South Africa holding up aid to Libya

The Obama administration moved today to shore up the finances of a post-Qaddafi government, proposing that the U.N. Security Council free up $1.5 billion in frozen assets in the United States to help stabilize Libya and pay the salaries of those in a new transitional government. The move is likely to be followed by Britain, Qatar, and other governments backing the anti-Qaddafi opposition.

But they are discovering that the unraveling of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime has not made doing business in the council any easier.

While China and Russia have agreed to permit the United States to release the money, the South African delegation stepped in to put on the brakes.

South Africa supported the Security Council decision earlier this year to authorize a military operation in Libya to protect civilians, but since then, it has become one of the coalition's sharpest critics, arguing that the United States and European powers went beyond the U.N. mandate and took sides in the country's civil war. It has put a hold on the funds in the U.N.'s Libya sanctions committee, which works by consensus, expressing concern that the funds will grant legitimacy to the anti-Qaddafi rebels.

"We are all agreed to the direness of the humanitarian situation in Libya, and we all want to help," South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Baso Sangqu, told reporters after the council met to consider the U.S. proposal. But he voiced concern that "when you release this money to entities that are aligned to one party of the conflict, you could be in one way or the other recognizing that entity" as the legal authority in Libya.

Sangqu indicated that South Africa might reconsider its position if the U.N. resolution explicitly made it clear that the council was not granting any recognition to the rebels. But he said it was important for the African Union to form an agreed position before he could move forward.

The United States, which first made its request to the Libya sanctions committee to unfreeze the funds on Aug. 8, maintains that it has given South Africa ample time to make up its mind. In an effort to overcome South African objections, the United States has called for a meeting tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. to vote on a resolution, which would require only nine votes to pass.

The U.S. proposal is broken into three parts, according to the U.S. draft resolution. About $500 million would cover some of the costs of a U.N. humanitarian appeal and would be used to fund humanitarian agencies operating in Libya.

Another $500 million would go to opposition-selected contractors that supply fuel, which is in short supply, for electrical plants, desalinization plants, and hospitals.

And the remaining $500 million would be placed in the so-called Temporary Financing Mechanism, which was established by members of the Libya Contact Group, to pay for salaries of social workers, teachers, and health-care workers by a future Libyan government. Of that, $100 million would be used to subsidize the purchase of food, electricity, and other humanitarian goods.

Hours before the meeting, South Africa agreed to partially lift its hold on the U.S. proposal, freeing up about $500 million to fund humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. It continued to object to the release of an additional $1 billion for fuel and salaries.

But the United States rejected the compromise, saying that the proposal was part of a nonnegotiable package that is needed to meet the Libyans' humanitarian needs.

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