President Obama met Libya’s interim leader Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and held up the country as a model of what the U.N. can do to protect civilians from atrocities.
Obama also pledged continued support and encouraged Libya’s new leaders to keep their promises to forge a just, democratic society.
Libyan rebels have yet to find ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi and fighting continues in the country. Still, Obama went to the meeting with a hopeful message.
“Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation. After four decades of darkness, they can walk the streets, free from a tyrant,” Obama said.
He said the U.S. ambassador was heading back to Tripoli to reopen the U.S. Embassy, abandoned earlier this year. The United Nations has a new team led by a British diplomat to help Libya work on a new constitution and prepare for elections.
So far, this seems to be a good news story for the U.N., at least the way Obama described it.
“This is how the international community should work in the 21st century — more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations,” he said.
Libya Seeking Frozen Assets
Obama met with the chairman of Libya’s Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who is again asking for access to billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets. Abdul-Jalil also reassured the countries gathered at the U.N. that he’s given Libyans clear orders not to seek retribution against Gadhafi’s supporters.
“The Libyan authorities will bring to justice all accused of the Gadhafi regime before a just trial and we will work for the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation over the coming period,” he said.
“The entire world is watching you,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who took the lead in supporting rebels in Libya. He told Tuesday’s meeting at the U.N. that he has faith in the country’s new leadership. British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed that, saying the time is up for Gadhafi and his supporters.
“As for Gadhafi himself, he must be brought to justice under Libyan and international law. No country should consider giving a bolt hole to this fugitive from justice, a man wanted on charges of crimes against humanity. And any country that does consider giving him sanctuary should remember there is no expiry date for the charges he faces,” Hague said.
Britain, France, the U.S. and others say their actions in Libya — as part of NATO — were justified and could be a model elsewhere. However, they are having a hard time persuading the U.N. Security Council to do more to stop a crackdown in Syria, where the U.N. says more than 2,600 protesters have been killed.
And there were even hints of disagreements on Libya. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma called for an end to NATO action because — as he put it — the initial threats that led the Security Council to authorize action against Gadhafi’s forces no longer exist.
“We should therefore work towards the lifting of the no-fly zone as soon as possible in order to retain the integrity of the United Nations as the center that harmonizes the actions of nations in the pursuit of universal peace,” he said.
Obama says the NATO action will continue as long as civilians are at risk in Libya — and that means as long as Gadhafi is on the run.