Libyan Diplomat Takes On A New, Yet Familiar, Role

Jul 27, 2011

Now that the U.S. has recognized the rebel government in Libya, the Transitional National Council, as it is known, wants access to the country's frozen assets. The rebel representative in Washington, D.C., also wants his office back; until earlier this year, Ali Aujali was the Libyan ambassador, but he hasn't been able to get back into his office for months.

Aujali gave up many of the perks of diplomatic life when he broke from Moammar Gadhafi's regime. The embassy was closed and its bank accounts frozen. Aujali lost his diplomatic credentials and couldn't pay some of his staff or drivers, but those are the least of his worries.

"Yeah, we are OK, I can't complain," Aujali says. "People are dying in Libya, and I can't complain if I don't have the same, you know, facilities I used to have. I have to wait for a taxi to get picked up, for example, which sometimes is not always available. I have no driver; I used to have one."

And he hasn't been able to get into the embassy at the Watergate since April. But Aujali is more optimistic about that, now that the U.S. has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

"I hope after the recognition I will go back as soon as possible to my old embassy and have the access which I used to have before," Aujali says.

To be able to pay other people at the embassy or receive a salary, Aujali says, he's "having some help from different resources."

"We managed to survive at least until now," he says. Aujali tells NPR he's been fundraising in Libyan communities across the U.S. to keep his operation going and to help Libyan students here who need their stipends.

State Department officials say talks are under way with the council to reopen the embassy and to accredit diplomats. As for the bigger issue — the billions of dollars in frozen assets — a State Department official explained that there are still some legal issues to be worked out, and a U.N. sanctions committee needs to act as well. Aujali is hoping to move quickly.

"We don't want to lose the confidence of the people," Aujali says. "We don't want the TNC to lose its credibility. And it is a real war. You know, if you don't have money, how can you run the war? It is really, really war. Gadhafi is using every kind of weapons to kill his own people."

Top U.S. diplomats recently met face to face with representatives of Gadhafi's regime. Aujali says the U.S. reassured him that these were not negotiations, but just a way to send a message to Gadhafi that he must go.

In Aujali's opinion, that means leaving the country, not just giving up power, as some have suggested.

"If you keep him in Libya, then just like somebody is keeping a cobra in his house, [you] don't know when he's going to strike," he says. "That's the nature of the man."

Aujali says he was never in Gadhafi's inner circle. But the career diplomat was a key figure in the warming relations between Gadhafi's government and the Bush administration. It was a tough job then, he says, and now he has quite the opposite task — making sure the U.S. keeps the pressure on Gadhafi to leave.

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