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New York Meeting: Muammar al-Qaddafi

Speaker: Muammar al-Qaddafi, Leader and Guide of the Revolution, Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
September 24, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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(Note: President Qaddafi's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)

RICHARD N. HAASS: Good afternoon and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm Richard Haass and I'm president of the council.

Today, we are pleased to be hosting Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mr. Qaddafi has been the leader of Libya now for four decades, since 1969, which by any measure makes him one of the longest-serving leaders in the world today. And as you all know, he is here in New York for his first ever visit to the United Nations General Assembly as well as to the United States.

Today's meeting comes at a time when Libya holds one of the two-year rotating seats on the U.N. Security Council. And Libya is also this year the president of the United Nations General Assembly. Dr. Ali Treki is also a Libyan official.

And Mr. Qaddafi himself was elected this past February as chairman of the African Union which, I expect you all know, is the premier regional organization for the continent of Africa.

The way this is going to work today is that Mr. Qaddafi and I are going to engage in a conversation. He has generously agreed to dispense with any opening statement. And then after he and I have had a few minutes, to discuss the issues of the day, we will then open it up to you, our members.

So again Mr. Qaddafi, thank you for coming here. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sir, as recently as yesterday, you voiced opposition, in your remarks at the United Nations, to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if I understood you correctly, you called for a single state that you described as Isratine.

And the first question I would pose to you is why and whether you would oppose a two-state solution, for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if the -- if the Palestinians themselves agreed to accept a two-state solution.

PRESIDENT MUAMMAR QADDAFI: First, I greet you and I thank you very much for extending this opportunity to me. And I hope this meeting will be repeated here or even in Libya.

As with regard to the Middle East issue, it is not an issue of opposition to this or that solution. I spoke about the reality, only I make analysis of the reality as it is on the ground.

It's not just an opposition to the two-state solution. I think that most of the people who discuss this issue do not really understand the demography of the region.

This place, this region, which is called Palestine and now is called Israel, is a very, very narrow, small piece of land, which is squeezed between the Jordanian River and the Mediterranean. It's a very, very narrow piece of land.

The West Bank, the Gaza Strip and what's now called Israel is a very, very small piece of land; its depth only 14 kilometers. How could you have two states in such a small piece of land? If we say that they are neighboring two states, they are not really neighboring, they are intersect. They are entwined.

What we call Israel now, there's more than 1 million Palestinians. And they are not going to stop at this number. There will be 2 million and 3 million. And every 20 years, their numbers will be doubled.

And what's called the West Bank, there's about a million Israelis. And there's thousands of settlements. What are the borders that can be established between those people, who are so entwined? And their ways intersect each other.

And then the Israeli industry depends almost totally on Palestinian labor. Their lives are dependent on each other on services, goods. Originally they are cousins. They are not strangers to each other. And all of them, their grandfather is Abraham. And Ishmael and Isaac are brothers.

Even if you want to make a buffer zone, there's no possibility to make a buffer zone in such a small area. To try to maintain a state which is pure -- in terms of religion, race, ethnicity -- is impossible with the demography that exists.

Therefore the only solution is to have one state which is multicultural, multireligious, multiracial. And that also should give the opportunity to those who have been expelled from their homes and their lands, since 1948 or before 1948, the right of return.

HAASS: I expect that we may come back to this. But could I just quickly turn to a second subject? I don't mean to be rude. But if I could, do that.

Why did your government give up chemical and biological weapons and your nuclear programs, in 2003, after initially having made such a significant investment in them?

QADDAFI: The world was in a different situation or stage than what existed now. The world was going through the Cold War. And it was a stage or a phase, of the history of the world, where there is a arms race.

The '50s, '60s and '70s of the last century, at the time, all nations used to take pride on their capacity to develop WMD weapons. And it was almost like a tradition. It's something that -- to be proud of. And he said we were young -- and we were young people, we are revolutionary, we were very excited, and we were part of the times. And we have taken that path.

But when the world start kind of changing its mind about that phase of -- it is history, the phase that kind of make the development of WMD something to be proud of -- a dramatic change or shift has taken place in the world. And we earned a long experience because after decades of government, we have gained experience.

At that stage, Abu Amar was considered a terrorist. That's Yassser Arafat. And maybe he was even wanted. But at a later stage, Abu Amar was received at the White House. And they had the red-carpet treatment. And he used to hug and embrace with Rabin and Peres.

We assessed that the cost of these weapons is a very, very high cost. And when we made our strategic assessment who are the potential targets against whom or against which we may use these weapons, we realized that it constitutes more threat to Libya. It's more costly to Libya than beneficial.

