The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday froze at least $30 billion in Libyan government assets that are in the United States, administration officials said.
"This is the largest blocking under any sanctions program ever," David Cohen, the department's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters.
The move comes as U.S. and European governments tighten sanctions against the government of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The freeze covers assets tied to the Libyan government, its central bank and its sovereign wealth investment fund. Administration officials said they couldn't yet disentangle which assets were tied specifically to Qadaffi and his allies.
It's not clear whether the U.S. freeze, and similiar actions by European authorities, will have any effect on Qaddafi. But administration officials said it is the biggest block on assets the government has ever imposed. Since World War II, they said, the government froze $12 billion belonging to the Iranian government and another $2.8 belonging to Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
At the Pentagon, a spokesman said the military is weighing options for responding to the crisis unfolding in Libya and has repositioned some naval and air forces in the region. U.S. humanitarian assistance teams were also dispatched to Libya's borders.
"We have planners working and various contingency plans, and I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made," Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan told reporters, adding that “those forces can be used in any number of ways... repositioning provides that flexibility ... so they can be used if needed.”
Lapan declined to give details about repositioned assets or the nature of their mission. "We're still in that planning and preparing mode should we be called upon to do any of those types of missions, whether humanitarian and otherwise," he said. "No decisions have been made yet.”
Officials from the White House, State Department, and Pentagon held talks with European and NATO counterparts on Sunday about how to proceed in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, The New York Times reported, though Lapan said today no decision had been made yet.
Lapan said the U.S. has military assets in the Mediterranean region but did not elaborate. ABC News cited U.S. officials as saying that the USS Enterprise had reentered the Red Sea after assisting with the military mission to thwart the pirate attack on the Quest, a small yacht that was captured by Somali pirates while en route to Oman. The pirates killed four Americans on board the Quest last Tuesday.
U.S. forces took the yacht and some of the captured pirates on board to Djibouti, ABC reported, before the Enterprise reentered the Red Sea late last week. The Enterprise is now awaiting orders and is potentially positioned to carry out several missions including the enforcement of the no-fly zone, or a humanitarian mission, according to ABC.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the U.S. is also sending assistance teams to Libya's borders to help refugees as part of an “effective, robust response” to the violence in Libya," she said in Geneva.
The U.S. Agency for International Development set aside an additional $10 million in emergency assistance to support the efforts of organizations on the ground already to meet the most urgent needs of Libyans and others who are guest workers or migrants, Clinton said. “We are also immediately dispatching two expert humanitarian teams to Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt to assist with the displaced people who are fleeing the violence,” she said.
The State Department’s “immediate attention is focused on the need to keep medical supplies in the pipelines well-stocked and intact,” the department said in a release. USAID is prepared to dispatch food stocks to Libya if necessary, the release said.
Clinton said that the U.S. "will continue to explore all possible options for action -- as we have said, nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens.’’
Meanwhile, Qaddafi continues to insist he will not step down.
Qaddafi denied there were demonstrations against him in Tripoli. "My people love me. They would die for me," Qaddafi told ABC's Christiane Amanpour, who said that Qaddafi "laughed" when asked if he would step down. Qaddafi invited the United Nations to do a "fact-finding mission" in Libya, questioning the slew of sanctions approved by the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council this weekend. The United States has also removed all U.S. Embassy personnel from the country, suspended U.S.-Libya military cooperation, and frozen the sale of spare military parts to the country.
The U.S. was formally informed by the Libyan government this morning that the country no longer recognizes its ambassador Ali Aujali. “He no longer represents Libya’s interests in the United States,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “Now there is a chargé d’affaires at the Embassy who has been authorized by the Government of Libya to represent its interest…. We may… still have conversations with Mr. Aujali, but it will be in a different capacity.”
Aujali called for Qaddafi to step down last week, saying that the “regime is shaking” and that “this is the time to get rid of him.” He removed Qaddafi’s flag from his home on Friday. The Libyan embassy in Washington announced that on Tuesday, it will raise the flag of the pre-Qaddafi era.