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Foreign Secretary on Libya and Yemen

Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed his visit to Benghazi and the situation in Yemen in an interview with the BBC on 5 June

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Interview transcript for the Foreign Secretary’s interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show:

Andrew Marr: Well the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was in Libya yesterday for talks with the opposition forces who control the eastern part of the country based in the port of Benghazi and after a late flight back he has been up early to join us this morning. Thank you and welcome.

William Hague: Good morning.

AM: The people that you were talking to in Libya have sort of proclaimed themselves to be the provisional or transitional Government, do you have a clear sense of who they are and are you sure that they are not connected with extremists and al Qaeda types?

WH: Well a fairly clear sense. We’ve got to know some of them quite well, Mr Jalil, the President of this organisation, the National Transitional Council, I met him several times, and many of their, many of the others. And I think it is important to say that these people at the top of this organisation are genuine believers in democracy, in the rule of law. It is quite inspiring as I, as I said earlier this morning to see their real hope for the future of their country. Now having said that of course there’s also a great mixture who support them; there are representatives of all areas of Libya, there are representatives of many shades of opinion.

AM: And you’re not going to be introduced to the dodgy types, you’re going to be introduced to the kind of, the smoother ones.

WH: … well no but actually I met the, he, Mr Jalil introduced me yesterday to a wide variety of the representatives on the National Transitional Council. Now, as we’ve said, there will be people with many different political views and many different religious views on that council supporting that council. But certainly I think they are genuine in wanting a democratic Libya and in their hopes for a free country.

And the other encouraging thing was that from what one could see on a visit of that kind of the real people there they are passionate about that too. You know in Freedom Square you meet people with a, with a, with an outpouring of anger about what happened under the Gaddafi regime but of hope for a country with opportunity, with dignity for their country, the things that we expect in our country.

AM: They have the east of the country and Gaddafi’s people still have the west of the country or most of it and although the helicopters have been in action and so on it still seems that this could go on for a very, very long time; Gaddafi and his family have nowhere else to go, seem to be determined to hunker down and hold on and simply dropping things on top of them, I mean, unless they’re killed unexpectedly and it could happen tomorrow it could happen any day, but unless they’re killed it’s very hard to see how this ends.

WH: Well yes we don’t know how long it will go and we’ve been clear about that right from the beginning that no one can say how long it continues but it’s not as simple as this east west split that you’re pointing to there Andrew because …

AM: Well (indistinct) without going in to the geography of it Foreign Secretary, I would just like to keep on, keep on the subject of how this might end.

WH: Yes, yes this, this point is crucial to it …

AM: All right.

WH: … because the way the Gaddafi regime thought it would end is that they would extinguish all the pockets of opposition support in the west, the famous town of Misurata, the towns in the western mountains bordering Tunisia and they have failed to do that in recent weeks because of the NATO and allied operations, because we have safeguarded the civilian population. Now that means that it’s not, we’re not looking at a partitioned Libya and that the pressure is now all on the regime; time is against them. We’re often told in many conflicts time is against us but actually in this case time is against the Gaddafi regime.

AM: One of the successes of the operation so far is that the, the Tripoli regime has not been able to produce scores of sort of charred civilian bodies that we have killed by accident, and that’s clearly a good thing. But it could well mean that this goes on for really quite a long time.

WH: But then that is the right choice to make. It is better, and I’ve argued this in the House of Commons, it is better to stay strictly within the United Nations resolutions, which we do, keeping all the legal and moral and, and widespread international support that comes from that, than it is to seek a short cut to the end of (indistinct) …

AM: So, so to be clear …

WH: … we will continue in that way, intensifying what we’re doing, the Apache helicopters are an example of that but that’s different from mission creep, this is not mission creep changing the nature of the thing, this is intensifying what we are doing in order to make this mission a success …

AM: (Indistinct) want to get Gaddafi out. If we are still sitting here, or if we return and are sitting here at say Christmas and he is still there and we’ve spent another billion pounds on this then it’s, that’s worth it is it?

