Mayhem in Libya, Marx in the City and Bombs in Kabul (E331)

From African oasis to ISIS hotbed, how neocolonial war games brought an African nation to its knees, we talk to a former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford. Ain't no tax in the heart of the City, we speak to Tony Norfield about offshore banking, the Panama Papers and his new book. Plus Afshin is joined once again by broadcaster and former MP Lembit Opik to review the week’s news.

We contacted the Ministry of Defence about the allegations made in this interview and they said: “Our line on troops in Libya: The UK continues to work with international partners on how best to support the new Libyan government. All planning has been focussed on training Libyan Security Forces to provide their own security to the Government and Libyan people. No decisions have been made about the future deployment of any British military forces.” - MOD Spokesperson.

We contacted the Foreign Office who responded that the Foreign Secretary made a statement in Parliament on Tuesday which is linked to on our website.

We contacted the Saudi Arabian Embassy about the allegations made in this interview but they did not get back to us in time for broadcast. 


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RT: Thank you. The Saudi Arabia say that they will sell off hundreds billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the Kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudis to held responsible for September 11 attacks, and I was wondering what’s the State Department’s position on that.

John Kirby: Well, look, I think the Secretary has already spoken to our concern about this particular legislation and the possible precedent that it could open up. So I would – and we can get you his comments that he’s made in congressional testimony about this, so I’d point you to that.

As for the position of the Saudi Government about this pending legislation, I’d refer you to Saudi authorities to speak to their reaction to it. What I can tell you is we have already made clear – the Secretary in testimony – our concerns about the possible precedent and potential harm that it could have to our own interests overseas in many countries. And again, we’d point you to that.

And then lastly, I’d just say Saudi Arabia continues to be a very close partner on so many issues, and they were instrumental in getting the opposition together in Riyadh back in December and to helping us get this whole political process started. We partner with them against terrorism elsewhere in the region, and they contribute to the coalition against Daesh in Iraq. So it doesn’t mean that we’re always going to see eye to eye with the Saudis on every issue, but on the issues of terrorism there is much work to be done and much collaboration that has occurred and will continue to occur.

And I’ll just, broadly speaking – because I know this also gets at the issue of those who suffered and continue to suffer from the losses on 9/11 – nothing’s changed about our commitment to them, to the grieving process that we know they’re still going through, and to doing everything we can as a government to help them. Okay?

RT: Would you agree that tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia are at an all-time high in this Administration ahead of the President’s upcoming visit?

JK: I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

RT: You wouldn’t?

JK:  No.

RT: How would you characterize the relationship?

JK: As I said, even the best of friends are going to disagree on issues. And what’s healthy is that you can have a discussion and you can have a debate and you can differ over whatever the issue is, and we’re not bashful about doing that. But that doesn’t change the essential fact that Saudi Arabia remains a key partner as we continue to confront terrorism in the region and around the world, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that coordination and that cooperation.

RT: Do you expect that this – the issue of this bill, the issue of the 28 pages, will overshadow or be part of the conversation? Or are the U.S. – is the Administration, anyway, and the kingdom sort of in agreement on these issues and therefore it won’t be a topic of the discussion?

JK: Well, if you’re asking me to get ahead of the GCC, I won’t do that. I mean, there is a lot of issues to discuss in Riyadh. The Secretary is looking forward to going and to be – and to accompanying the President. Clearly, the ongoing fight against Daesh, the need to continue to work towards a political solution in Syria, continuing to fight AQAP in places like Yemen – all those things are really important for GCC countries to discuss at the end of the week, and I have no doubt that they will, not to mention and certainly not to ignore – and when I was talking to Pam – the continued concerns that they have over Iran and Iran’s destabilizing activities.

I think there is going to be enough of a robust agenda of things to talk about. Whether this particular issue will come up, I couldn’t say.

RT: Has Kerry – sorry, and if this has already been asked, I apologize. But has Kerry read the 28 pages in question here?

JK: I don’t know, Justin.

RT: On Saudi Arabia, does the Administration believe that no current or former Saudi official or member of the royal family was in any involved in the 9/11 attacks?

JK: Look, I’m not going to re-litigate history here.  The – you can go online and see the story of the attacks and how it happened and who was responsible, and I’m not going to re-litigate it here.

RT: But can you say that no – President Obama is heading to Saudi Arabia --

JK: As it says in the report, there’s no indication that Saudi officials or the Saudi Government was behind or supporting in any way those attacks.  It’s all there --

RT: So you believe...

JK: The public record is all there for you to see, and I’m certainly not going to re-litigate that history here today.

RT: Just... Hold on a second.  Before he – Dave makes a good point here.  You’re advising people to go online to find out the real story of 9/11?  Because there’s a lot of stuff out there online about --

JK: I meant the 9/11 Commission Report, which is online.

RT: Thank you.

JK: Of course you know that. That’s the same tie you wore yesterday, by the way.

RT: I’m sorry. Yeah, and I’ve also got some soup on it today. 

JK: I see that. Go ahead. You had a question.

RT: No, I was just being sarcastic quietly to Matt.

JK: Oh, you’re being sarcastic.

RT: Yeah. You say the record is online.  There are 28 pages of it not online.

JK: Well, look, again, the 9/11 Commission Report is pretty exhaustive.  It states clearly who was responsible for the attacks on 9/11.  And for us to sit here, this many years later, and try to debate it I think is just a fool’s errand.

RT: Thank you. On Japan, let me just follow up the Secretary’s trip last week to Hiroshima.

JK: Yeah. Yeah.

RT: He mentioned at the press conference, he would explain to the President what he experienced in Hiroshima.  Did the Secretary meet and explain to the President?  If so, can you share with us what’s the response from – of the President?

JH: No. 

RT: Did he meet – did he...

JK: No, I can sit up here and talk for Secretary Kerry all day, but I will not talk for President Obama.  That’s – my colleague at the White House is responsible for that.

RT: Did he meet and talk about this issue last week?

JK: The Secretary has – as you might expect, because it was such a powerful experience, he’s certainly shared that experience with others in the government.  I’m not going to speak to private conversations.  And you heard him – you were there and you heard how the visit affected him and how he would continue to urge everybody of all walks of life to go visit the Peace Park and the museum.  And I think I’ll leave it at that.

RT: John, any readout on Secretary’s meeting with the BBG today?

JK: We’ll – we can issue a short readout after this.  It was a useful discussion.  The Secretary appreciated the opportunity to meet with them again to talk about ways in which we can continue to try to get more effective in the information environment, particularly when it comes to countering violent extremism. Last one.

RT: Just on the issue of the 9/11 bill making its way through Congress, the – after the Administration came out against it, a number of senior Republicans said today that they’re open to revising the legislation, and Speaker Ryan said we want to make sure we’re not making mistakes with our allies.  What is the Administration’s view on how the legislation would make a mistake with our allies?

JK: I talked about this yesterday, so I’d point you to the transcript as well as my colleague at the White House, but essentially we believe it sets a potentially harmful precedent going forward in terms of the sovereign immunity that the United States also enjoys overseas. But I’d encourage you to look at yesterday’s transcript.

RT: How would they fix that?  How would they fix the bill?

JK: We’re going to continue to consult with Congress.  I’m not going to get into legislative remedies here from this podium

RT: Well, are there negotiations going on, though, in Congress about – sounds like there are some competing drafts going on.

JK: All I can say is we’re going to continue to consult with members of Congress, and we don’t, obviously, support it in...

RT: What does – does “consult” mean negotiate on...

JK: It means consult and communicate and talk with them about their concerns and about our concerns.