Transcript of Press Conference – Contact Group Meeting on Libya

Subjects: Libya, recognition of Transitional National Council

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Abu Dhabi

9 June 2011

Kevin Rudd: Good afternoon folks.

I have a few things to add just after the excellent presentations by the foreign minister of the UAE and the foreign minister of Turkey.

If I could commend in particular the Foreign Minster of the United Arab Emirates for his excellent chairmanship of this particular conference of the Foreign Ministerial Contact Group on Libya.

This has been an important conference today in dealing with the challenges which lie before the international community on Libya.

Let me make one overall point in particular and it's this: that the overall conclusion of this conference is that the days of Qaddafi are coming to an end and that they are coming potentially to a rapid end and therefore the challenge that the international community is to prepare for a post-Qaddafi Libya.

Under those circumstances we at this conference have spent much time debating two things. One is how do we keep as many of the Libyan people alive as possible, while this crisis draws to its conclusion, and that requires unprecedented cooperation between us on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people right now.

We have half a million internally displaced Libyans, and we are being advised by Dr Jabril on behalf of the Transitional National Council that the humanitarian crisis is real; it is deep; it is profound.

Therefore it is imperative in the weeks which lie ahead that we the international community, redouble our efforts to ensure that the food supply, the medical supplies and the health supplies more generally and shelter are provided in the areas of Libya that they are needed and by the agencies which can most effectively get to them.

We in Australia are currently the third largest global supplier of humanitarian assistance to the Libyans and we stand ready to do more.

Secondly, the conference today focused also on what is now going to be the most important question: if Qaddafi's days are numbered then are we ready as an international community for the next step which is supporting the Transitional National Council in building an interim administration for the country?

That is now the focus of the efforts of the international community.

That is what we are now doing through the international response team for the stabilisation in which we have the United Nations firmly engaged and which Australia also has active participation.

The final point that I'd like to make to you this afternoon is that the Australian Government today is confirmed in official correspondence to Dr Jabril that we recognise the Libyan Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people.

As such we join a growing number of nations in the world in so doing.

Also the Australian Government based on that will be dispatching its own high level mission of officials to Benghazi in the weeks ahead to form a fresh assessment of remaining humanitarian needs right now as well as how do we assist with the Libyan people in the stabilisation task which lies ahead.

My final point is this, solidarity amongst the nations and foreign ministers represented in the Contact Group has been essential up until now.

It is doubly essential in the critical weeks which lie ahead when the momentum is decisively moving against Qaddafi, but it is now critical that the solidarity remain for the years ahead in building this new Libyan democratic state which supports fully the needs of its people.

I'll conclude my remarks there and take any questions before I leave.

Question: Foreign Minister, could you clarify, you said that Australia is today recognising the TNC as the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people, if I recall correctly, what is the difference between that and full formal diplomatic recognition and if it's not the latter, why not?

Kevin Rudd: The custom has been for a long time in Australia is that we recognise states not governments, and so what we are doing is recognising this entity the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor on behalf of the Libyan people.

That is the formulation now used by the United Kingdom and a range of other countries and the number of those countries is now growing as the Transitional National Council consolidates its position in the international community.

Question: Sir was there a discussion today on a peace initiative coming from the Qaddafi side?

Kevin Rudd: There have been obviously multiple feelers from the Qaddafi regime to various members of the international community, coming out every other day.

In our view collectively this represents a growing desperation on the part of the regime as we believe it enters its end period.

There is however one central coordination point for diplomatic initiatives in the reverse direction, and that is through the UN Special Envoy, who has been active both in Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere and he has the foreign ministerial Libyan Contact Group firmly in support of his actions.

Question: The crisis has been happening in Libya three months and this same unacceptable crimes happening today has been happening three months ago and obviously you have not recognised the new government in Libya only recently is there are reason behind that?

Kevin Rudd: No we have been working closely with our friends in the international community over the last couple of months as I said before. The position of Australia like a number of countries around the world is that we do not recognise governments we recognise states. Therefore the formulation that we've used, consistent with the UK and consistent with others, is to recognise that recognise the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people.

The legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people.

And we use that formulation deliberately.

Furthermore we have been in direct contact, discussion and negotiation with Dr Jabril now ourselves for some months and it is in consultation with him that we've defined exactly the type and form of humanitarian assistance that we provided.

As I've said before we take the responsibility seriously, after the United States and the European Union, Australia is the third largest humanitarian contributor to the efforts on the ground in Libya today and we stand prepared to do more.

Question: What are the main obstacles now to passing the UN resolution needed to unfreeze the assets of the Qaddafi regime and put them in an international country- mechanism fund?

And the second one is, we were told that the Transitional National Council presented a roadmap today of how we would govern post-Qaddafi. After the roadmap is represented now what other concerns remain in terms of its ability or its stances in governing?

Kevin Rudd: On the first question concerning Libyan assets abroad, there are a range of technical questions which have been raised by various Finance Ministers around the world.

Far be it for me to answer on behalf of each of them, but these matters are being dealt with collaboratively on behalf of all states because our common interests is this: to release those funds, significant funds, for the use of the immediate needs of the Libyan people themselves, who need the full delivery of services now in order to survive.

They are currently reliant on international humanitarian agencies funded by the international community but their needs are substantial.

On the second point concerning the roadmap which was presented, yes, that is fully reflected, in the Chairman's statement today.

That is the roadmap, released by the Transitional National Council. This is a significant contribution to the diplomatic process by the TNC and it is one which we'll be following carefully ourselves.

Again we underline also the critical importance of the role of the UN Special Envoy. The critical thing for the Envoy is to make sure that all efforts diplomatically are focused through him; that we do not have a fragmentation of global diplomatic effort.