WH: Well we’re not, we’re not going to set a deadline. You’re asking about Christmas and who knows it, it can be, it can be (indistinct) …

AM: Well I can ask, this time next year or whatever …

WH: … days or weeks or months, it is worth doing. If we were not doing this Gaddafi would have overrun by force the whole of Libya causing a massive humanitarian crisis, committing many atrocities and destabilising Tunisia and Egypt at the same time with terrible consequences for Europe and for this country. So it’s in our own national interest as well as right to support people who are aspiring to the things I saw from those people yesterday.

AM: Let’s assume that somehow, we know not exactly how, Gaddafi falls and the regime ends, what happens then? Is there a plan for Libya after that?

WH: Right this is the main thing that Andrew Mitchell and I went to talk to them about yesterday because there needs to such a plan and it’s only in an embryonic stage. Andrew Mitchell, our Development Secretary, has sent what we call a stabilisation response team that’s leading the international assessment in Benghazi at the moment of what would be needed for Libya to stabilise the situation for the people of Libya after Gaddafi goes. But we’re also encouraging the National Transitional Council to put more flesh on their proposed transition, to lay out in more detail this coming week what would happen on the day that Gaddafi went; who would be running what? How would a new Government …

AM: (Indistinct) is anyone clear about that?

WH: … well they have published a good plan for that which involves incorporating some of the technocratic members of the regime with the opposition members which is, would be the right thing to do and then holding elections after a certain time.

AM: So no De-Ba’athification which happened in Iraq.

WH: No, no De-Ba’athification absolutely. But, so, so certainly learning from that. But they now need to publicise that more effectively, to be able to convince members of the current regime that that is something that would work, to be able to really have the detailed plan of what happens from day one in this situation when they would have an extraordinary opportunity that wouldn’t last long to get things right for the country. So that was part of my message to them in the meetings that we had yesterday.

AM: We’ve been told no boots on the ground in a conflict situation, but after the regime had fallen there will be lots of trouble of one kind or another. Might we put in peace keepers? And might there be a peace keeping force to ensure that there is stability?

WH: Well that, that might be one of the options. I don’t, Britain does not normally these days play a huge part in peace keeping forces. There, there are many nations that are ready, including African nations of course that supply large numbers of peace keeping troops for those sorts of operations. So no we’re not looking at, at British boots on the ground, British combat forces or a major British part in the peace keeping of it. We can help in so many other ways, some of the ways that I’ve just been describing.

AM: Because our moral responsibility is different. I mean, I mean we will have helped to bring this regime down, we will have broken the Government as it were, so in terms of the pieces afterwards, we have an obligation presumably as a country to ensure that, you know, that there isn’t chaos.

WH: Well yeah and that is that stabilisation response. That is making sure that we have a whole new partnership with the Arab world, between the European Union and
the Arab world, the way Europe acts as a magnet for positive change, encouraging really open market economies, the rule of law, an independent judiciary so that these things flourish in North Africa and this, once this fighting is over is the immense contribution that Britain and Europe again can make to the, to the wider prosperity and stability of the world.

AM: Let me ask you if I may about another real crisis which is Yemen. The, the President Saleh has, has gone, fled, I don’t know whether he’s just gone for medical treatment or he’s actually fled to Saudi Arabia, but that looks like a country which is genuinely falling to pieces.

WH: It, it does look like that. The, exactly, we don’t know, although the President has gone to Saudi Arabia he may just have gone for medical treatment. We hope that he will sign the mediated agreement that the Gulf Cooperation Council have put in front of him several times and he has refused to sign. We will continue to encourage him to do that. In the meantime I can’t stress too strongly that any remaining British nationals in Yemen should leave now by commercial means which are still available. They must not assume that in these circumstances we can safely conduct or would try to conduct an evacuation of them.

AM: And given the dangers of Yemen and the fact that al Qaeda in the Saudi Peninsula is based there, how worried are you about that becoming a failed state and a new source of world instability?

WH: Very worried. I think Yemen is one of our, as I say one of our principal concerns for our own national security. That’s why we’ve been working hard on it in, in recent weeks and months and indeed back in to the last Government. This has continued across two British Governments trying to stabilise Yemen. We’ve not succeeded in that, but we will continue working very hard on that. It, it could become a much more serious threat to our own national security.

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Published 5 June 2011