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UN intervention in Libya: Foreign Secretary on BBC Radio 5

Foreign Secretary William Hague discusses the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on BBC Radio 5

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Kate Silverton, BBC Radio 5

Kate Silverton: And joining me now the Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State thank you for joining us this morning. Can you …

William Hague: Good morning.

KS: … good morning, bring us up today if you will with the situation as it stands right now?

WH: Well I think you pretty much have it up to date from, from the reports that you’ve had. There was, there was last night the launching of cruise missile attacks against the air defences of the Gaddafi regime, this is in order to enforce UN Resolution 1973, a resolution that was passed on, on Thursday night to protect the civilian population of Libya and to enforce a no fly zone. And …

KS: Does it go further than that because what we were just hearing from David Loyn is that it also does include potential for strikes on the ground?

WH: Oh certainly it includes the potential for that because what was very important about this resolution is that it, it not only brought in a no fly zone, mandated a no fly zone, but also said that is was possible to take all necessary measures to protect the populated areas of Libya, to protect the civilian population, including Benghazi, that was specifically named in the UN resolution. And so your correspondent who you were just listening to was quite right to say that that does make it possible, entirely legal to attack forces who are menacing or threatening the civilian population of Libya.

KS: And to, and to be clear does that mean also the potential for ground troops going in?

WH: Well here the UN resolution is also clear because it, while it does mandate all the things that I’ve just described it’s very clear that there must not be a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya. So it does not support the idea of a ground invasion of Libya, let’s be clear about that.

KS: Can the UN side supply the rebels with arms?

WH: No there is an international arms embargo on the whole of Libya, that applies to all sides in Libya and, indeed, one of the things that will additionally be happening now is the more thorough enforcement of that arms embargo. There will be maritime operations by some of the nations involved in these air attacks and by other nations as well to police the arms embargo at least by sea to ensure that there isn’t a continuing flow of weapons in to Libya.

KS: Yes because reports today suggest, as you’ll be all too aware, that Colonel Gaddafi’s troops will be using weapons that were actually sold to him by the UK.

WH: Well I, I don’t, I haven’t seen those reports. Clearly there have been such sales in the past and, indeed, Gaddafi in recent weeks seems to have been bringing in mercenaries from other countries, from other African countries. The no fly zone will make it harder for that to happen because they have on the whole been flown in and, of course, that will become much harder given that the, the Libyan regime can not now move around by air.

KS: But how effective really can this no fly zone be? Colonel Gaddafi’s just been speaking on state television saying Libya is preparing for a long war. If Gaddafi’s forces refuse to leave the cities how does the UN get them out?

WH: Well they, he doesn’t really speak for Libya any more does he because they, it was the Libyan opposition based in Benghazi who called for this no fly zone and who called for a UN resolution so, clearly, there are many different points of view within Libya and there are many Libyans who are delighted that the resolution has been passed and who will be delighted that this action has been taken.

KS: There are other Libyans though who support him as we’ve just been hearing from Alan Little in Tripoli.

WH: There will be people who, and, and he continues to have the cash in order to buy support but as we know from the defection of Libyan diplomats around the world, from the number of former members of his Government who have joined the opposition, there is huge opposition from those feel allowed to say so in Libya to the Gaddafi regime. But this resolution does not empower us to implement regime change it empowers us to protect and safeguard the civilian population so that they can, hopefully, in the future determine their own future but without being massacred and without being attacked by the forces of the regime.

KS: So can Colonel Gaddafi remain in power if he submits to the force of the UN resolution then?

WH: Well if he was to submit to the resolution there would be a cease fire, there would be an end to all of this violence. There would be, the no fly zone would be enforced, there would be no further arms flowing in to Libya then it would be up to the people of Libya to determine what happened but without Gaddafi’s forces being able to attack them. And, of course, that, that would put him in a dramatically different position from the position he’s been in the last few weeks.

