Islamists and Weapons in Libya: Today’s Qs for Os WH — 9/20/2011

We’re here at the UN, so Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and NSC Senior Director For Strategic Planning Derek Chollet did the briefing.

TAPPER: Can you talk about any concerns that the United States might have about Islamist groups in taking a leadership role in Libya, and also what more you can tell us about the search for weapons in that country?

MR. CHOLLET:  On the Islamist point, it’s obviously something we’ve been following very closely and we have been very actively discussing with the TNC and our international partners. Jeff Feltman, our Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, was in Tripoli either last week or the week before last for several days and was asked about this and it was reported on.  And I think — we haven’t seen anything that raises major concerns, but it is something that we’re watching closely.  And some of our partners in this effort who — from the Middle East, for example, who have more lines into the TNC in this regard — we’re coordinating with them very closely. 

But it is something we’re watching.  And as I said, everything we hear from the TNC, whenever we discuss this with them, is what you would want to hear, and they’re very reassuring about this, including today with the President in the statements Chairman Jalil made.

In terms of the weapons — I’m sorry?

TAPPER: “What you would want to hear,” meaning?

MR. CHOLLET:  Meaning that there is no room for extremists in a TNC government.  They’re well aware of the concerns of the international community and, frankly, they share those concerns. And they see this as a huge opportunity for themselves to overcome four decades of oppression and, frankly, a regime that was a perpetrator of terrorism that killed Americans.  And they do not want to return to that, and they have stressed to us that they are very committed not to return to that.

In terms of the weapons stocks, both the chemical and the conventional, again, things we and our partners are watching very, very closely.  Currently — we have been for the previous seven months and we continue to do so today — on the chemical side, we have seen nothing of concern, and we’re working very closely with the TNC to ensure that those stockpiles are secure. Some of that involves international community efforts that were in place before these events began in February, and working very hard to get international monitors back in.    

And on the conventional side, we’re working very closely with our partners to stand up — or we have been working to stand up an effort to secure those, and, again, work with the TNC to identify where those stockpiles may be and making sure that the TNC can get the capability in place to help secure those. 

That’s something the British have been very involved with.  Prime Minister Cameron, when he was in Tripoli last week, made an announcement along these lines.  And we have had some diplomats on the ground working solely on these efforts, with some resources at their disposal, working with the TNC to ensure that they’re secure.

MR. RHODES:  I’d just add one point on your first question that, again, I think it speaks to the progress in the last several months.  At the beginning of this operation there were all kinds of questions about the nature of the opposition and there were these concerns voiced by some in the United States that this would be somehow an opportunity for extremists.

Now, we do monitor it very carefully, but I think you see, in Chairman Jalil and the leadership of the TNC, individuals who reject extremism and individuals who represent a very different future, which is one where they want to build an inclusive transition that’s responsive to all people. 

So those concerns that were voiced have not been borne in the actions of the TNC and the leadership of the TNC.  And we want to continue to empower them in their efforts to build an inclusive Libya that does not provide space for violent extremists.

-Jake Tapper

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