It may only be a tiny grammatical shift, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest statement could have huge consequences for the U.S. relationship with the Libyan rebel government based in Benghazi.
"The United States views the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period," Clinton said during a June 9 speech at a meeting of the Libya Contact Group in the United Arab Emirates (emphasis added).
The Obama administration has supported the Libyan rebels in their revolt against the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi, but has so far refused to extend official diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council (TNC). National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon described the TNC as "a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people" during a meeting with TNC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril on May 13, according to the White House's readout of the conversation.
U.S. officials have justified their reluctance to recognize the TNC by pointing to legal difficulties associated with the shift. Following a visit of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Benghazi in May, the TNC announced that it would soon open an office in Washington to better liaise with the U.S. government.
A number of countries, including France, Italy, and Qatar, have already extended official diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council.
Clinton's use of the definite article was not the only gift that Libya's rebels received during today's meeting of the Libya Contact Group, which is composed of Western and Arab supporters of the Libyan rebels. The delegations present set up a mechanism to channel aid to the TNC, and pledged a total of at least $1 billion in assistance.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.