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NATO will stay in Libya as long as necessary – Rasmussen

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has told RT that despite the growing number of casualties among civilians in Libya, NATO is staying in the country to protect its population against Gaddafi’s attacks.

RT: The UK and France want a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government. In your opinion, are we heading for Libya 2.0?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, I would like to stress that NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria.

RT: Russia says that the fact the UN resolution is even being debated is going to cause more violence in Syria and there might be some kind of intervention if the UN goes ahead and approves that resolution.

AR: Once again let me stress we have no intention to intervene in Syria. Having said that I share the international condemnation of the brutal attacks against the civilian population in Syria. The only way forward is to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

RT: Now let’s look at the lack of an entry strategy into Libya. It could be said you were dragged into this, rushing to regime change. Have you ‘accidentally’ gone to war in Libya?

AR: Definitely not, on the contrary – we considered this very carefully, we laid out certain conditions that should be fulfilled before we took action.

RT: The UN resolution was laid out for a no-fly zone, and lots of people would consider what’s happening in Libya to be much more than a no-fly-zone.

AR: Actually the UN Security Council resolution goes beyond the no-fly zone. According to the UN Security Council resolution we are mandated to protect the civilian population in Libya taking all necessary measures. And that’s exactly what we are doing right now.

RT: Admiral Di Paolo has legitimized strikes on any ‘command center’ in Libya. Just to clarify for our viewers who see homes bombed, or civilian buildings blown to pieces, does Gaddafi in a car on a phone, or a hospital where he’s being treated, constitute a command center for your purposes?

AR: I would like to stress that we are not targeting individuals. We hit legitimate military targets and of course command control centers can be used to plan and organize attacks against civilians. So command control centers are legitimate military targets.

RT: Why is NATO bombing metropolitan areas in Libya and killing civilians?

AR: We do all we can to avoid civilian casualties. We are in Libya to protect civilians against attacks, and this is a reason why our commanders are very careful in identifying legitimate military targets.

RT: The G8 asked Russia to mediate in Libya, they sent an envoy. But as Mikhail Margelov arrived intensified bombing of the capital of Libya began. Why is that?

AR:There is no link between the two events. We appreciate all attempts to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya because obviously there is no military solution so we need political process. Having said that I still think a strong military pressure on the Gaddafi regime will facilitate a fruitful political process.

RT: Mikhail Margelov stated yesterday that both sides agreed that dialogue was the only way to resolve the conflict. He said both the rebels and the regime forces are ready to negotiate; they both think the war is not the way out of this conflict, so why are you still bombing Libya?

AR: We are continuing our operation because we still see the Gaddafi regime attacking its own population, and it is absolutely outrageous. The UN has mandated an operation to protect civilians, and we will continue our operation as long as the regime still attacks its own people.

RT: Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov, having met you yesterday, now believes troops on the ground in Libya are a possibility. Will these troops be under your command in the future?

AR: We have no intention to put troops on the ground in Libya.

RT: What if Gaddafi does not back down?

AR: I do believe that the combination of strong military pressure and reinforced political pressure will eventually lead to the regime collapse. It may happen tomorrow, it may take several weeks, but we will stay committed until we have fulfilled three very clear military objectives: firstly, a complete end to all attacks against civilians; secondly, a withdrawal of Gaddafi military forces to their barracks and immediate, and thirdly, unhindered humanitarian access to people in need. We will continue our operation until these objectives are met.

RT: Talk of a post-war Libya seems premature, given William Hague sees NATO there until after Christmas – this despite your 90-day deadline. When will you leave the Libyan people in peace?

AR: I am not going to guess any timeframe. What I can say is that we are prepared to stay committed as long as it takes to fully implement the UN mandate, and that is to protect the civilian population against any attack.

RT:What about the civilians that are being attacked in Syria, in Yemen, in Bahrain?

AR: That is a legitimate question. The difference is that in Libya we are operating on the basis of a UN mandate and with strong support from countries in the region. Actually a number of countries in the region contribute actively to our operation. For these reasons we are in Libya.

RT: How can you convince us NATO's end goal is to protect civilians and not pursue regime change?

AR: We have been very open about our military objectives – a complete end to attacks against civilians, withdrawal of Gaddafi forces and humanitarian access. These are our military objectives and we will continue until they are met. In parallel, there is a political track defined by the international community. Recently, the G8 group including the Russian president called on Gaddafi to leave power. And these two tracks are separate – a military track and a political track. But having said that I think it’s hard to imagine a complete end to attacks against civilians in Libya as long as Gaddafi remains in power.

RT: Defense minister Serdyukov also said Russia has been largely ignored by you in your plans for AMD over Europe. Of course you wouldn’t accept that but the facts, at this stage speak for themselves, don’t they?

AR: Russia is definitely not ignored. On the contrary, we have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense. The fact is that NATO has decided to develop a NATO-based missile defense system, because we want to protect our population against missile attacks.

RT: Missile attacks from who, from Russia?

AR: We are faced with a common threat and this is a reason why we would like to see two independent missile defense systems – a Russian system and a NATO system – cooperate, for instance by exchanging data. The whole system would become much more effective that way to the benefit of the Russian population and the population in NATO countries.

RT: It sounds a little bit of a contradiction – you talk about joint trust, a mutual threat, and then about separate systems. Why won’t one system between NATO and Russia be acceptable to protect both sides from any kind of threat?

AR: Because I don’t think that the Russian government and the Russian people would accept to be subject to a common command. I think the Russia nation as such would insist on having control of its own missile defense system. And this is the reason why the most realistic approach would be to have two independent systems with a common purpose.

RT: President Medvedev for years now has been proposing a joint European defense system.

AR: I think the best way to join efforts would be to let two independent systems cooperate with the aim to protect the Russian people as well as people in NATO countries.

RT: Russia constantly claims that NATO can’t guarantee that its interest will be protected. Why can’t NATO issue these guarantees?

AR: The best guarantee whatsoever would be to engage in close cooperation, because close cooperation between Russia and NATO would clearly demonstrate that our missile defense is really a defense and it’s not aimed at Russia. Let’s face it – we do not consider Russia a threat to NATO and NATO does not constitute a threat to Russia. So let’s join efforts, let us cooperate.

RT:  Russia sees it as NATO can’t go forward on promises. Why can’t you guarantee Russia on paper that a missile defense system will not be directed towards them?

AR: It is very easy to guarantee, because we do not have any intention to attack Russia. But the best guarantee Russia could get would be to engage in a close cooperation and for instance establish a joint center where we could exchange data. That could clearly demonstrate that this system is not aimed at Russia.