Ref ID: 09TRIPOLI133
Date: 2/11/2009 10:06
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 TRIPOLI 000133 SIPDIS DEPT FOR INR/NESA (HOFSTATTER) E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/3/2019 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PTER, PHUM, EPET, KPAO, LY SUBJECT: THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY: GOL REACHES OUT TO THE NEW ADMINISTRATION AS BEST IT CAN REF: A) TRIPOLI 0072, B) TRIPOLI 0014, C) TRIPOLI 0049, D) TRIPOLI 0064, E) TRIPOLI 0068, F) TRIPOLI 0099, G) TRIPOLI 0068 TRIPOLI 00000133 001.2 OF 005 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy – Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: The GOL, anxious that the new U.S. administration could adopt markedly different policies towards Libya, has in the past several weeks taken a number of steps – a direct video conference (DVC) by Muammar al-Qadhafi with Georgetown University students, a New York Times editorial and a letter to POTUS – that appear to be part of an orchestrated effort to engage the new U.S. administration and remind it of Libya’s strategic importance. The outreach coincided with other recent, positive steps: the first U.S. Ambassador to Libya in 36 years presented credentials, the GOL invited the U.S. Africa Command’s General Ward to visit and a senior Libyan delegation visited Washington and signed a memorandum of understanding on military-to-military cooperation. Nonetheless, manifestations of lingering ambivalence about re-engaging with the U.S. simultaneously emerged on the ground here. At a public conference, a senior regime figure excoriated Libya’s political opposition, decried restored U.S.-Libyan relations as “a great sin” and called on Libyans to shun the new U.S. Ambassador, whom he described as “a rotten dog.” A senior MFA Americas Department official demarched us to protest the Ambassador’s anodyne remarks on human rights and the GOL has resurrected a periodic campaign to prevent Emboffs from contacting GOL entities directly. A well-informed contact was recently told by the head of a state-owned company (who is a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi) that dealing with the U.S. was still “extremely sensitive”, that his company would rather pay private consultants than obtain assistance gratis from the USG and that the contact (a U.S. citizen) should minimize meetings with Emboffs to avoid creating the “wrong impression” among GOL officials. Finally, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) renewed its campaign to solicit contributions to the U.S.-Libya comprehensive claims settlement fund, telling international oil company representatives at a meeting on February 1 that they “must contribute” to the fund by February 28 or suffer “serious consequences”.
2.(C) Summary (continued): In the run-up to the Presidential transition, senior GOL interlocutors conceded that the regime was “anxious” about the change in U.S. administrations and wanted to continue positive developments made possible by implementation of the claims compensation agreement last October. The dissonance between the GOL’s recent public outreach and its actual record of engagement is partly explained by the fact that the Jamahiriya lacks clearly-defined lines of authority and decision-making. After nearly forty years of dismantling state apparatus as a manifestation of Muammar al-Qadhafi’s political philosophy of “direct rule of the masses”, the regime has embraced a program of re-engagement with the world and limited political-economic reform that contradict its revolutionary message and far outstrip its limited institutional capacity and ability to stay on message. Muammar al-Qadhafi’s practice of maintaining deliberate ambiguity on issues to maintain room for tactical maneuver further exacerbates the problem. He and senior regime figures have effectively played for time in recent years, quietly pursuing improved relations with the U.S. and western powers and initiating overdue internal reforms while simultaneously seeking to reassure skeptical conservative regime elements that their positions and prerogatives will not be hurt by those initiatives. Maintaining that balance would be a tall order for a robust, fully-functioning state apparatus; for a regime that insists that it is “not a government, but something else”, it may prove to be untenable. The consequences for the U.S.-Libya bilateral relationship are that efforts to expand cooperation and engagement will remain fitful for the foreseeable future and the regime will continue to send seemingly contradictory messages about the nature of the relationship it wants with us. Given this situation, we will continue to explore areas in which the GOL is willing to engage and cooperate, and to assess how much the political traffic here can bear. End summary.
