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Obama invites Libya rebels to open Washington office

In London, he seeks to reassure Britain that the U.S. plans to do more to help NATO drive Moammar Kadafi from power.

May 24, 2011|By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from London — The White House made a new overture to Libyan rebels and promised more pressure on leader Moammar Kadafi, steps that came as President Obama prepared to face British lawmakers impatient for a bigger U.S. role in the 2-month-old NATO air campaign in Libya.

The moves were intended to convey heightened U.S. action in the conflict on the eve of Obama's address to the British Parliament.

Obama invited the rebels' Transitional National Council to open a Washington office as the "voice of the Libyan people," a gesture that follows a visit earlier this month by a council leader and brings the administration a step closer to recognizing the rebels as the country's official representatives.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an appearance late Monday in London with her British counterpart, referred to the rebels as the future of Libya's leadership.

"We do believe that time is working against Kadafi, that he cannot reestablish control over the country," she said. "The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible interim council that is committed to democratic principles. When Kadafi inevitably leaves, a new Libya stands ready to move forward."

Obama's invitation to establish a Washington office was taken to rebels in Benghazi, their de facto capital, on Tuesday by Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Feltman called it an "important milestone" in U.S. ties with the rebels.

However, the State Department said the move did not constitute official recognition, which has been extended by countries such as France and Italy. U.S. officials see the rebels' council as temporary and said new leaders would be formally recognized once the transition has ended.

Times staff writers Michael A. Memoli and Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

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