As members of the Libyan rebels’ interim government continue to press their case for U.S. assistance in their fight against Muammar el-Qaddafi, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he’s trying to unfreeze some of the Libyan leader’s assets.
"I am currently drafting legislation at the request of the State Department and the administration that will authorize the transfer of available cash assets to the [Libyan Transitional National Council] so that they will have available money," Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday. "It will not come from an American taxpayer. It will come from Col. Qaddafi himself."
The full $34 billion in frozen funds will not be made available to the rebels, Kerry said, but he declined to give any concrete estimates for how much money would be unfrozen. Not all of Qaddafi's frozen funds are liquid, he added.
NATO is still bombing Qaddafi’s command and control centers and ground forces, but the situation on the ground remains an uneasy stalemate. The rebels' interim government out of Benghazi has been calling for the U.S. and its Western allies to release the billions in frozen Qaddafi funds, which the rebel fighters say they desperately need for weapons and supplies like gasoline, food, and salaries.
Mahmoud Jibril, a senior official in Libya's opposition government, spoke alongside Kerry to "plead [the] case" for the Qaddafi-linked assets.
"Our dream and our vision is to build a democratic Libya based in constitution, based on human rights, and based on very active civil society organizations. We are here to discuss ways and means to help us have that dream come true,” Jibril said. "We came up with a roadmap... articulating from the fall of the regime until the elections are concluded and the first government is elected in office."
Kerry stressed that the rebel council is looking for "humanitarian assistance, technical assistance" for "after the Qaddafi regime falls."
When the U.S. froze about $34 billion in Libyan assets in February, it was the largest such sanction in American history. So far, the U.S. has not released any of the frozen funds, nor has the U.S. officially recognized the Libyan rebel leadership as the legitimate representatives of the people. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a conference on Libya in Rome that the administration would seek congressional approval to unfreeze some of the Qaddafi-linked funds, though she also did not specify whether the funds could be used for weapons or how long the approval process might take in Congress.
The administration agreed in April to allocate a separate $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. The State Department said it would release another $6.5 million for refugee operations. U.S. emergency assistance to Libya is now at $53.5 million.
A memorandum from the State Department attached to the recent letter authorizing the nonlethal assistance said that the U.S. has deemed the Libyan opposition’s interim government to have "publicly rejected terrorism, embraced the Geneva Conventions, and emphasized its dedication to building democratic institutions to provide for a secular future in which a broad range of Libyan citizens will be able to participate."
"Speaking for myself, I think whatever comes next it is in keeping with the principles and values of our country that we stand with people who fight against oppression and who fight for democratic values and for freedom," Kerry said.