BACKGROUND: “WE DON’T HAVE A GOVERNMENT HERE, WE HAVE SOMETHING ELSE”
3.(C) Following the bloodless military coup on September 1, 1969 – officially known as the al-Fateh Revolution – that ended the rule of King Idriss al-Sanussi, Libya went through a period in which the old constitutional monarchy was dismantled in favor of less formal (and effective) governing entities. From 1969 to 1973, the state apparatus effectively consisted of the Revolutionary Command Council (the policy-making body led by Muammar al-Qadhafi), institutional remnants of the constitutional monarchy, the army and the Arab Socialist Union. During this period, Libya undertook administrative, political TRIPOLI 00000133 002.2 OF 005 and economic reforms and made major changes in its foreign policy. From 1973 to 1977, al-Qadhafi introduced the “popular revolution”, whose most obvious manifestation were the “Popular Committees”, and dismantled remaining institutions dating to Idriss’ reign. There was criticism by other participants in the revolution of al-Qadhafi’s increased monopolization of control and regional policy failures such as the 1977 border war with Egypt. From 1977 to 1992, the regime re-fashioned itself as a “Jamahiriya” (a fabricated term defined as “a state of the masses”) and established the “Revolutionary Committees” (RevComms), which were tasked with directing and furthering the aims of the al-Fatah Revolution. The RevComms provided a new mechanism for the regime to exercise control; however, their brutal tactics and disregard for the rule of law heralded a significant coarsening of the regime. From 1992 to present, the regime was preoccupied with international sanctions (and efforts to get out from under them) and, more recently, by a limited program of political-economic reform.
4.(C) The system that emerged from this decades-long process was one in which the “masses” ostensibly exercise their direct authority through a pyramid scheme of Basic Popular Congresses, Popular Committees and the General People’s Congress (formally the supreme legislative body). The General People’s Congress in turn appoints a General People’s Committee (cabinet-equivalent), which is tasked with implementing the policies established by the Basic Popular Congresses. In practice, the formal system became increasingly irrelevant as the limits of its ability to govern became increasingly clear. Instead, the regime has quietly initiated policy from the top. Such efforts were initially coordinated through the RevComms and the General People’s Committees (ministry-equivalents); however, a series of failed assassination and coup attempts in the mid-1990’s prompted the regime to rely increasingly on a small circle of security officials and members of the al-Qadhafi family. The regime has nonetheless been careful to maintain rhetorical deference to the Basic People’s Congresses and General People’s Congress. The result is an inchoate system in which lines of authority are ill-defined, and real decision-making processes are ad hoc and opaque. In negotiations on a bilateral agreement last year, a senior MFA official insisted on replacing “Government of Libya” with “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, explaining that ” … in Libya we do not have a government, we have something else”. The distinction is more than semantic.
THE REGIME REACHES OUT AS BEST IT CAN…
5.(C) Since the President’s inauguration, Muammar al-Qadhafi has taken a number of steps – a DVC with U.S. students, a New York Times editorial and a letter to POTUS, and February 10 comments relating to Libya’s chairmanship of the AU and potential cooperation with the U.S. – that appear to be part of an orchestrated effort by the GOL to engage the new U.S. administration and remind it of Libya’s strategic importance. On January 21, Muammar al-Qadhafi participated in a direct video conference (DVC) with students and Georgetown University. Billed as a talk on his proposal – dubbed “Isratine” – for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem and clearly designed to showcase Libya and remind the new administration of its strategic importance in the wake of implementing the comprehensive U.S.-Libya claims agreement last October, al-Qadhafi nonetheless could not resist the opportunity to address topics sure to occasion unfavorable attention from the U.S. Characterizing terrorism as “a dwarf and not a giant”, he described Osama bin Laden as “a person who can be given a chance to reform” and suggested that the world engage him in a dialogue to determine what had prompted him to undertake terrorism. Similarly, he claimed that the Taliban had been mis-represented and suggested that the U.S. reconsider its views on that group, too. In widely reported remarks, he also suggested that falling oil prices had prompted demands by members of the Basic People’s Congresses that Libya slow or cease oil production and/or nationalize its oil industry to spur higher prices (see ref A for details and analysis).
