The United States Tuesday, saying the Libyan regime has "nearly collapsed," has called on Muammar Gadhafi to make an "affirmative statement" that he understands his rule is over. The U.S. is pushing for an early release of $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to assist the Transitional National Council in consolidating control.
Officials here say that while gunfire in Tripoli continues and the situation remains somewhat fluid, it is clear that a transition is underway, and the best thing Muammar Gadhafi can do is to surface and formally announce he is stepping aside.
Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the Gadhafi regime has "nearly collapsed" and that the United States stands with the people of Libya and the Transitional National Council, the TNC, "at this historic time."
She said Muammar Gadhafi owes the Libyan people and the world community a clear statement that his four-decades of control of the North African country has come to an end.
"What the Libyan people are looking for, and what the international community is looking for, is a reliable, affirmative statement - not only to the Libyan people and the international community but with his own loyalists - that he understands this is over, that he understands that the days of his leadership are over, so that everybody can move on," said Nuland.
Nuland said the United States is working urgently with the United Nations Sanctions Committee for the early release of as much as $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to help the TNC meet immediate security and humanitarian needs.
The United States alone has impounded some $37 billion in Libyan assets in line with U.N. sanctions resolutions against the Gadhafi government. Nuland said the U.S. preference is to have any release of funds to the TNC authorized by the sanctions committee.
But saying a speedy consensus on the U.N. panel may be hard to obtain, she said the United States would "find ways" to release funds to the Libyan interim administration unilaterally.
Some members of Congress and others have advised a cautious approach in releasing funds to the TNC on grounds the Libyan opposition may include Islamic radicals. But Nuland said U.S. diplomats are in "hourly" contact with the TNC leadership and are confident about their commitment to an inclusive democracy.
"We are heartened and encouraged by the fact that the TNC, in all its public pronouncements, in all of its private commitments to us and other members of the international community, has said that it wants to govern in a transparent, democratic way, that it is prepared to meet all of its international human rights commitments and that it does not want a state led by extremists," added Nuland.
Nuland said it is "premature" to talk about the possible need for an international peacekeeping force in Libya until the TNC has had a chance to evaluate its own needs and makes them know to the United Nations.
She said the calm that has prevailed in TNC-controlled areas, and the absence of revenge attacks on perceived Gadhafi supporters, is encouraging.
Libya's post-conflict needs will be the main focus of a meeting in Istanbul Thursday of the international "contact group" on Libya that includes the United States, Turkey, and key European and Gulf States.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will lead the U.S. delegation there.