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August 23rd, 2011
01:02 PM ET

Amb. Susan Rice on Libya

As rebels in Libya capture Gadhafi's compound, United States ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. A full transcript from this interview is after the jump.

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO:  Amb. Rice: Libya tipping point reached
EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: Full Interview Amb. Susan Rice on Libya

Please credit all usage of the interview to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR:   Suzanne, thanks very much.  I want to bring in the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice.  She's joining us from Rome now.

Ambassador, thanks very much. We're being seen right now on CNN and CNN International, around the world. Give us a sense, Ambassador, as you can, based on all the information you have, where the situation in Libya stands right now.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS:  Well, Wolf, I think it's quite clear that the situation remains fluid, that fighting is still going on in parts of Tripoli and elsewhere in the country.  The rebels have made enormous progress over the last several days.  And in our judgment, the tipping point has been reached where the days of Gadhafi are numbered and the regime is on its last legs.

But it's still the case that there is fighting ongoing, including reports that we have all seen of the rebels having recently breached the Gadhafi compound.  We don't know what's going on inside precisely, but this remains still an active battle in parts of Tripoli.

BLITZER:  Is it still the U.S. government's estimate, belief that Moammar Gadhafi is hiding out some place inside Libya, that he has not left the country?

RICE:  Wolf, obviously we are not able to confirm his location with precision, but there are many varying reports.  But I think the preponderance of reporting suggests that he's still likely inside of Libya.

BLITZER:  And you've had conversations - when I say "you," I mean U.S. officials, maybe including yourself - with representatives of the Transitional National Council.  And what have you said to them, if in fact they captured Moammar Gadhafi alive?

RICE:  Well, we all have been in contact with leaders of the TNC.  You heard the chairman, Mr. Jalil, yesterday say that their intent, were they to capture Gadhafi, is to bring him to justice through a legal process.

Our view is that that is an appropriate step.  Our aim and I think that very much the TNC's aim is for a transition to get under way swiftly that is inclusive, that is just, and that fulfills the Libyan people's aspirations for a democratic future.

And so we will - have been working with them closely as they plan aspects of their transition, we will continue to do so.  And obviously, these are all choices that the Libyan people will ultimately have to make for themselves.  But they have been clear and we have been clear that Gadhafi must be held accountable and must be brought to justice, as must his son Saif and Sanusi, the intelligence chief, who has always been indicted by the International Criminal Court.  All three.

BLITZER:  Which raises the question from the U.S. government's perspective, Ambassador Rice, would you prefer that these three individuals be tried inside Libya or be brought to the Netherlands and be tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, at the International Criminal Court?

RICE:  Wolf, really, this is something that must be decided not by the United States or any other government, but by the people of Libya and by the interim transitional government that we expect will soon be constituted.  I think there are many difficult issues of justice and accountability and reconciliation that the Libyans are going to have to work through as they build an inclusive government that's responsive to the will of the people, that allows democracy to evolve out of what you know is a situation where there are no state institutions.

So I think we need to give them an opportunity to discuss and debate that amongst themselves and decide whether to send him, if they can, to the International Criminal Court, or to deal with them through some domestic justice process.

BLITZER:  As you know, the credibility of the Transitional National Council has been questioned.  They said they had Mohammed Gadhafi, one of the sons of Moammar Gadhafi, in custody, but then he escaped.  Then Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, they said they had him, and he showed up at that Rixos Hotel with all the international journalists last night.

Do you believe what these representatives of this Transitional National Council are saying?  Because their credibility is right now sort of weak.

RICE:  Well, Wolf, we have definitely found them to be credible and responsible interlocutors.  We have been in close contact with the leadership in Benghazi.  But clearly, in a situation as fluid as this, that's evolving rapidly, there's going to be confusion, there is going to be misinformation.  And those that are on the ground in Tripoli may or may not be in full and timely communication with leadership outside of Tripoli.  So I don't find this particularly surprising, but generally speaking, we have found in all of our engagements with the TNC that their leadership is reliable, is principled, and is working to do the right things.

BLITZER:  How worried are you - when I say "you," I again mean the United States government - about the stockpile of chemical weapons that Gadhafi's military apparently still has, sarin gas, mustard gas, some of these other chemical weapons?  Is this a major concern, securing these storage facilities?

RICE:  It's something we have been watching from the very beginning of the conflict in Libya, Wolf.  We continue to watch it carefully.  And at this stage, we have not seen immediate cause for concern, but we will keep a close eye on that throughout.

