Press Briefing

March 21, 2011 | 54:55 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Download mp3 (52MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and Press Secretary Jay Carney on the Situation in Libya

Press Filing Center
Windsor Barra
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

7:18 P.M. BRT

MR. CARNEY: Everybody ready? Thank you for your patience. I've got with me today Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Strategic Communications; and Tom Donilon, the President’s National Security Advisor. Ben will just have a couple of words to start and then he'll turn it over to Tom.

If you could, so we can get as many questions as possible in within the time frame we have, if when you ask questions, keep them tight. That would be great. And then we'll proceed forthwith -- right away.

Q Jay, can we please put this on camera?

MR. CARNEY: We're not going to do this one on camera. We've had a number of people out today on camera. I'm sure we'll do other things on camera.

Q -- the President very briefly talk about Libya. This is an important issue the American people --

MR. CARNEY: We had Mike Mullen on every Sunday show. The Pentagon has been briefing. So we've had some very senior people out. This one won't be on camera, but we'll do others on camera.

Let me give you Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES: Hey, guys, I won't take long. I just want to say that -- apologize for the slight lateness here. As you know, the President has been working very actively to both consult with his national security team, give direction and be informed about the ongoing events in Libya. Tom has been the point person here on the road in terms of coordinating our national security team, leading secure conference calls, facilitating communication between AFRICOM, Washington, the Pentagon, and our diplomatic outreach with the President. So you’ll hear directly from Tom about what the President has done. The reason for the lateness, of course, is that Tom has been working on this all day. So this will be a good opportunity for us.

I'll just say also, you got the briefing from Dan Restrepo in Brazil this morning. Tomorrow we'll have additional briefings on the Chile stop and the speech that the President will give on Latin America broadly tomorrow. We feel we've had a very successful stop here in Brazil and are able to speak to both Chilean and the larger audience of the Americas tomorrow as well.

But with that, I'll give you Tom.

MR. DONILON: Thanks, everybody, and thanks for traveling with us on the trip. I thought at the outset I'd do three or four things and then take your questions. I'd like to make a comment on Egypt, which is, as you know, is really absolutely central to the events in the Middle East that we've seen in the year 2011.

Success in Egypt in the transition towards democracy is really a critical thing and we've always been very focused on that. And today we've had a successful referendum, a constitutional referendum in Egypt, where -- and we want to congratulate the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government on the successful running of the constitutional referendum.

The accounts that we’re seeing -- and we’ve been following this very closely and in touch with the Egyptian government and others in Egypt -- suggests that Egyptians turned out in unprecedented numbers today; that, by and large, they were able to vote freely and the vote was conducted in a peaceful, orderly fashion. It’s really an important achievement. Seeing so many Egyptians exercise their newly won freedom is a cause for optimism, and it will provide a foundation for further progress as the Egyptians continue to build a democratic future.

The United States will continue to provide whatever support and assistance we can as Egypt continues on its path towards additional free and fair elections and a government that reflects the aspirations of its people.

These constitutional reforms -- just to take a couple of seconds here on this -- as I said, are really important. I mean, three or four aspects to these. Under the constitutional reforms, candidates will have three ways to get on a presidential ballot: nomination by a party with at least one parliamentary seat, endorsement by 30 members of the parliament, or 30,000 signatures. Second -- and obviously you’ll understand the significance of this -- the President can serve -- will serve for four-year terms, limited to two terms. And obviously previously the President could serve unlimited terms of six years, and did.

Third, the president is obligated to appoint at least one vice president. And fourth -- and then I’ll move on to Libya -- the judiciary is returned to active supervision of elections and will be the final arbiter of legal challenges to the elections. So we’ve had a very significant event in Egypt today, which, as I said, really is, given its size and importance in history, at the center of what’s been going on in the Middle East over the last few months. And I know that many of you are -- you’ve heard me say this before -- we’ve been consistently focused on the importance of Egypt.

On Libya, let me do two or three things and then take your questions. The first is a couple of words on activities today. And then Jay and Ben thought it would be useful for me to give you an overview of exactly what the President has been doing with respect to the management and decision-making on Libya over the last three days in particular. And then I can talk about conversations that we’ve been having with folks on the ground in Libya if you wanted to do that.

With respect to the overview, you’ve heard most of this stuff from other -- from my colleagues. Yesterday, as you know, the President authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to support and protect Libyan citizens.

That had three or four elements to it, which are, as I said, limited in duration and scope: one, to set the conditions for the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya; second, to take actions to protect citizens in Libya from attack; and third, to set the conditions and open up the ability for humanitarian assistance to reach citizens in Libya.

Our concept and agreement with our international colleagues is that the United States will provide at the front end of this effort a set of unique assets, unique coordinated assets in the initial phase, with the effort being coordinated by United States commander General Carter Ham -- who is the COCOM {combatant command), the commander for U.S. AFRICOM -- and that we would -- again at the front end, working with international partners, that we would provide the initial coordination and unique assets.

