Looking At Arab League's Position On Libya Military Action

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Over the weekend, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said that the Western bombing campaign "differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone." He said, "We want the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians." By Monday, Moussa had backed off those comments. So just what is the position of the Arab League now? Melissa Block talks with Nassif Hitti, head of the League of Arab States Mission in Paris.


That Arab League endorsement that Michele just mentioned was followed quickly by some criticism. Over the weekend, the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, said that the Western bombing campaign differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone. He said we want the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians. By yesterday, Moussa expressed his support for the U.N. resolution.

So just what is the position of the Arab League now? I'm joined by Nassif Hitti. He's the league's head of mission in Paris, and he joins me from Abu Dhabi.

Welcome to the program.

NASSIF HITTI: Thank you.

BLOCK: And maybe you can help us understand this. Does the Arab League stand firmly behind its vote that approved military action against Libya?

HITTI: Well, let me put it this way. There was a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of Moussa's statement. Moussa was reacting to a question about the bombing, and he said that we expressed our concern about the deaths of civilians. But he never questioned the application and the implementation of Resolution 1973.

Let me remind you of something. This resolution was initiated to start with the Arab League ministerial meeting on the 12th of March, and we took it after to the United Nations. And we discussed that matter, and this was - this is how the resolution was adopted.

So we fully support the implementation of this resolution, and we spoke about the establishment of a no-fly zone from the very beginning, from - even before the establishment reaching of this resolution. So our position is very clear on that matter.

BLOCK: And we should just clarify. Resolution 1973 is the U.N. resolution authorizing these strikes.

HITTI: Yes. Resolution 1973 is a resolution authorizing, clarifying what are the rules of engagement and what should be done and what could be done and what should not be done at the same time.

BLOCK: You mentioned concern about civilian casualties, and I'd like to ask you about that, because we heard from Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying today that this question about civilian casualties seems to be buying into Moammar Gadhafi's claims that there have been civilian casualties. He called those outright lies.

HITTI: Well, you know, we hope these are lies, but every time there is a military action, as I said, even if it's a legal military action and even if this action is conducted within the Security Council resolution, we tend always to express our concern about civilian casualties.

BLOCK: In your view, Mr. Hitti, would it be important for there to be more Arab military support for this operation?

HITTI: To tell you the truth, you know, concerning the kind of participation to the implementation of this resolution, it depends on each and every country alone. I mean, it's a sovereign act. It's a sovereign decision.

But one thing is sure. Everybody is committed at least to the humanitarian support, which is not enough - it's necessary but not enough - and to find all means, diplomatic and other means, to send a clear, firm, common message about the need to put an end to this act of - let me call it domestic aggression or violence against the Libyan population.

BLOCK: But apart from sending that verbal message, would it be important for the legitimacy of this to have more of an Arab imprint?

HITTI: The issue is not having Arab military participation or not, it's a matter of decision that goes to each and every state alone. But the firm commitment of the Arab League and its members to support the main ideas of this resolution are, I think, extremely important, legitimate elements within this resolution.

BLOCK: Would there be, Mr. Hitti, Arab League members who would be fearful that the tables could also be turned on them, in other words, that a Western military campaign could be in their backyard next?

HITTI: Well, there could be some feeling with some, but I think the Libyan situation is kind of unique because of how the Libyan regime has been acting in terms of the resort to all kinds of violent means against its own population.

Let me say that there is a tsunami of change in the Arab world. What's common is that there is a call and a need for measures, reform - for comprehensive reform, political, economic, social and other kinds of reform, and that's a common factor among the Arab countries.

But, again, we have to take into consideration the specificities of each and every country in terms of how the people try to push for reform and how the government would react to that kind of situation.

BLOCK: I have been talking with Nassif Hitti. He's head of the League of Arab States Mission in Paris.

Mr. Hitti, thanks very much.

HITTI: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

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