WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials will meet Friday at the White House with representatives of Libya’s opposition group, as the U.S. continues to steadily increase its assistance to forces fighting longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The White House said Mahmoud Jibril, a representative of the Libyan Transitional National Council, would meet with senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as members of Congress. A meeting with President Barack Obama did not appear to be part of the schedule for Jibril and his delegation.
The U.S. has still made no decision on whether to formally recognize the Council as Libya’s legitimate government, though it has been boosting its support for the opposition over the past month.
Obama has authorized $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the rebels. The first shipment of that aid — 10,000 meals ready to eat from Pentagon stocks — arrived in the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi this week. The U.S. has also supplied some $53 million in humanitarian aid.
In addition, the administration has begun working with Congress to free up a portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets in U.S. banks so it can be spent to help the Libyan people. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who met with Jibril this week, said Wednesday he was drafting legislation at the request of the White House that would allow that to happen.
An invitation to the White House could be a political boost for the Council. Jibril, speaking at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, on Thursday said he wanted to convey to American officials his group’s dream of building a democratic Libya and to call on the U.S. to provide more assistance.
“President Obama, in particular, has called for the end of the legitimacy of the regime,” Jibril said. “This was very inspiring to many Libyan people that they are not alone in their fight against dictatorship.”
The U.S. and its NATO allies opened a bombing campaign in mid-March to keep Gadhafi’s forces from advancing to eastern Libya. After a weeks-long stalemate, the now NATO-led mission has stepped up its strikes in the capital Tripoli and on Gadhafi’s compound.
In testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg urged lawmakers to be patient, and said history shows that the persistence of the U.S. and its allies may pay off.
“We recognize that the way forward is not easy, and so we are using as many tools and levers as we can to bring about our ultimate objective: the end of Gadhafi’s rule and a new beginning for a peaceful, democratic Libya,” he said.
France and Italy have recognized the Transitional National Council as Libya’s legitimate government. Britain, like the U.S., has not taken that step, through British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Council leaders in London Thursday. Cameron said Britain would supply police officers in rebel-held eastern Libya with uniforms and body armor, and also allow the Council to open a permanent office in London to help cement contacts with Britain.
The rebels have said they need up to $3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies in order to keep fighting Gadhafi’s forces. They also say no country has sent the arms that they desperately need.