6.(C) On January 22, an editorial ostensibly authored by al-Qadhafi appeared in the New York Times. In it, he expostulated his “Isratine” solution, an idea he first articulated in the “White Book”. Rejecting proposals for a two-state solution or partition as strategically, economically and demographically untenable, he instead argued for a single, democratic state, with Jerusalem as the unified capital (or with status as an international city) and right of return for members TRIPOLI 00000133 003.2 OF 005 of the Palestinian diaspora. While Libya has at the UN likened Israeli actions to those of Germany’s Third Reich and al-Qadhafi has previously said that “as long as I am alive I will never recognize either an Israeli state or a Palestinian one”, the editorial (Post has not yet learned who ghost-authored it) was relatively measured in tone. Al-Qadhafi’s letter to the POTUS, doubtless also intended to ingratiate, nonetheless struck a bit of a wrong note. In it, he expressed hope that the U.S. had, with the POTUS’ election, “…started to transform from a country that supports reactionism (sic) and autocracy to one that supports popular democracy…”. The outreach coincided with other recent,positive steps: the first U.S. Ambassador to Libya since 1972 relatively quickly presented his credentials on January 11 (ref B) and has slowly but surely been afforded access to high-level interlocutors , the GOL has agreed to facilitate a visit by U.S. Africa Command’s General Ward, and MFA A/S-equivalent Ahmed Fituri led a delegation to Washington in early January that signed a memorandum of understanding on military-to-military cooperation and discussed security and other issues.
… BUT OLD HABITS PROVE TO BE AS STUBBORN AS MULES
7.(C) Despite the (mixed) effort to extend a hand to the new administration, manifestations of lingering ambivalence about re-engaging with the U.S. simultaneously emerged on the ground here. On January 22 – the day al-Qadhafi’s editorial appeared – the former Deputy Secretary of the general People’s Congress (Deputy Prime Minister-equivalent) and current Director of the Green Book Center, Ahmed Ibrahim, gave remarks at a public conference in which he excoriated Libya’s political opposition, decried restored U.S.-Libyan relations as “a great sin” and called on Libyans to shun the new U.S. Ambassador, whom he described as “a rotten dog”. (Note: The Green Book Center is a government institution dedicated to the study of al-Qadhafi’s Green Book trilogy and political thought. Libyans say Ibrahim was assigned to the GBC because while he can still command a public platform there, he has no real authority. End note.) Ibrahim is a long-time regime fixture – he has held the posts of Minister of Information-equivalent, Minister of Culture-equivalent, Minister of Higher Education-equivalent and head of the Revolutionary Committees – and represents the most ideologically conservative regime elements. (Note: His widely unpopular decision to ban the teaching of English and other foreign languages in schools in the 1980’s earned him the sobriquet “el Bahim”, which translates as “the donkey” in the Libyan and Tunisian dialects. End note.)
8.(C) MFA A/S-equivalent for the Americas Ahmed Fituri told the Ambassador on January 29 that he was “puzzled” by the remarks and said Ibrahim “spoke only for himself, and not for the government”. But he conceded that there are still powerful individuals in Libya who strongly oppose an improved relationship with the United States, who stand to lose a great deal if the existing system changes significantly, and who view the U.S. as a likely catalyst of such reform. Ibrahim himself is under attack for human rights abuses perpetrated by the Revolutionary Committees in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including having personally tortured regime opponents and prosecuted an at times bloody campaign against members of the Libyan diaspora. In his remarks on January 22, he flatly said that opposition to the manner in which the al-Qadhafi regime came to power and its legitimacy were “…out of the question and unacceptable in any case”. (Note: His remarks regarding the U.S. and the Ambassador may have been intended to muster support from conservative regime elements and to deflect attention from his personal legal travails. End note.) HUMAN RIGHTS UNMENTIONABLE, CONTACT WITH EMBASSY “VERY SENSITIVE” AND OIL COMPANIES MUST PAY
9.(C) Also on January 22, a senior MFA Americas Department official demarched us to protest the Ambassador’s remarks on human rights in a recently published interview in which he addressed the state of U.S.-Libya relations and the issues on which he intends to focus (ref C). The Ambassador’s mention of recently released regime critic Idriss Boufayed and his call for the release of political prisoners and those of Boufayed’s group who remained in detention constituted “unacceptable interference in Libya’s internal affairs”. The ambassador should be careful in what he discusses publicly, else there would be “serious repercussions for the bilateral relationship”. Libya was willing to discuss human rights, but such discussions should be restricted to suitable (i.e., private) fora. TRIPOLI 00000133 004.2 OF 005
10.(C) The GOL also recently resurrected its periodic campaign to prevent Emboffs from reaching out directly to GOL entities and, in some cases, quasi-governmental organizations. Meetings with the Ministry of Economy and Trade, the National Oil Corporation and the quasi-governmental Qadhafi Development Foundation were cancelled at the last minute because they had not been coordinated with the MFA-equivalent via diplomatic note. In addition, a well-informed U.S. business person working with the General National Maritime and Transportation Company (GNMTC) on possible deals for port security equipment suggested that the company be in touch with the Embassy regarding related bilateral training and engagement. Our contact received a message from Hannibal al-Qadhafi, head of the GNMTC, through a senior aide (who read from notes he said had been handwritten by Hannibal) on February 1 that dealing with the U.S. was still viewed as “extremely sensitive”, that the GNMTC would rather pay private consultants than obtain assistance gratis from the USG and that she should minimize her meetings with Emboffs to avoid creating the “wrong impression among GOL officials. Finally, the NOC renewed its campaign to solicit contributions to the U.S.-Libya comprehensive claims settlement fund, telling international oil company representatives at a meeting on February 1 that they “must contribute” to the fund by February 28 or would suffer “serious consequences” (ref F).
