Sen. Kerry Discusses U.S. Mission In Libya

Democratic Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has been traveling throughout the Middle East. He's had meetings with leaders in Egypt and Israel — and Libya has been high on the list of topics of discussion. Melissa Block talks with Kerry about the U.S. involvement in the no-fly zone over Libya and what exactly the U.S. mission is.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm joined now by Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. He's chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he's been a leading voice in urging a no-fly zone over Libya. He's currently traveling in the region, first in Egypt and now in Israel. He joins me from Tel Aviv. Senator Kerry, welcome to the program.

BLOCK: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: There is a great deal of confusion, as you know, about the parameters of this mission. The U.N. resolution authorizes protecting civilians and, of course, President Obama has also said Gadhafi must go. What, to you, is the end point for U.S. military involvement in Libya?

BLOCK: Well, I think people are getting, frankly, a little bit overexcited and unnecessarily ramped up over this thing. It's really not confusing. To me, it's crystal clear. The United States is reacting to a plea by the opposition, a request by the Arab League, a request by the Gulf states - all of whom required - asked the United Nations to join together to protect civilians from massacre.

Now, this event is not calculated to get rid of Colonel Gadhafi. And the president was clear about that, and Admiral Mullen was clear; I've been clear. It's not calculated to get rid of Colonel Gadhafi, even though we believe he ought to go.

BLOCK: How, then, do you square what you've just said with the comments from the British defense minister, Liam Fox? He says Gadhafi is a legitimate target.

BLOCK: Well, he's - you know, the British and the French can speak for themselves. That's not the targeting that the United States understood at the time, and that is certainly not the understanding that I had about that operation.

BLOCK: Let me ask you about another ambiguity. General Carter Ham, yesterday - the U.S. general who's overseeing the mission in Libya - was asked about who exactly qualifies as a civilian, whom we're protecting. And he said this: It's not a clear distinction because we're not talking about a regular military force. It's a very problematic situation.

BLOCK: Well, that part of it can be difficult if you have forces that are engaged at a particular moment, and you're trying to figure out who you're helping, and you have some civilian rebels who are involved at that point. And people forget, Colonel Gadhafi issued a warning to the Libyans who were fighting for their freedom, and their ability to be able to be out from under his cruel thumb - we will show no mercy. That's the warning with which he sent the troops up to Benghazi. And I think the fact that the United States and the global community stood up to that is laudable.

BLOCK: Senator Kerry, when you talk about people who are fighting for their freedom, you're talking about a rebel army. Are you equating that with protecting a civilian population? In other words, intervening on their behalf is the same as protecting the civilian population, do you think?

BLOCK: I think we were trying to protect life and in this case, we had a sort of collateral connection. But in fact, that's the consequence - is, we have protected civilian populations. You know, we've tried to do our best. I think we averted a disaster for Benghazi. I think we made a strong statement to the region and to leaders. I heard in Egypt, from Egyptian leaders, how important they thought this was.

I met one of the leaders of the opposition, came from Benghazi to meet with me in Cairo. He described the people who were in it. I think they're going to do a lot more in the next days to help the world see who they are. And I think that will help a lot of people to understand our connection to this.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about that because we had on the program yesterday Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of State, who said: It's one of the first times - I think - in our entire history where we've introduced American military power on behalf of a group of people that we don't know. He's saying, we simply don't know who we're backing here.

BLOCK: Well, we certainly know who the players are in this group. Secretary of State Clinton met with the same individual that I did. People in Brussels, in NATO, have met with this individual.

BLOCK: That's one individual you're talking about.

BLOCK: Well, no, but this is their designated representative. We also know through them who a lot of the other players are. But look, are there some bad interests there? Yes, just like there are in Egypt, for heaven sakes. We didn't know exactly what would happen when the Soviet Union fell. And we helped 19 nations to be able to define their future.

Today, they're members of NATO. But that wasn't guaranteed. We didn't know who the players were in almost any one of those countries. But at this particular moment, all we're doing is an effort to prevent the massacre of people by a man who is a delusional tyrant, who has already menaced the world, and who really ought to go.

BLOCK: Senator Kerry, thanks very much.

BLOCK: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: That's Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaking with me from Tel Aviv.

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