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U.S. still not ready to recognize Libyan opposition

By Jill Dougherty, CNN
  • Ambassador to Libya says U.S. needs more study before lending formal support to rebels
  • Gene Cretz says that doesn't prevent aid to Transitional National Council
  • He also says State Department gets daily reports from sources in Libya

Washington (CNN) -- The United States considers the Libyan opposition group worthy of support but is not yet ready to formally recognize it, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz said Wednesday. Cretz said the lack of formal support has not stopped the United States from aiding the opposition.

Cretz said the United States has found the opposition Transitional National Council to be a "credible body" and a "serious group." He said, however, recognition is a "very complex" issue and the State Department's legal department is examining it carefully.

"Recognition remains a legal and international obligations issue that we're still studying," Cretz said. "We're a very legalistic country and we're looking at all the different complexity" of whether to recognize the rebels. He said the United States needs to study what constitutes a government and what has historically been U.S. precedent on recognition.

"We have seen progress," he said. "Are they in the throws of establishing themselves? Yes. Can we expect that they will have some problems? Yes. Are they going in the right direction? Absolutely."

Cretz said the Obama administration's special representative to the opposition in Libya, Chris Stevens, has met with a wide range of Libyans, including the political and military leadership of the Transitional National Council, mostly in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Because of security issues, Stevens has not been able to reach remote areas, Cretz said.

The ambassador also indicated the United States is getting daily assessments of the situation in Libya through contacts maintained by staff from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. Those staffers have been working in Washington since the State Department closed operations in LIbya.

"From these people we have been able to get almost daily reports about the situation in the west and about the brutal kinds of activities that (LIbyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi is taking" in mountain towns in the west of Libya, Cretz said.

The ambassador said life in the rebel-held city of Benghazi has changed considerably since the uprising began. Nongovernmental organizations are springing up, he said, and there are cultural events, newspapers, poetry readings and people are debating political issues. Stevens, he said, has described the situation as "a world that you wouldn't recognize on February 16. ... We're seeing what could be the world to be."

Asked by one reporter to clarify U.S. policy on targeting Gadhafi for assassination, Cretz said: "I don't believe that any credible group or individual sees the solution to the Libyan problem without the removal of Moammar Gadhafi, one way or the other, but our job and our goal is to get a political solution, but through the means that we are allowed to by our own laws."

Members of Gadhafi's regime have indicated to American diplomats that they would like to separate from the Libyan leader but fear for their lives and the lives of their families, Cretz said. He said the United States is in touch with some of these officials from "time to time".

Gadhafi's loyal inner circle includes family members and those in the military and security apparatus who have benefited from the Libyan leader's largess and probably believe they have no future if he falls, Cretz said.