Ex-Libyan Ambassador Slides Over To Rebel Side

Steve Inskeep talks to former Libyan ambassador Ali Aujali, who quit his official post with the government to become the U.S. representative of Libya's Transitional National Council. He is baffled and angered by the lack of progress toward convincing Washington to hand over the Gadhafi regime's frozen assets to Libyan rebels.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

France has confirmed that it airdropped weapons to rebels in Libya in June. Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades went to rebels in Libya's western mountains for rebels who were surrounded by Gadhafi's troops.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The move has generated some international opposition. China and Russia are asking if France went beyond the authority of a United Nations resolution authorizing action in Libya.

MONTAGNE: Libya's rebels are pushing for more assistance - more weapons and also more money. In particular, they want access to billions of dollars in Libyan assets frozen by the U.S. and other nations.

INSKEEP: That money is one the mind of Ali Aujali, who represents Libya's rebels in Washington. Until early this year, he was representing Gadhafi as Libya's ambassador.

Some people who have not heard from you since your resignation will wonder why you quit.

Mr. ALI AUJALI (Transitional National Council): Well, I've been with the government for 42 years. But I quit when Gadhafi started killing Libya people who simply want to demonstrate to express their ideas concerning the political situation in Libya. But Gadhafi, he gave them no chance, killing Libyans, young people, just for no reason.

INSKEEP: Is it awkward to be representing people opposing the leader whom you served for so many years?

Mr. AUJALI: No, it is not at all. I am proud, really. I feel that I born in 17th of February this year. We'd been trying, you know, very long time. I never expect that the Libyan people would rise against it.

INSKEEP: Foreign Policy magazine has an online feature that wrote an article about you. And it summarizes your point of view this way. Libyan rebel ambassador: get it together, Washington.

Are you a little frustrated by what the U.S. has been doing in regards to Libya?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, let me put it this way. You know, I do appreciate, and the Libyan people will never forget when the administration, they came out to support them...

INSKEEP: When the bombing campaign began.

Mr. AUJALI: Yeah, when the bombing campaign. And we still depend on United States leadership. If we spend too much time here debating, this is legal or not legal, the frozen money, how we are going to do it, then I need the Congress to understand the situation.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about that, because you mentioned it. Billions of dollars in Libyan assets have been frozen. The transitional council that you represent has asked for the money. What is a practical way that you want that to happen?

Mr. AUJALI: Well, in United States, it can happen in two ways. One, president decree, and that will not happen except if the United States declares war against Libya - and this is not going to happen. The second thing is authorization from the Congress, and this is what the administration and we trying to do together.

INSKEEP: Legally speaking, the United States - the Obama administration has said they need Congress to back them up in order to do this.

Mr. AUJALI: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: Okay. I want to play a piece of tape. A couple of weeks ago, we spoke with Stuart Levy, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, formerly a top Treasury Department official. And he didn't seem opposed to the idea, necessarily, of sending frozen assets to the Transitional National Council. But he argued that it's a lot harder than it seems.

Mr. STUART LEVEY (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations): It is not so simple to free up this money, which is why I strongly suspect there is a desire to look at just donating money. Or using these frozen assets as collateral to get people to make loans to the rebels that they would then pay back at a future time.

INSKEEP: Thats what Stuart Levy says, an expert on these issues. Is it realistic for you to even hope to get very much money in any short period of time?

Mr. AUJALI: There are so many other solutions. We said, okay. Give us a line of credit.

INSKEEP: Line of credit.

Mr. AUJALI: Line of credit. Give us a line of credit against the money we have. Then we need some medicine. We need food. Okay, we need to help the Libyan people with their daily life.

INSKEEP: When you are meeting with members of Congress and talking about trying to get aid from the United States, what questions do you hear about who the Transitional National Council really is? You must know very well that some Americans have their doubts.

Mr. AUJALI: Yeah, I think even the Congress people, they're still mixing things up. For example, some member of Congress, they're still using civil war in Libya. There is no civil war. There's people rising against their dictatorship, against the ruler. And...

INSKEEP: The concern is who's leading that uprising, I think. And whether, for example, they might be extremists.

Mr. AUJALI: Steve, believe me, dont let Gadhafi - he cheated Libyans for 42 years. Don't let him cheat the international community. Libya is a very moderate society, it is a conservative society but we're not fanatics. Al-Qaida, they have no place in Libya. The people who rised(ph) against Gadhafi, they are doctors, they are students, they are farmers, they are businessmen -more than half of the Libyan people, they have been hurt from this regime.

INSKEEP: Ali Aujali was Moammar Gadhafi's ambassador to the United States. He's resigned and now represents the Libya's Transitional National Council, the rebels.

Thanks very much.

Mr. AUJALI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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