Obama: U.S. recognizes Syria’s main rebel group

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Officials said the U.S. evolution in recognizing Syria’s opposition would closely mirror the process the administration took last year in Libya with its opposition.

“I would remind you of how this went in the Libya context where we were able to take progressive steps as the Libyan opposition themselves took steps to work with them, and to advance the way we dealt with them politically,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.

In that case, Libya’s National Transitional Council moved from being “a” legitimate representative to “the” legitimate representative of the Libyan people. While the revolution was still going on, the council then opened an office in Washington, and the administration sent the late Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi, Libya, as an envoy in return. The move also opened the door for Libya’s new leaders to access billions of dollars in assets frozen in U.S. banks that had belonged to the Gadhafi regime.

The move could allow the Syrian opposition to set up a liaison office in Washington with a de facto ambassador.

It is unclear, however, given the level of violence in Syria and the potential threat of chemical weapons, if the U.S. would soon send a representative to rebel-controlled areas of the country.

The conflict started 20 months ago as an uprising against Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly morphed into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a bloody crackdown by the government. According to activists, at least 40,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Kuwait City and AP writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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