HAASS: Did Libya go through a similar assessment when it reconsidered its policy vis-a-vis supporting terrorism?

QADDAFI: He said that there's a very large fallacy. We have to stop at it and discuss it. This is a fallacy. We've never supported terrorism. Absolutely. Never.

He said I just said that Abu Amar -- that's Yasser Arafat -- was considered a terrorist, and then they extended the red carpet to him. The fact that he was considered a terrorist in the past did not made him -- or did not make him a terrorist. And we supported Abu Amar, and others came to our point of view later on when they extended the red carpet for him at the White House. Libya was supporting Nelson Mandela. Is Mandela -- was or is a terrorist?

We were supporting the independence of Mozambique and other African countries, and those were not terrorist activities. Those were kind of a movement of national liberation. And they're -- the leaders now of these countries are very well respected and acknowledged and recognized leaders. We supported movement of national liberation.

He said now the Palestinians no longer ask me for any weapons after they changed their minds; they ask me for money, as well as the other African countries, which now gain their independence, they too ask for money. Libya used to support movements of national liberation.

HAASS: I don't understand, then, one thing, sir, which is, if, as you said, Libya had a policy of not supporting terrorism, then why in the year 2003 did the government in Tripoli accept the responsibility for the actions of its officials after Pan Am 103 was bombed? And why did the government pay compensation to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing if, again, Libya had a policy of not supporting any terrorism?

QADDAFI: He said Libya was never indicted as the culprit or the one responsible for the Lockerbie trial. We never acknowledged any guilt. And the person was indicted (pro forma ?), not based on the content of the crime; just one individual. But Libya never accepted responsibility and was never indicted in any court as being responsible.

The resolution was the state of -- the responsibility of the state towards the actions of its citizens. It's not the responsibility of a state towards what has taken place. So it was the responsibility of the state towards the actions of its citizens. That does not mean that the state is responsible for those actions, not responsible for.

He said you hear from the media that's opposing -- has the opposing view, which he is -- I mean is that the person who was indicted is an officer in the Libyan intelligence agencies, and he said he's not. He's a college professor and he was not an officer of the Libyan intelligence services. And we used to laugh when we hear people talking about him this way.

HAASS: I assume you're speaking about Mr. al-Megrahi.

INTERPRETER: (Off mike) -- about?

HAASS: I assume you were speaking -- you were referring to him.

INTERPRETER: (In English.) I think that you are talking about him. (Laughter.) (Off-mike comments and laughter.)

QADDAFI: It is a specific event. We are not, you know, kind of, interested in that, but we would like to discuss a specific event and not names of persons.

HAASS: Okay.

I expect when we open things up in a minute, people will come back on some of these issues. Let me just raise two other questions.

In your remarks yesterday you described the United Nations Security Council, and I quote, as "the terror council." And why would, in that case, Libya agree to take up its position as a member of the Security Council for two years? And what would you want to see happen with the Security Council?

QADDAFI: Libya assuming a seat in the council is based on a routine system that, after a certain period of time, countries or regions take their roles. And we assume that, by assuming our seat in the Security Council, that maybe we will contribute to reduce from these aggressive terrorist actions and resolutions and improve on the performance of the Security Council.

HAASS: I have one last question, then I'll open it up, which is, what is your view of groups or organizations like al Qaeda, and why are we seeing their emergence at this point in history? Why are we seeing their emergence at this point in history?

QADDAFI: If we want -- if we would like to speak in a manner which is scientific and realistic, any phenomena, we should analyze it in a way that are both scientific and neutral. And this is seconded -- this is a very bad phenomenon. We -- whether the phenomena is good or bad, we should subject it to the scientific and objective analysis. But the emotional reaction, the knee-jerk reaction to those phenomena, is not going to help, is not going to solve any problems.

Why this phenomena of al Qaeda? That is what needs to be analyzed. Why these things happen? Knowing that we were a target of al Qaeda, Libya, America, any other country in the world is a target of al Qaeda; al-Qaddafi, Obama, anyone is a target of al Qaeda.

So we should analyze the root causes of these phenomena. And those root causes can be found in international and foreign policies. It can be found in the old conflicts between the Islamic world, the Christian world, the Jewish world, the experience of colonialism, some of the foreign policies of certain countries.

But if you know what we know about those young people who join al Qaeda, which we have in our detention centers, those people who are marginalized, who had been ignored and who are full of anger, maybe you will kind of approach the question differently. The young people are -- they are very, very young people. They really have no experience. The people who -- the people who join al Qaeda are not people who are very well educated, very well cultured. They are not professors. They are not even through religious scholars. They are just angry young people: the people who lost hope, people who use drugs and people who have no hope in the future. That is the reason for the spread of this phenomenon.

