By David Gollust
The United States joined 30 other countries Friday in formally recognizing Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council as the “legitimate governing authority.” The decision announced at a meeting of the international Libya Contact Group in Turkey, will increase pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and allow the transfer of impounded Libyan funds to the rebels.
The United States had previously only referred to the opposition TNC as Libya’s “legitimate interlocutor.”
It made the decision to join other contact group members in full political recognition after the council’s leader, Mahmoud Jibril, presented a detailed plan here for a transition to an inclusive democracy once Mr. Gadhafi yields to international pressure to step aside.
U.S. officials said the meeting broke into spontaneous applause when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the move, which could eventually free billions of dollars in Libyan money frozen in U.S. banks for the financially hard-pressed TNC.
Clinton told reporters the decision was based on the progress the TNC has made in laying groundwork for a transition to a “unified, democratic Libya” which protects the rights of all its citizens including women and minority groups.
“Until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority for Libya and we will deal with it on that basis,” said Clinton. “In contrast, the United States views the Gadhafi regime as no longer having legitimate authority in Libya.”
Senior administration officials said nearly $32 billion in frozen Libyan assets will remain in U.S. banks until legal issues can be ironed out.
They said one option would be to let the TNC borrow against the sum until direct transfers can be authorized by, among others, the United Nations sanctions committee.
At a Contact Group plenary session, Turkish Foreign Minister and conference chairman Ahmet Davutoglu said the TNC’s financial needs are acute.
“Above all the elevation of the TNC’s urgent need for cash is of primary importance as we approach the holy month of Ramadan,” he said. “In this respect, I would like to encourage all our partners in the Contact Group to consider opening credit lines to the TNC, amounting to a certain percentage of the Libyan frozen assets in their country. As such, Turkey has already opened a credit line of $200 million to the TNC.
France and Italy, among the early countries to accord the TNC full recognition, also announced new financial pledges.
Clinton told the conference the international community needs to “plan in earnest” for Libya’s future after Mr. Gadhafi. She told reporters the TNC’s road map for a new democratic Libya was convincing, but that the process will not be easy.
“We believe them,” she said. “We believe that’s what they intend to do. We are well aware of how difficult and challenging the road ahead them is. We are a long way from the kind of implementation that we all seek. We can watch what’s happening in their neighbors, which had strong institutions. And here we have a country in Libya where it was part of Colonel Gadhafi’s modus operandi to have no institutions.”
Senior officials said the United States will continue to be represented in the TNC stronghold of Benghazi by senior U.S. diplomat Chris Stevens and there will be no immediate move to set up a formal American mission there. The Obama administration some time ago halted contacts with Libya’s Washington embassy and expelled pro-Gadhafi diplomats.