11.(C) Comment: The DVC, op-ed and POTUS letter reflect a degree of message coordination that seldom obtains in the Jamahiriya, underscoring the importance an anxious regime attaches to cultivating a productive relationship with the new U.S. administration (and likely reflecting external guidance on how to do so). Nonetheless, slandering the U.S. ambassador, cautioning U.S. businesspeople against meeting with the Embassy, threatening to nationalize oil production and ratcheting up pressure on IOC’s to contribute to the claims compensation fund reflect both the regime’s limited decision-making capacity and the paradox of the policy it has pursued. After nearly forty years of dismantling state apparatus as a manifestation of Muammar al-Qadhafi’s political philosophy of “direct rule of the masses”, the regime has embraced a program of re-engagement with the world and limited political-economic reform that contradict is revolutionary philosophy and far outstrip its limited institutional capacity and ability to stay on message. Although al-Qadhafi has cultivated an image as a political seer without formal title and nominally above the fray of day-to-day decisionmaking, he has effectively kept his hand in (see ref G). His mercurial nature, together with his habit of maintaining deliberate ambiguity on sensitive issues to maintain room for tactical maneuver, have fueled confusion within the regime about the direction in which Libya is heading. Example: He has quietly supported initiatives to develop a draft constitution, but publicly dismissed calls by his son, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, for such a document and has not clearly signaled to conservative regime elements that he would support it.
12.(C) Comment (continued): The apparent contradictions are not coincidental: al-Qadhafi and other senior regime figures have effectively played for time since 2003, quietly pursuing improved relations with the U.S. and western powers and initiating (to an extent) overdue internal reforms while simultaneously seeking to reassure skeptical conservative regime elements that their positions and prerogatives will not be hurt by those initiatives. They have manipulated, with varying degrees of success, opaque and ill-defined lines of authority and decisionmaking within the GOL to: 1) avoid the emergence of alternative centers of power; 2) maintain control, and; 3) avoid directly addressing the contradiction between the regime’s revolutionary rhetoric and the reality of its recent policy shifts. But that tactical advantage has come at the expense of institutional capacity and the ability to clearly coordinate the regime’s message in those few instances in which it wishes to unambiguously do so (as in its recent outreach to us). Al-Qadhafi has successfully exploited a policy of deliberate ambiguity for decades; however, the increasingly apparent contradiction between the regime’s limited reform efforts and re-engagement with the broader world, on the one hand, and its revolutionary rhetoric and reluctance to clearly state its policies, on the other, have begun to out-strip its ability to maintain that delicate balance. As conservative regime elements feel increasingly threatened by the sands shifting beneath their feet, they have begun to dig in their heels, further complicating al-Qadhafi’s efforts to square the circle between an old guard whose livelihood will be seriously impacted by proposed reforms and a new, more predictable system in which ordinary Libyans can more productively participate. Declining oil revenues and an attendant recalculation of the state budget TRIPOLI 00000133 005.2 OF 005 and reduction of infrastructure development progams, together with recent events in Gaza, have further taxed the system and contributed to the prevailing sense of confusion. The consequences for the U.S.-Libya bilateral relationship are that efforts to expand cooperation and engagement will remain fitful for the foreseeable future and that the regime will continue to send seemingly contradictory messages about the nature of the relationship it wants with us. End comment. CRETZ