NBC’s “Meet the Press” interview with Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton on Libya

MR. GREGORY: As part of the president’s effort to more ful­ly explain the U.S. mis­sion and inter­ests in Libya, the Sec­re­tary of State, Hillary Clin­ton , and Sec­re­tary of Defense Robert Gates sat down here with me yes­ter­day.
Sec­re­tary Clin­ton, Sec­re­tary Gates, wel­come back to MEET THE PRESS. The pres­i­dent said this is an oper­a­tion that would take days, not weeks. We are now into the sec­ond week. Has the mis­sion been accom­plished?

SEC. GATES: I think that the no-fly zone aspect of the mis­sion has been accom­plished. We have not seen any of his planes fly since the mis­sion start­ed. We have sup­pressed his air defens­es. I think we’ve also been suc­cess­ful on the human­i­tar­i­an side. We have pre­vent­ed his forces from going to Beng­hazi, and we have tak­en out a good bit of his armor. So I think we have, to a very large extent, com­plet­ed the mil­i­tary mis­sion in terms of get­ting it set up. Now, the no-fly zone and even the human­i­tar­i­an side will have to be sus­tained for some peri­od of time.

MR. GREGORY: Is Gad­hafi capa­ble of rout­ing the rebels?

SEC. CLINTON: At this point it appears that his efforts have been stopped. I think if you were to look at where we were just a cou­ple of weeks ago, he was clear­ly on his way to Beng­hazi. He was intend­ing, by his own words, to show no mer­cy, to go house to house. I think we’ve pre­vent­ed a great human­i­tar­i­an dis­as­ter, which is always hard to point to some­thing that did­n’t hap­pen, but I, I believe we did. And now we’re begin­ning to see, because of the good work of the, the coali­tion , to see his, his troops begin to turn back towards the west and to see the oppo­si­tion begin to reclaim ground they had lost.

MR. GREGORY: That said, Sec­re­tary Gates, would the U.S. sup­ply arms to the rebels?

SEC. GATES: No deci­sion has been made about that at this point. The, the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion would per­mit it, the 2nd Res­o­lu­tion 1973 would per­mit it. But no deci­sions have been made by our gov­ern­ment about that.

MR. GREGORY: Why? Does this admin­is­tra­tion want to see the rebels pre­vail and over­take Gad­hafi?

SEC. GATES: I think the president’s pol­i­cy is that it’s time for Gad­hafi to go. That’s not part of our mil­i­tary mis­sion, which has been very lim­it­ed and very strict­ly defined.

MR. GREGORY: Well, so how is that going to hap­pen?


MR. GREGORY: Sec­re­tary Clin­ton, you said this week that you thought you were pick­ing up sig­nals that he want­ed to get out of his own accord.

SEC. CLINTON: Well, David, there are many dif­fer­ent aspects to the strat­e­gy that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is pur­su­ing. As Bob has said, the mil­i­tary mis­sion has gone very well. It only start­ed, you know, just like eight days ago. So it has been remark­ably well-coor­di­nat­ed and focused, and now NATO will take com­mand and con­trol over it. At the same time, we are pur­su­ing real­ly strict eco­nom­ic sanc­tions on him and peo­ple close to him. We have a polit­i­cal effort under way. The African Union just called for a tran­si­tion to democ­ra­cy. The Arab League, the oth­ers of us who are sup­port­ing this endeav­or are going to be meet­ing in Lon­don on Tues­day to begin to focus on how we’re going to help facil­i­tate such a tran­si­tion of him leav­ing pow­er.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But, but you said this week you thought there were indi­ca­tions he was look­ing to get out. Is that true?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, peo­ple around him — we have a lot of evi­dence that peo­ple around him are reach­ing out. Now, so far what they’ve been doing is to say, “You’re mis­un­der­stand­ing us. You don’t appre­ci­ate what we’re doing. Come and talk to us.” Well, the sec­re­tary gen­er­al of the Unit­ed Nations has appoint­ed a for­mer Jor­dan­ian for­eign min­is­ter as a spe­cial envoy. He will be going to both Beng­hazi and Tripoli in, in the next few days so that we will pro­vide a very clear mes­sage to Gad­hafi. But we’re also send­ing a mes­sage to peo­ple around him, “Do you real­ly want to be a pari­ah? Do you real­ly want to end up in the inter­na­tion­al crim­i­nal court? Now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direc­tion.”

