|After the meeting, Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil said Libya’s opposition council road map starts with local elections.|
US wants to aid rebels with seized cash
Allies discuss options during Rome meeting
ROME — The United States announced yesterday that it will try to release some of the more than $30 billion in assets seized from Libya’s leader, Moammar Khadafy, as international officials said they would create a fund to give money directly to the Libyan rebels.
And for the first time, Qatar put the question of supplying arms to the rebels on the table, but no agreement was reached.
The developments came yesterday at a meeting in Rome that appeared to bolster the NATO-led military intervention. Hosted by Italy and Qatar, it brought together officials from two dozen NATO nations, Arab countries, and international organizations.
The meeting was aimed at intensifying diplomatic and financial pressure on Khadafy’s government. The military operation, which to critics seems stalled, has largely succeeded in its stated mission of stopping the advance of his forces but has not done enough to stop indiscriminate shelling in cities like Misurata and Zintan or force Khadafy to step down.
“We shall not leave a divided and insecure Libya as a playground for Khadafy’s mercenaries,’’ said Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini. “Our message must be that we shall keep up the pressure, using all legitimate means and with the aim also of convincing Khadafy’s entourage to join the many who have already defected.’’
Above all, the international officials said they would create a special fund of hundreds of millions of dollars to allow humanitarian and other financial assistance to flow into rebel-controlled parts of Libya despite United Nations sanctions that apply to Khadafy’s government.
Libya’s opposition has asked for billions of dollars’ worth of help, including cash to pay salaries and provide services in the parts of the country under the control of the rebels, led by a group called the Transitional National Council. Frattini acknowledged that so far nations had provided only a fraction of that.
But yesterday, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, said that Qatar would put $400 million to $500 million into the fund, and that Kuwait had put in $180 million. “I don’t think we have shortage of money, we had shortage of mechanism,’’ Thani said. “Now, we agreed on the mechanism, that’s what was important.’’
Frattini and Thani said the fund would be managed by a five-member steering board composed of three Libyans chosen by the Transitional National Council; a representative of Qatar; and a representative of Italy or France on a six-month rotating basis.
The leader of Libya’s opposition council, Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, attended the meeting in Rome and met with foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We are more than content and satisfied with the results,’’ he said after the meeting. He said the opposition council presented a road map for Libya, starting with local elections.
The meeting appeared to represent a turning point in the debate over arming rebels, which hinges on the interpretation of a UN resolution allowing for the self-defense of the Libyan people.
“A few weeks ago, nobody was talking about defending the Libyans or giving the means to defend themselves, but now I think that it’s more accepted,’’ Thani said. “Some of the countries already started this, and we support this idea that we let the Libyan people defend themselves on the ground because we cannot help them from the air.’’
It is widely believed that Qatar has already supplied the rebels in eastern Libya with rifles and other light arms.
The difficulty in providing concrete support outside of NATO airpower reflects the diplomatic and legal complications and confusion that have dogged the international intervention in Libya since it began with a barrage of missile strikes March 18.
“Clearly on our agenda is looking for the most effective way to deliver financial assets and other means of supporting and helping’’ the loosely organized political and military forces fighting Khadafy’s forces, Clinton said.
“The best way to protect civilians is for Khadafy to cease his ruthless, brutal attacks on the cities, to withdraw from the cities that he is attacking and leave power,’’ she added.