World and Nation

US seeks to financially aid Libyans in rebel areas with seized assets

ROME — The United States announced Thursday that it would try to release some of the more than $30 billion in assets seized from Libya’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, as international officials said they would create a fund to give money directly to the Libyan rebels.

And for the first time, Qatar put the question of supplying arms to the rebels on the table, but no agreement was reached.

The developments came Thursday at a meeting in Rome that appeared to bolster the NATO-led military intervention. Hosted by Italy and Qatar, it brought together officials representing two dozen NATO nations, Arab countries, and international organizations.

The meeting was aimed at intensifying diplomatic and financial pressure on Gadhafi’s government. The military operation, which to critics seems stalled, has largely succeeded in its stated mission of stopping the advance of his forces but has not done enough to stop indiscriminate shelling in cities like Misrata and Zintan or force Gadhafi to step down.

“We shall not leave a divided and insecure Libya as a playground for Gadhafi’s mercenaries,” said Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini. “Our message must be that we shall keep up the pressure, using all legitimate means and with the aim also of convincing Gadhafi’s entourage to join the many who have already defected.”

Above all, the international officials said they would create a special fund of hundreds of millions of dollars to allow humanitarian and other financial assistance to flow into rebel-controlled parts of Libya despite United Nations sanctions that apply to Gadhafi’s government.

Libya’s opposition has asked for billions of dollars’ worth of help, including cash to pay salaries and provide services in the parts of the country under the control of the rebels, led by a group called the Transitional National Council. Frattini acknowledged that so far nations had provided only a fraction of that.

But Thursday, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, said that Qatar would put $400 million to $500 million into the fund, and that Kuwait had put in $180 million. “I don’t think we have shortage of money, we had shortage of mechanism,” Thani said. “Now, we agreed on the mechanism, that’s what was important.”

Frattini and Thani said the fund would be managed by a five-member steering board composed of three Libyans chosen by the Transitional National Council; a representative of Qatar; and a representative from either Italy or France on a six-month rotating basis.