And that's allowed us in the first 24 hours of this operation to take very aggressive action against air defense systems in Libya that the regime had, air assets that the regime possessed that were being used against citizens. And I think on that score, as Admiral Mullen said today, we’ve been very effective and had a very good first day on this, working together with our French and United Kingdom colleagues.

Secondly, as I said, the effort here and the core of United Nations Security Council 1973 was to take all necessary measures to protect citizens who are under threat and attack. And we were particularly focused on the threat at the city of Benghazi in eastern Libya. That city is a city of about 700,000 Libyans that had been the focus of the opposition to Qaddafi. Qaddafi had been threatening the city of Benghazi. And part of this effort, as we've said -- and we've been working this obviously ourselves with the United Kingdom and the French -- has been to push back regime assaults, go at regime assets that had been aimed at the citizenry of Benghazi, and indeed the threat to Benghazi and, again, that city of 700,000 people is one of the key impetuses for Resolution 1973.

And we've had quite a bit of activity with respect to that -- targeting those forces who would move towards or into Benghazi -- and we've had success along those lines as well. This has been confirmed to us from conversations that we've had with people in Benghazi, including former representatives from the Libya National Council who have been in touch with our representatives and our liaison with them, indicating that in fact the efforts here have made a real difference in terms of the threat that was looming over Benghazi.

As I said, the concept of operations here agreed to among the various allies is the United States would contribute unique assets at the beginning including coordination, together with our coalition partners, and that we would then move to the next phase of ongoing operations, including the no-fly zone and preventing attacks on civilians. That would then move to the coalition and that would be coordinated by coalition partners using NATO machinery.

We expect that to happen in a matter of days, not weeks, as the President has said, and as Admiral Mullen has said. The exact point at which that transition will take place is not one that I really can comment on here. That will really have to be driven by the assessments of the coalition as to what we -- how the field has been set here, what’s been accomplished, and General Ham, who’s been working obviously on the front lines of this operation.

After that point, the United States will continue to provide unique assets, but again, the ongoing operation will be the responsibility of coalition partners. Those unique assets and continuing contribution include things like jamming -- which, by the way, we're engaged in now -- intelligence support, fueling support, and things like that in an ongoing effort.

The other thing I'd like to say about the effort is this -- is that the focus right now was on a direct threat to citizens. It was in pursuit of and in enforcement of a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted last week by a broad array of nations. It was in response to requests from the GCC and the Arab League. And it really was dealing with an emergency, if you will, the threat to the citizenry and civilians in Libya.

It’s important, though, also to note, though, that there are longer-term efforts here. The United States started to put those longer-term efforts in place on the 25th, when the President signed the executive order putting our unilateral sanctions in place including the seizure of over $30 billion in Libyan assets, and when the United Nations Security Council resolution passed the next day, on the 26th. But the resolution passed last Thursday also contained a number of very important provisions for the longer term here, the longer-term effort to present Qaddafi with choices and continue to isolate and squeeze him going forward here.

We believe the effort we've undertaken here in concert with our partners both in Europe and in -- and by the way, we've gotten a tremendous response out of the Paris meeting yesterday for contributions to the ongoing effort -- in concert with our European partners and with our Arab partners here is necessary to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, to be responsive to requests from these organizations that I've mentioned.

Qaddafi today, I understand, declared a cease-fire. Our view at this point -- and I was working on this just as I came over here -- it isn’t true or he’s going to immediately violate it. So we'll continue to monitor Qaddafi’s actions, not just his words, and continue the efforts on behalf of the international community, working with the international community to enforce the terms of United Nations Security Council 1973.

Last thing I'll do, and then I’ll take questions. Ben and Jay indicated there was an interest in the President’s management and decision-making as we’ve moved along on the -- addressing the Libyan issue.

The President has been personally and deeply involved in this every day. The principals have been fully engaged in coordinating and planning our strategy. Just last week I chaired four formal principals committee meetings -- those are the senior national security Cabinet members -- at the White House to develop our recommendations. In addition to daily meetings and briefings that the President had, he chaired three formal meetings of the National Security Council last week on this issue to lead to his decisions. The last session that the President had, indeed, was Friday evening at around 7:00 p.m. in the Oval Office where he met with -- the night before we left for -- the night we left for Brazil and Secretary Clinton left for Paris that night as well -- where he chaired a meeting with myself, Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, Bill Daley -- our chief of staff -- to look at the final set of plans and concept of action.

To give a sense, though, in more detail, which I’ve been asked to do, let me just look at the last three days, starting with Friday, and I think that might give you a sense of the pacing here and some of the decisions that the President has been making.

