The Cable

Obama: Rebel government in Libya must step up now

As rebel forces poured into Tripoli, the White House called for Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, whose whereabouts now are still unknown, to recognize publicly that he is no longer in control and called on the rebel leadership to prove it will be a competent and inclusive leader of a new Libya. President Barack Obama convened a ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

As rebel forces poured into Tripoli, the White House called for Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, whose whereabouts now are still unknown, to recognize publicly that he is no longer in control and called on the rebel leadership to prove it will be a competent and inclusive leader of a new Libya.

President Barack Obama convened a conference call with members of his national security team at about 9 PM from advisor Valerie Jarret’s House in Oak Bluffs, a resort town on Martha’s Vineyard. At about 10 PM, the White House released a statement from Obama calling on Qaddafi to step aside and calling on the Transitional National Council, the Benghazi-based government-in-waiting, to demonstrate leadership in order to ensure a smooth transition.

"Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," Obama said in the statement. "The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator."

The White House called on the TNC to protect civilians, protect the institutions of the Libya state, and ensure human rights, inclusiveness, and democracy as it takes over power. The administration also called on the TNC not to permit retribution on the streets of Tripoli.

"Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected," Obama’s statement said.

The officials on Obama’s call were Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld,  Allied Joint Forces Commander Adm. Admiral Sam Locklear, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, NSC Chief of Staff Brooke Anderson, NSC Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet, Loren Schulman, and State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Brennan had been giving Obama regular updates since Sunday morning and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement in the afternoon that also called on the TNC to reach out to all of the sectors of Libya society.

"As Assistant Secretary [for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff] Feltman’s visit to Benghazi underscores, we continue efforts to encourage the TNC to maintain broad outreach across all segments of Libyan society and to plan for post-Qadhafi Libya. Qadhafi’s days are numbered. If Qadhafi cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now," Nuland’s statement read. 

The Obama administration formally recognized the TNC in July and the TNC representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, formally took over control of the Libyan embassy last week. The TNC has weathered some internal strife during the six-month fight against the Qaddafi regime; it is also still currently engaged in a legal struggle with the international community to get its hands on billions of dollars in frozen Qaddafi assets.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who has been an active supporter of the TNC throughout the Libya war, called on the Obama administration to increase its contacts and support for the TNC, now that they appear to be on the verge of taking power. He laid out a long list of tasks for the TNC if they are able to secure and hold Tripoli.

"In particular, we must support the new Libyan authorities to ensure they are able to prevent acts of retribution, initiate a credible process of national reconciliation, secure weapons depots and critical infrastructure, protect vulnerable populations, establish security and rule of law in Tripoli and throughout Libya, and begin the broadest possible outreach across Libyan society for an inclusive and transparent political transition," Lieberman said in a statement Sunday evening.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement setting out what they see as the TNC’s task ahead and calling on the international community to assist them.

"The Libyan people have won their freedom, but now they must build the durable institutions necessary to keep it, including a transparent and inclusive political process, a free and independent media, an impartial system of justice and the rule of law, a free economy, and unified, professionalized security forces that answer to civilian authority," they wrote.

Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeted that the onus was on the TNC to prove its competence. "The #TNC must quickly demonstrate it can credibly move #Libya forward. There will be lots of jockeying as a new political order is formed," he said.

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