The Cable

Libya’s opposition leader postpones visit to Washington

The leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, was supposed to be in Washington today and tomorrow to meet with administration officials and senators, but was forced to postpone his trip at the last minute due to a cancelled flight. "Dr Jibril’s commercial flight to the United States was cancelled and he is unable ...

The leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, was supposed to be in Washington today and tomorrow to meet with administration officials and senators, but was forced to postpone his trip at the last minute due to a cancelled flight.

"Dr Jibril’s commercial flight to the United States was cancelled and he is unable to attend the meeting. We hope to reschedule in the near future," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. Jibril was scheduled to have coffee with SFRC members today.

Jibril was also set to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, some Pentagon officials, and give a speech Friday at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. He was not scheduled to meet with any White House or National Security Council senior officials. On its website, CSIS said that Jibril plans to reschedule his trip to Washington for early May.

Jibril had been in Doha attending the first formal meeting of the Libya Contact Group, a broad array of international diplomats working to coordinate between the Libyan opposition and the rest of the world.

He was scheduled to leave for Washington from Bahrain on Wednesday evening, arriving early Thursday morning, but his flight was cancelled due to technical difficulties. Was there any other reason Jibril didn’t come to Washington?

"We take it on face value that his travel complications were the reason for the cancellation and we hope to reschedule this important event," said H. Andrew Schwartz, senior vice president for external relations at CSIS.

But the missed opportunity to meet with American officials, lawmakers, and the D.C. foreign policy community comes at a crucial time for the Libyan opposition. The NATO allies are bitterly divided over how far the military intervention in Libya should go. France and the UK support expanding the air mission but not arming the rebels. Italy supports arming the rebels. Germany is opposed to both measures.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi forces are shelling the port and sniping innocent people in the city of Misrata and showing no signs of yielding to the pressure brought on by NATO airstrikes and international sanctions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Berlin today dealing with this very issue. The NATO allies are divided on whether to increase the pace and scope of the airstrikes, whether to arm the rebels and whether to allow the rebels to use a portion of the billions of dollars from Qaddafi’s coffers that is currently frozen in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

"We are a sharing the same goal which is to see the end of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realized," she said just before her meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said on Wednesday that U.S. planes are still flying attack missions over Libya despite the handing over of control to NATO last week. The Obama administration pledged to reduce the U.S. role to providing support.

In his speech to the nation March 18, President Obama said, "The United States will play a supporting role — including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications."

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