At 9:00 a.m. on Friday, I chaired a secure conference call with Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, and Admiral Mullen on the diplomatic and military planning. At 9:30 a.m. that morning, I held a secure video conference with my counterparts from the United Kingdom and France on the planning, both in terms of our military planning and in terms of the Paris meeting the next day.

At 10:15 a.m. on Friday, we had our daily briefing with the President, which obviously focused on developments in Libya, including military and diplomatic efforts. At 11:00 a.m. on Friday, the President met with -- to review diplomatic and military plans with the Vice President; Secretary Gates; Admiral Mullen; Secretary Clinton; myself; Denis McDonough, my colleague at the Secretary Council; Tony Blinken from the Vice President’s office; Jim Steinberg and Bill Burns. That was in the Oval Office, and that lasted for one hour, again, to review the detailed planning and a presentation by Admiral Mike Mullen and a detailed plan for the events of the next day in Paris presented by Secretary Clinton.

At 12:30 p.m. on Friday, the President met in the Situation Room with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on Libya for one hour. There was a group in the Situation Room and there was a larger group of the leadership on the telephone.

At 2:30 p.m., as you know -- or 2:22 p.m., they tell me -- the President delivered a statement on Libya to the press. At 7:00 p.m. that evening -- that’s the meeting I mentioned a little bit ago about the President conducting a final review of the planning with the group that I mentioned. And that evening, Secretary Clinton went to Paris with our team and the President was wheels up from Andrews at 10:30 p.m., as you know.

On Saturday, at around 7:00 a.m. in the morning on Air Force One, we provided the President with a full briefing on the situation on the ground and planning and the Paris conference. At 9:00 a.m., I provided additional briefing to him at the hotel here. At 9:45 a.m., the President placed a call to -- and had a telephone call with UAE Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed, on Libya and the enforcement of the Security Council resolution.

At 12:00 p.m., I chaired a call with Secretary Clinton, Gates, Admiral Mullen and Denis McDonough. The President joined that call at 12:17 p.m. This went -- this was a call for about 30 minutes where the final orders were given. At 12:30 p.m., Bill Daley and I had an additional call with Secretary Gates, and we had briefings throughout the day. And as you know, at 5:00 p.m., the President made his statement.

Today, at 9:15 a.m. this morning, the President had a secure -- 9:30 a.m. today -- sorry -- the President did a secure conference call in our secure offices here with myself, Bill Daley, Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, General Ham -- who as I mentioned earlier is the commander of AFRICOM for the United States and is the current coordinator of the effort over Libya; Denis McDonough and Tony Blinken.

In that meeting, we had a three-part agenda. First was to review the events overnight, an assessment as to what had been accomplished during the course of the first phase of this operation. That briefing was provided by General Ham and Admiral Mullen.

The second agenda item was a briefing by Secretary Clinton on the diplomatic situation on the building-out of the coalition. And the third part of that meeting was focused on next phases and the projects that would be undertaken in the next 24 hours. I expect the President tomorrow morning will conduct an additional -- the next conference call with a group like that to review where we are and go through the next steps.

At noontime today, the President did talk to King Abdullah of Jordan. The President spoke with him to consult on our ongoing operations -- coalition operations in Libya. The President and the King agreed on the importance of a broad coalition working together to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution. They also discussed the situation in Bahrain.

We had a 12:30 p.m. briefing with the President today, and then I had a briefing session with the President just before I came over to visit with you all this evening.

So that -- Jay, with that then, I’m glad to take whatever questions from you all on this or anything else.

Okay, Ben, please.

Q One thing I think Americans particularly are trying to make sense of is the rhetoric leading up to this military campaign was that Colonel Qaddafi had to go, had to leave power, and now it seems the message that we're hearing is that this campaign can be successful but one outcome is that Colonel Qaddafi would stay. I'm trying to reconcile those two, not just the rhetoric, but how is it tenable to see a Libya where he would remain in power?

MR. DONILON: Well, let’s go through it. That's a fair question, and I think this should be looked at in terms of phases. Now, the current focus is on the protection of civilians in Libya. The military tools that have been put together to do that through a coalition is targeted tightly on that goal, which was the goal laid out in the United Nations Security Council 1973.

That resolution, which we are enforcing with coalition partners, that we’re supporting the enforcement of with coalition partners, is focused on the humanitarian-civilian protection mission. That's what this is about right now. That's what the military tools are being used right now to do, is to enforce the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which in operative paragraph 4 says that all necessary measures are authorized by member states to protect citizens from attack by the regime.

And so that’s the current focus. And it’s important to understand -- and when the President made these decisions, he’s been absolutely clear I think with the American people, with the congressional leadership, with us and the military leadership, is that this is a targeted mission; that the United States’ contribution to this mission is quite targeted and it is limited in scope and duration; and it is the unique things that the United States can bring.

The United States can bring, as we did last night, unique capabilities in terms of breadth of operations and coordination, working with our coalition partners -- again, the French went in first, as you know, around Benghazi -- but with our coalition partners to focus, again, tightly then on this goal. That's the mission right now.

