By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The United States and other countries have recognized Libya’s rebels as the country’s legitimate government in a major blow to the embattled regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the recognition of the rebels’ National Transitional Council as Libya’s governmental authority at a meeting of the Contact Group on Libya held in Istanbul.
“Until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize [the Transitional National Council] as the legitimate governing authority for Libya, and we will deal with it on that basis,” Clinton said.
“In contrast, the United States views the Qaddafi regime as no longer having legitimate authority in Libya.”
The final statement at the end of the group consisting of more than 30 countries added that “the Qaddafi regime no longer has any legitimate authority in Libya.”
The recognition amounts to an important upgrade of the diplomatic status of the Libyan opposition in the world and puts enormous pressure on Qaddafi to step aside.
It will also potentially free up cash that rebel forces urgently need. Washington will be able to fund the opposition with some of the more than $30 billion in Qaddafi-regime assets that are frozen in U.S. banks.
The Libyan leader, however, shows few public signs he is ready to give up power. He told a rally in a town 80 kilometers west of Tripoli that he would “fight to the end” and that “the end of NATO will be in Libya.”
Russia’s presidential envoy to Libya said Qaddafi was far from defeated, with plenty of weapons — like surface-to-surface missiles — to fight much longer.
Quoted by the Russian newspaper “Izvestia”, Mikhail Margelov said: “Qaddafi has not yet used a single surface-to-surface missile, of which he has more than enough. This makes one doubt that the regime is running out of weapons.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, called on alliance members to provide more warplanes to bomb Libyan targets.
He was speaking in The Hague after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said Dutch planes would not now take part in bombing Libya.
Analysts say NATO’s four-month campaign in Libya has put strains on the alliance. France and Italy, especially, have been pushing for a negotiated deal to end the Libyan conflict.
Qaddafi’s government announced on July 14 it would stop cooperating with Italian oil firm Eni, the biggest foreign investor in Libya’s energy sector. Analysts say Eni angered the Qaddafi government by beefing up ties with the rebels and pulling out staff when the rebellion started.
China said it would skip today’s meeting in Istanbul because Beijing said it needed to study the way the Contact Group operated.
China has established ties with the rebels, but opposes the NATO bombing campaign and urges a negotiated settlement.
On the ground, Libya’s government spokesman says that a coordinated land, sea, and air attack by rebels and NATO forces against the eastern oil city of Brega was repulsed on July 14.
There was no comment from NATO or the rebels.