KS: I’m just wondering without arms how they’ll be able to do that, the rebels.

WH: Well they do have arms of course, it’s the, the balance of arms is not in their favour as things have stood. This intervention mandated by the UN resolution does change that balance of course because it means that the attacks on the rebel forces must stop and if that if they don’t stop then we and our partners can do something about it.

So it does change that military balance. They do have arms but I suspect they also have a great deal of support in the country …

KS: Potential, potentially but there’s also a potential for partition isn’t there really, a civil war. If you look at Libya’s history again as you’ll all, be all to aware you have the west and the east, if I can simplify it to that, that degree …

WH: Yes.

KS: … we can’t just sit back and just then think we’re, because it sounds like now we’re just supporting the rebels, we can’t just sit back as a nation and do that can we because, surely, who says that everybody in Tripoli or the west wants the rebels to, to take power?

WH: Yes and that’s why I say we don’t choose the future Government of Libya …

KS: But then why are we intervening?

WH: Because this is the decision of the United Nations to, we are, let’s be clear why we’re intervening. First of all people were being slaughtered by the Gaddafi regime, they were appealing for help, the Arab League unanimously appealed for a resolution and a no fly zone and it’s in our national interests to do so because a, a Libya wholly dominated by a Gaddafi regime that had become a pariah state could be a source of extremism and terrorism on the southern boundaries of Europe for some time to come.

So for all of these reasons it is right for us to implement what is now international law, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, but that does not give us the right to determine the future of Libya that, of course, is for the Libyan people. Just as we hope the people of Egypt, the people of Tunisia will be able to determine their own future after the revolutions they’ve had earlier this year.

KS: There have been appeals for help from other African countries, the Congo, Ivory Coast to name but two, we don’t intervene there. In the Congo three million people have died, we haven’t called for a no fly zone or even intervened.

WH: Well actually the, the international community has been very active. You’ll remember …

KS: Not to this degree.

WH: … during the, during the last Government in trying to bring about peace in the Congo. But what we can do, really the, the answer to that is the answer the Prime Minister gave in the House of Commons on Friday which is just because we can not do everything in the world doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. It doesn’t mean we should rule out doing anything.

KS: All right what about Bahrain and, and Yemen where there’s been bloodshed there too?

WH: Yes Bahrain is a different case from Libya, it’s clearly a different case. We’re very concerned about it but it’s not the same as Libya. In Bahrain the Government has offered a national dialogue to the opposition forces, they have offered a referendum on a constitution, you don’t see Colonel Gaddafi offering a referendum on a future constitution. I don’t think he would be, play very much part in …

KS: He might …

WH: … he wouldn’t be able to survive such a referendum, at least I doubt that. So the situation in Bahrain is different, we do call and we have called in recent days for restraint by all concerned, for immediate access to medical treatment to those injured in Bahrain. So we have to watch that very closely. But it’s different from Libya.

Yemen is also of great concern to us. There were forty people killed in violence there on Friday. We, again, have been active in encouraging a dialogue between the President and the opposition groups. I went there last month in order to encourage that. Sometimes that dialogue has looked like it’s going to be successful but it does seem to have broken down in recent days. So we have to keep working on that because Yemen is in a very serious condition indeed.

KS: So we could extend this sort of action elsewhere?

WH: Well that depends, of course, on the circumstances. Now we, we can not say we’ll be able to do the same in all circumstances and all of these countries are different, clearly they’re all in a different situation, you can’t generalise about them but in the case of Libya we not only have a regime that was setting about attacking its own people but it’s very, it’s very …

KS: So why didn’t we do something about it sooner then? We, he’s been in power for so long suddenly he’s become the bogey man when not so long ago he was our friend.

WH: Well because there were three criteria which I set out consistently out over the last three weeks for us able to become involved; a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and strong support from within the region. We operate within international law and, of course, it was frustrating at times in the last two weeks that it took some time to get the United Nations resolution passed but we could only do that once the Arab League had made clear their position and we could only do that with the support of other nations in the world. And I think we did well with France, Lebanon and the United States to get that resolution passed on Thursday night.

