The Obama administration said it will permit Libyan rebels to draw on the $33 billion in Libyan assets frozen by U.S., as allied nations opposing Muammar Qaddafi looked for further measures to force him from power.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement at a meeting in Rome yesterday of foreign ministers from NATO and allied nations. The Contact Group on Libya vowed to “intensify the pressure” on the Qaddafi regime, which has continued its attacks on civilian areas such as Misrata in defiance of the UN Security Council and major Western powers.
The Obama administration seeks to make “some portion of the assets” in the U.S. owned by Qaddafi and the Libyan government available “to help the Libyan people,” Clinton said. The administration is considering providing more than $150 million from the frozen assets in the near term, according to a State Department official authorized to brief reporters on condition that his name not be used.
In a statement, the contact group said it agreed on a separate finance mechanism for donors to aid the Transitional National Council, the Libyan rebel authority in the eastern city of Benghazi. The statement said Kuwait gave $180 million to the fund. It didn’t mention any other donations.
Qaddafi’s forces continued to bombard rebel-held cities as the foreign ministers met. Allies including Qatar took part in the Rome meeting as did representatives of the Libyan opposition council.
The insurgency in Libya, which has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, has helped push up oil prices this year. Oil fell below $100 a barrel in New York yesterday in the biggest one-day decline in since April 20, 2009, reflecting expectations that slowing economic growth will curtail oil demand. Crude oil for June delivery fell $9.44, or 8.6 percent, to settle at $99.80 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures have fallen 12 percent over the past four days.
The rebels “urgently need” between $2 billion and $3 billion for food, salaries, gasoline, and other uses, Mahmoud Shamman, a council spokesman, said in an interview in Rome.
The contact group said Qaddafi, his family and regime members “have lost all legitimacy” and that the allies favor “the beginning, as soon as possible, of a political transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people.”
‘Intensity the Pressure’
The contact group called for stepping up military actions without publicly acknowledging that some military analysts and officials, such as U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have described the conflict as settling into a stalemate that leaves Qaddafi in control of part of Libya.
“Time is running out” for the Qaddafi regime, the contact group said in its statement. “We will intensify the pressure on the regime politically, militarily and economically” until it complies with the demands of the UN Security Council to stop attacks on civilians and to permit aid deliveries.
“As long as Qaddafi continues to attack his citizens, we will continue to strike his forces and the assets, facilities and command centers across Libya that are supporting his operations,” Clinton said in remarks to other ministers.
Clinton also announced that the U.S. will remove legal barriers to make it easier for oil sales to benefit the council.
The Treasury Department recently took steps to remove barriers under U.S. law for oil-related transactions that benefit the Transitional Council. Kuwait announced that it would assist and Clinton called on other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help.
Clinton met with a senior opposition official, Mahmoud Jibril, who raised the issue of U.S. recognition of the rebels’ interim government, according to a second administration official who briefed reporters. She responded that the U.S. was giving the opposition substantial support regardless of the question of official recognition as Libya’s legitimate government.
Clinton said the U.S. will provide $53 million toward the United Nations target of raising $310 million for Libyan relief. “They are still a long way from that goal,” Clinton said. She noted that the U.S. is providing another $13 million in other relief support for Libya and urged more countries to contribute.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged the allies May 4 to channel money to Libya’s opposition.
“Funding is a political move to foster regime change and less about protecting Libyan civilians,” Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former German Defense Ministry analyst, said in a phone interview. “Rasmussen wants to find which countries subscribe to regime change and how to pay for it.”
The insurgency against Qaddafi’s four-decade rule of Libya began in February and allied forces have been making air strikes since March.
In the contact group meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for a cease-fire within seven days, according to Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.
Qaddafi loyalists pounded the rebel-held western port of Misrata May 4, endangering an aid ship which delivered supplies and picked up stranded migrant workers and wounded Libyans.
A British mine-clearing vessel, HMS Brocklesby, destroyed a mine containing 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of high explosives laid by pro-Qaddafi forces at the entrance to Misrata’s harbor, the Ministry of Defense in London said in an e-mailed statement.
British jets attacked two multiple rocket launchers near Sirte on May 3 and a pair of surface-to-air missile launchers near Tripoli May 4, the ministry said in a separate e-mailed statement. NATO said in an e-mailed statement its jets flew 49 strike missions on May 4, with targets around Misrata including three tanks, two mobile rocket launchers and three armored vehicles.
The U.S. Treasury Department said about $33 billion of frozen Libyan state assets were held in the U.S. at the end of March. The Treasury yesterday said in a statement that the asset freeze will be extended to include three companies owned by the Libyan government. The companies are Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corp., the state broadcasting company; Dalia Advisory Ltd., a London-based investment firm; and Lafico Algeria Holdings, an Algeria-based unit of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co.