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Leader of Libyan opposition group to ask White House for recognition

By Laurie Ure, CNN National Security Producer
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What Libyan rebel leaders want from U.S.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mahmoud Gibril is interim prime minister of Libya's Transitional National Council
  • The opposition group wants recognition from the United States
  • Gibril will meet Friday with U.S. officials at the White House and on Capitol Hill

Washington (CNN) -- A top Libyan opposition leader said Thursday the United States should recognize his group.

In an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," Mahmoud Gibril said when he meets with White House national security advisor Tom Donilon on Friday, his main message will be to clear up "misperceptions" about extreme elements in the opposition and to ask for formal recognition.

"We need the recognition as the sole legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people," said Gibril, the interim prime minister of Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC).

To date, the United States has not recognized the opposition formally, although it has provided aid. Italy and France have recognized the opposition group.

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Speaking earlier in the day, Gibril also said the United States should turn over some of Libya's frozen assets to his group because "a human tragedy is in the making right now."

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He said Libyan rebels are facing a "big hurdle" in getting the U.S. government to free up some of the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets to help those suffering under embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

"Time is the crux of the matter, because having solved this problem in a matter of four or five weeks might be too late," Gibril told a group gathered at the Brookings Institution.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said Wednesday he is currently drafting legislation that will allow some of the money to be transferred to the TNC.

"It will not come from the American taxpayer. It will come from Col. Gadhafi himself," Kerry said.

Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said during a Thursday hearing on Libya that the TNC has made "quite remarkable" progress.

"They've begun to develop institutions which can provide basic services for their people, they are thinking about how to deal with humanitarian dislocation and challenges and while some institutions are going to have to be built from scratch over a period of time," Kerry said.

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But others in Congress have concerns.

"Do we have confidence in the people to whom we are providing assistance?" ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana asked at the hearing.

Gibril acknowledged some skeptics have questions about "cracks and disagreements" within the council.

Quoting the doubters, he asked rhetorically, "'Are we safe with this TNC? Are we safe with this group?'" Then he gave his response: "The TNC represents the whole Libyan territory; this is a national umbrella encompassing all Libyan regions."

Gibril said the council is not a political organization, but is instead is an administrative organization managing the Libyan opposition until the Gadhafi regime falls and Libyans elect their leaders though a democratic process.

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He is headed to the White House and Capitol Hill on Friday to meet government officials.

Last March Gibril met privately with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was in Paris for a meeting with the Group of Eight foreign ministers.

At the State Department on May 5, Clinton said, "Clearly on our agenda is looking for the most effective ways to deliver financial assistance and other means of supporting and helping the opposition."

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

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