State Department Special Briefing on NATO’s Berlin Ministerial

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 18, 2011.  

MS. FULTON: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. I’m happy to introduce to you today Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon, who is going to talk to you a bit about the Secretary’s trip to Berlin last week for the NATO ministerial, foreign ministerial.

Assistant Secretary Gordon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you, everybody. Let me just start off with some brief opening comments, and then I’ll look forward to your questions. In Berlin, on the 14th and 15th in April, the Secretary, Secretary Clinton, participated in a NATO ministerial that was an opportunity to consult with key allies and partners not just on Libya, but on a wide range of other bilateral and multilateral issues. The NATO ministerial included sessions on Libya, on Afghanistan, where ISAF – all of the ISAF partners joined NATO members, NATO’s deterrence and defense posture review, NATO’s partnership’s in general, and specifically the NATO-Russia Council, the NATO-Georgia Commission, and the NATO-Ukraine Commission, so it was a busy couple of days.

In addition to all the NATO sessions, the Secretary had bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Merkel, German Foreign Minister Westerwelle, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Gryshchenko, British Foreign Secretary Hague, French Foreign Minister Juppe, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and others. She also met with Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul and several of the Arab participants, and in the course of two days, had the opportunity to discuss these issues even in not in a formal bilateral session with a number of other allies and partners.

On Libya, the meeting in Berlin of NATO allies and contributors to Operation Unified Protector was an important reaffirmation of some of the key points agreed to at the Doha Contact Group meeting the day before. For context and background, you all remember that the London meeting on Libya on March 29th set up a contact group that was going to meet for the first time formally in Doha, which would provide broad political guidance on Libya and that NATO, since it has taken over the command and control of the military operation, would give executive guidance for the military mission. And that is precisely what took place over the two days with the Contact Group meeting in Doha, addressing a range of political, economic, humanitarian, diplomatic factors, calling clearly for Qadhafi to go. You saw that Contact Group statement or the chair statement out of the Contact Group making clear that Qadhafi has lost all legitimacy and should leave power so that Libyans can shape their own future. And then the NATO ministerial was a chance to follow up the next day. NATO, in Berlin, met with all 28 allies plus the six partners that have joined the Libya coalition.

And again, I look forward to your questions on this. What I want to draw you attention to was the statement that came out of that NATO plus partners meeting on Libya. I recommend you read it in full. But the most important part of it was when allies agreed, very specifically, to maintain a high operational tempo against legitimate targets and to exert this pressure as long as necessary until the following objectives are achieved. And just to paraphrase, those objectives that NATO agreed to were attacks and threats of attacks against civilians must end; regime forces, including snipers, mercenary, and others, must withdraw from all areas they have forcibly occupied, and then a number of cities were listed; and humanitarian assistance needs to be unhindered. So I want to stress there – is that all 20 of these allies plus the six partners agreed on a very specific set of goals and made clear that military operations will continue until those goals are met.

The Doha and Berlin meetings together underscore the international community’s commitment to enforce the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1973. We know we have a lot of work still to do not just on the military side, but on the political side, including following up on the temporary financial mechanism that was referred to in the chair statement out of Doha. And the Berlin meetings provide an opportunity for the Secretary to discuss this not just in a NATO context, but also bilaterally with a number of the key partners that I mentioned.

Finally, I’ll just note, because as I said at the beginning, the ministerial wasn’t just about Libya. In other areas, the ISAF group of nations met, and allies affirmed the transition principles and expressed broad support for intensifying what we’re calling the diplomatic surge toward an Afghan-led political settlement.

On the NATO posture review, NATO ministers had a dinner in which they discussed – following on the New Strategic Concept, the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, which is designed to help determine the appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities for the alliance to meet Article 5.

NATO partnerships – allies agreed to enhancements for engaging partners across the globe, and indeed, Libya is a classic example of why NATO needs good mechanisms for partnerships, because we’re actually undertaking a partnership mission as we speak. NATO-Georgia Commission met and allies reaffirmed Georgia’s membership aspirations, encouraged further reforms in Georgia, and expressed support for Georgian territorial integrity and sovereignty.

In the NATO-Ukraine Commission, allies affirmed the NATO-Ukraine partnership, encouraged further economic and democratic reforms, and welcomed Ukrainian contributions to NATO operations. And then finally, in the NATO-Russia Council, as in the bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Secretary had an opportunity to discuss Libya, NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation, and the future of conventional arms control in Europe.