And I think we’ve had, as Admiral Mullen said today, a pretty good initial set of operations with respect to that -- an effective no-fly zone, taking out his air assets so they can’t be used against his people, and going at the attacks on -- particularly on Benghazi. And again, as I said our conversations with the Libyans, particularly those at the Libyan National Council, in the last few hours indicate that the efforts here really in their view have prevented what could have been a catastrophe at Benghazi.

Now, to go to the next piece. Qaddafi has lost legitimacy in Libya, as we’ve said before. And the longer effort is an effort that uses a multiple set of tools. And as I said earlier, those are laid out both in the unilateral steps that we’ve taken and steps by other countries, but they're also laid out quite clearly in the Security Council resolution in terms of ongoing efforts to isolate Colonel Qaddafi who will be increasingly isolated via those efforts over time.

And I think he will be, as I said earlier, pressured, isolated, will become -- and will have to make some choices going forward. At the end of the day, of course, this will be up to the Libyan people to make these decisions. But I think what we are doing right now is providing a -- what we should do, an effort to protect civilians and then to lay the groundwork for moving forward on these broader efforts.

So I think then the short answer is that there’s an immediate project here, but there are obviously longer-term tools that have been put in place.

Thank you.

Q Just to follow up, so can the administration envision a Libya with Qaddafi in power in which civilians won’t have a continuing need for protection?

MR. DONILON: Well, my answer to you is this, is that we should undertake and succeed in the operation we’ve undertaken now, which is to protect civilians from an immediate threat -- a city of 700,000 people that was under threat by Qaddafi forces, where he stated the he would show no mercy because they had defected from his regime and had declared themselves independent of his regime, and declared their desire for a new leadership.

That's the first step here. I don't really want to get into predicting kind of in a temporal way how things might develop over time, but I can tell you that we’re about this initial project first. Qaddafi has lost legitimacy. Qaddafi is isolated here, thoroughly. He will have continuing pressures on him moving forward. This is very important to do, obviously, for the protection of the Libyan people, but also for the future -- in order to frame his future -- the future choices and scenarios.


Q What’s the standard by which the U.S. determines whether to intervene in case of a humanitarian issue? You have Libya, obviously, what’s going on there, but in Bahrain, the leader has a crackdown on protesters; in Yemen, they’re opening fire on a group of protesters. So is it the “no mercy” standard? Is it because Libya has the appropriate -- more allies? And why do we act in one country and not the other?

MR. DONILON: A couple of points on that. First of all, in this case, there was a broad set of, really, requests and demands from the region for action. The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League came forward and asked for the United Nations Security Council to step up and address this issue.

Second, the United States Security Council passed a resolution last Thursday empowering countries to undertake this project. The United States, in that case, in the face of requests from the Arab League and in the face in a United Nations Security Council resolution, determined what contribution it could make appropriately to enforce that resolution. And we have made those determinations and made them very clear I think both, as I said to Ben, to the American people, to Congress, and to the coalition partners. And that’s the set of decisions here.

Bahrain is a very different case. There’s no -- there’s not a comparison between Bahrain and Libya. Bahrain has been a longtime ally of the United States of America and a longtime partner. They have attempted to engage in a dialogue with Shia opposition groups there. That dialogue -- we’ve been pressing on both sides, frankly, to come to the table and avoid confrontation and to, again, kind of reach a political solution to the problems. And that’s our goal there, is a credible political process that addresses legitimate aspirations. And I think that’s the goal of countries in the region.

So this is a -- it’s just a very different circumstance than Libya.

MR. RHODES: Just two points on top of what Tom said and amplify what he said. Just to be very clear on the question about the application of force being about protecting the citizens of Libya. That’s very specifically what’s identified in the U.N. Security Council resolution that we’re enforcing.

There’s not a U.N. Security Council resolution mandating regime change in Libya that we're acting to enforce. We're acting to enforce a resolution that has the immediate goal of protecting civilians with the longer-term pressures that Tom pointed to.

And on Bahrain, again, I would just also point you to -- in any kind of situation like this you're also looking at both the scale of violence being committed against civilians and the imminent potential for atrocities. And I think in Libya, even with the violence across the region, which we've condemned in every instance -- no matter what country it’s in -- the scale of the violence in Libya, in which you had a leader essentially engage in a military campaign against his own people, exceeded the scale of situations in other countries. And similarly, we knew that there was an imminent danger faced by a city of 700,000 people in Benghazi, a substantial population in Misurata -- so what you had is both the actions Qaddafi had already taken in terms of his violence; you had his track record, again, of carrying out reprisals against any of those who challenged him; you had his rhetoric where he was essentially telling a city of 700,000 people that he would show no mercy.

