When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Turkey for the latest meeting of the Libyan Contact Group on Friday, she will be asked to address how the Obama administration intends to help the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC), which is running out of money and patience.
But what can she say? What will she say?
Four senators are renewing their push for the administration to recognize the TNC in advance of the Istanbul meeting. In a letter to Clinton last week, which was obtained by The Cable, they argued that the TNC's expanded inclusiveness and its new territorial gains make the case for recognition stronger. What's more, they said that diplomatic recognition was the best way to release the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets that the rebels desperately want.
"We believe that formal recognition is justified, necessary and urgent," wrote Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). "Even more importantly, diplomatic recognition by the United States is now the best available means to ensure the TNC can secure access to the financial resources it desperately needs to meet the needs of the Libya people and sustain its fight against the Qaddafi regime, as legislation in Congress for this purpose has unfortunately become bogged down."
Over the past days, the White House has been considering the issue of extending diplomatic recognition intensively. We're told that there has been both a Deputies Committee meeting and a Principals Committee meeting in recent days to discuss what to do about the TNC. We don't know what the decision was, or if one has officially been made, but Clinton will likely unveil that information in Istanbul on Friday.
What's clear though is that the administration is in a bind, and one of its own making. They haven't recognized the TNC officially, which is the prerequisite for releasing some or all of the frozen Libyan assets to the TNC. The administration has come close, saying that the TNC is "the legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people." But that doesn't equal an official recognition, and doesn't allow the TNC to get their hands on the funds.
So far, 26 countries have recognized the TNC, including France, Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Canada.
The administration had been depending on Congress to pass legislation that would speed as much as $10 billion to the TNC from the frozen Qaddafi coffers. Unsurprisingly, the relevant legislation is bogged down in the Senate and has very little prospect of surfacing any time soon.
On Capitol Hill, frustration is growing with what many lawmakers and staffers see as a hands-off approach by the administration toward the Libyan rebels. For example, there is only a smattering of U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi, while other countries, such as Britain, have dozens of diplomats and advisors on hand.
The administration has one other option to get the money to the rebels. They could use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), former Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey argued in an article for the Council on Foreign Relations. That law allows the president to take certain steps if he determines that a situation poses an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to national security. But since the White House has said there are no "hostilities" going on in Libya, that's going to be a tough case to make.
Yesterday, Clinton praised European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton for opening an EU office in Benghazi, but didn't say anything about the Obama administration's plans to assist the rebels in the near- or medium-term.
"As momentum continues to build in Libya, the people are not waiting to plan their new post-Qadhafi future. They are laying the foundation, organizing the institutions, and preparing the infrastructure, and the international community will support these efforts," Clinton said.
Whether the United States will be an integral part of those efforts remains to be seen.