Remarks En Route Tripoli, Libya with Traveling PressSecretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Tripoli, Libya
September 5, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: (In progress) made remarks about the purpose of this trip when I was with Foreign Minister Amado. We’re beginning a trip across the Maghreb, and I think it’s timely. Obviously, this first leg is historic, and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to visit Libya. Quite frankly, I never thought I would be visiting Libya. So it’s quite something.
I also am looking forward to the opportunity to talk about a number of issues. This was made possible, of course, both by Libya’s decision, strategic decision, change of direction several years ago in terms of giving up its weapons of mass destruction in a verifiable way, and in renouncing terrorism. It’s also made possible by the landmark settlement that we have achieved with the Libyans to compensate victims of terrorism.
There is much to talk about. The Maghreb is a place in which we have excellent relations across the region, but to have now relations with Libya that can also help in the war on terror; that can help in managing the significant conflicts in places like Sudan, Somalia; Libya’s crucial and pivotal role in both the African Union and as a member of the Arab League. And so it’s a real opportunity.
I will, of course, talk as well about bilateral relations, including our hopes for educational and cultural exchange and to get Libyan students coming again to the United States in significant numbers. And of course, there are human rights issues that I will raise as well. And so it’s going to be unfortunately short, but I expect it to be a most interesting time.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any trepidation at all about seeing this guy who has been the bane of the existence of many a U.S. presidents and secretaries of state? And secondly, is there anything you’re hoping to sign today? There’s been talk about some MOUs and --
SECRETARY RICE: I’ll get back to you. We’ve worked on a number of things, most importantly an educational and cultural agreement, but I don’t know that it’s ready for signature. I’ll get back to you.
In terms of my meeting with leader Muammar Qadhafi, as I said, a lot has happened in the years since 1957, I guess, which was when Richard Nixon was there. But the most important is that there has been a change in Libya’s strategic direction. Now, that is not to say that everything has by any means been settled between the United States and Libya. There is a long way to go. But I do believe that this demonstrates that the United States doesn't have permanent enemies. It demonstrates that when countries are prepared to make strategic changes in direction, the United States is prepared to respond. It’s a beginning. It’s an opening. It’s not, I think, the end of the story.
QUESTION: Have you thought about what you’re going to say to Colonel Qadhafi, and can you tell us?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, Helene, I have thought about what I’m going to say. And no, I won’t tell you. (Laughter.) It’s – look, I told you what I expect to talk about. There are bilateral issues. There are commercial and economic issues, especially, of course, concerning energy and energy supply and reliable energy supply. There are issues about Libya’s potential opening to the world, which has been underway really since the historic decisions of 2003, but I think could accelerate.
There are strategic issues. I had very interesting discussions with Luis Amado about his conversations with Muammar Qadhafi, and quite clearly, issues about the Middle East, about Africa, about North Africa. This is a country that has been very involved, for instance, in the Sudan situation, and so I would like to know more about that.
It’s a Security Council member. So whether it is about Iran or Burma or Sudan, there is work to do there as well. So, I’ll look forward to listening to the leader’s world view about a number of those issues.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that money has not yet been put into the humanitarian fund – unless of course it’s happening while we’re on this plane? And then secondly, in terms of human rights issues, are you going to specifically raise the case of Fathi Al-Jahmi? And do you think it would be nice goodwill gesture for him to release him, for example, while you’re there or soon after you leave?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it’s just important that he be released, not as a goodwill gesture or not. But it’s just important that he be released. And of course, I’ll raise the case. I also want to make clear that on the agreement, the claims agreement, this facility, this fund will have to be in place and funded before the United States is obligated to fulfill its commitments. And so we expect it to be done. I can’t be certain of the timing, but our obligations come into place when the funding is available.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, things happen all in their good time. And this trip is acknowledging how far the U.S.-Libyan relationship has come. But as I said, it’s a beginning, not the end of the story.
QUESTION: Just to clarify on Fathi Al-Jahmi. Are you going to raise with the leader or just at your foreign minister level?
And also, one of the charges that he faces the death penalty for is for meeting with U.S. diplomats, and I wondered if you find that disturbing. And would that kind of law out there make it difficult for U.S. diplomats to do what they’re supposed to be doing when they’re in Libya?
SECRETARY RICE: Of course, it’s disturbing, and I’ll raise it. And as I said, Glenn, I’ll let you know what I raised when I come back, and where. Glenn, when – I’ll have answers for you when I come back.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, have you ever met with any of the Lockerbie family members, and is that something that you would consider in light of this? And the other thing – the other question is how much do you think this rapprochement with Libya will help the U.S. in terms of the energy supply?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Libya has large reserves, proven and unproven. And it has large reserves of natural gas as well, which is important. But it’s not helping the United States. It’s helping in terms of the world energy supply and the reliable sources of energy, multiple sources of energy. Diversification of energy supply is an important element of economic development for the entire international community, at this point, the entire international economy. And so it’s helpful.
But this is a much broader relationship. The relationship has much broader potential than just energy. Because again, I think if you just look at a map across North Africa, you can see that given some of the issues that have arisen in the Maghreb, including issues on terrorism, it will be good to not have a hole in the relationships across the Maghreb -- all of others which happen to be very good for us.
And I said earlier that, you know, no one can ever really salve the wounds of the families, the Lockerbie families and other families that lost loved ones as a result of the terrorism. And that is why we have worked so hard for justice to be brought and the means of compensation. And you know, I would be – people have met with the families to explain what’s going on. There’s been constant contact with them. I have by no means been avoiding it. But we very much think that we’ve tried to take into consideration, as we’ve moved this relationship forward, the concerns of these victims. I understand that no amount of money can ever bring people back, but compensation seems to (inaudible) an important element.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you plan to reach any defense agreement with Libya during this trip or any memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation?
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t plan to certainly reach any agreements. If it is something that Libya wishes to discuss, then we can certainly discuss it, although, obviously, it would be more appropriate to refer this back to – in initial stages, in any case, to the Pentagon and to Bob Gates.
QUESTION: Should Libya’s change of heart be seen as proof of the value of patient diplomacy and engagement or the value of isolation and the threat of force? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Right. (Laughter.) Is that a leading question? No. Look, quite obviously, there was a long period of isolation, a long period of isolation. And you know, I was in the White House as National Security Advisor when the first approaches started to come that Libya was perhaps ready to change direction and change course. And we pursued it. We pursued it with the British. And it was at that point that it was possible to really see a different future.
But it was a choice that Libya made. And any time a country is prepared to make that kind of choice, then I do think that the opening for diplomacy, for engagement, ought to be pursued and it ought to be pursued vigorously. And that’s what we’ve done over the last five years, since those historic decisions of 2003.
Okay. See you on the ground.
Released on September 5, 2008