The US on Friday stopped short of granting Libyan rebels full diplomatic recognition, as Mahmud Jibril became the opposition’s first senior official to have talks at the White House.
There was no immediate sign of new US financial help for the cash-strapped rebels, but officials did praise the National Transitional Council (NTC) as a “legitimate” voice for Libyans, as they battle Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
The White House also said it was working with Congress on changes to the law to allow a portion of around US$30 billion in Qaddafii regime assets blocked in the US to be funneled towards the opposition.
Jibril, the second-ranked political leader of the forces trying to topple Qaddafi’s more than 40-year rule, met US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
However, there was no mention of any meeting with US President Barack Obama, despite some speculation that the US leader might informally drop by the talks.
“During the meeting, Mr Donilon stated that the United States views the [NTC] as a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people,” the White House said in a statement.
“In contrast, Mr Donilon stressed that Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy to rule and reiterated president Obama’s call for Qaddafi to leave immediately. The statements said. “Mr Donilon and Dr Jibril discussed how the United States and the coalition can provide additional support to the [NTC]. Mr Donilon applauded the [NTC’s] commitment to an inclusive political transition and a democratic future for Libya.”
Jibril had set the stage for his White House appearance by warning that the opposition NTC was running badly short of money and needed diplomatic recognition as Libya’s rightful rulers.
“We ask the United States to join France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar in recognizing the council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people until free -elections can be held,” he wrote in the New York Times.
“This signal would further isolate the Qaddafi regime in Tripoli, heighten opposition morale and improve access to diplomatic and humanitarian assistance.”
However, the White House, which has said it is up to Libyans and not the outside world to choose their leaders, made clear that full diplomatic recognition would not be forthcoming from the Obama administration, at least for now.
“I don’t anticipate action like that,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
The talks came on a day when NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was at the White House for closed-door discussions with Obama, as the alliance kept up the assault on Qaddafi’s forces in Libya.
The White House said the talks centered on the Libyan operation and also the alliance’s role in Afghanistan, and the eventual transition of security responsibility to Afghan control.
“They agreed the [Libya] operation had saved countless lives and that as long as the Qaddafi regime continues to attack its own population, NATO will maintain its operations to protect civilians,” the White House said.
Reporters were not allowed into the Oval Office talks, but Rasmussen later made several short statements on Twitter.
“Time is up for the Qaddafi regime. Time for the Libyan people to shape a new future, a future free from fear,” he said.
He also said that NATO was fulfilling its UN-mandated mission in Libya, had saved “numerous lives” and stopped the Qaddafi regime’s bid to retake the country by force after widespread uprisings.