So I think you can see it was a pretty busy and productive two days. With that, I will stop and look forward to your questions.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Right here.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve seen the news today, but there are some news agencies reporting as many as a thousand people were killed in Misrata. And if NATO mission is to protect civilians, do you agree that they have failed to do so? And another question is: There’s been criticism against NATO that the structure is very bureaucratic, make it very difficult militarily or politically to take decisions, and that criticism came from the rebels in Libya.

Is this something that concerns you? Have you raised it with NATO members?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all, I haven’t seen that specific news on Misrata. I can tell you we are obviously very concerned about the situation in Misrata. It was one of the things that all NATO ministers agreed needed to be a priority of protecting civilians in Misrata as well as elsewhere, but I think there was a sense of urgency and great concern about the situation there.

I don’t agree with the notion that the mission has failed to protect civilians. Indeed, I think one can say that the mission has successfully protected a large number of Libyan civilians. Remember, when this mission started, it was in the context of Qadhafi using his troops essentially to march on Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, and making all sorts of threats about what would happen to civilians in that city. And because, first President Obama and other allies, and then, ultimately, NATO intervened, we believe we stopped that assault and indeed protected a number of – a very large number of civilians and are continuing to do so today. We are fully conscious that we face great challenges today and in the time to come, but I think we also firmly and strongly believe that this mission has absolutely succeeded in doing that, which is protecting a large number of civilians.

As for inefficiencies, it’s actually pretty impressive. We will continue to strive to make sure NATO is acting as effectively and efficiently as possible. But if you just think how quickly this operation was conceived of and undertaken and executed, given the diversity of views and interests to get this alliance to step up and start doing what it has been doing, under the circumstances, is actually a very positive thing.

QUESTION: But you’ll review it as you go along?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Of course. That’s what I said. We will always be looking how NATO can act most efficiently and effectively. That’s what this ministerial was about. That’s what all of these meetings have been about.

If you think about this dating back – just going back to Secretary Clinton’s travels, this was extensively discussed at the G-8 meeting in Paris. Within a week, the French had asked countries particularly interested in Libya to come back to Paris. President Sarkozy held this meeting. Secretary went back for that, so he had the Paris meeting following the first Paris meeting. And then within another 10 days in London, the British brought all of the concerned countries together again to focus on how we can implement the Security Council resolutions most effectively.

At that meeting, it was decided to set up a contact group that would give the broad political guidance while NATO undertook the military mission, and that meeting took place last week in Doha on the eve of a NATO ministerial. So that’s – you’ve got five international meetings in the space of just a couple of weeks all designed to do exactly what you say – ask ourselves are we doing everything possible to make sure that we are succeeding in implementing the Security Council resolutions and the goals of the United States.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton made it very clear over there that the rebels are going to need assistance in Libya. So is she coming back with any specific recommendations for how much the United States needs to give them to assist them in this? Or what is she going to propose to the President when she meets him later?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: She’s giving a lot of thought to this, as we all are, and as allies are. As you note, she has said, and we believe, that the TNC, which we believe is an important voice of the people of Libya, need more assistance. We’ve been looking at ways to get them financial assistance and nonlethal assistance, and some of that is underway. There are different ways of doing it.

I mentioned this reference in the Doha statement to a temporary financial mechanism, which is something that we are working with allies and partners. It was in the chair statement by Britain and Qatar, and I think they’re playing a particularly important role in thinking through how we can get donations to such a mechanism, whether there’s any way to use oil sales as a way to get them the resources they need. A number of countries have looked at the frozen Libyan assets, which we’ve all said belong to the Libyan people and not to the regime, and are looking at ways to translate that into support for the Libyan people. So all of these are being carefully studied both here in Washington and with our partners. And our common goal is making sure that this assistance gets to the people as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Is there a dollar amount, though, that’s being considered right now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have a dollar amount for you, no.

MS. FULTON: Elise.

