The Obama administration is preparing to provide $25 million in non-lethal aid to Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council, the TNC. The plan was confirmed Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also expressed concern about mounting casualties among pro-democracy protesters in Syria.
Clinton is stressing that the aid package contains no weapons and does not amount to a "blank check" of unlimited U.S. aid to the TNC.
But it does represent a significant upgrade of U.S. backing for the umbrella Libyan opposition organization, which Clinton said is "holding its own" militarily in the face of what she termed a "brutal assault" by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
Speaking at a joint press event with Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly, Clinton said the items going to the Libyan rebels are being drawn from U.S. stockpiles and include such things as medical supplies, uniforms, boots, protective gear and radios.
She said the aid pledge is being made in close coordination with U.S. international partners - among them Britain, France and Italy - which this week announced the dispatch of military advisers to help the TNC.
"This is not a blank check. But this action is consistent with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, which among other actions, authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas," said Clinton.
The United States has a senior diplomat, Chris Stevens, in the Libyan rebel stronghold Benghazi to liaise with the TNC, but it has not recognized the rebel movement as the country’s legitimate government, as have some NATO allies.
A State Department spokesman said the aid commitment does not necessarily mean the United States is closer to recognizing the TNC and shows there are ways the United States can boost the opposition short of such a step.
Clinton meanwhile underscored U.S. concern about mounting political violence in Syria, where news reports say more than 20 protesters have been killed by security forces in the central city of Homs.
She said the United States strongly condemns any use of violence by either side in the ongoing confrontation, and is particularly worried about the situation in Homs, where it is difficult to ascertain facts because of curbs on journalists.
"The Syrian government must allow free movement and free access," said the secretary of state. "It must stop the arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture of prisoners. And it must cease the violence and begin a serious political process through concrete actions to demonstrate its responsiveness to the legitimate issues that have been raised by the Syrian people seeking substantial and lasting reform."
The State Department expressed skepticism Tuesday at the Damascus government’s move to end 48 years of emergency rule, noting that the pending repeal is coupled with new legislation to curb demonstrations.