The U.S. has been increasing its contacts with the Libyan opposition, which is “off to a good start,” the U.S. ambassador to Libya said.
The Libyan rebel council trying to oust Muammar Qaddafi has “moved in a positive direction” as it has begun to form a government, said ambassador Gene Cretz, speaking to reporters in Washington at the State Department.
Cretz said he and his embassy team, which moved from Tripoli to Washington, are “now in touch with them constantly,” he said.
The ambassador said the U.S. still needs to learn more about the rebels. “I don’t think we’re at a point where we can make a judgment that this is a 100 percent kosher, so to speak, group,” he said.
The U.S. may consider formally recognizing the rebel council once some legal issues are settled, said Cretz, who was based in Tripoli until December 2010. Cretz left the country after the release by WikiLeaks of diplomatic cables in which Qaddafi was described as a “mercurial” and “notoriously erratic” and a “hypochondriac.”
Cretz today described the Libyan leader as a master tactician and “the architect of his own gilded cage.”
The ambassador said U.S. is ready to help the opposition in multiple ways, from political training and legal advice to humanitarian aid. He wouldn’t say whether the U.S. was helping to arm the opposition.
“Based on the experience that we’ve had so far, they are off to a good start in word and deed and do not seem to be, at least in the statements and the actions that they’ve taken, in any way incompatible with the kind of ideals that we would be advocating,” Cretz said.
The U.S. is planning for various scenarios that might emerge from Libya’s civil war, Cretz said. The U.S. may offer a new government political training, legal advice and help from “the full array of the different programs and the different departments that we have available throughout the U.S. government to them, should they request that.”
Cretz said he has also had “limited contact” with representatives of the Qaddafi regime, which has reached out to “mediators” including Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman.
Cretz called Qaddafi’s allies “with the sole purpose” of making sure they understood the message in President Barack Obama’s March 18 remarks, he said. In that speech, Obama warned there would be consequences for Qaddafi and his circle for violence and humanitarian abuses.
It was “a kind of a ‘look not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee,’ kind of warning,” designed to make sure the Qaddafi regime understood “what was at stake,” Cretz said.