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U.S. moves to quickly free up frozen Libyan assets

By Jill Dougherty and Richard Roth, CNN
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Releasing Libya's frozen assets
  • The United States and other countries are exploring ways to help the Libyan rebels
  • A resolution would free $1.5 million of frozen Libyan assets
  • South Africa has been blocking committee approval of the resolution

(CNN) -- The United States will support an effort by several members of the U.N. Security Council to override the United Nations' sanctions committee and allow countries to free up frozen Libyan assets to speedily provide funds for the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council.

The Obama administration has tried for days to get approval from the U.N. sanctions committee to unfreeze $1 billion to $1.5 billion worth of Libyan assets, but South Africa has been blocking that move. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi funded South Africa's African National Congress -- now the ruling party -- when it was a liberation movement fighting the white apartheid regime.

A Security Council meeting Wednesday concluded without a vote on a draft resolution to free $1.5 billion of assets.

If South Africa doesn't lift its objections, Washington will call for a vote Thursday afternoon, U.S. officials said. South Africa -- which the officials say does not object to releasing some, but not all, of the money for urgent humanitarian needs -- does not have veto power and would not be able to block the resolution.

NTC prepares for post-Gadhafi era

"We're simply proposing more time," South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu said Wednesday.

He said it is premature for the United Nations to recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, which would be the effect of releasing the money to them.

He added that there is a version of the resolution that "excludes any recognition by the Security Council of either party. And if that is carried, South Africa will consider that."

Earlier in the day, a senior Obama administration official, speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said: "If we do not have sanctions committee action today, which is the best way for this to work, ... we will support the effort by some other countries to get this done in the Security Council."

"This has been going on for weeks and weeks," the official said.

The administration official said that "if there are members who are not going to support (the resolution), we're going to find another way to get the Libyans their money."

Large amounts of money held by the Libyan regime in foreign bank accounts were frozen by the council in February and March. The resolution would also lift sanctions from banks and other Libyan entities.

CNN's Richard Roth reported from the United Nations; Jill Dougherty reported from Washington; Mick Krever contributed to this report.