The United States, along with more than 30 other countries, has decided to formally recognize Libya's main opposition group, the Transitional National Council, as the country's legitimate government, according to news reports.
The administration's plans to formally recognize the rebels, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shared at a conference in Istanbul, means that the U.S. will be able to give the council some of the $34 billion in assets seized in February from Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to reports.
"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," Clinton said, according to a CNN report.
Rebel leaders, who say they are in desperate need of supplies such as gasoline, food, and salaries to continue their fight against Qaddafi, have for months pleaded for access to the Qaddafi-linked assets. The U.S. has so far allocated millions of dollars to refugee operations, and tens of millions more to nonlethal assistance to Libya’s opposition in the form of vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and nonsecure radios.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters at the conference on Libya that "the entire Libyan Contact Group decided to recognize the TNC as the legitimate authority of Libya,” according to the AP. "This means that we will be able to unfreeze a certain amount of money belonging to the Libyan state,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
The U.S. has already called for Qaddafi's ouster and met with the Libyan opposition, but until now Washington had not promised to recognize the council. A senior State Department official en route to Istanbul told reporters that recognition is not something done lightly -- and that it hinges on the U.S. government being extremely confident in the ambitions and structure of the organization to be recognized. “You would want to be sure that you know about the plans of the organization that is to be so recognized," the official said, "and you’d want to make sure that what they had in mind for the country was something that you were prepared to support.”