Press Conference with Secretary Panetta and Prime Minister Al-Keeb in Tripoli, Libya
PRIME MINISTER ABDUL RAHEEM AL-KEEB: (Translated.) In the name of God, welcome to all of you. I would like to welcome Mr. Secretary of Defense – United States secretary of defense. He is well known for understanding our area. I would also like to salute his desire on behalf of the United States of America and to participate in [inaudible] people [inaudible] courageous and heroic efforts to build Libya.
At first we had a very friendly meeting, and he had mentioned that United States of America respects the ability of the Libyan people to lead the following phase; however, he had also mentioned that the United States of America will stand by these people, and he did say this brave and courageous people to help him build his future without interfering with the ambitions and plans of this people to protect its future and to build it.
So on behalf of the Libyan people, on behalf of the brave and courageous, heroic Libyan people, I would like to thank the United States through the minister – secretary of defense. This interaction – we look forward to this interaction which will result in a cooperation for the better future of Libya. Thank you.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, for [inaudible] service and for your commitment to the Libyan people during this very important time of transition and hope.
I’ve been told that I am the first United States secretary of defense to visit Libya, and this is truly a special honor for me to be in Tripoli today. I’ve come to pay tribute to the courage and determination of the Libyan people. They bravely came together, they rose up against an oppressive regime, they fought, and many died to chart a better future for themselves and for their children.
I’m particularly proud of the role that the United States played through the NATO alliance in helping protect and support the Libyan people during this dramatic and inspiring revolution. This was a very unique alliance against tyranny and for freedom.
Even though Operation Unified Protector has ended, I want to stress that the United States, despite the fact that that program has ended, will continue – will continue to stand by the Libyan people. To that end, we are looking forward to building a close partnership with the Libyan government, and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance they need in the spirit -- in the spirit of friendship and in the spirit of mutual respect.
Just yesterday the United States rolled back most of the sanctions it had imposed on the government of Libya, and has released all government and central bank funds within the United States’ jurisdiction. This measure will allow the Libyan government to access most of its worldwide holdings and assist the prime minister in his efforts to oversee the country’s reconstruction and transition.
In my conversation with the prime minister and with the minister of defense, I made clear that the United States stands ready to offer security assistance and whatever cooperation we can once the government identifies its needs.
I believe that this new and free Libya can become an important security partner for the United States. Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. They will chart their future. They will determine what assistance they require from the United States and the international community.
To the people of Libya, let me say this. The blood that you have spilled has earned you the right to determine your future, to work through the security issues that you are going to confront. And there is no doubt that you will confront some serious and difficult challenges bringing together all of the revolutionary forces that fought from west to east, securing weapons stockpiles, confronting terrorism, professionalizing the army and the police, and developing the institutions of a free and representative government. This will be a long and difficult transition, but I have every confidence that you will succeed in realizing the dream of a government of, by, and for all people and achieve a more secure and prosperous future.
The history of my country is the history of revolution and the fight for equal justice and for human rights. Now we share the same legacy, and we are and will be your friend and your partner.
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for hosting me here today. Thank you for – really a thank you to the entire Libyan people for being a source of inspiration and hope for this entire region and for the world. The torch of freedom that has passed throughout the centuries, and now passes from nation to nation in the Middle East and North Africa, burns brightly here in Libya. May it light your way to a future of peace, prosperity, and freedom.
MODERATOR: First question. Thom Shanker from the New York Times.
Q: Thank you very much. One of the most [inaudible] challenges facing the new government is bringing all of the militias under control. Mr. Secretary [inaudible] in Iraq and Afghanistan where the American military has both fought militias and worked with militias, is there any specific assistance that you can or will offer the Libyans [inaudible] bring all of the militias under control by yourself or will you seek assistance from the U.S. or other outside partners [inaudible]. Thank you very much.
SEC. PANETTA: That was, obviously, one of the issues that we discussed and clearly one of the challenges is the effort to bring together all of the revolutionary forces that were involved here in Libya. In talking with the defense minister and the prime minister, I am confident that they are taking the right steps to reach out to all of these groups and bring them together so that they will be part of one Libya and be part of one defense system.
There are a lot of young people that worked hard in this revolution, and I think that the goal of the prime minister is to try to embrace that energy and try to direct it in a way that can help and be productive for Libya.
I have a good sense that they understand the challenge that they’re facing, but I also have a very good sense that they know how to deal with it.
PRIME MINISTER AL-KEEB: (Translated.) Yes, the secretary has given a very good answer for your question, but if I may complement his answer by saying that we know how serious this issue is. We realize that it’s not a matter of just simply saying, okay, put down your arms and go back to work or whatever you want to do. We realize that there are lots of things that we [inaudible] finalize and be able to [inaudible]. We have programs – solid programs that try [inaudible] we [inaudible] former freedom fighters back to – they will be fighters for a better future of Libya, and we will give them opportunities that we [inaudible] matter of fine tuning some issues here for this program. So I am very optimistic. We know that these are not simple issues to deal with, but [audible] that we will take care of them over time.
