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U.S. envoy to discuss 'practical, non-lethal' aid for Libyan rebels

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Stevens is talking with members of the opposition Transitional National Council
  • Humanitarian assistance and the council's "democratic aspirations" are on the agenda
  • State Department spokesman: "He's trying to assess the situation."

Washington (CNN) -- A U.S. special representative to the Libyan opposition, Chris Stevens, has arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to meet with members of the opposition Transitional National Council, the State Department said Tuesday.

One of the things he will be assessing, according to the department, is what kind of "practical, non-lethal" assistance the United States might provide.

"We are going to look at some ways that would enable them to meet some of their financial needs and how we can help to do that through the international community, given the challenge of sanctions," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Toner said Stevens is in the opposition-controlled city to meet with and get to know the leadership of the opposition, and to discuss humanitarian assistance and what Toner called the Transitional National Council's "democratic aspirations," "commitment to universal human rights," and what kind of civil society they would create if they were to take power.

He is there for an indefinite period of time, said Toner. "He's on the ground, he's trying to assess the situation."

Asked whether any possible aid would include direct U.S. funding, or funding through international organizations, Toner said the Obama administration is looking at a range of possibilities.

The United States is considering what "non-lethal" support it could provide to the opposition, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.

While no decision on whether to arm the rebels has been made by the administration, the Pentagon spokesman said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' preference, as he told Congress last week, is that other countries do that if the coalition wishes to provide weapons.

The U.S. Treasury has frozen more than $32 billion in assets held by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and members of his regime. Asked whether the opposition should be able to have access to that money, Toner said the United States "is well aware there is an urgency, that the Transitional National Council does need funding if it's to survive and we're looking at ways to assist that," but said he did not know the status of the $32 billion.

The United States this week lifted sanctions against former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa now that he has disassociated himself from the Libyan government. Toner said Tuesday there may be "additional examinations of that money" but the money had originally been frozen based on Koussa's position in the Gadhafi government.

 
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