MR. GREGORY: Bot­tom line, the pres­i­dent wants him to go. But the pres­i­dent will not take him out him­self.

SEC. GATES: Cer­tain­ly not mil­i­tar­i­ly.

MR. GREGORY: So it would have to be oth­er means.



SEC. GATES: But — and as I, as I’ve said, you know, we have, we have things in our tool box in addi­tion to ham­mers. Sec­re­tary Clin­ton ’s just talked about a num­ber of them. And don’t under­es­ti­mate what Hillary just said, of the peo­ple around him look­ing at what’s hap­pen­ing and the inter­na­tion­al view of this place, and when’s the time to turn and go to the oth­er side? And so the…

MR. GREGORY: Let me…

SEC. GATES: I think we — one should not under­es­ti­mate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the regime itself crack­ing.

MR. GREGORY: I want to talk about some of the con­gres­sion­al crit­i­cism. Speak­er of the House Boehn­er issued a let­ter with ques­tions, some of which were deemed legit­i­mate ques­tions by the White House. Here’s a por­tion of it, I’ll put it up on the screen: “Because of the con­flict­ing mes­sages from the admin­is­tra­tion and our coali­tion part­ners,” he wrote, “there is a lack of clar­i­ty over the objec­tives of this mis­sion , what our nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests are, how it fits into our over­ar­ch­ing pol­i­cy for the Mid­dle East . The Amer­i­can peo­ple deserve answers to these ques­tions. And all of these con­cerns point to a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: What is your bench­mark for suc­cess in Libya?”

SEC. CLINTON: Well, I think it’s per­fect­ly legit­i­mate for mem­bers of Con­gress and the pub­lic to ask ques­tions. The president’s going to address the nation Mon­day night. A lot of these ques­tions will be answered. But, but I would just make a cou­ple of points. First, on March 1 the Unit­ed States Sen­ate passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for a no-fly zone. That was a bipar­ti­san res­o­lu­tion. There were a num­ber of peo­ple in the House, includ­ing lead­er­ship in both the Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ties, who were demand­ing that action be tak­en. The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty came togeth­er; and, in an unprece­dent­ed action, the Arab League called on the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to do exact­ly what the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil end­ed up doing. Now, the Unit­ed States and oth­er coun­tries were in a posi­tion to be able to act to enforce it. If you look at the cov­er­age on Al Jazeera, if you lis­ten to the state­ments that are being put out by the oppo­si­tion in Libya , there is a great deal of appre­ci­a­tion for what we and oth­ers have done in order to stop Gad­hafi on his mis­sion of mer­ci­less oppres­sion. So this was an inter­na­tion­al effort that the Unit­ed States was a part of. I cer­tain­ly believe it was with­in the president’s con­sti­tu­tion­al author­i­ty to do so. It is going accord­ing to the plan that the pres­i­dent laid out. The Unit­ed States will be tran­si­tion­ing to a NATO com­mand and con­trol. And then we will be join­ing with the rest of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. And if you look at the region, can you imag­ine, David, if we were sit­ting here and Gad­hafi had got­ten to Beng­hazi and, in a city of 700,000 peo­ple, had mas­sa­cred tens of thou­sands, hun­dreds of thou­sands had fled over the bor­der, desta­bi­liz­ing Egypt? Every­body would be say­ing why did­n’t the pres­i­dent do some­thing?

MR. GREGORY: Can I ask you about Boehn­er him­self?

SEC. CLINTON: These are, these are dif­fi­cult choic­es.

MR. GREGORY: Did Speak­er Boehn­er raise any objec­tions when he was briefed pri­or to the mis­sion?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, I know that there was a con­stant flow of infor­ma­tion, both to mem­bers and staff. And, of course, the pres­i­dent had a, a con­fer­ence with some mem­bers in per­son, oth­ers, many oth­ers, includ­ing the speak­er on the phone. But we have no objec­tion to any­body ask­ing ques­tions. But I think it’s impor­tant to look at the con­text in which this is occur­ring. And the fact that we have moved so rapid­ly to have this kind of inter­na­tion­al action tak­en answers in great mea­sure the legit­i­mate con­cerns of the peo­ple of Libya. And now, of course, we’re going to take it day by day. That’s what you do in a sit­u­a­tion like this.