So we thought that we were imminently on the precipice of what could be a truly humanitarian catastrophe. And that was what drove both the calls from the Arab League and others and the action of the international community. So I’d just add that.

MR. DONILON: They are very different circumstances.

Q Tom, can you also respond to Senator Lugar, who has been an ally to this President before, even as a Republican, and he today said that he doesn’t know where the involvement of U.S. stops, and he wants you to more clearly define the outcome -- I know you kind of alluded to that in Ben’s question, but you have very senior Republicans who you undoubtedly briefed in recent days, as you noted, who still feel like it’s not clearly defined. How do you respond to that?

MR. DONILON: Well, a couple of points on that, Ed. First of all, Senator Lugar was involved in the briefing at 12:30 p.m. on Friday with the President. And that kind of consultation is absolutely important and we'll continue to do that. And, indeed, we had congressional consultations during the day yesterday.

So this is very much, from our perspective -- we take on that responsibility for keeping the Congress fully informed as to what we are pursuing -- is the first point. The second is that with respect to the actions that we've taken right now, I think -- and the military actions -- it is absolutely important to have great clarity on what that is, and I think that we have done that. Our military certainly understands that in this first phase here they have very specific -- very specific -- tasks, working with coalition partners, to undertake.

Those tasks include suppression of the Libyan air defenses, both fixed and mobile; dealing with the Libyan air assets, their air fleet; and undertaking efforts to protect civilians, particularly those in imminent danger in eastern Libya in the vicinity of Benghazi and south and west of there. So -- and that's a very clear mission.

Second is that we would then transfer, as the President has said, in a matter of days, not weeks, over to coalition partners using the NATO machinery the responsibility for the ongoing exercise of those activities. And the United States at that point would be in a supporting role of that mission that could include the kinds of things that I talked about -- that we, again, have very unique attributes -- and in the service of helping allies move and partners move to enforce this resolution we feel very comfortable providing. And that is jamming, intel, refueling, and other kind of specialized kinds of support that we can.

We also, by the way, will be -- we have important relationships with Arab partners and will be working with them as well.

So I think it’s quite clear, both in terms of focus, the tasks, the time frame, and the division of labor. And we’ll continue to work with -- now, the broader question you ask, Ed -- and this kind of follows on Ben’s question -- is the longer-term effort. We have a number of tools over the longer term that we’ll use to isolate and continue to pressure the Qaddafi regime. But I think with respect to the immediate tasks and the immediate decisions that the President has made, we have worked very hard with our principals and the President has been articulating it quite clearly -- we’ve done it, as I said, both in private to the congressional leadership and in public as to what those tasks are and the focus of this initial phase.

Q You’ve spent a lot of time with the President the last few days. I don't want you to speculate how long this is going to last because I know you won’t answer that question, but has the President, in your presence, expressed concern about how long this is going to go on; that there’s no endgame; that it could be a long-term standoff. And if not, have you -- what is the number one, if you would, concern that the President has expressed about this operation?

MR. DONILON: Well, the President was clear on that, Chip. First of all, whenever you decide to undertake a military action involving United States military personnel, that’s a very serious decision and the President was very focused on it. Indeed, in the three National Security Council meetings that he chaired himself last week, including and up to the meetings that we had in Washington at 7:00 p.m. in the Oval Office on Friday night, have been very focused on his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to make sure that Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Ham and the others had the kind of clarity they deserve on the mission, including scope and duration.

So that has been his principal focus, which is he owes that kind of -- not owes, but those decisions that are made by the President and communicated down to the chain of command require the kind of clarity I think that he has given, and he’s been very focused on that going forward.

Second, we have been focused on this being a coalition effort in support of the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Third, we’ve been focused on the fact that at a certain point here, again, in a matter of days, not weeks, there needs to be a transition where the United States would step back from principal coordinating role into a support role for the continuing coalition operations.

There are, Chip, a range of other issues here going forward, including, again, kind of continued protection but also enforcement of the various tools that I alluded to in response to Ben’s question, and the need for humanitarian assistance. But the focus, though, has been on what I said at the outset.

Yes. We’ll go back and forth. Go side to side, how’s that?

Q I have to apologize that -- I was interrupted here just a second ago by editors who actually wanted to know what was happening in South America here on the trip. But you addressed Republican leaders. But John Boehner -- several times about consulting with them. John Boehner’s statement he put out today was very critical about feeling the President and his team have not explained exactly what’s going on and what the ultimate goal is. Where’s that coming -- what do you think it is?

MR. DONILON: I thought that, well, I think -- but if you go through -- the Speaker’s statement said that he was generally supportive of efforts by the United States in this regard. That’s the first thing he said in the beginning of that statement. I read it quickly but I think that’s the first thing that the Speaker said. The second thing he said is that he would like to have kind of an ongoing here, kind of more explanation of exactly what the purpose of the intervention -- what the purpose of the military operations are and the game plan for going forward with respect to Libya.

