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Libyan Businessman, Adviser to Rebels: ‘It’s Miserable in Tripoli’

July 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Britain announced Wednesday that it would join more than 30 countries, including the United States, now giving diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council. Ray Suarez discusses the ongoing fight against Gadhafi's forces with Omar Turbi, a businessman and unofficial adviser to the rebels.
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RAY SUAREZ: For more, we turn to Omar Turbi, a Libyan-American businessman and a non-official adviser to the rebels. He’s traveled to Libya three times since the uprising began, including just three weeks ago.

Mr. Turbi, now that the list of governments recognizing the National Transitional Council is more than 30 countries long, maybe it’s time to ask whether this is symbolic diplomacy or whether it really strengthens the hands of the council.

OMAR TURBI, Libyan National Transitional Council: The U.K.’s recognition of the Transitional National Council is a definite and a clear signal to the cynical regime in Tripoli that the world, the U.K., the important powers of the world no longer recognize the Libyan regime as legitimate.

And releasing $150 million to the Transitional National Council is a very good thing. As a matter of fact, from what I know, there’s at least $3 billion in Saif al-Gadhafi’s name in London, $900 million of which were transferred to the U.K. on Feb. 22. And it may come as a surprise to your audience that there’s not only $34 billion of Libyan assets in the United States. There’s north of $120 billion, according to a reliable source in the United States government.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Mr. Turbi, this clears the way, this recognition, for a more rapid processing of these accounts, a more rapid turnover of properties and monies and assets that might be held for the government overseas?

OMAR TURBI: You know, it’s up to the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people, particularly in the eastern part of Libya, to employ the proper legal mechanisms to get access to those funds.

I have been trying to persuade many members of the Transitional National Council, the executive committee that’s part of the Transitional National Council, to have the right legal frame, the right lawyers, the right methodology to have access to the funds.

Just for the fact that the United States and Britain recognize Libya, it doesn’t mean that the funds are going to be readily available. As a matter of fact, about three weeks ago, Secretary Clinton committed $600 million to the Council. And guess what? They didn’t even know. They were tripping all over themselves and didn’t know how to have access to the money.

So, it’s very important for the Transitional National Council in Benghazi to know that just simply because of the U.S. and U.K. recognizing them, the money is not going to just start flowing.

RAY SUAREZ: One big topic of discussion between all the countries involved is the circumstances under which Colonel Gadhafi might leave leadership, and whether or not he would leave the country.

But has the International Criminal Court effectively slammed the door by saying, no, he can’t leave and go anywhere; he can’t retire; we want to try him?

OMAR TURBI: Well, the Council has been under pressure from France, the U.K., Italy and the United States in the last two-and-a-half weeks, three weeks, to try to reach a political solution, because, as you well know, NATO didn’t anticipate the war to extend and go on this long.

So, there is fatigue within NATO. There is, the ammunition that they have been using is running a little bit low. But I can tell you one thing. There’s — there are only three options, none of which are political settlements with the Libyan regime.

Because of the nature of the psychopath Gadhafi himself and his family, you can’t really leave the man in the country. He will cause trouble. If you let him go outside without being tried at The Hague, he will also cause trouble there, too.

So, the only three options, in my opinion, that he either surrenders to the court, either — and — or gets killed by NATO, which is something that I’m sure nobody would be sad about, or basically having troops on the ground, which I’m beginning to advocate recently, if we can actually convince our brothers in the region, Egypt or the Arab League, or possibly some of the Western nations to step up and bring some boots on the ground and finish this, because the coordination between the Libyan Transitional National Council and NATO, to be honest with you, has not been in the best — in the best of coordination.

So we need to put an end to this. And we need to actually do better. But I must commend Secretary Hillary Clinton for her leadership and steering the contact group that has been convening, I would say the third, fourth time now in various occasions of that region.

So, without her — without her actually tenacity and push and coordination and staying on top of this, I think the situation would have been a little bit different.

RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, sir, before we go, can we talk about conditions in the parts of the country controlled by the National Transitional Council? Are you running out of things, food, fuel, other supplies?

OMAR TURBI: You know, they’re much better off in eastern Libya than they are in Tripoli. It’s miserable in Tripoli and in the western part of Libya.

I happen to have visited some parts of the western part on my way out from Benghazi to Tunisia about three, three-and-a-half weeks ago. In Benghazi, things were less secure mid to late March, just at the beginning of the bombing by NATO, when they were implementing the no-fly zone.

But, in my recent visit, the Council has become more political. Their — their political process and democratic process are much better. They — they handle many more things, bureaucratic things, for the whole eastern part of the country, believe it or not, and also the western part of the country, things that have nothing to do with the execution of the war or execution of their dealings without with the outside world.

And during the three-and-a-half, four-week period, a study was done by National Democratic Institute, which is actually on my website, OmarTurbi.org — you can find it there — it actually really expresses, it shows how much progress the Council has made and has done.

RAY SUAREZ: OK, Mr. Turbi, we are going to have to stop it there, but we will be following this story.

Thanks for joining us.

OMAR TURBI: All right. Thanks very much to you.