The Wall Street Journal reports:
Former Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with the Libyans on Aug. 2 in Cairo and confirmed the meeting for the first time Friday. The encounter created controversy both in Washington and Libya, after the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera published minutes of the meeting as described by the two Libyan officials, Fouad Abu-Bakr Al-Zleitny and Mohammad Ismaeel Ahmad.
The minutes were obtained by Al Jazeera from the offices of the Gaddafi regime’s intelligence services, which Libyan rebels overran last week. During the meeting, according to the minutes, Mr. Welch appeared to advise the Libyan officials on how to withstand growing international pressure on Col. Gaddafi’s regime.
The State Department initially responded to the Al Jazeera report by stressing that Mr. Welch was acting in his private capacity and wasn’t “carrying any messages” for the Obama administration. But subsequently, senior U.S. officials confirmed that Mr. Welch briefed the State Department on the Libyans’ request for the meeting ahead of his trip to Egypt and provided a follow-up report afterward.
“We were aware that he was going,” a senior U.S. official said. “I can’t speak to exactly what he said, but he was in touch … both before and after.”
Certainly Welch could have been stopped had the State Department informed him that his discussions would be directly contrary to U.S. policy. And surely the Libyans would have perceived Welch as an authorized representative of the United States. So what in the world was the State Department doing here?
I asked former U.N. ambassador John Bolton for his take. He told me, “Some at the State Department have trouble distinguishing who’s on which side. I’m guessing there’s more here, and in the Gaddafi files in Tripoli. This should be another condition for the TNC [Transitional National Council] — we want the files on Americans who dealt with Gaddafi’s regime.”
It may be, however, that the State Department would rather not have all of that open for inspection. Nevertheless, this episode suggests that either the State Department didn’t know what U.S. policy was (a distinct possibility) or administration was officially seeking a negotiated solution that would have left the war criminal Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. The other option is that some in the State Department were freelancing and thereby undermining U.S. policy. Congressional oversight committees should get to the bottom of this.