France is the first country to formally recognise the legitimacy of Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council and will open an embassy in Benghazi, the government announced after meeting with NTC representatives in Paris Thursday.
France blazed a diplomatic trail as it recognized a newly formed Libyan opposition group Thursday, drawing the ire of other European nations for stepping out on its own even as the situation in Libya remained unclear.In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Hillary Rodham Clinton said she will meet with members of the Libyan opposition, both in the U.S. and when she travels to Egypt and Tunisia next week.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy shook hands with two representatives of Libya’s Interim Governing Council on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, as the European Union approved further sanctions to address the country’s bloody crackdown and declare Gadhafi’s strongman rule over.
“We must now engage in dialogue with the new representatives in Libya,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said. Sarkozy promised to exchange ambassadors with the council, according to his office, which later described the move as a political gesture, not an act with international legal impact.
Libya’s Interim Governing Council is an umbrella group made up of rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was taken over in a deadly uprising that has spread throughout much of the oil-rich North African country.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Juppe came under immediate pressure for forcing a crack in the diplomatic front the West has shown since fighting began in Libya last month, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague admonishing, “we recognize states rather than groups within states.”
“It didn’t win a consensus; quite the opposite,” Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said of the French move. “It won reserved, even negative reactions.”
The Netherlands, which still has an ambassador and embassy in Tripoli, was taken aback. The country is in an especially difficult position, because it is still trying to negotiate the release of three marines captured in Sirte, a Gadhafi stronghold.
Libyan state TV reported late Thursday that the three, who were captured Feb. 27 after a botched evacuation mission, will be handed over to a European delegation.
“There is not yet enough clarity about these opposition groups in and around Benghazi,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, who preached caution.
But contacts between Western officials and opposition leaders are becoming more frequent. Hague said Thursday he had spoken by telephone with Mahmoud Jabril, special envoy of the Libyan Transitional National Council, before leaving talks in Brussels.
Given it’s complicated history in the region, France is being proactive in trying to shape the sudden winds of change in north Africa. France acknowledges that the way of doing things in the past is no longer sustainable, especially given the demographics of the various countries.
Here is video report of President Sarkozy’s meeting with NTC.