HAASS: Mr. Qaddafi, the easy part of your afternoon is now over. (Laughter.)

What I plan to do now is to open the floor to members of the Council on Foreign Relations to ask questions. Please remember to wait for a microphone, to identify yourself, to limit yourself to one question and to keep that question as succinct as you can so we can get as many questions and answers in as time permits before Mr. Qaddafi has to move to his next meeting.

Okay. Oh, yes. Stanley Arkin.

QUESTIONER: Good afternoon, sir. What would you -- I'm sorry. Stanley Arkin. Good afternoon, sir. What would you advise this country to do in respect to al Qaeda?

QADDAFI: It is asymmetric; I mean, as a first step, that we have to take on the measures and on the preparations and to be on the cautious guard. That's the first practical steps to be taken.

After that, we have to go deep into the fountains of the -- or the root causes of the Qaeda -- of terrorism. And the -- there are two fountains -- or two sources for terrorism. One is materialistic and one is morally.

The moral one is the fanatic Islamic ethos, like the Wahhabism, for instance. (They are all ?) from this method, if I may say so. This is very extremist or fanatic method, and anyone who is not a Wahhabi in their own eyes is considered an infidel, a nonbeliever. For this very same reason, just because we are not Wahhabists, they think that we are nonbelievers and infidels as well.

The other material fountain or material source is the funding that they are receiving, the money they are receiving. This man Zawahiri, you know, is the vice president of bin Laden. He lived for a long time in Switzerland, and he invested or deposited a large amount of money over there in Switzerland. The money of bin Laden and the money of the supporters of bin Laden, it was deposited in secret bank accounts. After that, we all know that he left Switzerland.

Now there are thousands of secret bank accounts in that country. The majority of those banks support or belong -- Qaeda; plus the Wahhabist methods have hundreds or thousands of institutions, of associations, of societies, so many religious, so many religious institutions -- mosques or schools, religious schools. They consider them as charity organizations, and they fund billions and millions of dollars to such institutions or to these institutions. And of course this is a source of funding to terrorism, a source of funding to al Qaeda.

These in fact are the main sources or the two main fountains which feed and support terrorism.

HAASS: Thank you. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch. Colonel Qaddafi, your government has not in recent years allowed basic human rights and freedoms, but there have been some improvements for freedom expression and also allowing international human rights groups, like Human Rights Watch, into your country. Thank you for that.

HAASS: Might want let a little translation to happen. (Pause for translation.)

QUESTIONER: The -- I think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the basic rights and freedoms, including the right to free -- press freedom, the right to criticize the government, freedom of expression, basic freedoms -- the question I have for you relates to planned reforms for the penal code and the constitution. What is the status of these changes of the new constitution? And will there be greater freedom for the people of Libya, including to criticize the government?

QADDAFI: I would say that unless you have studied deeply the theory of the world -- third universal theory and the Green Book, you wouldn't be able -- in a position to discuss or shed some light upon an issue that you don't really know much about it. It is a philosophical one. There is no government in Libya. You may not believe that, because maybe you have not read the philosophy of the Green Book and the philosophy behind the Third World theory.

Now all over the world whatever is related to government is detested and not liked. So long that the government is despised or not liked to such an extent, we have annulled the government once and forever, totally, and instead the state of the masses was established.

I would say that every Libyan, be it a man or a woman, can exercise power or is in authority because the whole Libyan people are joined in the People's Congresses or members of the People's Congress. And every is the property or the ownership of the Libyan people, whether it is arms, wealth or power.

So in this context, no one is outside this circle or outside. The press itself is the -- owned by the people. The broadcast services associations also are owned by the people. Arms are for the people. There is no regular army. And people -- the authority or the power itself is exercised by the people themselves. And laws are made by the people. So all these things are the property or owned by the people. So how can we say that one is out and one can make such an authority or somebody is not in the position to do so?

The regime in Libya or the system in Libya is a unique one. This is the Jamahiriya, which is the masses, I mean. The world or -- gone through the period or the time of monarchy, where in this period the king owned everything -- the land and those who are on the land. And the king was the shadow of Allah, the shadow of God, on Earth.

Then mankind progressed and went to another stage, another era, and left this period, this era, in the museum. It was a thing of the past.

This second stage, or the second phase, was the era of the republics, where people can elect the king, the monarch. You may call it the president, or you may call it whatever you want. But I mean, in this the people are in the position to elect the one who will be their governor, or who will be their ruler.

The third stage, which Libya has already reached, where the -- you know, where the people do not elect those who will govern them, but they are in a position and an era, they will govern themselves by themselves, through people's committees and through people's congresses.

