US, allies formally recognize Libya rebels
Opposition now one step closer to Khadafy’s assets
ISTANBUL - The United States granted Libyan rebel leaders full diplomatic recognition as the governing authority of Libya yesterday, after five months of fighting to oust longtime ruler Moammar Khadafy.
The decision at a meeting here of more than 30 Western and Arab nations is the first step in giving the rebels access to Libya’s frozen US assets, worth more than $30 billion.
“I am announcing today that, until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority for Libya,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, referring to the rebels’ Transitional National Council, prompting other ministers to break out in applause.
The announcement was accompanied by an agreement among all nations at the meeting to recognize the rebel council.
Hours later, outside the meeting hall, ministers sent from the Libyan rebel council reacted to their long-sought diplomatic status with exuberance but also a mixture of weariness and frustration. Ali Tarhouni, the rebel’s minister of finance and oil, vented that despite the international recognition they received yesterday, it ultimately came with no immediate infusion of funds, desperately needed now by the cash-strapped rebels.
“All it has brought is more pledges for money,’’ he said. “If we had as much money as we have had pledges these past few months, we would have no problems.’’
Beside him, the rebel’s minister of finance, Mahmoud Shammam, added that while the opposition needs money, weapons are needed even more, which most Western powers have refused to supply, to be able to fight Khadafy. And the new money in frozen assets that may come from diplomatic recognition may not be allowed to go toward weapons.
Thus far, Kuwait and Qatar have given roughly $100 million to the rebels. France renewed its previous pledge yesterday to unfreeze $250 million in assets in the coming weeks for the rebels, and Italy pledged to unfreeze $100 million.
The United States did not pledge any specific amount, and it may not come for a little while.
The United States could tell banks to transfer frozen assets directly to the TNC, but that may run into UN sanctions still in place. An alternative being considered by US officials and Libyan rebels is using those assets as collateral for loans that rebels could then use as funding.
The Obama administration’s announcement in Turkey drew immediate criticism from Representative Michael Turner, Republican of Ohio, among most active Republicans on Libya. “This is incredibly premature,’’ Turner said, citing worries about the loyalty of rebels to the United States.