Clinton, speaking with leaders from NATO and Arab countries, said the Obama administration would seek congressional approval to allocate the frozen funds — a standard legal procedure under U.S. law. She did not say how much money was involved, or whether it would go to the rebels battling Gaddafi’s forces or to international humanitarian organizations.
The rebels have begged foreign countries to transfer them the money, saying they are running out of cash as they attempt to create a government and army that can stand up to Gaddafi and his forces.
“We urge all our partners to join in increasing the pressure on Gaddafi, to sharpen the choice for him and those around him, and to provide much-needed support to the opposition,” Clinton told a closed-door meeting, according to a transcript provided by her staff.
A NATO bombing campaign of nearly seven weeks has bolstered the rebels, allowing them to hold on to eastern Libya and the western city of Misurata in the face of superior Libyan army firepower. But, with the two forces increasingly bogged down in a stalemate, the United States and its allies are trying to find new ways to squeeze Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years.
Rebel leaders say they need $2 billion to $3 billion to keep the economy afloat in the areas they control — to buy gasoline, to pay salaries to the large number of government workers and to purchase food. U.S. officials have privately questioned that figure.
Nonetheless, Clinton and senior European and Arab officials are eager to agree on a fund or other mechanism that will allow the rebels to borrow money abroad, receive donations and eventually accept payments for oil they sell.
“There is an effort, with urgency, to meet the request the TNC is making,” Clinton told reporters, referring to the rebels’ Transitional National Council.
But she urged patience. Although there appears to be support in Congress to unblock some of the Gaddafi regime’s assets—which total more than $30 billion in the United States alone — it is not clear how long it will take for legislation to pass.
The Rome meeting is also expected to set up a fund, jointly managed by the coalition and rebel government, to receive donations from foreign governments for the fighters.
The rebels had hoped foreign governments would simply provide them with the overseas frozen assets belonging to Gaddafi and his regime. But several European countries expressed concern that such a transfer would violate their laws. The rebels now hope to borrow money from abroad, using the blocked assets as collateral.