I think that's a fair request of the administration, frankly, and we are doing that. As I laid out to Chip, I think particularly on the military side, at this point, we think it’s very clear. And we look forward to working quite directly with Speaker Boehner and all the relevant -- all the members of Congress who have responsibility here on this as we go forward.

Q Did anyone reach out to him in the wake of that statement he put out?

MR. DONILON: I don't know if in the wake of the statement, but Speaker Boehner was invited to and I think did attend the briefing with the President noontime on Friday.

MR. RHODES: And Denis McDonough called him yesterday before the --

Q But nothing since?

MR. DONILON: I don't know.

MR. RHODES: Yesterday, and so that would be both Friday and Saturday, we reached out and spoke to him.

Q -- limited duration when you make the transition to the secondary phase, what does that mean? Mullen suggested this morning on one of the talk shows, he was asked if that could go on for 10, 11, 12 years, and basically said that might be the case. And the other question, is there a difference between a civilian and a rebel?

MR. DONILON: Is there a difference between a civilian and rebel? Well, on the first issue, I think -- again, I don't think I can help you any more than I’ve laid out, which is I’ve given you kind of very -- kind of a clear concept of what we’re doing in this phase of the operation.

But the scenario -- I don't want to speculate on how things might develop over time. There is -- it’s important to have, in terms of the operations you’re undertaking right now, clarity. It needs to be in pursuit of an overall strategy. But with respect to kind of pinpointing scenarios and outlining scenarios, I don't think that's productive for me to do. And I think you need some humility in that kind of exercise given all the factors at play here.

Now, your second question, the efforts of the United States and coalition partners with respect to protecting civilians is against regime military forces. And that is the absolute crystal-clear instruction from the President to our forces, that there is an effort here to protect civilians. And I don't -- in Benghazi -- well, I’ll just say to protect civilians against regime military forces who are attacking them. And that's the focus of the effort; that's the direction that the forces have from the Commander-in-Chief.

Q Is there a difference?

MR. DONILON: Is there a difference between a rebel and a -- no, a civilian is a civilian.

Q But if a rebel is standing in front of Libyan forces, is he to be protected by --

MR. DONILON: Well, the point, though -- I mean, the point is pretty clear, though, is that you have a civilian population under attack by regime forces. And I’ve tried to be very clear about what the instructions are. The coalition partners and others under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 are empowered to use all necessary measures to protect civilians from military attack.

Q So if a civilian with an AK-47 is facing off against Qaddafi forces, is he protected under 1973 and coalition forces?

MR. DONILON: Well, but that's -- the focus, the activity of the coalition forces is against the military forces who are attacking civilians. That's the activity. So that's the best I can do.

Q So the answer is no, civilians who take up arms against Qaddafi’s forces are not protected under 1973?

MR. DONILON: Not protected? No, I don't -- well, the civilians who are protecting themselves from the Qaddafi regime, is that the --

Q They’re fighting the Qaddafi forces, aren't they? Are they --

MR. DONILON: Is that the question?

Q -- protected by coalition forces in 1973?

Q Doesn’t that mean you’re taking sides on behalf of a military force fighting the Qaddafi regime?

MR. DONILON: We’re taking -- this is not unclear either in the resolution, which I’ll reach for here, or in terms of the activities of the coalition forces. The Qaddafi regime was threatening attack and attacking civilians and civilian-populated areas. Those are the two terms in the Security Council resolution. They were under threat of attack, and the goal is to take action to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas from attack by the Qaddafi regime. That's the --

Q I didn't understand -- civilians -- do you recognize the rebels as civilians?

MR. DONILON: They are citizens of Libya, and they are civilians.

Q They are? They are? They are civilians?

MR. DONILON: They're not military forces under the direction and control of Qaddafi.

Q But they’re military forces --

MR. DONILON: Yes, yes --

Q We keep doing the circle, but let’s --

MR. CARNEY: Chip, let’s give some other people a chance, okay?

Q Okay, fine. But if you can take that question because it hasn’t been answered.

MR. DONILON: You know, Chip, seriously, I’ve been crystal clear on what the mission is of the coalition forces. And that is to protect civilians and civilian areas. You have a circumstance; the circumstance is that you have a city of 700,000 people that are -- and other cities in Libya, by the way, that express their view with respect to the Qaddafi regime. And the Qaddafi regime has chosen as a government, as the military force, as the -- well, as a government and a military force to undertake attacks of those citizens and those civilian-populated areas. That is exactly what was targeted. And the purpose behind Resolution 1973 was to protect those people.

Now, Benghazi is the center of the opposition in Libya right now. And indeed, as I said earlier, we’ve been in touch with people in Benghazi today and have seen statements come out of Benghazi today about the fact that these actions that we’ve taken have prevented catastrophe there. That's the purpose of the resolution. These are citizens of Libya who have expressed their view with respect to Qaddafi and his government.