So in Libya I wouldn't say that there is government and there is people, or there is civil society without a government, or there's no government, I mean -- the whole Libyan community, the whole Libyan society is a civil one, totally.

HAASS: Anyone towards the back? All the way in the back. Yes, sir. I can't see that far.

QUESTIONER: Jeff Laurenti, with the Century Foundation. Picking up precisely on this theme, the kind of nongovernmental political and social order that you've established, one would ask, when you lay down the heavy burdens of being the leader and guide of the revolution, how you envision either the people of Libya or the leaders of the revolution designating a successor leadership. And what do you expect they will seek? Another leader and guide? Or will they default to a more standard kind of political regime? And where do you see a stampede of -- among Arab states of adopting the third stage that you have already pioneered?

QADDAFI: And let me say that I am not an authority. This is to start with. I mean, I have no legal jurisdiction, or no legal authority to sign anything or to make any law, to make any resolution. Otherwise, it will be considered null and void, because I'm not authorized to do so, unless such laws are enacted by, or made by the Libyan people.

For these reasons, whether I am president or not the president will not affect Libya. That's why, I mean, I do insist that you -- you should study or -- the philosophy of the Green Book, the philosophy of the Third World theory. Perhaps this would give you some explanation of the -- and I know it is difficult for you to believe that, it's -- I am a philosopher before I was an officer who staged the revolution.

I have a theory -- I have a philosophy, I mean, in my mind. And this is presented to the whole world, my philosophy and my theory. This is the third stage that the world will go through inevitably. The whole masses are marching towards power, towards authority. Even you are marching towards that objective, which is authority.

HAASS: Before going to the next question, I want to make sure we cover one regional subject, which is Iran. And as we sit here -- yesterday, you spoke about Iran's, I think the word was, "vanities." And the question I have: If one of those vanities turns out to be a nuclear weapon, what would Libya support to do?

I just wanted to raise the question of Iran and ask -- and if it -- in your speech before the U.N. yesterday, you spoke about Iran's vanities. And if one of those vanities should turn out to be a nuclear weapons program, would Libya support sanctions against Iran? Would it support using military force against Iran? Would it lead Libya to rethink its own policy about nuclear weapons?

QADDAFI: (Off mike.)

HAASS: What goes without saying? (Laughter.)

QADDAFI: Yes, that Libya would -- would not support Iran to have nuclear weapons or, I mean, if --

HAASS: The question is what -- what would Libya be prepared to do? Would Libya support the use of military force against Iran? Would Libya consider restarting its own nuclear program?

QADDAFI: Libya will take the position that will be against the nuclear bomb. This is a stand based on principle. But if we are talking about the military action, then the question will be, who will take this military action? Who will do it? And who has the right to do so? And the other question that -- does anyone have nuclear weapons should face military action? The Israelis have nuclear rockets, or nuclear missiles, India, Pakistan, China, Russia -- (inaudible) -- Britain, France, America. All of them have the nuclear bombs. Why not take military actions against them?

And then, if we go back to Iran and Iran actually in the position -- let's say for argument's sake, that it has the nuclear weapons. We'll have to raise the questions: The military actions, would it be so dangerous, so grave against Iran, when Iran is in a position of having the nuclear weapons? I mean, the world should study that, or should analyze that, or should review that.

HAASS: Okay. Odeh Aburdene?

QUESTIONER: Mr. Qaddafi, Alam-as-Salaam (ph). Can you tell us, please, what is Libya doing to promote modern education that will invest in human capital, technology, innovation? Because if you look at the advanced countries, their economic progress came about because of good education.

QADDAFI: Libya is doing a great deal for better education, and needs assistance. And America, I believe, should back Libya and support Libya in this regard.

HAASS: That's succinct. Mr. Barber -- Professor Barber.

QUESTIONER: Benjamin Barber. Over the last four or five years, Libya has taken a number of steps which have been described here, including the relinquishing of its weapons of mass destruction problem -- program, the release of the hostages, and opening up of markets and banks to the West, and a number of steps which look towards better relations.

My question is, Mr. Qaddafi, what are your aspirations for the relationship between Libya and Europe and Libya and the West? And are you satisfied so far with the progress of that relationship?

QADDAFI: Of course, it will be beneficial for Libya and in the interest of Libya to have good relations with the very advanced and progressed world, like Europe, like the West or America.

This is the world that has the technology and the know-how. And that will be beneficial to Libya, to have good relations with such world. And we shall be lucky if we can do that. And we are doing great efforts vis-a-vis this aim.

