World's Diplomats Prepare For Post-Gadhafi Libya
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Now that the end may actually be in sight for the Gadhafi regime, the U.S. and European Union are trying to free up billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets, to help the rebel government keep the country running. The State Department wants to unlock up to a billion and half dollars and put the cash into the hands of the interim government. Before that can happen, the U.S. needs the approval of a U.N. sanctions committee.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports international diplomats are holding meetings in Turkey and New York this week, to ramp up efforts to prepare for a new Libya.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman was in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi over the weekend, and is now bouncing around world capitals as he and other diplomats try to come up with ways to help the rebels. Reached by cell phone in Doha, Feltman says everyone is relying on the Transitional National Council.
JEFFREY FELTMAN: People are taking their lead from the Libyans themselves, because the Transitional National Council has made it clear that Libyans are going to be in charge of the post Gadhafi planning. And Libyans are going to be in charge of determining the best path forward. And that's the way it should be. That's what we have talked about since the beginning of this.
KELEMEN: As rebels take over more territory, Feltman says, their financial needs are growing. That's why the initial focus is just getting cash to them, to pay for humanitarian needs and to maintain public utilities.
FELTMAN: You know, they want to be able to pay salaries to Libyan officials across Libya. They want to be able to make sure that the fuel supplies are paid for so the lights don't go off.
KELEMEN: And he says they're not asking for aid from the U.S. or other donors. Feltman says the big bucks will come from all those Gadhafi assets that have been frozen.
The European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, told reporters in Brussels that she's been talking to the Transitional National Council about ways to get that money flowing.
CATHERINE ASHTON: We'd be very happy to help in trying to work out how to do that transparently, openly, and in a way that will get money out to people, to build the infrastructure, to pay people properly, to do all the things that will actually get things moving quickly as possible on the ground. But it is a country that is rich. As you said, it is a country that has the capacity to develop its economy very quickly. So I don't anticipate economic aid as such.
KELEMEN: Diplomats are mainly talking about technical support they can offer. There are many potential pitfalls that lie ahead for the newly-recognized authorities in Libya.
Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, says it won't be easy for them to overcome the Gadhafi era.
ROBERT MALLEY: There's a legacy of 40 years of Gadhafi's rule, which was indeed rule in which there were no legitimate state institutions; in which Gadhafi tried to divide according to tribe, according to region, according to clan. But also, the legacy of six months of an uprising that revealed and exposed fissures within Libyan society, but also within the opposition itself.
KELEMEN: The most recent example, he says, was the still unexplained killing of a top rebel commander. Malley says the Transitional National council will have to manage these tribal and regional tensions. And the U.S., he says, can only help on the margins, encouraging the TNC to be inclusive.
That's what Jeffrey Feltman the assistant secretary of State is trying to do. And he says Libya's transitional rulers understand the risks.
FELTMAN: Libya is a tribal society. They've been living in a political coma for 42 years under a very eccentric leader. There has not been rule of law in the way that we would understand it. There's not been civil society debating political issues through peaceful means, the way that we would understand in a democracy. All this is going to be new. Um, it's going to take time.
KELEMEN: But Feltman says he's been impressed by what Libya's transitional leaders have been saying and doing to prevent looting and reprisal killings in Tripoli. He says when he was in Libya over the weekend, the rebels were sending text messages to residents in the capital, urging them not to burn down buildings or try to take justice into their own hands.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.