According to Clinton, Friday’s move was meant as a clear signal of support for the rebels. For weeks, U.S. officials have stopped short of official diplomatic recognition because of concerns about whether a post-Gaddafi government set up by rebel leaders would be truly inclusive politically and geographically.
The United States and other foreign powers have worried that the oil-rich country could become embroiled in tribal conflicts or ethnic tensions once Gaddafi is no longer in power.
The United States changed its position after hearing a presentation in Turkey by Mahmoud Jibril, the transitional council’s foreign affairs representative, who described the rebels’ plans for governing a post-Gaddafi Libya.
According to Libyan council members, the plan includes having the rebels, now based in the eastern city of Benghazi, reach out to other regions of Libya not currently represented on the council. Together, they would form an interim government to rule in Gaddafi’s place and then guide the country through democratic reforms and, ultimately, the election of a new government. Because the council plans to form an interim governing body, it will not immediately be changing its name.
In Libya, rebel leaders complained Friday that NATO’s mandate of limited engagement should be expanded to allow allied warplanes to strike at Gaddafi’s forces in coordination with rebel attacks.
“NATO hits one tank and then goes home,” said Ibrahim Taher, a battalion commander in Zintan who lost eight fighters Wednesday. “NATO could change this war in a day if they wanted to.”
The question of how to oust Gaddafi also dominated the meeting in Istanbul. Foreign ministers debated the sincerity of Gaddafi emissaries who have recently declared that he is ready to step down. U.S. officials say that Gaddafi’s camp has sent contradictory signals and that they are not convinced he is prepared to give up power.
Leading up to the meeting, Turkey and the African Union proposed “road maps” for resolving the conflict. But foreign ministers from several countries, including Italy and France, said there are too many road maps and separate talks with Gaddafi emissaries. As a result, the international contact group agreed to make the U.N. special envoy to Libya, Abdul-Illah Khatib, the sole representative to communicate with Gaddafi’s government.
The session in Turkey is the fourth official meeting of the contact group. For the first time, China and Russia were invited to attend. But the two countries, which have been critical of the NATO-led campaign, declined.
Booth reported from Zintan, Libya. Staff writers David Fahrenthold in Washington and Colum Lynch in New York contributed to this report.