Clinton To Offer U.S. Assistance To Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Libya, where she will meet with members of the National Transitional Council. This is the first time a cabinet-level official from the U.S. has traveled to Libya since 2008.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Libya today. She's making a day-long visit that was unannounced. It's the first time a cabinet-level official from the United States has traveled to Libya since 2008, a very different time in that country. Clinton arrives as bitter fighting continues in several cities, including Sirte, the hometown of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with Secretary Clinton. She's on the line.

Hi, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What will Secretary Clinton be doing there?

NORTHAM: Well, she's got a round of visits that she's going to make with various officials and some civil groups here as well. You know, it's going to be a very fast visit. We're going to be in and out of Libya in just one day. Actually, about five hours.

As you can imagine, there's enormous security surrounding Secretary Clinton. You know, many other international leaders have already visited Libya, but State Department officials traveling with the secretary said, you know, despite the security risks in that, this is exactly the right time for Clinton to be making this visit.

In part, it's to congratulate and with the Libyan transitional government and the people good luck. But it's also an effort to start building a relationship with a country which has been extremely difficult in the past.

INSKEEP: But the security situation is such that you can't, say, spend the night?

NORTHAM: No, certainly not. It is a very quick trip, in and out. It's really sort of a symbolic trip in many ways. But she is going to offer some new initiatives and some new programs.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that. How committed is the U.S. government at this point to setting Libya straight, rebuilding the country?

NORTHAM: Well, it's very committed. And that's what this trip is, you know, to underline, is that, you know, this is sort of a fresh start for relations between the two countries. They had a very rocky past. There's not going to be so much financial aid as there's going to be programs and initiatives. And one has to deal with the war wounded. As the United Nations said there are about 15,000.

She's going to be offering or unveiling public and private initiatives, you know, to provide medical care and to beef up some of Libya's medical facilities and equipment and relocate some of the more seriously wounded to specialized centers in the U.S.

Another thing she's going to announce is they're going to restart the Fulbright Program. There's also going to be a program between Oberlin College in Ohio and Libyan archaeologists to help map some of the archaeological sites in eastern Libya.

So a number of things. It's not full financial aid per se, but just to show that the U.S. is committed and wants to be involved in a new Libya.

INSKEEP: The Fulbright Program, an exchange of scholars between the United States and other countries. Now, Jackie, during the fighting, during the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, U.S. officials had some discomfort about exactly who the rebels were. Now that the rebels are the government, are the U.S. officials you speak with entirely comfortable with them?

NORTHAM: The U.S., you know, recognized the Transitional National Council, it's called, or TNC, in July. And Secretary Clinton has met some of the leaders before, and she'll meet them again today. That includes Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the TNC, and also Ali Tarhouni, the finance minister. So, key players.

You know, they're going to talk about their plans for the country's future, the economy, the rule of law. And she's also expected to push them, that, you know, they have to live up to these commitments that they've made, especially for rule of law and elections in the future, so it really truly is a transitional government.

INSKEEP: Jackie, is the secretary meeting with people beyond the Libyan government, the new government?

NORTHAM: She certainly is. She's going to have a town hall meeting that'll include women and youth and members of civil society. State Department officials say NATO-led missions to protect Libyan civilians is coming to an end, and now it's going to be a civilian partnership that's going to define the relationship between the U.S. and Libya. And so that's part of her visit today is to meet some of these members of civil society.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is visiting Libya today.

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