- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

Libyan rebel leaders will plead with the White House on Friday to be officially recognized as the government of the embattled nation and for money when they meet face-to-face with top Obama administration officials eager to size up who they’ve been backing.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the meeting does not signal recognition, but the get-together is still freighted with symbolism and inches closer to an official partnership two months after the U.S. began pushing for the ouster of Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The rebel leaders said they are desperately short of funding and need official recognition immediately so they can tap into some $34 billion in Libyan funds that the U.S. government froze.

“We are running out of money. We have a human tragedy in the making right now,” Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, said in Washington on Thursday.

In Libya, meanwhile, NATO airstrikes pounded Col. Gadhafi’s Tripoli compound Thursday, just hours after he appeared on state television. His appearance was the first since a son was killed in another airstrike late last month.

Mr. Jibril will lead the rebel delegation meeting at the White House with Tom Donilon, the president’s top security adviser, and other top officials. President Obama is not scheduled to be in the meeting but could drop by informally — something rebel sources said they expect.

“If I meet President Obama, I would strongly urge him to play a more active role, because there is a lot at stake strategically for the United States if that role is not played properly. There is a lot to be lost,” Mr. Jibril said.

He said the rebels need “a few billion dollars” over the next six months and want access to the Gadhafi regime’s assets to be used as collateral for a line of credit.

He said it was odd that the Obama administration has said the Gadhafi regime has lost its legitimacy, but has not recognized the rebels.

Mr. Carney said the administration does accept the rebels as a voice of at least some of the country.

“We think that the council serves as a credible and legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people, for the opposition,” Mr. Carney told reporters Thursday, adding that White House officials “appreciate the statements that the TNC has made with regards to renouncing violence and al Qaeda and embracing democratic reforms.”

Still, he said, recognizing the TNC as the official government was “premature.”

France, Italy and Qatar are among a handful of countries that officially recognize the rebels, who run an opposition government from Benghazi, in the country’s northeast.

In the U.S., some lawmakers have pushed for recognition, but others have said too little is known about the rebels. Some have raised fears that al Qaeda fighters could be part of the opposition, though U.S. military officials have said they haven’t seen evidence of the terror group’s involvement.

Mr. Jibril told a small group of reporters that the U.S. wants to ensure that the transitional council is qualified to handle the situation, will protect its interests, and does not include any extremist elements.

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