MR. GREGORY: The military’s stretched pret­ty thin. Look at this map to show what our com­mit­ments are around the globe. In Iraq, of course, we have 47,000 troops. In Afghanistan, 100,000 strong, and now this addi­tion­al com­mit­ment of U.S. troops, I mean, not troops, but U.S. assets in Libya. How does the pres­i­dent, speak­ing to the nation Mon­day night, main­tain a sense of nation­al pur­pose here at a time when we’re so stretched?

SEC. GATES: Actu­al­ly, your list was incom­plete. We have a sub­stan­tial mil­i­tary com­mit­ment in a human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance dis­as­ter relief in Japan, as well, large­ly using naval forces. The air forces that we are using for the most part and the air forces in par­tic­u­lar that we are using Libya are forces nor­mal­ly sta­tioned in Europe in any event. The real­i­ty is, though, begin­ning this week or with­in the next week or so, we will begin to dimin­ish the com­mit­ment of resources that we have com­mit­ted to this. We knew the president’s plan at the begin­ning was we would go in heavy at first because we had the capac­i­ty to do it, in terms of sup­press­ing air defens­es and so on. But then the idea was that, over time, the coali­tion would assume a larg­er and larg­er pro­por­tion of the bur­den. This was the con­ver­sa­tion he had with for­eign lead­ers when this whole thing was com­ing togeth­er. And so we see our com­mit­ment of resources actu­al­ly begin­ning to decline.

MR. GREGORY: How long does the no-fly zone last?

SEC. GATES: Well, the…

MR. GREGORY: Weeks or longer?

SEC. GATES: Once the, once the Arab — first of all, nobody knows the answer to that ques­tion.

SEC. CLINTON: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

SEC. GATES: But once the air defens­es have been sup­pressed, what it takes to sus­tain the no- fly zone is sub­stan­tial­ly less than what it takes to estab­lish it.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask this ques­tion, though, still on the mil­i­tary, and then I want your com­ment as well. What if things don’t go as planned? What is our con­tin­gency plan­ning? What is the U.S. com­mit­ment if things get worse in Libya? If Gad­hafi stays? If there’s an entrenched civ­il war? If it devolves into Soma­lia ‑like chaos? What then? What’s our com­mit­ment?

SEC. GATES: Well, the pres­i­dent has made very clear there will be no Amer­i­can troops on the ground in Libya. He’s, he’s made that quite def­i­nite. Our air pow­er has sig­nif­i­cant­ly degrad­ed his armor capa­bil­i­ties, his abil­i­ty to use his armor against cities like Beng­hazi. We see them begin­ning to move back to the west, retreat­ing. So, you know, this even­tu­al­ly is going to have to be set­tled by the Libyans them­selves, per­haps the U.N. can medi­ate or what­ev­er. But in terms of the mil­i­tary com­mit­ment, the pres­i­dent has put some very strict lim­i­ta­tions in terms of what we are pre­pared to do.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton, if I can, about the rest of the region because there is so much else that’s hap­pen­ing. And I want to go to the map and, and go through these in turn. First, as we look at the broad­er Mid­dle East, we look at Syr­ia. Dead­ly protests, because of a gov­ern­ment crack­down, that have been occur­ring over the past few days. Is it the posi­tion of the gov­ern­ment that we would like to see the Assad regime fall?

SEC. CLINTON: What we have said is what we’ve said through­out this extra­or­di­nary peri­od of trans­for­ma­tion in North Africa and the Mid­dle East. We want to see no vio­lence. We want to see peace­ful protests that enables peo­ple to express their uni­ver­sal human rights. And we want to see eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal reform. That’s what we’ve called on in Syr­ia, that’s what we’ve called on oth­er gov­ern­ments across the region to do.

MR. GREGORY: What about Sau­di Ara­bia? We go back to the map, Sec­re­tary Gates. The king is quite upset with the pres­i­dent. The rela­tion­ship has rup­tured to the point that he has sent troops into Bahrain. He would not see both of you when you were in the region. What are we doing to fix a rup­tured rela­tion­ship with per­haps our most impor­tant part­ner in the region when it comes to oil as well as oth­er mat­ters?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I don’t believe the rela­tion­ship is rup­tured. We have a very strong rela­tion­ship with Sau­di Ara­bia. I think that the Saud­is see all of this tur­bu­lence in the region with some dis­qui­et. They’re very con­cerned about Iran. They believe that Iran will be able to take advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion in var­i­ous of these coun­tries. And those are their con­cerns, and we share some of those con­cerns. But I think, I think it’s a great exag­ger­a­tion to say this relationship’s rup­tured. I, I intend to vis­it the region in the near term and, and hope and intend to see the king. So I think we have a very strong rela­tion­ship. We have a very strong mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship. As you know, the Saud­is just made one of the largest pur­chas­es of Amer­i­can weapons in, in their his­to­ry. So I think it’s over­drawn. Do we have some dif­fer­ences of view? Absolute­ly. But that’s — friends hap­pen — that hap­pens between friends all the time.