And in response to that, the government -- who has control over the violence and force in a country -- has chosen with artillery and air assets and other assets including regular military forces to go in and attack those cities and attack those citizens. And the idea of 1973 in part was to protect those citizens and the civilian population areas from that exercise of violence.

Q I just want to -- can I follow? Let’s go back and forth. I think some of them have probably done more than express their view on that. They’ve taken up arms. But in any event, can I move on to another question on NATO? You’re using this construction about NATO machinery.


Q It seems like an unusual kind of construction. Can you explain a little bit what’s going on within the coalition? Is it correct that France had said they don't want to use NATO? Were these first strikes that were done without the support of or endorsement of other members of the coalition? And in the same vein, can you also address -- is the reason that we have one command now and we'll move to something else in a matter of days because of the urgency with which this operation was undertaken? Wouldn't it have been simpler to just start with a unified command?

MR. DONILON: Well, a couple points. Let me take them in reverse. The second question is yes. That was a unique capability the United States had to get this up and running in the face of an emergency situation. And it was effective and most efficient to do that. Even though, as you said, you had at the beginning the French prepared to go out and begin to operate above Benghazi and the UK indicating that they would do that, they both indicated that as asset that the United States could bring was that command and control from the beginning -- giving the nature of our assets in the Mediterranean.

And so that's exactly right, that that was kind of a unique capability that we could bring. In addition to that, though, that command and control supported the whole range of capabilities we had that could be brought to bear at the outset of the operation -- things like an ability in a very broad way, in a very effective and efficient way over the course of a single evening last night to go at all the -- or most of the air defense assets, and simultaneously to be able to go at the air assets themselves -- the airplanes and others and bunkers and things like that -- to be able to put up the communications kinds of assets that you want to have in an operation like this so that things are deconflicted and they work in a coordinated way.

So that's -- I think that's exactly right. That was a unique capability we could bring, we could bring it now. It enabled the other assets to be able to be brought to bear right now.

On the second question, it is going to be -- the French and others agreed at NATO to have NATO take on the command and control of this operation at some point during, as I said, not days -- not weeks, but days.

Q Two questions. One is can you talk about whether you're pleased with the support you’ve gotten from Arab nations who don't seem to be really stepping up to participate in this mission? That's number one. And number two, I just want to make sure I understand the point you were making earlier in response to the question about what the initial purpose of this mission is. Are you saying that the purpose of the mission under the resolution is to protect civilians, and in terms of removing Qaddafi, that’s still the goal of the United States but that is not part of this particular military mission and you don't know if it will be part of a future military mission or not? Is that essentially what you're saying?

MR. DONILON: Well, rather than -- I learned a long time ago not to adopt a question and answer. (Laughter.) So let me do it in my own words. What was the first part of the question?

Q The first part of the question was about the Arab support.

MR. DONILON: I got it, yes, okay. We have -- a couple points, and it’s really an important set of circumstances. Over the last couple of weeks, you had broad expressions of really disapproval and condemnation of the Qaddafi actions in Libya, and indeed that came kind of in its broadest expression at the Arab League meeting last Saturday, where it called on the United Nations to adopt a no-fly zone and protect civilians.

By the way, the Arab League statement bears some reading. It was an important statement because it went beyond no-fly and actually in the same sentence where it talked about no-fly said “and protect civilians,” and protect areas where civilians were under attack from the Qaddafi forces. So that’s the first point.

The second is that a number of Arab leaders participated at Paris and supported the communiqué that was put out. The third thing to point out is that the resolution at the United Nations is a Lebanese resolution, 1973, that’s the principal sponsor of the resolution, reflecting Arab support for the resolution.

The fourth point in response to your question is that we have been engaged with both civilian leadership and military leadership in these countries about participation in the ongoing efforts in Libya. And I think you’ll see those participation decisions announced by those countries over the coming days.

Now, second part of your question I think is essentially kind of what I laid out, which is that we have a targeted military action here to protect civilians and civilian targets, and to keep the Qaddafi forces from overrunning and conducting a massacre in these large urban cities -- these large cities, with very large numbers of people; 700,000 in Benghazi, many of whom have expressed a view that they did not consider him to be a legitimate or appropriate ruler for their country.

Going forward here with respect to military actions, no decisions have been taken on that. But there is a long-haul, I think, perspective with respect to Qaddafi’s future in Libya that we would look to a number of tools to support. And to answer your question directly, the goal, long-term goal -- or it may not be long term, we’ll have to see. That's why I said in response to your earlier question you have to have some modesty about predicting how these things are going to go forward. The goal would still be the United States’ policy position, is that Qaddafi should step down as the leader of Libya.

MR. CARNEY: Let’s do one more and then let’s wrap it up.
Q If I could just piggy-back on Laura’s question about the Arab League --

MR. DONILON: Let’s try to get another person to ask a question.

