by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the working lunch of NATO Ministers of Defence with non-NATO Contributors to Operation Unified Protector
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming in such great numbers to this meeting of NATO Defence Ministers and to the Secretary General's press conference.
First of all, I have to say that we are aware that there are problems with the internet right now. We apologize to everybody. We're working as hard as we can to make sure you can do your very important work. We'll let you know as soon as it's up again. Our technicians are working on this as a matter of urgency.
And with that, Secretary General.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Thank you very much. I have just come from a meeting with allies and partners on our operation to protect civilians in Libya. The operation has been running for just over two months and I can tell you that everyone at the table agreed we have made clear progress.
If you look at the situation in Libya now and compare it with the situation when Operation Unified Protector began it is clear how much NATO and partners have achieved.
We have prevented a massacre by stopping Qadhafi's advance towards Benghazi and his brutal attacks on cities like Misrata. We have preserved innocent lives by keeping the air and sea open for humanitarian aid, even while we closed it to weapons and mercenaries. And we have prepared the ground for a political settlement, by making it clear to Qadhafi and his followers that there is no future in violence and repression.
All Ministers agreed that we will keep up the pressure for as long as it takes to bring this crisis to an early conclusion.
First, we endorsed the decision to extend our operation for another 90 days from the end of June. That is a clear signal that NATO will stay the course. It shows our commitment to the people of Libya, to the international community, and to the United Nations whose historic Resolution 1973 is the basis for our operation.
Second, NATO nations and partners stressed their continuing commitment to our operation, including by providing the necessary capabilities to continue and conclude the operation.
Thirdly, we agreed that the time has come to plan for the day after the conflict. Qadhafi's history, it is no longer a question of if he goes, but when he goes. It may take weeks, but it could happen tomorrow. And when he goes the international community has to be ready.
Let me make it clear. We do not see a leading role for NATO in Libya once this crisis is over. But we are ready to engage with other international and regional organizations to ensure a smooth transition.
We all know that transforming Libya into a modern democratic state will be a long and complex process. Let me stress, it is the people of Libya who will shape the country's future. And the time to start planning is now because Qadhafi's reign of terror is coming to an end, and we must be prepared for when it is over.
And with that I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Please don't forget to introduce yourselves and your organizations. Financial Times.
Q: Thank you, sir. Can I ask you about this... this issue of planning for the post-Qadhafi world? Is that just a general commitment that the allies have made, or is this specific planning direction given to the Military Committee to plan options for a post-Qadhafi Libya?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Here, I'm speaking about an obligation for the international community and notably the United Nations. We see the United Nations playing the lead role in a post-Qadhafi, a post-conflict scenario and this is the reason why we send a very clear message. We don't see NATO in the lead role. We will leave it to other international organizations and notably the United Nations. And this is the reason why it's as essential that the necessary plans are ready for that situation.
OANA LUNGESCU: BBC.
Q: Yes, Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus from the BBC. Two points. One you say you welcome additional contributions to our common efforts. Are there things that you're still short of in terms of moving the operation forward? And secondly, on the planning side, you leave the whole issue of NATO's role fairly open-ended. Might you be willing to countenance NATO troops on the ground in some numbers if only for a transitional period before other agencies like the UN or whoever, get established?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, yes, we have the necessary assets available for continuing our operation and all 28 allies, plus partners, agree to extend our operation beyond the current 90 days mandate, and they're also ready to provide the necessary assets.
Having said that, I have also encouraged other allies to broaden the support for our operation. That's about sustainability. The broader the support the stronger the sustainability, but the short answer is yes, we do have the necessary assets available for continuing our operation. And I don't foresee NATO troops on the ground.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Arabiya.
Q: Secretary General, Noureddine Fridhi, from Al Arabiya news channel. Can I ask, you said the conflict may be ended in a few weeks time, or maybe tomorrow. How confident are you that it will not take months, it will take weeks and not months?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I'm not going to guess about the timeframe, but what we can see is a weakening of the Qadhafi regime. We have considerably degraded his war machine. He's no longer able to launch massive, major attacks against his own population, though the machine still constitutes a threat, so we will continue our operations. But we have seen a very clear weakening of his military capacity.
Next, we have seen the opposition forces advance in Libya. We have seen how the Qadhafi regime is more and more isolated internationally every day, and finally, we have also seen defections from the regime inner circle.
And all these elements lead to the very clear conclusion that eventually this will lead to the collapse of the regime. But I'm not going to guess about timelines.
OANA LUNGESCU: Radio-France Internationale.
Q: Oui, Monsieur le Secrétaire général. Pierre Benazet, Radio-France. On parle beaucoup... Il y a des appels à l'intensification des frappes, un durcissement de l'opération. Vous parlez de moyens militaires supplémentaires.
Combien y a-t-il actuellement de pays dans la coalition dont les avions font effectivement des frappes au sol? Est-ce que l'idée de demande à d'autres pays d'engager leurs avions non plus seulement dans la zone d'exclusion aérienne mais aussi pour les frappes au sol serait une solution que vous pourriez recommander ou demander à certains pays justement de mettre leur chasseur Bombardier à disposition?
Et d'autre part, est-ce qu'on a idée de la proportion... de la proportion des moyens militaires du régime qui sont aujourd'hui endommagés ou détruits? Est-ce qu'on un pourcentage en quelque sorte?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Oui, j'ai demandé aux alliés de permettre une utilisation plus flexible de leurs moyens militaires. Oui.
Q: Plus flexible, ça veut dire...?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Plus flexible, oui.