MR. GREGORY: Back to the map. In addi­tion to Yemen, I want to actu­al­ly focus on Egypt, still the strate­gic cor­ner­stone. Yemen, of course, impor­tant, but it is in Egypt that is a strate­gic cor­ner­stone of this region. What are we doing, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton, at this point to try to assist the young, sec­u­lar move­ment that wants to find a way toward lead­er­ship that may be out­manned now by the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and Mubarak ’s own par­ty?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, David, first, we have his­tor­i­cal­ly done quite a bit in reach­ing out to the very young peo­ple you’re refer­ring to. When I was just in Egypt, I met with a num­ber of those who had been lead­ers of the activ­i­ties in Tahrir Square and that were hop­ing to trans­late that protest into polit­i­cal action. A lot of them had been in Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment ‑spon­sored pro­grams, they’d been on vis­i­ta­tion pro­grams to the Unit­ed States. And we are con­tin­u­ing to reach out and work with them and to try to pro­vide sup­port to them. It is hard mov­ing from being in the fore­front of a move­ment to being part of a polit­i­cal process. It’s hard in any coun­try, but we’re going to stand with them and make sure that, at least in so far as we’re able to, they get the sup­port they need. At the same time, though, we are also work­ing with the inter­im gov­ern­ment in Egypt. Both Bob and I, when we were recent­ly in Egypt , met with gov­ern­ment offi­cials and met with the mil­i­tary offi­cials who are, for the time being, run­ning the gov­ern­ment. We want to assist them on the eco­nom­ic reform efforts that they’re under­tak­ing. Now, ulti­mate­ly, this is up to the Egyp­tians. They’re going to have to make these deci­sions. But we’ve offered our advice, and we’re offer­ing aid where appro­pri­ate.

MR. GREGORY: Sec­re­tary Gates, is Libya in our vital inter­est as a coun­try?

SEC. GATES: No. I don’t think it’s a vital inter­est for the Unit­ed States, but we clear­ly have inter­ests there, and it’s a part of the region which is a vital inter­est for the Unit­ed States.

MR. GREGORY: I think a lot of peo­ple would hear that and way, well, that’s quite strik­ing. Not in our vital inter­est, and yet we’re com­mit­ting mil­i­tary resources to it.

SEC. CLINTON: Well, but, but, but then it would­n’t be fair as to what Bob just said. I mean, did Libya attack us? No. They did not attack us. Do they have a very crit­i­cal role in this region and do they neigh­bor two coun­tries — you just men­tioned one, Egypt, the oth­er Tunisia — that are going through these extra­or­di­nary trans­for­ma­tions and can­not afford to be desta­bi­lized by con­flict on their bor­ders? Yes. Do they have a major influ­ence on what goes on in Europe because of every­thing from oil to immi­gra­tion?

And, you know, David, that rais­es a, a very impor­tant point. Because you showed on the map just a minute ago Afghanistan. You know, we asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago. They have been there, and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked. The attack came on us as we all trag­i­cal­ly remem­ber. They stuck with us. When it comes to Libya, we start­ed hear­ing from the UK, France, Italy, oth­er of our NATO allies. This was in their vital nation­al inter­est. The UK and France were the ones who went to the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and said, “We have to act because oth­er­wise we’re see­ing a real­ly vio­lent upheaval with a man who has a his­to­ry of unpre­dictable vio­lent acts right on our doorstep.”

So, you know, let, let’s be fair here. They did­n’t attack us, but what they were doing and Gad­hafi ’s his­to­ry and the poten­tial for the dis­rup­tion and insta­bil­i­ty was very much in our inter­ests, as Bob said , and seen by our Euro­pean friends and our Arab part­ners as very vital to their inter­ests.

(Sec­tion on anoth­er top­ic omit­ted.)

MR. GREGORY: Thank you both very much.

SEC. CLINTON: Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Thank you.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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