Q The former chairman of the Arab League today --
MR. DONILON: Let me answer another question. I really can’t --

Q I apologize if this was covered earlier by Admiral Mullen -- first off, real quick, is there any cost estimate as to how much this is going to cost in terms of U.S. resources? And then also, you talked about and obviously have consulted with Congress.


Q But that's not the same, obviously, as seeking permission. There are some lawmakers out there that say the President should have gotten their approval before committing U.S. military resources. And also, how does that square with the President’s own words in 2007 when he said the only time the President could authorize an attack without the consent of Congress would be in self-defense, which obviously isn’t the case here?

MR. DONILON: Well, that's a lot of questions. Let me -- I'll try to take them in some order. Here’s how we’d approach it. First of all, consultation with Congress is important, as I said. Secondly, the administration welcomes the support of Congress in whatever form that they want to express that support.

Third, as I indicated during the course of the briefing, this is a limited, in terms of scope, duration and task, operation, which does fall in the President’s authorities.

Fourth, the circumstances arose with the passage of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, the night before a congressional recess. So he did, even with that, call Congress, those who remained in town on Friday and those who are out of town, on the phone to consult with them.

But the administration welcomes expressions of support in whatever form that the Congress wants to have those.

Now, I’m going to answer this question over here on -- you wanted to ask -- and then I’m going to go back to work -- not that this isn’t work, but it’s --

Q And what about the cost?

MR. DONILON: Cost, oh, thank you, I’m sorry, I skipped over that, yes. I haven’t seen a cost estimate. I don’t -- unless you have seen anything? I haven’t seen it. I really haven’t seen a cost estimate.

Q When are you guys going to get it?

MR. RHODES: Well, I mean, it’s obviously an ongoing military operation. I would say that we’ve made very clear, of course, that it’s limited in scope and duration and that, as the President’s said very directly in his statement the other day, it’s important to have a model where the international community bears a cost -- specifically used the word “cost” -- of these actions going forward, because the United States alone can’t bear the burden of these costs over time.

So certainly as this shifts from this very front-edge support that we’re providing to this effort to a no-fly zone that's being enforced by our allies and partners, the cost of the United States will go down substantially.

MR. DONILON: I don't have a specific cost estimate. But I do think it’s very -- it’s a really important concept, though, in terms of the approach here, assessment of our interests and the division of labor, it’s a very -- this is a very conscientiously conceived approach with respect to what we’re trying to get done, when, and what the appropriate U.S. contribution is to an effort by a broad coalition.

Now, I rudely left behind your question. Go ahead.

Q I'm used to it. (Laughter.)

MR. DONILON: Oh, really? (Laughter.) What goes on in here? You know, I’m down the hall. They never let me come, you know. (Laughter.)

Q We're still breaking Jay in. (Laughter.)

MR. DONILON: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Q In regards to that coalition, there was, out of the Egyptian state media today, a report that the former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, had called for an emergency meeting because he suggested the action already has been way broader than he understood it would be. Could you react to that?

MR. DONILON: Sure. A couple of points. Number one is that, as I referenced earlier, the Arab League’s statement that came out a week ago today maybe -- yes -- as I said earlier, did encompass no-fly plus protection of citizens. That's the first point.

The second point is, is that the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 passed at the Security Council on Thursday is quite specific. And indeed, Ambassador Rice, at the direction of the President, was very specific in terms of the conversations that took place at the Security Council about the need to go beyond just a no-fly zone if we were going to really do something to protect civilians and have an “all necessary measures” provision in there. So these conversations were quite direct.

Third, at the Paris meeting, where I think former Secretary General Moussa -- or Foreign Minister Moussa attended -- these discussions took place -- I think that -- I’ve not talked to him directly, but he seemed to be reacting to reports about civilians in Libya. The fact is of course is civilians, as we’ve discussed here, are not in any way the target of these operations; that the coalition will make every effort to protect civilians. That's the object of the exercise -- that it is fully authorized by the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Coalition partners during the course of the afternoon since that statement came out have been in touch with Mr. Moussa to have these discussions and to work through a full briefing with him of exactly what is being done and what the results are to date.

I also think, by the way, that, again, we’ve said we’ve been in direct touch with the Libyan National Council in Benghazi, and they actually said today to us that they were surprised at the statements of some countries and individuals about the actions against the Qaddafi militias and the Qaddafi forces. As they put it in the reports that I’ve seen today, that these forces were attacking and bombing residential cities full of civilians in plain sight, and that they, as I said earlier, also said that the actions today at the U.N., at Paris, and by the coalition were preventing a massacre happening in the city of Benghazi and have had a real effect on the Qaddafi forces.

So with that, is that all right?

Q Thank you very much.

MR. DONILON: All right, good to see you guys. Thank you very much. I appreciate your patience with my long answers.

8:11 P.M. BRT

Close Transcript