The Cable

Libya contact group to meet Thursday in Istanbul

Representatives from the countries that are aiding the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) will convene in Istanbul, Turkey, this Thursday to develop new plans for assisting the Libya rebels as they assume control over their country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently in New York, has been working the phones on Libya all day. First, she had a conference call with Chris Stevens, the State Department's special envoy to the TNC, and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was then in Cairo. She then spoke with TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

Clinton then convened a call with several members of the Libya Contact Group, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Denmark's Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and Qatari's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani.

"The agenda covered financial support for the TNC and the Libyan people, continuing efforts to ensure the protection of civilians, reinforcing the TNC's efforts to pursue an inclusive and broad-based democratic transition, and preparations for immediate needs for essential services and humanitarian relief," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Monday's briefing.

The State Department will be sending Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon to Istanbul for the Contact Group meeting, which is being held at the political directors' level. Typically, the State Department would send the undersecretary of state for political affairs to such a meeting, but that position is vacant while the administration awaits the confirmation of Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for that post.

The Cable reported last week that U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon will be temporarily brought back to Washington to stand in for Sherman while she awaits confirmation, but Nuland said that Shannon would begin work in Washington late Monday and Gordon, who has been assisting Clinton during this crisis, was prepared to go to Istanbul to represent the United States.

Feltman was in Benghazi last week and emphasized the importance of preventing retribution and violence in his discussions with the TNC, Nuland said.

Several Qaddafi officials reached out to the State Department in the final days leading up this weekend's event, but the State Department didn't pursue negotiations with any of them, Nuland said.

"There have been lots of feelers from lots of folks claiming to represent Qaddafi, including more desperate ones in the last 48 to 24 hours. But none of them were serious because none of them met the standard that we insist on, that the international community insisted on, which is to start with his willingness to step down," she said.

The TNC's top priority at the Istanbul meeting will be to convince the international community to speed up the release of some of the estimated $30 billion in frozen Qaddafi assets. Those assets are frozen both by U.N. Security Council resolutions and unilateral measures taken by the United States and others.

"Our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen earlier this year," President Obama said today.

The State Department has sped up the process for releasing some of the funds to the TNC, Nuland said. It is pursuing a dual-track approach, preferring to work with the U.N. sanctions committee but also planning to release money unilaterally if the United Nations does not act quickly.

"I can't give you a precise answer of how much and when, but know that we are focused like a laser on it now," she said.

Daniel Serwer, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that the U.N. sanctions committee route could be extremely tedious and that the administration should start by giving the TNC funds slowly, while also requiring the TNC to account for how it is spending the money.

"What's important is to begin a steady flow and to have mechanisms in place to insure transparency and accountability in the flow," he said. "The TNC needs a flow of funds, it doesn't need to be a giant flow. Giant flows of money can be poisonous in these kinds of situations."

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