Libyan Ambassador in Limbo as Fighting Rages

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As bloody battles rage between government troops and rebel forces in Libya, one man has found himself in a diplomatic tight spot. Libya's ambassador to the U.S. Ali Aujali quit his post nearly two weeks ago, denouncing the man who appointed him, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. But the ambassador says he is remaining in his office at the Libyan Mission in Washington DC, to represent the Libyan people. Aujali speaks about his changing role and the crisis in Libya.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the first of a series of conversations we will have this week about whether American Muslims are being targeted by Islamic radicals and whether this poses a national security threat. New York Congressman Peter King believes this is so and is holding hearings to assess the question.

We will hear from someone with experience on all sides of the question. He is one of two Muslim-Americans serving in Congress and he happens to have a background in intelligence and homeland security. He is Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana and he is with us a little later in the program.

But first, as the violence continues in Libya between supporters of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and those who oppose his regime, we speak to a man at a crossroads, a one-time member of the regime who has switched sides and joined the opposition. He's with us.

Over the weekend, Libyan helicopters opened fire on a rebel force as it approached the capital Tripoli. Intense battles also continued on the ground after anti-government fighters secured two important oil ports.

Several U.S. senators have pushed for a no-fly zone on the Sunday talk shows. Here is Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Certainly, first hope would be if it were called on, to be done only in the context of international agreement.

MARTIN: In the midst of all this, several key members of the Libyan government have defected. Among the first, Ali Aujali. Nearly two weeks ago, he resigned his post as Libyan ambassador to the United States denouncing Gadhafi. He says he remains in office at the Libyan mission in Washington, D.C. representing the Libyan people. He is with us now. Ali Aujali, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. ALI AUJALI (Former Libyan Ambassador to the United States): Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: I'm not quite sure how to address you. Would it still be ambassador?

Mr. AUJALI: I'm still the ambassador, of course.

MARTIN: You're still the ambassador.

Mr. AUJALI: Of course.

MARTIN: And have you communicated your views to Moammar Gadhafi? As you've told us, you've worked as a diplomat representing Libya for some 42 years. You were posted to the United States in 2009. One presumes you have ways to access him. Have you - did you tell him of your decision?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, when I decided to quit this regime, that was the 21st of last month. Then I communicate with him through Al Jazeera television. Then I told him that I am no more representing the Libya regime because the way they are dealing with the protesters and it is - I have no way to serve a government killing these people using all kinds of weapons. And that's my message to him and to the Libyan people.

MARTIN: Have you heard anything back from him or anyone representing him?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, of course, I don't expect anything back from him except his regime is trying very hard to expel me from the United States.

MARTIN: How so?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, I think I understand that when you classify the regime as a non-legitimate regime, this means there should be no communication with this regime on any level. But it not looks like the case here. I think there is still communication between the regime and between the administration. And I think it is time now for the administration to recognize the interim councils -was announced yesterday - to be the sole representative of the Libyan people.

MARTIN: Have you had any communication with the Obama administration?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, concerning this, I don't hear anything yet. But I'm expecting that United States will take the lead to tell the world that, yes, we have to stop talking to this regime. We should not recognize his legitimacy until we find the solution for this problem.

MARTIN: Well, I do understand that some members of Congress have visited with you at the Libyan mission. But you're telling me that no one from the administration, no one from the State Department has been in communication with you at all.

Mr. AUJALI: No, I have been in communication with this administration until Friday - that Saturday and Sunday is off. But with the, of course, the, five of the Black Caucus, they came to see me in the office and they showed their support and there I received a letter from them addressed to Gadhafi to stop the killing of his own people. And, also, I had a very important meeting with members of Congress: Senator Lautenberg, Menendez, Senator Kirsten, and it was a very serious discussion.

I think the Congress, they are supporting our request to have no-fly zone. I think the Congress, they understand very well what's going on in Libya and I think the Congress are very serious to talk to the administration and to put our case on the table.

MARTIN: May I ask you, sir, as we mentioned, you represented this government for four decades. It has been known to have been repressive toward its citizens for some time. And I'd like to not have a tolerance for opposition, to not have - so I'd like to ask you, what was the triggering event that caused you to break your ties after so many years?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, let me tell you. I joined the Foreign Service in '69, January '69. Since I joined the Foreign Service, then I've been working for the sake of the people. I never been involved in any dirty job.

And my philosophy - that if there is this national serious people holding a key position, then they can serve their people and they can serve their country. If we leave the government for Gadhafi and his assistants to rule the country, then there will no place for the people to say at least what you are doing is wrong. Then this is my philosophy.

