assistance, of course it has to be used and has to be in the right hands. There is no way they will make these arms available for everybody to get them and do what they want with them. This is a very serious issue. We have to be responsible and we are responsible. But we ask of course the international community to help the rebels, airstrikes by itself is not enough. We need weapons to fight Qaddafi. We need weapons to defend ourselves. We need weapons to protect the Libyan civilians which was recognized by the international Security Council.