WASHINGTON – The U.S. and NATO will continue military operations in Libya as long as Moammar Gadhafi keeps attacking his people, the White House said Friday as top U.S. officials met in Washington with leaders of the Libyan opposition.
President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, met at the White House with a delegation from the Libyan Transitional National Council, including top representative Mahmoud Jibril. While the U.S. stopped short of recognizing the Council as Libya's legitimate government, as France and Italy have done, the White House said in a statement following the meeting that the Council is a "credible interlocutor of the Libyan people."
Obama did not meet with the opposition leaders.
The meetings come as a deadline nears on the 60-day window Obama has to keep the U.S. military involved in the Libya campaign without congressional approval. While lawmakers do not appear likely to enforce the limits outlined in the War Powers Resolution, U.S. officials said they are looking for ways to keep U.S. action in Libya in compliance.
White House spokesman Jay Carney offered no specifics Friday on how the U.S. planned to do that, only saying that officials were, "in regular communications with Congress and that will continue."
Administration officials have been eager to show signs of progress in the Libyan bombing campaign, first led by the U.S. and now overseen by NATO. Obama met privately in the Oval Office on Friday with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the White House said the two agreed that the military action would go on until Gadhafi's assault on civilians stopped.
NATO has been intensifying airstrikes in several areas of Libya against Gadhafi's troops in a bid to weaken his campaign against the rebel uprising. One of the recent strikes hit Gadhafi's main compound in Tripoli, the capital, and more strikes were carried out Friday. The longtime leader appeared on state television Friday to say he had survived the assault.
The U.S. has stepped up its support of anti-Gadhafi rebels, with Obama authorizing $25 million in non-lethal assistance and $53 million in humanitarian aid.
The White House said it was looking for ways to increase U.S. financial support to the opposition, in part through congressional legislation that would free up a portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets in U.S. banks so it could be used to aid the rebels.
"We believe that if we could access and use blocked government of Libya assets it could make a significant amount of money available to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people," Carney said.
The rebels have said they need up to $3 billion in coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies. They also say no country has sent the arms they desperately need.
"If there is any country that is willing to arm us, we are happy to defend ourselves," said Ali Tarhouni, the Council's minister of finance and oil, after a meeting at the State Department on Friday. "This is a thug, a killer regime that took a peaceful movement and forced us to carry arms. It's legitimate that we have arms to defend ourselves."
Despite financially backing the opposition, the White House says questions about who exactly the rebels are and their long-term objectives are keeping the U.S. from recognizing the Council as the legitimate Libyan government.
"The question of recognition is one of many policy issues still under review," Carney said.
Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpacedc. Associated Press writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.