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World Powers Seek Unity in Response to Gadhafi’s Crackdown

March 7, 2011 at 1:32 PM EDT
As bloodshed continues in Libya, Judy Woodruff examines how the U.S. and other world powers could respond to the crisis with Maurizio Molinari, U.S. correspondent for Italian newspaper La Stampa, and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  For more on the U.S. and international response to the Libyan fighting, we go to two longtime journalists with experience covering the region.

Maurizio Molinari is the U.S. correspondent for the Italian newspaper La Stampa. And David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post. He recently returned from a reporting trip in the Middle East.

Thank you both for being here.  Maurizio Molinari, I’m going to start with you.

There seemed to be a flurry of activity today, the British and the French looking at putting a resolution together. What’s going on there?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI, La Stampa: The bulk of the situation is that U.S. and the major European powers, U.K., France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, reached an agreement on the fact that Gadhafi has to go. So, what the president said in the East Room last week, tonight is the same position of all the major European countries.

Then, from this starting point, they are working at the U.N. to have a resolution to authorize, legitimize an intervention. It’s the same military intervention that, this morning, the secretary-general of NATO spoke about.

But the problem is the frame, the international frame. Both U.S. and Europe in this moment would like this intervention, whatever it will be, in the frame of an alliance or an agreement with Arab and African countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, right now, there isn’t that agreement.

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: There isn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who is holding it up?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: We have to look at the Arab League. The key partner in this game is Amr Moussa, the general secretary of the Arab league. Last week, he spoke in favor of the no-flying zone implemented by the Arab countries. Two days ago, he changed his position. He said: I’m against any military intervention.

But, today, the Gulf countries spoke together from the Gulf region and said, we are in favor of an international action to defend the Libyan population. So, there is a debate ongoing inside the Arab League. And I think that this is the key, that this is also what the White House and the European capital are watching at this moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Ignatius, what’s your read on this? Are they getting closer to an agreement that would lead to military action?

DAVID IGNATIUS, Columnist, The Washington Post: I don’t see it yet.

Each key player is looking over his shoulder to another player. The NATO secretary-general said today that NATO military action could come only if there was a U.N. resolution of support for it. And the U.N. seems to be blocked because of Russian opposition.

The U.S. is watching all of this with concern, but I think President Obama’s instinct is to be very careful about military intervention. I would guess that his own view is close to that of Secretary Gates, who spoke in the tape earlier about all the reasons to be reluctant.

So, for the moment, we had these strong statements, “Gadhafi must go; his behavior is unacceptable; this must stop,” but no sign of a commitment on any side that I can see to take military action from outside to stop him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that how you’re reading it, Maurizio, that it’s one looking over the shoulder at the other one, waiting to see what they say next?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: There are two ways to proceed. The first one is for the U.N., and the second one is without.

In this moment, the French and the British, they have the lead to the U.N. They are trying to do this new resolution. They’re also trying to negotiate with the Russians, that are against, and the Chinese, that are abstaining.

The Americans are taking the situation in a way that they also may proceed in a different way. So, it means without the U.N. resolution, as far as we understand. But, of course, the situation is still open.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do I understand you to say that is U.S. is proceeding as if it might go on its own?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Or with a coalition of the willing, including Arab and African countries, and also Europeans, of course, but without a formal new revolution — resolution, aside of the 1970 that was approved last week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But we’re still a ways away, David…

DAVID IGNATIUS: What I was hearing from the White House today was, first, be careful about focusing all your attention on the no-fly zone.

No-fly zone is difficult to implement. Our NATO ambassador, Ivo Daalder, said today that there’s a sign that, despite today’s bombing near Ras Lanuf, there’s been a decrease in Libyan air activity. In other words, Libyan fighter jets aren’t the biggest problem. And the signals that I’m hearing from the White House are, there’s a range of options, many of them not so visible as sending an air cover up over Libya, that could significantly reduce the ability of Gadhafi’s forces to communicate, to interact.

I mean, you can take down a command-and-control system, as we saw in the wars against Iraq , using modern technology in a way that makes it very difficult for Gadhafi or anyone to conduct operations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about what that might be, but also, very quickly, what, David, is going on right now between the U.S. and other countries and this opposition inside Libya?

DAVID IGNATIUS: Judy, that’s one of the most interesting questions.

The opposition that has risen up against Gadhafi has won cheers around the Arab world and around the whole world, brave people rising up against a dictator who seems so irrational. But we know very little about them.

One U.S. analyst I talked to said that this is a country where you have effectively no strong political institutions, no political parties, no strong military. All the pieces that you look for in an opposition that you could grab hold of don’t really exist here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, trying to get to know who they are and who to trust, is that part of what’s going on?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: And which tribes are the most important, because this is the key of Libya, exactly, as it is in Somalia.

As far as we understand are the British that are trying to contact these tribes, especially in the eastern part of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know that the British sent in a helicopter intending to help, but they ended up being — it was…

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Yes. We really don’t know what’s going on, on the ground.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: But it’s clear that the U.K. took the initiative in contacting these tribes among the Europeans, while the French are taking the lead at the U.N.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just in the minute we have left, we know there are stepped-up reconnaissance efforts, is that right, satellite activity?

DAVID IGNATIUS: There are AWACS — there are AWACS in the air providing air surveillance now on a 24/7 basis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, so far, no discussion yet of getting arms or advisers in to the opposition?

DAVID IGNATIUS: My — my understanding, Judy, is that the U.S. and our allies are just trying to make contact with these rebel opposition groups. Who are you? What do you need? How can we help? Just to set up lines of communication.

That’s what this British team that flew in covertly and got caught is doing. I’m sure there are many other teams doing the same thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And before they can take any of these other steps we were discussing a minute ago, Maurizio, they have got to establish those contacts.

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Exactly, who they are, what they want, what they are asking us to do. And when I say ask, I mean also the Egyptians. Historically, Egypt and (INAUDIBLE) at the eastern part of Libya are very close. So, also, the Egyptians may play a role.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even in their unsettled state?

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Yes, but the military are those that are running the country in this moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Egyptian military.

All right, well, we will continue to keep an eye on it. We thank you both for being with us tonight.

Maurizio Molinari, David Ignatius, thank you.

MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Thank you.