- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2011

ROME — The United States is trying to free up part of $30 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets so it can better support opponents of Moammar Gadhafi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a conference Thursday on Libya.

Twenty-two nations and international organizations met in Rome to figure out how to help the Libyan rebels, who say they need up to $3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other basic supplies.

Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration, working with Congress, wants “to tap some portion of those assets owned by Gadhafi and the Libyan government in the United States, so we can make those funds available to help the Libyan people.”

The United States already has pledged $53 million in humanitarian aid and authorized up to $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the rebels, including medical supplies, boots, tents, rations and protective gear. The first shipment is due to arrive soon in the western, rebel-held city of Benghazi.

“We have made it abundantly clear that the best way to protect civilians is for Gadhafi to cease his ruthless, brutal attack on civilians from the west to the east, to withdraw from the cities that he is sieging and attacking and to leave power,” Mrs. Clinton said. “This is the outcome we are seeking.”

The Rome conference agreed to establish an internationally monitored fund that the rebels can use to provide basic supplies such as food and medicine.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, co-host of the Contact Group conference, said nations already have pledged $250 million in humanitarian aid.

It will be “an international fund in which nations can make their contributions in a transparent way,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. Britain has provided $21.5 million.

Mahmoud Jibril, head of the rebels’ executive body, welcomed the financial pledges.

“We are more than satisfied,” he told reporters.

Mr. Jibril said he briefed the conference for the first time on a “road map” for the future of Libya, including writing a constitution and calling parliamentary elections.

The conference also focused on isolating Col. Gadhafi’s regime, which has launched a relentless military assault against dissidents.

Since the uprising against the authoritarian leader broke out in mid-February, the two sides have largely been locked in a stalemate.

An initial U.S.-led bombing campaign, now commanded by NATO, launched in mid-March has kept Col. Gadhafi’s forces from advancing to the rebel-held east, but it has failed to give the rebels a clear battlefield advantage.

Mrs. Clinton said the world must keep isolating the Gadhafi regime, including imposing travel bans on top officials, suspending Libyan embassies and sending envoys to work with the opposition’s Transitional National Council.

“Isolating Gadhafi means pulling the plug on his propaganda and incitements to violence,” she said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he expected NATO’s military campaign to last “months.”

He insisted that the Rome meeting showed “the determination of the coalition to maintain all means of pressure to get the departure of Gadhafi, military pressure but also sanctions and other means of pressure.”

NATO’s campaign has reduced Col. Gadhafi’s forces by 40 percent, Mr. Frattini said. Italy, France and the conference co-host, Qatar, have given diplomatic recognition to the rebels, who are based in Benghazi.

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