Obama administration now dealing with rogue Libyan ambassadors and ignoring faxes from Qaddafi
The Obama administration has decided switch the focus of its Libya diplomacy toward dealing with Libyan representatives in Washington and New York who have decried the regime, after the Libyan government in Tripoli stopped taking its calls. The Obama administration, and especially the State Department, had been maintaining its relationship with the government of Col. ...
The Obama administration has decided switch the focus of its Libya diplomacy toward dealing with Libyan representatives in Washington and New York who have decried the regime, after the Libyan government in Tripoli stopped taking its calls.
The Obama administration, and especially the State Department, had been maintaining its relationship with the government of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi until early this week. Even when President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Qaddafi on Feb. 25, the State Department did not break diplomatic relations.
Undersecretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman were in regular contact with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa for the first two weeks of the crisis. But as of yesterday, Kusa won’t come to the phone. The State Department therefore has now decided to ignore Kusa’s request, sent via fax, that the administration stop dealing with Amb. Ali Aujali, Libya’s top representative in Washington, who State had announced they would no longer deal with only days ago.
The United Nations is taking a similar approach, refusing to act on Qaddafi’s fax to the U.N. that it expel Libya’s two top diplomats in New York, Mohamed Shalgham and Ibrahim Dabbashi.
At first, State appeared willing to honor Qaddafi’s request to cut off dealings with dissident Libyan diplomats. On March 1, State Department P.J. Crowley told reporters that Aujali, who had publicly resigned his post on Feb. 22, "no longer represents Libya’s interests in the United States" and that State would now deal with the charge d’affaires, who is still loyal to the regime.But yesterday, a State Department official told The Cable that Aujali is still regarded by the administration as the chief of mission at the Libyan embassy, and is now State’s top interlocutor there. The official said that State is not acting on a fax it received from Kusa demanding they stop dealing with Aujali.
"We received the fax but we have not been able to verify its authenticity," the State Department official said. "Normally the fax is followed by a diplomatic note, which has not occurred."
But can’t State simply verify that the fax is genuine by asking Kusa himself?
"We have tried to reach him since receipt of the fax. He is not taking calls," the State Department official said, implying that if the fax could be verified, they might honor it.
Similarly, in New York, the U.N. and the U.S. mission there have yet to act on Qaddafi and Kusa’s demand that they stop dealing with Shalgham and Dabbashi, who have both disavowed the Libyan regime. Dabbashi accused Qaddafi of war crimes on Feb. 21. Shalgham, an old friend of Qaddafi’s, followed suit Feb. 25 in an impassioned speech before the Security Council, where he urged the United Nations to act swiftly to save Libya.
Now several days later, Shalgham and Dabbashi are still in charge of the Libyan mission at the United Nations, and are still meeting with senior U.N. and U.S. officials. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice met with Shalgham earlier this week, according to a U.S. official based at the U.N.
The official said that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon‘s office had also received a fax from Kusa, but had not acted on it. Therefore, the U.S. mission still regards Shalgham and Dabbashi as Libya’s credentialed representatives — until Ban’s office tells them otherwise.
"It’s not entirely clear how it will play out," the U.S. official said. "It’s not actually our determination whether they are the representatives to the U.N."
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the secretary general’s office, confirmed to The Cable that Ban had not acted on Kusa’s request to strip Shalgham and Dabbashi of their credentials. However, he said that they were expected to be replaced and were no longer attending all U.N. meetings.
"We have formally received the request from the Government of Libya and are studying it. That’s where we stand. While that happens, the existing officials remain in their current positions," he said.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.