There is “potential for a transition” of power in Libya as people close to Muammar el-Qaddafi continue negotiations for the embattled leader to step down, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday. At the same time, the international community has been rallying financial support for Libya's opposition to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.
"There have been numerous and continuing discussions by people close to Qaddafi and we are aware that those discussions include, among other matters, the potential for a transition," Clinton said at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates. Thirty countries are meeting in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways to ratchet up pressure on Qaddafi, who refuses to step down despite NATO's intense bombing campaign on the capital.
While Clinton said she believed Qaddafi’s four-decade rule was quickly coming to an end, she could not predict if these talks would yield concrete results. “There is not any clear way forward yet,” she said.
Clinton announced an additional $26.5 million in aid for victims of the bloody conflict on Thursday, as rebel leaders continue to plead their case for unfreezing the $34 billion in Qaddafi-linked assets the White House seized in February.
To stay afloat over the next few months, the rebels are demanding $3 billion for supplies like gasoline, food, and salaries. During a visit to Washington last month, the interim prime minister of the opposition Transitional National Council out of Benghazi said he expects only "about $180 million" from legislation to unfreeze Qaddafi’s assets. Mahmoud Jibril has repeatedly said that amount was nowhere near enough to stave off a humanitarian crisis in the country.
While the administration is yet to disburse any of the frozen funds, the United States allocated $6.5 million for refugee operations and $25 million in nonlethal assistance to Libya’s opposition to provide items like vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and nonsecure radios. With the new funding, U.S. emergency assistance to Libya will now total nearly $81 million.
A senior State Department official told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Clinton described the rebels’ Transitional National Council as “the legitimate interlocutor" of the Libyan people, Agence-France Presse reported. “[Clinton] used the word 'the' rather than 'a' in describing the TNC as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people through this interim period.”
While Clinton stopped short of officially recognizing the rebel council, the official said Clinton’s language “is our own signal of moving toward that transition of working with the TNC on its own roadmap through this interim period.”
"We have seen a great deal of improvement in the efforts of the TNC. We are obviously doing all we can to assist them in better organizing themselves and building those institutions that any state needs," Clinton said. "But they know and we know there’s a long road ahead. However, we all stand ready to assist them and have begun discussions with them about what more they would need once the transition occurs."
France, one of a few countries that have officially recognized the TNC, promised about $420 million to the rebels’ interim government. This money will come from Qaddafi’s frozen funds currently held in French banks, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday.
Italy pledged up to $580 million in aid to cover daily TNC expenses but not weapons, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Maurizio Massari told CNN. Turkey created a $100 million fund to support the council to help cover the “natural needs of Libya like schools, hospitals, and all those facilities,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday. For its part, Kuwait announced it will provide $180 million in humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, NATO has been ramping up its air campaign in Libya. In the most intense series of strikes to date, NATO warplanes dropped more than 80 bombs on targets in Tripoli in an assault on Tuesday that lasted until Wednesday morning. Parts of Qaddafi’s compound and surrounding military targets were destroyed, but the embattled leader still insisted he would not step down. “We welcome death. Martyrdom is a million times better,” Qaddafi said.
The U.S. has been closely tracking splinters within Qaddafi's regime. "His isolation is deepening. The list of former officials who have now abandoned him is growing," Clinton said. "He’s lost two foreign ministers, an interior minister, ambassadors to the United States and [United Nations], an oil minister, and five generals, and just this week his labor minister defected as well. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has sought arrest warrants for Qadhafi, his son Saif, and the intelligence chief Senussi. And we’ve again begun to see brave protesters taking to the streets of Tripoli."
"We have very good reason to believe that time is on our side, so long as we sustain the pressure," she continued.
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