Friday, February 25, 2011

Press Briefing On Suspension Of Operations in Libya

State just released the text of a Special Briefing on The Suspension of United States Embassy Operations in Libya, with Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management, and Janet Sanderson, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Some key quotes:

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. As was just announced in the White House press briefing, given current security conditions in Libya, coupled with our inability to guarantee fully the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in the country, the Department of State has temporarily withdrawn Embassy personnel from Tripoli and suspended all Embassy operations effective today. The safety of the American community remains paramount to the Department, and we will continue to provide assistance to the greatest extent possible through other missions.

And today, we are gratified that the ferry was able to depart Libya and has arrived in Valletta, Malta, as well as the departure from Tripoli of one last charter that carried our remaining diplomatic personnel from the mission as well as other American citizens and third-country nationals.

-- snip --

At the same time, we also announced yesterday to the American community that we would be making a charter aircraft available today. We brought the charter aircraft in, loaded the remaining official American employees on it and about another dozen or so American citizens and a number of third-country nationals as well. And that aircraft has now departed. As P.J. has said, we have now suspended operations at the Embassy. Again, as P.J. has said, that does not mean that diplomatic relations are broken. We will continue to carry on work with the Government of Libya. And Janet can address that in more detail.

-- snip --

[Deputy Assistant Secretary Sanderson:] Obviously, let me say something about the state of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya. Let me underscore what Pat has said. Our Embassy is not closed. We have suspended operations. We still continue to reach out to the Libyans where appropriate, both directly and through third parties. The Libyan Embassy here is up and running. We have been – we have not been informed in any change of the status of the ambassador. I will be meeting with representatives of the Libyan Embassy shortly after this meeting to convey our decision about the suspension of diplomatic activities of our mission on the ground in Libya, but the relationship remains and we do have channels of communication to speak directly to the Libyan Government about the very grave concern we have about the evolving situation on the ground.

Thank you.

QUESTION: A couple of things logistically. One, when the flight – in terms of the Embassy being temporarily closed, does that mean that they took the flag with them, the last people out, or is that still up and running?


QUESTION: Up and flying, rather?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Yes, the flag is still flying.

QUESTION: All right.

-- snip --

QUESTION: Can I ask whether there is anybody left at that Embassy, any sort of security personnel or anything like that, and also whether there were any notifications provided to the Libyans prior to everybody leaving the country? I had heard there might have been something yesterday. I don’t know if that was true or not.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: There are – yes, we have – our locally engaged staff is still on duty at our compound.

QUESTION: Sorry, sir. What is that? I’m – for – in non-diplomatic speak, “locally engaged staff,” what do you mean?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Our Libyan employees are still – were still – we did not break diplomatic relations. Our Libyan employees are still on the payroll and are still at the – working at the chancery.

-- snip --

QUESTION: Can you pinpoint when it was that the decision to suspend operations was made? Was it yesterday, after Qadhafi’s rant?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is something that we have been evaluating --

QUESTION: Yeah. But at some point, someone had to sign off on something. When was that signoff?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think this had been the recommendation of these experts. But the real question was today was the day where all the pieces fell into place, where we were able to move the ferry out. We weren’t going to take this action as long as the ferry was there. We got permission today to bring in the charter.

QUESTION: I understand that. The triggers were the ferry and the plane leaving.

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

-- snip --

QUESTION: When was the decision made for you to – for all those diplomats to show up at the airfield to get on this plane?


QUESTION: That was made this morning?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we had put the plans in place before today, but we gave the decision to execute today.

QUESTION: I understand that. But when was the – are you trying to tell me that the decision to – the decision to shut down the Embassy was made when the White House announced it? No.


QUESTION: When was it made?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The decision to shut down was made when we were sure that we could get all official Americans out and as many American citizens as we were able to assemble and transport.

-- snip --

QUESTION: When do you expect to resume operations in the Embassy?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: When the – we would resume American operation at the Embassy when the security situation permits it.

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