Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who took over following Musa Kusa’s defection last month. Al-Obeidi has held a number of positions within the Libyan government under Colonel Gaddafi, including Libyan prime minister, he played a major rule in the negotiations that led to Libya dismantling its nuclear weapons program and coming in from the cold. Prior to this, al-Obeidi was Libyan ambassador to Tunisia and Italy. In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat al-Obeidi called on the Libyan rebels to accept a ceasefire and come to the negotiating table, promoting the African Union’s road map to put an end to the crisis that has engulfed the country.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about US Senator John McCain visiting Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, rather than Tripoli?
[al-Obeidi] You know John McCain’s provocative position with regards to pushing for military confrontation and military assistance [for the rebels], and this only prolongs the conflict between ourselves and our brothers in Benghazi, and his [McCain’s] actions will not benefit anybody. He is not carrying out any serious work like [promoting] national reconciliation and dialogue [between the government and rebels].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion, in general, towards the US position regarding what is happening in Libya?
[al-Obeidi] Their position is clear, and yesterday they announced that they would use combat drones, and this represents a repeat of what happened in other regions like Afghanistan with regards to the killing of innocents and war crimes, and therefore [they] the Americans are not helping [the situation]. If they left the situation to us, the people of Libya and the African Union and countries like Turkey, we would be able to reach a ceasefire agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have previously stated that the future of Colonel Gaddafi is still a subject for dialogue. Do you still believe that?
[al-Obeidi] This is our conclusion, however it will be the Libyan people that will decide this, and as we said, there are elections and it is the public that decides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are saying that the fate of the Gaddafi regime is in the people’s hands?
[al-Obeidi] That’s right, and this is the same as any other country, it is the people alone who decides who governs them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However the rebel National Transitional Council in Benghazi has said that there will be no negotiations until Gaddafi steps down. What is your opinion of this stipulation?
[al-Obeidi] This is not logical, for when the parties sit down together with the only stipulation being that of a ceasefire, as well as the cessation of the aerial bombardment [by NATO forces], we can talk about the demands of the Libyan people in general, for the Libyan people – who number 6 million – are not limited to Benghazi, there are many different tribes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are talking about a ceasefire; however your forces continue to bombard Misrata and Ajdabiya [at the time of this interview].
[al-Obeidi] There is no bombardment of Benghazi, although there are several clashes taking place in other cities, however if the bombardment stops even these can be stopped if we reach an agreement on the roadmap provided by the African Union, which is the subject of debate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Didn’t National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abul-Jalil say that time has run out on the African Union proposal?
[al-Obeidi] This is a proposal put forward by the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, on an international level, before representatives of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the European Union, as well as representatives of the [UN] Security Council. I do not think that this is outdated, on the contrary the [African Union] initiative is still on the table, and the Europeans are examining this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did you previously say that the Gaddafi regime was prepared to look at the establishment of a national transitional government before the elections?
[al-Obeidi] This was included in the [African Union] road map; a transitional period, a provisional and constitutional government, and elections. All of this is part of the [African Union] road map.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However the most important question is; what is Colonel Gaddafi’s role in the road map? Will he even have a role?
[al-Obeidi] This road map does not talk about Gaddafi’s role, for the commander’s position is decided by the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you suggesting that elections or a referendum should be held to decide Gaddafi’s position?
[al-Obeidi] The entire [African Union] road map is open for discussion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] NATO recently announced that it had intercepted and searched a Libyan oil tanker. Do you have any comment about this incident?
[al-Obeidi] All such actions exceed the UN Security Council resolution that spoke about preventing necessities such as oil, fuel, food, medicine, and other necessities [from entering the country]. This is a type of naval and aerial blockade to put pressure on the Libyan people as a whole.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the Arab position towards what is happening in Libya, particularly the position of Qatar and the UAE, not to mention the Arab League?
[al-Obeidi] Unfortunately the position of the Arab world was contrary to any Arab solidarity or unity, and the [UN] Security Council based its first resolution on the resolution made by the Arab League. As for our brothers in Qatar, what can one say when your brother is bombing you, along with the enemies of the Arab world? As for Qatar, it has no justification [for taking part in the attacks], we have only spoken well of it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you think this unfortunate scene will play out? Do you believe that Libya could be divided into two countries?
[al-Obeidi] It is in the interests of the western countries for Libya to be divided into two or more countries to control Libyan oil and try to bring about a repeat of the Iraq scenario and this is clear. However we hope that we can put an end to the violence and conduct dialogue and consult with one another to reach a position, and this requires those who are committed, and certain Arab attitudes like the rational Egyptian one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any new develops in the African Union’s proposal to end the violence in Libya?
[al-Obeidi] There is a forthcoming meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union in Addis Ababa on 26 April, and I will be representing Libya at this meeting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you know if the rebel National Transitional Council in Benghazi is sending a representative to this meeting?
[al-Obeidi] I do not know.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can you tell us about the Moroccan mediation attempts? There was an announcement from Rabat that Libyan government officials and rebels had conducted talks.
[al-Obeidi] I don’t know anything about this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Could such talks take place without your knowledge?
[al-Obeidi] If there was anything, it would certainly reach me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have spent long years working in the diplomatic field, how do you feel as Libyan foreign minister during such difficult times?
[al-Obeidi] The homeland provided for us, and so despite any difficult we must serve our homeland and our people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people have expressed surprise that an experienced political operator like yourself would associate with the Gaddafi regime, whose hands are [now] stained in blood. What is your opinion of this?
[al-Obeidi] Don’t talk about this, those who are faithful are those who serve their homeland and do not serve any particular figure. We are serving our homeland as we see it.