Would we have liked to have had it a few days before? Yes we would but it took until Thursday night for all those three criteria to be satisfied; a legal basis for us to become involved, clear support from the region and a demonstrable need to do so.

KS: To demonstrate that clear support from the region and, obviously, we’re talking about the Arab League here, don’t they need to do a little bit more than support the no fly zone, don’t they need to get more actively involved?

WH: Yes. Some of them have said that they will do. Of course we now look to them to do so. I think they will support in various ways, some of them will give financial support, some of them will give logistical support. Of course we hope that they will meet their commitments to give military, active military participation as well …

KS: How crucial is that?

WH: Well I think, and for the reasons you were discussing earlier, I just caught the discussion that you were having earlier, it is important so that people can see this is not just a Western operation although it’s, we must also point out, that this has the support, it was supported at the United Nations by the Arab nation on the Security Council and by all of the African nations on the Security Council. Now that was a really remarkable feature of what happened at the UN on Thursday night. So there is no doubt about that support but would we welcome active military participation from Arab nations? Of course we would, we’d, we’d welcome that as well.

KS: And what are you going to do about Qatar which their new agency is saying they have troops in Bahrain to help the Government there to quash the uprising which is something of a contradiction isn’t it?

WH: Well they and the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have forces in Bahrain. As I’ve said Bahrain is a different situation from Libya …

KS: Because …

WH: … but we, but, for, for all the reasons I explained earlier …

KS: … sure okay …

WH: … that they, that they have offered a referendum, that they have offer, offered a sincere dialogue with the …

KS: And the violence will stop in the meantime?

WH: … opposition but we look to all involved, the, the protestors as well as the Government forces, to avoid violence and to resume the dialogue which the Crown Prince of Bahrain offered and which some of the opposition forces seemed ready to respond to. And so it’s time to turn away from extremism on any side in Bahrain, the only way forward for that country is to have some agreed way forward between the Sunni and Shia populations.

KS: This in Libya specifically could go on for months, some say possibly years, do we have the finances and military resources for it?

WH: We have the resources to do what we’re, what we’ve started now yes, that’s clear. Of course it’s a great help to have so many other countries involved as well. So we will see this through. It’s impossible of course to put, put time scale on it, we can’t really speculate about that at the moment but we will see this through to success, we will implement the UN resolution, we will go no further than the UN resolution, but we will implement that resolution in compliance with our responsibilities and with international law.

KS: So the ultimate aim is just to neutralise the defences that Colonel Gaddafi has?

WH: The, as, as we were discussing at the beginning the resolution allows us to do that in pursuance of a no fly zone but also to prevent attacks on the civilian population. And that means that what we’re allowed to do under the UN resolution depends on the behaviour of the Gaddafi regime. It’s quite a different situation if they had, if they’d implemented the ceasefire which they announced on Friday rather than lying to the world and going ahead with attacks on opposition held areas even while they were insisting they had a ceasefire. Those are very different situations and so the, it is the degree to which they mount attacks on the civilian population of Libya that will determine the degree of response to that.

KS: You said that we have the resources to see this through, it was only a few months ago that our politicians said the Armed Forces needed to make drastic cuts, events seem to suggest the opposite?

WH: Well remember the, these are the, these are the forces that we retain under the Strategic Defence Review and that does enable us to conduct operations of this kind whilst simultaneously doing all that we’re doing in Afghanistan. After, after the Strategic Defence Review we will remain the fourth largest military power in the world, develop, we’re also with a wide range of new equipment and capabilities and so I hope people do understand that. So the Strategic Defence Review did not mean the end of the Armed Force capabilities of this country.

KS: Secretary of State, William Hague, thank you very much …

WH: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure.

KS: … for joining us for that update this morning, thank you.

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Published 20 March 2011