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US recognition of Libya rebels could bring more funds

At an Istanbul meeting, Secretary of State Clinton announced US recognition for Libya's rebels and pledged more aid to help them oust Muammar Qaddafi.

By Staff writer / July 15, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sits alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague during the fourth Libya contact group in Istanbul on Friday, July 15. Around 15 top diplomats including Clinton are to meet in Istanbul to discuss a political solution to the conflict in Libya while coordinating aid for the rebels.

Saul Loeb/AP

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Istanbul

(This story was updated after posting to include a Benghazi-based analyst's views and more comment from the Libya contact group.)

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After months of conflict and NATO airstrikes in Libya, the United States on Friday recognized the opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC) as the “legitimate governing authority” in Libya as it continues its NATO-backed bid to remove Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Meeting for the fourth time to chart the future of a “post-Qaddafi era,” the 30-member Libya contact group in Istanbul on Friday pledged more money, bestowed more legitimacy, and promised more NATO airstrikes to help increasingly organized opposition forces conclude an operation that has dragged on far longer than anticipated and still has no end in sight.

Britain pledged four more jet fighters, but the belated US recognition may do more to assist the cash- and fuel-starved opposition with freeing up frozen funds and receiving military assistance.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “increasingly the people of Libya are looking past Qaddafi,” because “they know, as we all know, that it is no longer a question of whether Qaddafi will leave power, but when." The TNC has become the “appropriate interlocutor in dealing with Libya’s present and addressing Libya’s future,” said Mrs. Clinton.

US, NATO and contact group action would continue “to bring about Qaddafi’s departure, a ceasefire, and a political transition,” added Clinton. The TNC
had offered “important assurances today” to pursue democratic reform and transparency.

Adhering to those assurances may not be easy, judging by issues that have recently dogged the TNC.

“Life’s too comfortable in Benghazi. No real leadership. And too much suspicion and posturing by the individuals in and around the Council,” says one European analyst in Benghazi who asked not to be named. The result is an “astonishing lack of urgency from Benghazi in the last few weeks.”

The renewed statements of support from the contact group – and pledges of several hundred million more dollars for the opposition – came as rebel forces fighting on both eastern and western fronts have found it difficult to solidify military advances.

Stalled advance?

A tank-led advance on the oil refinery town of Brega that began late Thursday – the first such advance attempted on that front in two months, ordered from the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi – was facing stiff resistance by pro-Qaddafi forces midday Friday. Tripoli claimed to have repulsed the attack.

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