Question: Minister, beneath all the statements of concern and intent can you just tell us what has concretely been decided at this meeting today and in particular what has been decided and signed off in terms of the financing of the TNC and how much money is that going to release and over what period in total?

Kevin Rudd: That's good, that's a very Financial Times question, thank you very much.

Far be it from me to speak on behalf of my colleagues.

But firstly if you look at the finance mechanism which was the subject of discussion in Rome, you will see that the communiqué of statement today by the two co-chairs of today's conference here in Abu Dhabi, that mechanism has now been finalised and brought into being.

That is a significant development.

Secondly, having listened to presentations from various foreign ministers from around the world today there have been significant additional statements of financial support to that mechanism, delivered at this conference today.

I believe they represent two significant steps forward but again I would draw your attention in terms of quote 'what's new' unquote, to this point: the emerging consensus view among this group of foreign ministers is that Qaddafi's days are well and truly numbered and therefore the sense of urgency which we in the international community now have in preparing for a post-Qaddafi Libya is heightened, and when we meet in again in Istanbul within the next month or so, the structure of that agenda will be highly focused on how we structure and fund the post-conflict stabilisation arrangements for the new Libya.

This is no longer an academic proposition, it is a real proposition and one which we may be facing sooner than many of you in this room may think.

Question: We have heard several statements today that Mr Qaddafi`s days are numbered could you tell us what you base this on and how many days does he have if they are numbered?

Kevin Rudd: Well again the virtue of a gathering like this is you bring together a significant number of Foreign Ministers from around the world each of whom undertake their own analyses of the situation on the ground in Libya.

You have an aggregation therefore of what people bring to the table in terms of their military conclusions, their diplomatic conclusions, their internal political conclusions and the summary of advice around the table is that the momentum now is decisively moving against the Qaddafi regime.

We therefore in Australia share that overall analysis.

It is impossible to predict days and hours but we are firmly of the view that we are now in a period where the momentum is against the regime and therefore it is therefore critical that the international community prepare for next steps.

The other thing I would add though, is that listening to Dr Jabril today, the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the ground is real. Therefore we have two challenges right now – to keep people alive until this crisis concludes and to be fully prepared for the next day which is how do you produce sufficient support and structure for an interim government to perform its functions once Qaddafi goes.

Qaddafi by the way, if he has any sense of his own self interest, would go now.

Given he has no sense of anyone else's interest, let alone his own people, then it remains to be seen if he will reflect at least on his own interest and go now, while he still can.

Question: What is opinion about Libya after Qaddafi and what is your opinion about the relationship between Libya and Syria after Qaddafi?

Well in terms of Libya after Qaddafi this is why we have now firstly, the roadmap produced by the Transitional National Council, and why we have the international community, the international stabilisation response team, which is headed by highly capable personnel from the UN involving personnel from right around the world including my own country.

It is now devising the structures and the systems and delivery of basic services which Libya will need the day after Qaddafi goes.

In terms of the form and shape of the future Libya, that is very much a matter for the Libyan people themselves, them to determine by the agreed democratic processes.

The second part of your question goes to Syria.

Let me say this very clearly and I speak here not on behalf of anyone.

Question: No, sorry, the relationship between Libya and Australia.

Kevin Rudd: Sorry I thought you said Libya and Syria.

Well with Australia, Libya has had a long-standing diplomatic relationship.

Right now in Australia we have probably one and a half thousand Libyan students for example studying at Australian universities.

Many of those are in financial distress. We are working with Australian universities to make sure they can complete their courses, and that in a post-Qaddafi Libya that these students are therefore able with their newly obtained university qualifications to return to Libya to build the new country and the new system of government which their people want.

Other areas where we are prepared to assist by the way, as Australians with the new Libya, are in areas of agricultural technology assistance, particularly dry land farming and agriculture which is of longstanding concern to Libya in terms of its long-term food security interests.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press I might leave it there unless there is one boasting question up the back.

Question: Thankyou Minister. Before your presentation by the co-chairs we were told that this new financial mechanism being finalised today only involves direct contributions from other states and no other organisations or international organisations.

Also it doesn't include loans and the de-freezing of assets which clearly we know why in terms of the issues of the assets frozen abroad.

But do I understand it correctly, this financial mechanism does not provide a venue for loans to be given to Libyan people to TNC to be backed by the Libyan investments abroad?

Kevin Rudd: My understanding is as follows.

Essentially we are looking at three levels of shall I say financial assistance to what is needed in Libya today.

The first is immediate and humanitarian which we the international community as you would understand are providing through the whole range of international humanitarian agencies.

Put that figure together collectively it is a large sum of money and we are one of the contributors to it. It's what keeps the UNHCR going; it is what keeps the WHO going; it is what keeps the World Food Programme going; it's what keeps UNICEF going every day in supporting the needs of half a million internally displaced and nearly 1 million externally displaced Libyans and third country nationals.

The second level of financial assistance which goes to the operational needs of the TNC itself is to be supported by the financial mechanism to which you have just referred.

My understanding from my discussion with my colleagues is it at present relies primarily on grants from individual governments and a number of those, in answer to the question from the gentleman from the Financial Times before, were made public today.

Thirdly and this goes to the medium to long term we are looking at the unleashing of significant flows of finance with the unfreezing of Libyan assets abroad and that is where there is a huge effort concentrated at the moment on the part of all governments where we believe Libyan assets of one form or another exist, so that those billions of dollars of assets can be released for the proper needs of the Libyan people.

We are proceeding at all three levels at once, because the needs are immediate, short-term and long-term.

Ladies and gentlemen thank you for your time.

ENDS

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