Just a side note, as you well know, the Libyan people did not [inaudible] simply demonstrating peacefully, but the mentality – group mentality [inaudible], but [inaudible] here, made them act [inaudible]. The Libyan people are known to be peaceful and to work [inaudible] peaceful life and I am sure they will go back to that [inaudible]. So I’m very optimistic.
Q: (Translated.) [Inaudible] of cooperation for the future of Libya, especially with regards to lifting the embargo, or unfreezing Libyan assets?
SEC. PANETTA: As I stated, the United States has taken steps to lift sanctions on Libyan assets and hopefully those will be made available as soon as possible to the Libyan government and the Libyan people. This was something that the United States always felt from the beginning, the reason that those funds were held was because we did not want to have the Gadhafi regime have access to those funds. Those funds belonged to the Libyan people and now they have [inaudible] released back to the Libyan people.
MODERATOR: Next question is from Craig Whitlock with the Washington Post.
Q: [Inaudible] Mr. Secretary. As you know, there’s still a lot of turmoil in the Arab world: Syria and Yemen are in conflict, Egypt’s transition has been volatile and violent. To what degree do you think the unfolding of the transition here in Libya will influence these popular uprisings elsewhere? Or do you see Libya as a special case, a unique case as the secretary mentioned, whose lessons may not necessarily apply to other countries in the region?
PRIME MINISTER AL-KEEB : (Translated.) The fire of wanting to have freedom was burning here – [inaudible] revolution followed by the Egyptian one [inaudible] so and if you look at the commonalities amongst the three of them, including also the one in Yemen, you will see that there is a [inaudible] and freedom and respect for human rights and freedom of speech that does not exist in many Arab places, so I am almost certain that the Syrian revolution has been influenced in a positive way by the three revolutions in Tunisia [inaudible]. So I think this is one [inaudible] of why democracy in the Middle East is something that everybody needs to support and I think that our [inaudible], we have in the past played in a small way before this past – [inaudible] in a small way positive. [Inaudible] we want to do that. We want to show the good face of Libya. And I think this will also show [inaudible] quest for [inaudible].
SEC. PANETTA: I think it’s pretty clear that this region is going through the most dramatic changes since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and we are seeing, in what has been termed the Arab Spring, changes that are taking place throughout this region. I think at the heart of each of these changes there is a commonality in the sense that it is the people in each of these countries that are seeking the benefits of freedom, human rights, and equal opportunity and justice. And that is at the heart of what we’ve seen take place, whether it’s Tunisia or Egypt or here in Libya or the Syrians and elsewhere.
It is truly the sovereignty of the people – we talk about sovereignty of nations, but this is the sovereignty of the people that is taking hold in this region. It is going to involve different approaches in each of these countries, and different challenges in each of these countries. None of this is going to be easy and nobody ever said that it was going to be easy as each of these countries tries to confront the challenge of the developing institutions of government, developing the institutions of representative democracy. And there’s going to be turmoil as they go through that process, as we’ve seen.
But I think ultimately, at the heart of this is the effort to try to make sure that each of these countries in their own way respond to what the people want and try to develop those opportunities and freedoms that are so important.
I don’t think you can simply apply a rubber stamp here to each of these countries. They’re going – each of these countries has to do this on their own. That’s [inaudible] true in Egypt, it’s true in Tunisia, and it’s true here in Libya. The Libyan people and Libyan leaders are the ones that will determine the future of Libya. But we’ll be there to provide whatever help they need. We’ll be there to provide whatever assistance they need. But in the end it is Libya and the Libyan people that will decide the future [inaudible].
MODERATOR: Last question.
Q: [Inaudible] – you had mentioned that the United States and Libya [inaudible]. Can you be more specific? Are we speaking of providing – selling arms to the Libyan government or can you be more specific about the kind of cooperation between Libya and the United States?
SEC. PANETTA: What I indicated to the minister of defense and what I indicated to the prime minister is that the United States is prepared to provide whatever assistance that Libya believes it needs. We discussed no specific assistance at this time. I believe that both the prime minister and the defense minister, obviously, as they may proceed in the days in the future here that they will assess what their needs are, and they will determine what kind of help we and, for that matter, the international community can help provide. But at this stage there certainly was no discussion involving arms or military equipment.
What we indicated is that they have to determine what their needs are, what kind of assistance is required, and whatever they need the United States will be happy to respond.
MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you everybody. This concludes our press conference [inaudible].