The Obama administration’s decision to formally recognize Libya’s opposition movement as the country’s legitimate government represents a high-stakes gamble that Libyan strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi’s hold on power has weakened so much that funneling money and diplomatic aid to the rebels will finally bring about his ouster.
Libya’s Transitional National Council, headquartered in the eastern city of Benghazi, had already been recognized by dozens of countries, including key American allies such as Australia, Britain, France, and Germany. Still, the U.S. move on Friday will confer more than just additional diplomatic legitimacy on the rebels. It will also give the cash-starved rebels access to some of the roughly $34 billion in Qaddafi-related funds that the Treasury Department froze months ago and will clear the way for the United States to begin providing weaponry, armaments, and ammunition to the insurgents.
More broadly, the move—which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced in Istanbul on Friday—represents the clearest signal yet that the administration believes that Qaddafi’s time is running out.
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“I am announcing today that, until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority for Libya, and we will deal with it on that basis,” Clinton said, to the applause of other diplomats. "Increasingly, the people of Libya are looking past Qaddafi. They know, as we all know, that it is no longer a question of whether Gaddafi will leave power, but when.”