You have seen Libya open its doors, for American companies, for Western countries, for investment, for economic activities. Libya is sending a great number of students, to study in America, to study for better education or more education in Europe.

The first day I arrived into New York, I was received by a great number of Libyan students, who welcomed me and came to see me, Libyan students who are actually studying in the United States of America.

HAASS: The young lady in about the fifth row there.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Mora McLean with the Africa-America Institute.

Mr. Qaddafi, how do you see the position of Africa in the world? And what is your -- what are your top priorities for the African Union under your leadership?

QADDAFI: I would say that Africa should be united, so that it is in a position to rid itself from the backwardness that it is going through right now. And this can be done if Africa is able to achieve organizations at the continental level, I mean, or instruments or mechanism to achieve that at the continental level.

That's why we are doing our best to have this continental or union government. And the world itself can not really give the due assistance or the due help to Africa, because Africa is not well organized right now.

When I met the assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, she did say to me that she gets headache or she's not quite happy regarding the position of Africa. When she wants to see -- to talk about something foreign affairs, she has to see 53 African secretaries of state -- she gets puzzled by that -- plus 53 vice secretaries of state.

So there should be one who really represents and is responsible, for the foreign affairs of Africa, so that there may be coordination between the African policies and America or Europe.

By the same token, if the secretary of Defense in America wants to have any military cooperation or military coordination with Africa, he has to deal with 53 ministers of defense in Africa.

This is not possible, practically speaking. He's looking for one African defense secretary, so that he can reason with the negotiator, so that they can lay down the military cooperations between America and the whole continent.

HAASS: I've got time for about one more, so let me apologize in advance for alienating 30 or 40 of you.

Ted Sorensen, you had your hand up. I wanted to give you a chance.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Qaddafi, I'm Ted Sorensen at Paul, Weiss.

You have been respectfully received by this very large audience in America and had a free and open discussion with the --

Sorry, do you want me to start again at the microphone?

Mr. Qaddafi, I'm Ted Sorensen.

You have been respectfully received by this large American audience and had a free and open discussion with the president of this organization. If the chairman of this organization, a distinguished Jewish-American, were to go to your country, would he be received with equal respect and have an opportunity to have a free and open discussion with a large audience?

QADDAFI: I'm really surprised that such a question is raised. In terms of whether he's Jewish or Christian or Buddhist, it makes no difference. Has anybody told you that Libya discriminates between religious faiths or between the people who have different faiths?

So many Americans came to us -- members of Congress and gentlemen of the media, professors, analysts and businessmen -- never bothered, never asked whether they are Jewish or Christians. Their faith was not important to us at all.

This means that in America that you make distinctions to people, according to their own faith or their religion. Otherwise such questions would not be asked.

HAASS: I'm going to violate one of my -- I said we would -- that would be the last question. We'll end on one more. We'll end with --

Yes, ma'am.

I know you have a busy schedule. We'll make this the last question.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Julia Fromholz. I'm with Human Rights First. I have a question, a regional question for you as well.

I know that Libya has been very involved in peace negotiations in Sudan. But there are also widespread --

HAASS: Let him translate for you.

QUESTIONER: There are also widespread reports that Libyan arms are going into the conflict area in Sudan and Chad. What is the Libyan government doing to make sure that those arms transfers are not happening?

QADDAFI: First thing (sic) I hear such a thing, as a matter of fact. This is the first time I hear that. No, I don't think there is -- would be anybody to claim that such a thing takes place.

In Sudan and in Chad, all of them are our brothers, and if we want to give arms, I mean, to whom should we give it? We are doing our best to mend the fences between them.

And if you -- I would ask you, please go to my speeches or to my discussions with the Sudanese government, with the Chadian government, with the rebels, with the rebellious groups, and all the parties in Darfur. I tell them frankly and openly, in all honesty and all candor, that their problems should be solved with -- through dialogue, through diplomacy, through democracy, and that resorting to the Kalashnikov, resorting to military use is a thing of the past and should not be thought of.

HAASS: If they can't -- if they won't agree to do that, would you support an international force entering that area?

QADDAFI: They are already there.

HAASS: Or a capable force, say, from the African Union?

QADDAFI: They are already there, the leader said. But -- and the -- the African Union has some force there, has troops there.

HAASS: I promised Mr. Qaddafi that we would let him go by 2:00 because he has, as you might expect, a busy schedule. I want to -- I want to thank him and his delegation for coming here today. I want to thank you all for being here as well.

I was asked by the Secret Service if we'd simply sit for a minute while Mr. Qaddafi is able to exit the room.

But again, I want to thank him for his willingness to sit here and answer our questions for an hour. (Applause.)

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