National Journal caught up with Ali Suleiman Aujali, who quit his job as Muammar el-Qaddafi’s ambassador to Washington in February. Months after the U.S. ordered the Libyan Embassy closed, the mission at the Watergate complex officially reopens on Wednesday under Aujali, who was just accredited as the rebels' ambassador. Edited excerpts of the interview with Aujali follow.
NJ: How does it feel to go back to the Libyan Embassy – not as Qaddafi’s diplomat, but as the ambassador of the rebel council?
Aujali: It is a big difference. I was representing the Libyan people under a dictator’s regime; now I’m representing the Libyan people under a democratic government.
NJ: If the rebels succeed in overthrowing Qaddafi, do you think diplomatic relations will improve with other countries around the world?
Aujali: For the last 40 years, the Libyan diplomats were carrying the most difficult post in the world. Qaddafi never let us establish real relations with countries—his statements, actions, and involvement in many international crises made things complicated. [Now], we will have very transparent relations, we will never forget the countries who stand by us. And we will stand by people who stood by us. I am sure my job now will be more pleasant – but it needs more help to support Libya’s democratic institutions, to help us to rebuild our country that has been destroyed by Qaddafi more than anyone else.
NJ: Are you any closer to receiving some of the $34 billion in Qaddafi-linked assets the U.S. froze in February?
Aujali: We have very positive discussions with the State Department and communication also with the Treasury Department. I’m very hopeful that sooner rather than later the TNC [Transitional National Council] will have access to the frozen money. I really have no idea how much is going to be unfrozen. Time is a very important factor now because we really need it for the military … and at the end of the month in Ramadan, people usually buy their children new clothes. This country is in a war, and you need to feed the Libyans, treat their wounds, and keep your fighters protected.
NJ: You’ll now have access to the Libyan Embassy’s frozen account – which amounts to about $13 million. What is a key priority for this money?
Aujali: There are about 170 to 200 Libyan students on their own private accounts in the U.S. [relying] on their family support –they are desperate for help because now they have no money from their families. The first thing I am going to do now [is] help the students with support.
NJ: How has the rebels’ fight been affected by the loss of Gen. Abdel Fatah Younis, the military commander who was killed under unclear circumstances?
Aujali: It is not really fair to make any comments until the investigation has come to the conclusion…. The young people—15, 14, 13 [years old]—they are on the front. The people are determined. We lost a great leader, this is true. But this doesn’t mean this is a setback for us. The Libyan people are not giving up and Gen. Younis’ spirit is behind them and with them.
NJ: What can you tell me about the rebels’ plans for the future in a post-Qaddafi era?
Aujali: After Qaddafi’s regime collapses and he leaves the country, the rebels are ready to take over – and they [know they] have to deal with Qaddafi’s regime and officials.... We will not act like what Qaddafi is doing now with his own people. Human rights will be observed everywhere. We will have a transition body to take over Libya. They’re now working on drafting the constitution. They will have an election for the constitution, the government. This process will not take more than 20 months. We will need [help] from the United Nations … nongovernmental organizations from other countries. [Democracy] is an experience that the Libyan people have not gone through for the last 42 years.