QUESTION: Phil, if I could just follow up on what Nadia was talking about, about Misrata. I mean, clearly, yes, you did prevent a kind of run on Benghazi and prevented the killing of many people. But after that initial kind of saving of lives, it does seem as if that, although I know that the campaign wasn’t to officially help the rebels, as – it seems as if as the rebels have lost ground, more lives are at – because they’re not able to fortify these cities, more lives are at stake. And it does seem as if the initial NATO campaign and the kind of preventing of large number of casualties has kind of fallen back in some ways. And it doesn’t seem as if the campaign is as successful as it was in its initial weeks, and we’re even hearing that the rebels are talking about that they may need to have to defend Benghazi again.

So how do you regain some of the momentum in terms of preventing the killing of civilians, although it might go down to how well the rebels are doing in their campaign?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. Well, look, as we’ve said, protecting civilians is the mission, and that certainly includes the civilians in Misrata. What we and our partners and allies have already done have contributed to that. I mean, when this mission was undertaken, Qadhafi was flying airplanes with impunity and striking targets –

QUESTION: But it seems as if the campaign – it does seem, though –


QUESTION: — as if his campaign has changed.


QUESTION: Do you think you need to readjust your tactics and do you think that the fact that the United States isn’t actually in the quote/unquote lead in terms of its heavy assets, do you think that that’s hurt the psychological effect of the alliance on the campaign?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I’ve said in response to previous questions, we will constantly be assessing how we can make sure that we are meeting our goals and acting as efficiently and effectively as possible. What I started to say is we already have stopped any of his planes from flying, and without what we have done so far, we – you can be sure that Qadhafi would be using airplanes to strike civilians in Misrata as elsewhere. We have also acknowledged that he has changed tactics, and we need to be prepared to deal with his change of tactics, and we’ll constantly be looking at ways in which we can do so. We are, though, as we speak, continuing to take action to protect civilians, including in Misrata, including through the use of very significant air power assets and strikes against Qadhafi’s forces in Misrata and elsewhere. And we look to the commanders to tell us or to advise political authorities on what they need to do to successfully undertake that mission.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that statement, please? You said that we – I’m assuming you meant NATO – is continuing to attack Qadhafi’s forces. The United States is not involved in that, though. I think the U.S. dropped three bombs over the weekend, and they were all at air defense sites and then one radar. Is the U.S. – during your meetings last week and in your continuing conversations, is the U.S. getting any pressure or requests from allies to get back involved in that protect civilians mission that involves specifically targeting Qadhafi’s ground forces, the tanks and whatnot?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, the President made clear from the start – the United States made clear from the start that after the initial phase of the campaign, in which the United States was very much in the league – in the lead through its air assets and strikes and suppression of enemy air defenses and submarine launched cruise missiles, that the intention of the United States was then to transition to NATO and to focus its contributions on our unique capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, in air refueling, of which we are continuing to do the bulk of the mission. And that is what we said we would do in advance, that is what – exactly what we are doing. And we said that we had confidence that NATO allies and other partners, Arabs and others who are contributing, had the capability to successfully conduct the rest of that operation, and that is when – what has been going on.

We have made clear of that – again, we take advice from the commanders on the ground – the United States has other assets in the theater. And if the commanders on the ground feel they need access to some of those assets, they can make that request and the Secretary of Defense will consider that request. At this time, those commanders have not asked the United States to do so.

QUESTION: Does that mean that these reports that the other members of the strike missions that they may be running short of ammunition, ordinance for their missions are not accurate, or is that something that you’re addressing or monitoring? And to what extent can the U.S. actually help them provide that or alleviate those shortages?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, look – I mean, first of all, I don’t want to get too much into military tactics and strategies, which is for others to answer, and I’d refer you to the Pentagon on some of the specifics about the precision-guided munitions and stocks of the same. But my broader comment applies: If we get to a situation in which other assets are needed that we don’t currently have and NATO commanders ask for them, then, obviously, the United States would consider those requests. But that’s not the situation that we’re facing now, and I would add was not in any way a dominate theme of the discussions in Berlin, which focused on all the things I described.

MS. FULTON: Right here.

QUESTION: Phil, do you share the concern of Libyan rebels that Turkish Government is taking a pro-Qadhafi position? And also, when do you expect Turkish Government to freeze the assets of Qadhafi in Turkey?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, you’ll have to ask them on the second part. On the first part, I would note Turkey was one of the 28 allies and six partners that signed up to this very specific commitment that I outlined. It was also one of the 28 allies that agreed to enforce the no-fly zone, to enforce the arms embargo, and to carry out militarily the protecting civilian mission, including with common NATO assets that Turkey owns part of. And so let’s just be clear, Turkey is a part of this mission, they embraced – indeed they were one of the strongest voices for NATO taking over the mission. And so as a part of the alliance and bilaterally we’re in very close touch with the Turkish Government about aims and means, and Turkey is absolutely on board for this common mission at NATO.




