White House press briefing on US and UN responses to Libya

White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Washington, DC
February 28, 2011
MR. CARNEY: I just want to, if I could, just -- I'll call on people. What I'd like to do is do all questions for Ambassador Rice now, and we can get to other issues after that.
But, Darlene, why don't you start?
Q Thank you. Madam Ambassador, can you update us on the status of the talks for instituting a no-fly zone? How far along are those talks?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, as Secretary Clinton said today in Geneva, these talks are underway with our partners in NATO and elsewhere. We have made clear that it is an option that we are considering and considering actively and seriously.
MR. CARNEY: Steve.
Q Are you prepared to offer material support to the anti-government rebels in Libya?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, we are, first of all, in communication with all sort of elements of Libyan society -- civil society, leaders of all sorts -- to understand their perspectives and be able to be as supportive as we can of the Libyan people’s aspirations for freedom and for justice.
It’s unclear at this point who will emerge as the critical opposition elements, and we await to see how the opposition will coalesce. In that context, it’s certainly premature I think to begin to talk about any kind of military assistance.
Q Dr. Rice, thanks for being here. In an interview with several reporters, Moammar Qaddafi said that he’s not going anywhere, he’s never used force, all my people love me. And he expressed surprise that the United Nations would impose sanctions and implement a travel ban based purely on media reports. I was wondering if you had any response to any of the things he said in the interview.
AMBASSADOR RICE: It sounds, just frankly, delusional. And when he can laugh in talking to American and international journalists while he is slaughtering his own people, it only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality. It makes all the more important the urgent steps that we have taken over the course of the last week on a national basis, as well as the steps that we’ve taken collectively through the United Nations and the Security Council.
And we’re going to continue to keep the pressure on. You’ve seen reports about the massive quantity of resources, some $30 billion that the Treasury Department has seized since the assets freeze went into effect on Friday -- and this in light of the fact that Colonel Qaddafi and his son Saif say they have no resources out there to be seized; they led a clean and uncorrupt life.
Q Ambassador Rice, when you talk about Colonel Qaddafi slaughtering his own people, he was -- he appeared to be doing that a week or so, even longer, and yet the President stopped short of calling for regime change until this weekend. So if -- why did it take so long for you to call for regime change? The President was saying it’s up to the Libyan people. Now you’re saying Qaddafi has to go. He’s been slaughtering these people for days. Why did it take until this weekend to say he has to go?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, it is up to the Libyan people. And we will continue to be very supportive of their efforts to achieve the universal rights and the freedoms and the opportunity that they are seeking. I think we have been very, very clear about what is right and what is moral in this situation, and what has been unacceptable and inexcusable violence. And we have taken very strong and very swift actions to confront that.
On Friday, we froze the assets of Libya’s leaders, and on Monday, $30 billion -- an unprecedented quantity of resources have been seized in just over the last several days. On Saturday, the Security Council with the U.S. and leadership of others moved at a speed that is, I can tell you from my experience, almost unheard of, to pass unanimously a resolution that not only imposed a travel ban, an assets freeze, and arms embargo, but referred the situation in Libya for the first time on a unanimous basis to the International Criminal Court.
Q What changed from February 23rd? What changed from February 23rd when the President --
AMBASSSADOR RICE: Well, first of all --
Q -- did not call for regime change?
AMBASSSADOR RICE: First of all, the situation has evolved. We have been, as the President has said, focused very urgently on the protection of Americans and ensuring that Americans are safe. But we have also, as the same time, been actively working and planning to enable the swift and decisive response that you’ve seen forthcoming from the U.S. government.
Q There’s been some talk about oil embargos. But does that make any sense now that it appears that most of the oil production is in the hands of rebel forces?
AMBASSSADOR RICE: Well, I think, from a sanctions point of view, the United Nations has historically, in recent years, moved away from sweeping measures, and focused most precisely on targeted measures that go after the leadership of the country and isolate those that are responsible for atrocities. We’re in a different world than we were 15, 20 years ago and have learned some lessons from regimes like Iraq and elsewhere that didn’t have the targeted effect that was desired and was more scattershot. So I think at least in the context of the Security Council in New York, when we look at sanctions, whether it’s on Iran, North Korea, or Libya, we aim, first and foremost, at targeted measures that go after those that are responsible for violations.
Q So in this case, not oil?
AMBASSSADOR RICE: We have not had active discussions in New York on oil.