Continued from page 2

While there are pockets in Libya that are conducive to al Qaeda, the militants are mostly local jihadists, not global terrorists, Mr. Wehrey said.

“I wouldn’t call the country a base of al Qaeda just as yet,” he said.

In Libya’s east, the rebel cause has gradually gained momentum fueled by long-running grievances against the government in Tripoli.

Benghazi was the birthplace of the unrest that eventually toppled Gadhafi. Security in the city has deteriorated to the point where assassinations and bomb explosions are routine.

Some analysts say the issue of federalism could have serious consequences for Libya.

“I don’t believe that terrorism, tribalism, ethnic conflict, criminality or even disputes over the black market networks pose any kind of existential threat to the Libyan state, but this whole debate over federalism, if it is mishandled, does,” Mr. Lawrence said.

U.S. pulls back

After the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, the Obama administration reduced its footprint in Libya.

The U.S. currently has a diplomatic presence in Tripoli but none in Benghazi.

“The Benghazi conspiracies and investigations have been an unfortunate distraction,” said Mr. Katulis, “and have cast a negative shadow on the U.S. willingness to do more.

“But the biggest factor is that other priorities have come up for the U.S. — Iran, Syria and now the crisis in the Crimean Peninsula,” he added.

The diplomatic pullback has prompted complaints from European officials that the U.S. is not engaged enough in the developing crisis in Libya.

The State Department official said the scaled-back presence was dictated by security concerns in Libya.

U.S. Ambassador Deborah K. Jones is assisted by a small support staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

“Are they going to every single area of the country? No,” said the State Department official. “But are they engaged with the Libyan government? Definitely.”