QUESTION: Turkey’s been talking to both rebels and the Libyan Government and there’s a lot of speculation on that, would you, please, elaborate whether Turkish role is talking about sides and trying to (inaudible) roadmap? Is it helpful for the alliance commitment or it is kind of a distraction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Again, I refer back to what has come out of Doha and Berlin, and Turkey was a key part of all of that. What is clear and what all of these governments have signed up to is the basic principle that Qadhafi needs to go. So any discussions that have been had – it is true that a couple of envoys from Tripoli have gone off and had discussions, and we understand that they are hearing the same thing everywhere they have gone, including Turkey. And so I think the line of the international community there is pretty clear. And look at the chair statement out of Doha, where it said that Qadhafi has lost all legitimacy and needs to leave power and leave the future of Libya up to an inclusive political process for the people of Libya.

The NATO governments, the 28 allies plus the six partners who were there, including Turkey, signed up to a statement that strongly endorsed those conclusions in Doha, and I think the United States was adequately clear as well, that Qadhafi needs to leave power. And I think that’s what they hear from us. Any envoys or emissaries that have come out of Tripoli have heard just that in unison from the international community. And where Benghazi and the TNC is concerned, the TNC has links to a number of countries – has been engaged in dialogue with a number of countries, including us. Secretary Clinton has twice met with Mahmoud Jibril, who’s an important representative of the TNC. Mr. Jibril spoke to the Doha conference. He was in London at a number of side meetings with ministers. In Doha, he actually spoke to the assembled foreign ministers and presented his vision – the TNC’s vision – of the future of Libya, and has received significant support. And Turkey has been a part of that process together with us and many others.

MS. FULTON: We have time for about two more questions. First one.

QUESTION: I’m wondering, first of all, has there been any talk about where Qadhafi would go? Has that been a matter of discussion between the NATO partners? And also, about an international ground force? It would seem the British haven’t ruled it out and even General Ham brought it up before Congress recently.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, President Obama has ruled out a ground force, so that’s, I think, pretty clear —

QUESTION: But U.S. – he’s ruled out U.S. troops –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, he can’t speak for other countries. But he’s ruled out —

QUESTION: Right. But the idea –


QUESTION: But the idea itself of ground forces, you’re not opposed to?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I didn’t say that nor did I hear any discussion of ground forces in Doha or in Berlin, just didn’t hear it. So that’s – you’ll have to talk to others if that’s what they’re saying.

QUESTION: The exile question, where do they go?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The exile question. Look, it obviously – what we’ve been clear about is he needs to leave power. And we’ve said that, President Obama has said it, and as I mentioned, the collected leaders in Doha and Berlin have said the same thing. That’s the core point – he needs to go, he needs to leave power.

Of course, it has crossed people’s minds about what that means, and there are a number of different options, and discussions have been had, but there’s no formal process underway of identifying a place. We want to focus on the first part of that: He needs to go.

QUESTION: But you’d like him to go sooner rather than later, obviously.


QUESTION: And if there’s nowhere for him to go —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s why people are thinking about – the most important thing is that he leave power and as soon as possible. And if going to – and getting out of Libya would keep him further away from power in Libya that would be a good thing. And so people are thinking about places he might go, and he should do so sooner rather than later.

MS. FULTON: Question in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. I was wondering if you would give us some more details about other meetings in Berlin. It is almost two years since NATO member states declared in Bucharest that Georgia one day will be NATO member. How do you see this process today? How close is Georgia to NATO membership?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m not going to put dates or speculate about any timetables. I can tell you that ministers reaffirmed their commitment to supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and continue to stand by the process of strengthening Georgia’s candidacy for Euro-Atlantic institutions, and are working with Georgia on its annual national plan and other mechanisms that make Georgia a stronger candidate. And they also expressed Georgia – expressed appreciation for Georgia’s contribution to the ISAF mission, where Georgia was also represented in Berlin.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you very much for your time, sir.