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US to Release $1.5 Billion to Libyan Opposition

The United States soon will release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the country's opposition-run Transitional National Council, or TNC. U.S. officials said Thursday that the money is urgently needed to provide fuel, food, clean water and other essential services to the Libyan population.

The move to release the funds was authorized after negotiations in the U.N. Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee, which is made up of all 15 members of the Security Council.

Member South Africa had expressed objections over two of the three $500 million portions of the funds going to the TNC, when it said they had not yet recognized the TNC as the sole, legal representative of the Libyan people.

After negotiations appeared to stall, the United States moved the request out of the consensus-required sanctions committee to the Security Council, where it could override South Africa’s objections with nine votes in favor and no vetoes in a resolution releasing the funds.

But in the end, a resolution was not required when the United States agreed to modify the language in its request in exchange for South Africa’s agreement.

Now, instead of asking that the funds be designated for the Transitional National Council, they will be for the “relevant authorities” in Libya.

U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo welcomed the move.

“The funds will go to the ‘relevant authorities’ in Libya and the ‘relevant authorities’ happen to be the TNC, or the NTC, I guess, if you will. The funds are going specifically to where we had originally intended them to go,” Dicarlo said.

U.S. officials said the money should be in the TNC's hands in a matter of days.

South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu said his country did not want to imply recognition of the TNC prematurely. He told reporters that Pretoria wanted to consult with the African Union, which was meeting in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday.

“My delegation had opportunity to consult at the AU in Addis Ababa and then the green light came that we should go ahead. So the views of the AU have been taken into consideration, at least by my delegation, in coming to this conclusion,” Sangqu said.

Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had close ties to many leaders in the African Union and the group was reluctant to condemn his crackdown as the Arab Spring wave of democratic protests came to Libya. The AU also has criticized NATO airstrikes in Libya intended to protect civilians from Mr. Gadhafi’s military efforts to cling to power.