Clinton To Meet With Libyan Opposition, Will Be Pressed On No-Fly Zone

Mar 14, 2011 4:16pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia and Alex Marquardt report:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with representatives of the Libyan opposition tonight in Paris, where she is attending a G8 ministerial meeting. An opposition spokeswoman tells ABC News that the representatives will press Clinton to increase support for the rebels, including imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

The United Nations Security Council met today and discussed whether to authorize a no-fly zone. Lebanon is drafting a resolution that could be introduced quickly to do just that. Such action, however, might force the hand of the Obama administration, which has been reluctant to impose a no-fly zone. Senior officials met at the White House this afternoon to discuss this and other options.

Today’s meeting will be Clinton’s second with opposition figures. She met last Thursday with former Ambassador to Washington Ali Aujali, who has thrown his support behind the budding opposition based in the eastern city of Benghazi and led by the former Justice Minister. Clinton brought the US ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, who has been the primary contact with the opposition since the uprising began, to Paris just for this meeting.

It remains unclear if Clinton will use the opportunity to announce the Obama administration’s liaison with the opposition, as the president announced last week.

Clinton will meet with Dr. Mahmoud Jibril and Dr. Ali al-Issawi, who both sit on the opposition council’s “crisis committee.” Dr. Jabril was described in a cable by Ambassador Cretz, published by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, as "a serious interlocutor who 'gets' the US perspective".

An opposition spokeswoman, Dr. Iman Bugaighis, provided a long list of what they expect from the US, underscoring the deep frustration with the lack of action.

Among the numerous requests for US action: recognizing the council as reps for Libyan people, implementing no-fly zone, intelligence sharing on Gadhafi forces’ positions, humanitarian aid, and jamming Gadhafi’s communications.

“We need action, people are dying every minute, every hour,” said Bugaighis. “How many people need to die before they take a stand?”

“We are encouraged [by news of a special liaison] but it’s not enough, people are dying, cities are under siege…children don’t have their milk and we’re still waiting for a special envoy? It’s our blood, it’s not a political issue,” Bugaighis said.

Secretary Clinton has recently expressed some reservations about the Benghazi-based opposition.

In her testimony before a Senate committee on March 2, Clinton admitted the United States doesn’t have much visibility inside Libya and that it was still trying to figure out exactly who these budding opposition figures were.

“We are working to understand who is legitimate, who is not. But it is premature in our opinion to recognize one group or another. We have to keep our focus at this point on helping Libyan people,” Clinton said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the motives, the opportunism if you will, of people who are claiming to be leaders right now. I think we have to be focusing on the humanitarian mission and then gathering information as we can,” she added.

The US has not followed France’s lead in formally recognizing the Libyan opposition and swapping ambassadors, but it did suspend ties with Libya’s embassy in Washington last week and told diplomats who supported Gadhafi that they must go home.

The Obama administration had promised to send humanitarian teams and diplomats to Benghazi, but as of today those haven’t gone into eastern Libya yet. A top USAID official told reporters that the teams will go in as soon as the security situation permits. 

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