Leaked cable: John McCain pushed to arm Qadhafi
In a meeting, McCain said the U.S. wanted to provide Libya with weapons for 'security.' | AP Photo Close
A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable shows that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain promised to help Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi obtain U.S. military hardware in 2009.
The cable, released by the open information group WikiLeaks, reveals the pledge came at meeting that was attended by other prominent members of Congress, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
In the meeting, Muatassim Qadhafi, the Libyan leader’s fifth son and national security adviser, requested U.S. assistance in obtaining military supplies, both lethal and non-lethal.
The cable indicates that McCain was the dominant voice among the congressional delegation in a push for military hardware for Qadhafi.
“Sen. McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its … security,” according to the cable.
McCain said that he understood the need for Libya to upgrade its existing ranks of C-130 Hercules aircraft. Libya had bought eight of the military cargo aircraft in the 1970s, but as bilateral relationships with the United States deteriorated, a ban of arms sales prevented the aircraft from being moved to North Africa. McCain pledged to do what he could to move the issue forward in Congress.
McCain stressed that Libya needed to fulfill its commitments of giving up its weapons of mass destruction in order for bilateral engagement to go forward.
Brian Rogers, communications director for McCain, said in a statement to POLITICO that the Arizona Republican never made any promises to Libya and never acted to help the Qadhafi regime.
“At no point did Senator McCain ever promise to help the Qaddafi regime secure U.S. military assistance. Upon the his return to Washington, there were no follow-up discussions and no action taken by Senator McCain or his staff to provide the Qaddafi regime with C-130s or any other military assistance,” said Rogers. “There has been no greater champion than Senator McCain for Libya’s democratic revolution and for the toppling of the brutal Qaddafi regime.”
Rogers also justified what McCain said in the diplomatic note by noting that the meeting came “at a time when Muammar Qaddafi was taking positive steps to give up his nuclear weapons programs and related materials and to renounce terrorism.”
Other details in the leaked diplomatic cable may embarrass McCain given the fall of the Qadhafi regime.
“He [McCain] described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, staff, and war colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation,” says the leaked document.
“The senators expressed appreciation for Libya’s counterterrorism cooperation in the region,” adds the document.
McCain struck a distinctly different tone this week, telling Fox’s Greta van Susteren that “he [Muammar Qadhafi] has the blood of Americans on his hands as a result of Pan Am 103. He is a person who over time would — if he were able to succeed — would clearly train terrorists and export terrorism.”
Graham was the other major voice in the meeting, agreeing with McCain that the C-130 issue needed to be resolved. However, in a May interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Graham said he never acted to provide any support to Libya. “We never did anything,” Graham said. “I didn’t feel comfortable pushing the Pentagon to provide military aircraft to Libya. None of us did.”
At the time, all parties involved seemed pleasantly surprised by the then-relatively robust U.S.-Libya bilateral relationship.
“We never would have guessed 10 years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son” of Muammar Qadhafi, remarked Lieberman, according to the document. Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.
Muammar Qadhafi attended the meeting, but remained largely silent. “The elder Qadhafi made a point of expressing his satisfaction with the improved U.S relationship and his hope that the relationship would continue to flourish,” according to the leaked cable.