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Right Turn
Posted at 09:52 AM ET, 03/10/2011

An arms embargo on what, exactly?

At Monday’s State Department briefing there was this exchange on whether the U.N.-imposed arms embargo prevents us from providing military aid to the Libyan rebels:

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Well, it’s very simple. In the U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Libya, there is an arms embargo that affects Libya, which means it’s a violation for any country to provide arms to anyone in Libya. So it’s not true.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: And you’re not -- so then you’re not going to ever consider arming the rebels?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can repeat if you want.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: It would be illegal for the United States to do that

QUESTION: So that you’re eliminating that as an option?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not a legal option.

QUESTION: Well, but the --

QUESTION: So you’re not going to do it?

QUESTION: Your counterpart at the White House said that arming the rebels - he said all options are on the table.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And that that is one of them.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I haven’t seen a transcript.

QUESTION: You’re saying it’s -- it would be illegal and the U.S. would not violate --

MR. CROWLEY: My understanding is that the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya. It’s not on the Government of Libya. It’s on Libya. And as Ambassador Ivo Daalder said in his call a short time ago, the focus of NATO is how to look for ways in which -- to enforce that arms embargo.

Was this our intention or is this another major screw-up by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was not watching the draftsmanship closely enough?

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) took exception to Crowley’s reading of the resolution and released a statement:

Earlier today, the spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State said that, because of the arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1970, it would be ‘illegal’ for the United States or any other country to provide military assistance to the opposition forces fighting for their survival against a brutal dictatorship in Libya. In fact, the text of the UN resolution does not impose an arms embargo on ‘Libya,’ but rather on the ‘Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,’ which is the self-proclaimed name of Qaddafi’s regime. We believe this language should be construed narrowly in order to hold open the possibility of providing military aid to the opposition, which presumably does not consider itself part of the ‘Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.’

The President has consistently and correctly said that ‘all options are on the table’ in Libya. If the State Department’s statement today is correct, however, it means one of the most effective options to help the Libyan people has been taken off the table. We urge the Administration to clarify its position on this important issue.

But on Wednesday White House press secretary Jay Carney was positively obtuse when asked if the U.N. arms embargo restricted the United States from sending arms to the Libyan rebels in the east:

MR. CARNEY: We believe that the arms embargo contains within it the flexibility to allow for a decision to arm the opposition, if that decision were made.

Perhaps the Obama administration didn’t understand what it was signing. Maybe it now regrets it. The administration might, if it is inclined, arm the rebels. Or it might not. Rarely have we seen, even in the Jimmy Carter years, such ineptitude and paralysis. Good thing Iran, China, Russia, etc. aren’t watching. Oh, wait. Yes, well that could be a problem.

By  |  09:52 AM ET, 03/10/2011

 
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