Q: Ça veut dire d'engager des avions éventuellement de la zone d'exclusion vers les frappes.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Oui, oui.
OANA LUNGESCU: El País.
Q: Martinez de Rituerto, El País. Good afternoon. You're saying that you intend to stay in Libya after Qadhafi is gone. Who has asked you to stay, and why are you staying? What is the role in Libya of NATO, of the Alliance in Libya? Why are you staying? Who has called you to stay? You are talking on behalf of whom when you decide you are going to stay there? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I've not said that we're going to stay. On the contrary, I have said that we are strongly committed to complete our mission, which is to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 with the aim to protect the civilian population.
We have clearly defined three military objectives. Firstly, a complete end to all attacks against civilians in Libya. Secondly, withdrawal of Qadhafi military forces and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks. And thirdly, immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need in Libya.
These are our military objectives and we will continue our operation until they are met. But actually, I have stressed that I do not foresee a leading NATO role in a post-Qadhafi or post-conflict scenario. On the contrary we think other international organizations and notably the United Nations, should be in the lead.
OANA LUNGESCU: Jane's.
Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. Secretary General, it's very difficult to dislodge an enemy with air power only, with no troops on the ground, and in every western-led conflict of the last 30 years the arrival of attack helicopters has led to mission creep and extended conflicts. So just because you've degraded his military and seen some desertions, could you tell us why this operation should be an exception to the rule? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, well, we operate on the basis of a United Nations mandate and the United Nations Resolution 1973 is very clear. It requests the enforcement of a No-Fly Zone, the enforcement of an arms embargo and the protection of civilians, taking all necessary means.
And this Resolution also excludes the use of troops on the ground. So we operate on the basis of that mandate, and we have actually been quite successful. Since we took responsibility for this operation we have carried out around 10,000 sorties, we have damaged or destroyed 1,800 legitimate military targets, we have, as I said, considerably degraded Qadhafi's war machine. So I think the operation, based on this UN mandate, has been very successful so far.
OANA LUNGESCU: Front row.
Q: …. an exception to the rule ……
OANA LUNGESCU: I don't think we have time for follow-ups.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but, you're welcome to follow up this one.
Q: My question essentially was, the exception to the rule of history of the last 30 years, that conflicts, and conflicts where helicopters come in, mission creep starts. Why should this operation be the exception to that rule?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I can assure you that we have no intentions to put troops on the ground.
OANA LUNGESCU: Front row.
Q: Martin Geissler from ITV News. You talked about the transformation of Libya to a fully-functioning democracy. That's a long-term project. To what extent have you discussed the immediate hours and days in the aftermath of the collapse of the regime, and to what extent can you offer protection to the people there, if you don't have boots on the ground?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but that's exactly the question I addressed in my introduction today. We have made clear that we do not foresee a leading NATO role in the post-Qadhafi or post-conflict scenario. On the contrary, we would expect the United Nations to take the lead.
And this is the reason why it is of utmost importance that the international community, and notably, of course, the United Nations, have all plans ready for that situation.
So I think that's the essence of my message, that we will continue to implement fully the UN mandate as it stands. But once our mission is completed we do not foresee a leading NATO role. If called upon we can assist others, provided there is a demonstrable need for our help, provided there is a sound legal basis, provided there is regional support for our assistance.
So the very clear message from this meeting is, we continue our operation according to the current mandate, but once our mission is completed, others must take over, notably the United Nations. So please make sure that all appropriate and necessary plans for that situation are in place.
And it's really a relevant question you ask, because we know from experience that it may take some time from a UN Security Council Resolution is adopted, until UN troops can be deployed. So this is the reason why we have to take that challenge very seriously already now. So this is a very clear message from this meeting.
OANA LUNGESCU: We have time for two more questions, Europa Press.
Q: Thank you, Secretary General. Ana Pisonero. Yesterday the regime denounced that there were 31 people killed in about 60 NATO bombardments, mainly in the Tripoli area. Yesterday Aisha Qadhafi has presented here in Belgium courts some form of judicial complaints against NATO. Concretely because of the operations from the 30th of April when they say that the son of Qadhafi and several of his grandchildren were killed. And some weeks ago the regime has also given, I think, some (inaudible) like 7,000, over 7,000 civilians killed and 4,000 wounded in NATO operations in Libya.
So I don't know how you can... how you can make a bit of a comment against these very heavy allegations against NATO, and concretely, on the Aisha Qadhafi's initiative? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, first of all let me stress that I have no information whatsoever that could confirm that these alleged incidents are caused by NATO and partner actions. We have seen a lot of propaganda from the Qadhafi regime, and I can assure you that our military commanders are very much focused on avoiding civilian casualties. We are actually very, very careful in the way we conduct this operation because we are mandated to protect the civilian population and we take that task very seriously.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question there.
Q: (Inaudible...) News Agency. If the anti-government forces take the office and do you think they will bring the peace to Libya?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, indeed. Based on all I have heard from the opposition represented through the Interim National Council I feel confident that they are sincere in their desire to see a true democracy developed in Libya.
The Interim National Council has also presented a road map for a transition to democracy. A road map that I would say is inclusive in the way it deals with different groups in Libya. And that inclusiveness is, of course, essential to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy.
Having said all that, I would also like to stress that of course the Interim National Council and the opposition in general have a very... have a big responsibility to ensure that the transition to democracy will take place in a peaceful and orderly fashion.
OANA LUNGESCU: I'm afraid this is all we have time for now. The Secretary General will be back at around 1900, after the NATO-Russia Council and the good news is that the WiFi is now working again and we'll soon be distributing the joint statement. Thank you.