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December 16, 2011

US Defense Secretary Makes Historic Libya Visit

Panetta in Tripoli to meet with leaders of interim government

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Tripoli for talks with Libya's interim government, making him the first American defense chief to visit the country.

Saturday's brief trip comes one day after the United States lifted most of its economic sanctions against Libya in an effort to ease a financial crisis in the country.

Panetta will meet with Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib and the country's defense minister, Osama al-Juwali.  Panetta previously told reporters that his visit will give him a first-hand look at the situation in post-revolution Libya and allow him to pay tribute to those who helped bring down Gadhafi.

On Friday, the U.S. released more than $30 billion in Libyan government assets Friday, following a similar action by the U.N. Security Council.  The U.N. froze an estimated $150 billion of Libyan assets abroad after the rebellion against former leader Moammar Gadhafi broke out in February.

The White House says it has unlocked all Libyan government and central bank assets within U.S. jurisdiction, but it will keep frozen the assets of the Gadhafi family. The U.S. froze the assets earlier this year as the former Libyan leader moved to crush an uprising against his four-decade rule.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that the U.S. believes these assets will be an "important resource" for Libya during this transitional period.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will pressure the European Union to swiftly release some $10 billion in frozen Libyan assets in Britain.

Libya's transitional government had requested the U.N. Security Council to lift the asset freeze on the Central Bank of Libya and its subsidiary, the Libyan Foreign Bank. None of the council's 15 members objected to Libya's request. The deadline expired Friday night, unfreezing the funds.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.