Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's days are numbered, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international conference on Libya on Thursday, and the U.S. and others need to prepare for a post-Gadhafi Libya.
Diplomats from more than 20 nations met in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss the endgame and to boost support for the opposition.
Ali Tarhouni, who runs the Libyan rebels' finances, paced the halls anxiously as U.S., European and Arab leaders met in the vast and opulent Emirates Palace Hotel. They have been trying to figure out ways to funnel money to the rebels' Transitional National Council, and Tarhouni says he's been hearing only promises of help for months.
"Our people are dying," Tarhouni says. "We're in a war, and it's been almost four months now and nothing materialized so far."
It is beyond frustrating, he says. "We are a proud people and I'm not begging. This is our money that we're asking for."
Control Of Libyan Assets
Diplomats acknowledge that there have been lots of legal problems getting some of the Libyan assets that have been frozen to the rebels to help them run their government in Benghazi. Tarhouni says he'd like loans, using frozen assets as collateral.
The Transitional National Council promised, in writing, that any loans will be paid back by a future Libyan government. And the host of the meeting, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said a new financial mechanism is finally up and running for some aid to flow.
"What we've taken today in the UAE is a step forward. People could argue other ways that we haven't done enough, but I think time will show that we are doing the right thing at the right time," he said.
Qatar and Kuwait promised to pitch in nearly $300 million, a mix of loans and gifts. Italy is also offering several hundred million dollars in loans to help the transitional council, and Turkey said it would give $100 million.
Clinton says the U.S. and other coalition partners are gaining more confidence in the rebel government, the Transitional National Council, or TNC.
"We have seen a great deal of improvement in the efforts of the TNC. We are obviously doing all we can to assist them in better organizing themselves and building those institutions that any state needs. But they know and we know there's a long road ahead," Clinton said.
The End Of Gadhafi?
But they may not have much time. Clinton believes there's growing momentum against Gadhafi's regime. Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, says that was the general sense in the room at the conference in Abu Dhabi.
"There have been, obviously, multiple feelers from the Gadhafi regime to various members of the international community coming every other day. In our view collectively, this represents growing desperation on the part of the regime as we believe it enters its end period," Rudd says.
NATO has stepped up bombing raids in Tripoli, and Clinton says there's increasing military, financial and diplomatic pressure on Gadhafi, with even Russia and China reaching out to the rebels now.
"We have very good reason to believe that time is on our side, so long as we sustain the pressure," Clinton said.
Asked about exile options for Gadhafi, Clinton would only say there are numerous and continuing discussions but no clear way forward yet. The so-called contact group will meet next in Istanbul in July.
Libya was not the only issue on Clinton's agenda in Abu Dhabi; she also consulted Gulf countries about the conflict in Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in an explosion last week and is still getting medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. and other Gulf states are trying, Clinton said, to promote a peaceful and orderly transition in Yemen. She wouldn't comment on reports that the U.S. has stepped up drone attacks against a terrorist group based there.