But when it reach a certain point, when I saw Libyan people killed by mercenaries using artilleries, using tanks against the people, that I can't understand it anymore.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. I'm speaking with Ali Aujali. He was appointed Libya's ambassador to the United States in 2009. He recently split from the regime. He says he remains in office representing the Libyan people.

And do you support, then, the leader - the main leader of the opposition movement is a former Libyan justice minister. He's formed an interim government in the city of Benghazi? Are you in communication with him? Do you support him?

Mr. AUJALI: Of course. Of course, I support him. Look, I have to tell you, not the people who were part of the regime, they are bad people. There are so many good people. They are trying very hard to change the regime direction and this must be understood from the international community. We feel that what our people, they need.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, he was part of regime as a minister of justice and some other position, but he is the man with a voice against what Gadhafi is doing. And he is the first minister to announce his resignation from the Gadhafi government in a general public conference.

Not everybody can do that. This is the first incident in 42 years. Then, please, you have to recognize that. Now we have the council, the council is composed with 30 members. We have now names, they can be with them, they can talk to them. Then this is the time.

MARTIN: To that end, as we mentioned, a number of U.S. senators have called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over the country. Do you agree with that? Do you support that?

Mr. AUJALI: Of course, of course. This is what I've been asking since the revolution started in 17th of February. We asked, we need no-fly zone because if we have no-fly zone, the people, they are ready to die. The people, they are ready to march to save Tripoli and to save Zallah, and to save Misurata. Misurata now, thank God, it's under control.

But this man, he is slaughtering the people. He'd go inside the middle, inside of towns with his tanks. He's using the ambulance to carry mercenaries to kill the people when they are demonstrating and they ask for help. Can you imagine a regime doing this to his own people?

MARTIN: What else would you like the international community to do?

Mr. AUJALI: Two things, very important: recognition of the council, no-fly zone. That's what we need. And then we will die for our country. We don't want foreigners to die for our country. But we want no-fly zone. We want support. We want arms and we will do the fight. Don't worry.

MARTIN: In Egypt, I'm curious about this. You know, protesters were on the streets for 18 days and then, finally, President Mubarak, you know, resigned. Libya has proven to be a very different scenario. We've seen similar uprisings in Tunisia. While there was some - there were clashes, but nothing like we're seeing in Libya. And I'm just wondering why you think that is.

Mr. AUJALI: Well, I'll tell you. There is a big difference between what the Libyans are facing now and what Tunisia and Egyptians faced for the last few weeks. Gadhafi's regime is a crazy regime. He doesn't hesitate to use anything. Anything. He starts to stop the demonstration not with hot water, not with a gas weapon, he start to stop them by bullets.

MARTIN: But do you think that Moammar Gadhafi is unstable? Do you think he's mentally ill based on your long experience with him?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, I don't know Gadhafi very close. I just met him very - maybe two times. And I had some chat with him. But the rest of that, I am not his close circle at all. I've never been. I am holding this position because I'm a professional diplomat. They think that I'm the man to reestablish the relation.

And I was - always believe if we start issue with the relation with the United States, then United States will always put on the table the human rights, the democracy, the civil society. And I always hope this is what happened.

But Gadhafi is - and you cannot expect to what he is going to do. The Libyans are facing the most cruel regime in the world. And they're using any kind of weapons to destroy this revolution.

MARTIN: And, finally, can I ask you, you told us earlier that there are people still at the embassy who support Gadhafi. There are those like you who now have broken with him. What is the atmosphere there? Are you speaking to each other? Are you...

Mr. AUJALI: Well, it's a very difficult atmosphere for me and there are 10 people, I think maybe they will be leaving soon because I asked to be - asked the State Department to remove them and this is my right. And they said, leave as soon as possible.

MARTIN: Leave the country?

Mr. AUJALI: Yeah. They leave the country. Some of them, they have very close relation, they are sending information to different departments and they are also in communication with the Libyan television and that they should not be here.

MARTIN: And do you feel physically safe there?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, look, my dear, my life doesn't mean nothing. People, they are facing - they're facing weapons with nothing in their hands. Then if I am a victim of Gadhafi regime, this is honor to me.

MARTIN: And, finally, you said you're in communication with Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abdel-Jalil. Do you - would it be accurate to say you represent his views here? Would that be accurate at this time?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, of course, I have a letter from them that I am the sole representative of the Arabian people in the United States.

MARTIN: Ali Aujali resigned as ambassador to the United States nearly two weeks ago. He says he's resigned and broken with the Gadhafi regime. But he says he remains in office representing the people of Libya and he was kind enough to join us from our studios in Washington, D.C. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. AUJALI: Thank you very much for having me.

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