BLITZER:  As you know, Ambassador, a lot of us here at CNN were very worried about the journalists, the 35 or so journalists at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli right now, including our own Matthew Chance.  Is the U.S. government doing anything to help free these journalists?  Because, in effect, they are being held, almost held hostage, I should say, inside that compound at that hotel.

RICE:  We're very concerned about the situation at the Rixos and we're monitoring it closely.  Wolf, as you know, what we have done, along with our NATO allies, has been precisely limited to an air campaign, and what we can gather in terms of information from aerial assets.

We'll continue to do what we can on the protection of civilians mission, which is of course the purpose of NATO's activities.  It's the reason why NATO has been involved in this from the start, and it has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the east, at the outset of the conflict.  And we will do what we can from the position that we have, and from our aerial assets, to try to protect those in the Rixos Hotel and elsewhere.

BLITZER:  So I just want to be precise when you say hundreds of thousands of lives.  You still believe that if the United Nations Security Council had not passed that resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, Gadhafi's forces would have gone into Benghazi and killed hundreds of thousands of people?  Is that what you're saying, Ambassador?

RICE:  Absolutely, Wolf.  There's no question about it.

Had the Security Council not acted, had the United States and NATO not acted, Gadhafi would have been able to do and would have done what he pledged to do, which is to go house to house in Benghazi and kill his people like rats.  That's his language.  In fact, language he's continued to use over the last several days.

But the fact that the Security Council acted, the United States led, that NATO was very much engaged, and we were able to, within days, hand off leadership of the operation to NATO, ensured that those that were at immediate risk - and we mean hours, 24, 48 hours from being overrun - in the city of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, were saved.  And time was created and space created as Gadhafi's forces were halted in their tracks for the opposition to build its capacity, to protect itself, and to advance the Libyan people's desire for a stable, democratic future free of the dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.

BLITZER:  Ambassador Rice, at what point does the United States government unfreeze the $33 billion or $35 billion in Libyan assets being held here in the United States?

RICE:  Well, Wolf, since the United States recognized the Transitional National Council as the interim - as an authority pending the establishment of a transitional interim government, we have been working through the legal and diplomatic hurdles to begin the process of unfreezing the assets.  I'm very much involved in that, in our efforts in New York, and I can tell you that it's a complicated process and it's been somewhat time-consuming.  But we're continuing to work on it, and I'm confident that we're getting close to the stage where we'll be able to release from the U.S. side the first tranche of assets and more thereafter.

BLITZER:  And do you want to be precise?  When do you think that first portion might be released?  Are we talking within days?

RICE:  I hope within days, Wolf, yes.

BLITZER:  And there's a partner on the other side that's qualified, responsible, reliable, that can take these billions of dollars and use it to help the Libyan people?

RICE:  Yes.  And, in fact, we have put forward an initial tranche of assets that we anticipate unfreezing as a first stage, some of which will go directly to humanitarian organizations, some of which would go to the TNC, some of which would help meet the needs of fuel for humanitarian and civilian purposes.

So it's a broad-based process.  And we have been very careful in the course of working through this procedure to put in place safeguards so that we can be confident and the TNC can be confident that the assets will be used for the purposes they were intended.

BLITZER:  One final question, Ambassador, before I let you go.  I know you have a lot of work to do.

If you're President Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus, watching what's happening to Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli right now, what message should you learn from this?

RICE:  He should take a very clear message from what has happened in Libya, which is that you cannot use force against your own people and expect your people to take it lying down.  The Libyan people have built this opposition from scratch.  They have made enormous gains.  And as a consequence, we are seeing the very last hours or days of the Gadhafi regime.

In Syria, as President Obama has said, Assad had a choice.  He could lead a transition that was credible and peaceful, or he could get out of the way.  He has not led such a transition, and we have been very clear that it's time for him to get out of the way.  But the people of Syria will chart their own course.

We are applying diplomatic and economic pressure.  The Syrian people have been very clear they don't want any foreign military intervention.

But we will clamp down as hard as we can diplomatically and economically, through sanctions that we've already imposed on a national basis.  We are beginning the discussion in the Security Council of sanctions that can be imposed on a global basis, and I think Assad needs to know that he is on a dangerous and immoral course that will have significant consequences for his leadership.

BLITZER:  Ambassador Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

RICE:  Good to be with you, Wolf.  Thank you.

BLITZER:  Thank you, and good luck to you.  Good luck to the entire region, North Africa and the Middle East.

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