Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 21 MARCH 2011
TOPICS: Situation in Libya
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is the no-fly zone, effectively, established?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice we have, certainly, the assessment from the United States is, yes, that's the case. We welcome that very much. It implements the Security Council Resolution 1973, which has, at its heart, the protection of Libya's citizens. So, we welcome it very much and now we'll watch very closely as events unfold.
LYNDAL CURTIS: A Libyan military spokesman has talked about a ceasefire and an odd proposal for everyone to drive to Benghazi as an act of forgiveness. Do you think there is any ceasefire in place from the Libyan military?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I said over the weekend when we saw the first suggestion of a ceasefire from Colonel Qaddafi and his associates, that we needed to treat that, and the international community needed to treat that very sceptically. So, I think we're entitled to be sceptical. I think we're entitled to treat it with a very, very large grain of salt and we should proceed on the basis that unless we have firm evidence on the ground that a ceasefire is being effected, then we should proceed with great caution and not rely upon assurances, or undertakings or assertions from Colonel Qaddafi.
LYNDAL CURTIS: There does still appear to be fighting in Libya's third largest city, Misurata, and reports we've had from there say that it will be difficult to - for the intervention to succeed in that without, say, bombing the supply lines. Is that part of the problem that when fighting gets into the cities, it's very difficult for the intervention to have any success there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I said before the no-fly zone resolution was adopted by the Security Council that people shouldn't look to a no-fly zone as being the solution to all of the difficulties. Certainly, we were very strongly of the view that it was a very important part of protecting Libya's citizens, its civilians, and that is at the heart of or central to the Security Council resolution.
It expressly doesn't authorise activity on the ground. And so, whilst it'll be the case that effecting the no-fly zone will be of advantage on the ground to Colonel Qaddafi's opponents, the Security Council resolution doesn't authorise or allow what I've seen referred to as mission creep. That's quite clear. And there's no motivation, or incentive or enthusiasm on the part of the member states implementing the Security Council resolution to do that. We've seen statements from the United States, from the United Kingdom, from France, from Italy and Spain, who've also joined, as have overnight, Qatar, that they're interested in effecting the no-fly zone to protect citizens and we now need to see what occurs on the ground to - and to watch developments closely in that respect.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If the ultimate aim of this is not regime change, could we end up with a situation where the western half of Libya is controlled by Colonel Qaddafi and the eastern half is controlled by the rebels, and is that an ideal solution?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we have to have it - or have to watch it step by step and just see events unfold, all the time being guided by the Security Council resolution. Effective stalemate is one possible outcome. The ideal outcome, to use your phrase, would, of course, be to see Colonel Qaddafi walk off the stage. But we're not holding our breath for that. But we've-
LYNDAL CURTIS: And, indeed, it's not part of the UN mandate to force that to happen is it?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right, that's right. The UN Security Council resolution, which authorises enforcement action under chapter seven of the United Nations charter, authorises a no-fly zone for the protection of Libya's citizens. The no-fly zone's being effected. All of the advice we have to date is that that's occurred without civilian casualties, but I do make the point that in the fog of war, one needs to just wait a bit of time for all the reports to come in, but we hope that very much is the case.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We've had some conflicting reports of the Arab League's position first - them expressing some concern about what's happened in Libya, and a second report walking that back. Is the continued support of the Arab League for this mission critical, particularly to give the US some political cover, so they're not just seen to be, again, the US intervening in the Middle East?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, when I was at Brussels recently and meeting with NATO and International Security Assistance Force defence counterparts, NATO defence ministers were very conscious of the need, not just for the starting point to be a Security Council resolution, but for there to be support from the region. And we've seen expressions of support from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
There are conflicting reports about what the Arab League General Secretary Moussa has said. Certainly, it was very strongly in support of imposing a no-fly zone. I think we just need to wait a bit of time and see what is the substance of those reports. Certainly, the internal traffic I've seen leads one to the conclusion that the Arab League continues to be supportive of a no-fly zone, continues to be supportive of the protection of Libya's citizens.So, I think we just need to let a bit of time go by to enable Secretary General Moussa to clarify those reports which, frankly, have been in the public domain a bit conflicting.
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