A handful of diplomats, led by the embassy’s No. 2 official Joan Polaschik, return to Tripoli Saturday for the first time since the embassy was ransacked, burned and shuttered last February to prepare for the its eventual reopening, the State Department said today.
”She’ll have a couple of policy people with her and some more security folks and building folks, to work on getting the premises ready for the reopening as soon as we can,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
“The policy team will also enable us to have a direct diplomatic contact with Mr. Tarhouni and other members of the TNC and members of the international community and the U.N. who are now working in Tripoli,” she said, referring to the local head of the Libyan opposition group that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.
U.S. officials told ABC News that the embassy would likely reopen in a couple weeks. The group arriving Saturday will likely work out of temporary offices.
Those working at the embassy at the time of the attack were chased off by an AK-47 wielding mob that overran the compound. ABC News’ Jeffrey Kofman obtained exclusive cell phone footage of that day, which shows plumes of black smoke rising from the embassy. A video uploaded to YouTube in early June, which appears to have been shot inside the compound, shows burned-out buildings and destroyed furniture.
The State Department dispatched a small “technical team” to Tripoli last weekend to assess the damage and the security situation in the capital. It found structural damage to some of the embassy buildings and reported that the chancery and the ambassador’s residence were both trashed and burned.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, is not returning to the country just yet but is expected to be back for the embassy’s reopening.
“We have no place for him to work. We have no appropriate connectivity to Washington. We have no — you know, a limited number of cars and all that kind of stuff that he needs to work. We have to reconstitute our Libyan staff who has loyally managed a lot of our property and assets in Libya. So we just — we need some time,” Nuland explained.
She also said that Chris Stevens, the American diplomat who was the primary contact with the rebels based in their stronghold of Benghazi, will remain there for the time being.
“For the coming period, we’re going to maintain the presence in Benghazi, because there are also important players in Benghazi,” said Nuland.