Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Paris today with leaders of the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council and said she came away feeling “encouraged” by what she heard.
“What we heard today was very promising,” she told reporters at a press conference at the end of the day.
The conference was the largest ever since the uprising in Libya began earlier this year and sought to confer legitimacy upon the rebel leadership. Clinton used the opportunity to call for the TNC to assume Libya’s seat in the United Nations.
“Today’s meeting validated the confidence that all the other nations around the table had placed in the TNC. And they were realistic about how much they have to do and how much they still face in the days ahead,” she said.
Clinton arrived in Paris hoping to learn about the TNC’s plans to build a democratic and stable future for the country.
“The Libyans were very responsive to the long list of ideas that were presented throughout the day. And I was impressed by their openness,” Clinton said.
“And they still have a huge hill to climb here. They don’t yet have their whole country secure. But they are working with the international community to secure both chemical weapon stockpiles as well as conventional weapons. They are taking action against extremism wherever they find it,” she said.
Clinton also pressed the TNC about the case of freed Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who was released from a Scottish jail because he was believed to be near death. Officials said Clinton stressed in her meetings with the leaders how important this case was for the United States.
Some members of Congress have written to Clinton, urging her to insist that Megrahi, who was convicted for his role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, be transferred to the United States. Wednesday Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to Clinton, urging that funds for the TNC be withheld until Megrahi is returned to prison. The State Department said the issue is important, but so is supporting and funding the Libyan rebels as they struggle to unite and stabilize the country.
For Clinton, the Megrahi case is close to her heart, as Clinton represented many of the victims’ families as a senator of New York.
“I share the anger,” Clinton said of the frustration on Capitol Hill. “I have said many times, the United States categorically disagrees with the decision that was made two years ago by the Scottish executive to release al-Megrahi and return him to Libya. We have never wavered from our disagreement and condemnation of that decision. He should be behind bars.
“We’ve conveyed the importance that the United States places on this issue. We want more information, and we want to have access to those who might have been somehow involved in the planning or execution of the bombing,” she said.
“They’ve assured us that they understand the sensitivities surrounding this case,” Clinton continued, ”and they will give the matter the consideration it richly deserves at the earliest opportunity.”