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White House Says It's Time For Gadhafi To Go

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We're following events in Libya's capital, Tripoli, where rebel forces are gaining control by the hour. This morning, leaders around the world have weighed in to say that the end is near for Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Here's British Prime Minister David Cameron.

British Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON: His regime is falling apart and is in full retreat. Gadhafi must stop fighting, without conditions, and clearly show he has given up any claim to control Libya.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen is following the world reaction and joins us now in our studio. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Prime Minister Cameron also said that frozen Libyan assets would soon be released, to help the country's rebels establish order. How realistic is this?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, it's something that everyone's been promising for some months now. So lawyers have been working on this. And I imagine it shouldn't take long at this point, since the U.K., the U.S. and others see the Transitional National Council as the legitimate authority in Libya. And they know that this group needs funds to keep the country running.

MONTAGNE: And they'd be giving it, obviously, to the rebel group such as it is - that would be running the country should Gadhafi fall, as expected.

The U.S. has played a key role in supporting the NATO campaign that began in March, aimed at protecting civilians and rebels. And President Obama, though he's on vacation right now, he has weighed in on the events unfolding there.

KELEMEN: That's right. He's been getting regular updates from his national security staff. And he also issued a statement, saying that to end the bloodshed, Gadhafi must step down and acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. President Obama said, quote: Tripoli is slipping away from the grasp of a tyrant.

I mean, obviously, the situation is still fluid. Nobody knows where Gadhafi is. And as David Cameron, the British prime minister, pointed out today, there's no complacency.

MONTAGNE: And the rebel organization that's known as the Transitional National Council, or TNC, that's what he's focused on - the president. What message did he have for them?

KELEMEN: His main message was that the TNC has to protect civilians and steer Libya on a path toward democracy, and a democracy that's inclusive. I mean, this was a message that came not just from President Obama but from everyone today - from Prime Minister Cameron, from the NATO secretary general. There's, obviously, concern about the potential for reprisal killings.

And remember, Renee, that the Security Council authorized this military action to begin with, as a mission to protect civilians under threat from Gadhafi forces. So there's, obviously, a lot riding now on how the rebels handle themselves - if they protect civilians, or if the situation gets bloody.

MONTAGNE: And looking ahead to a post-Gadhafi Libya, how involved is the U.S. and the rest of the world in planning for that?

KELEMEN: Well, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was in Benghazi over the weekend. He says there's been a lot of planning. The U.S. and its partners need to make sure now that the TNC - the Transitional National Council - can deliver. And that means helping the people of Tripoli with basic needs: keeping electricity on, making sure there's food and other supplies.

David Cameron, of the U.K., said his country has already brought some medical supplies into the country. And he says that the U.S. - that the U.K. wants to be able to open an embassy in Tripoli as soon as possible, and that he would have stabilization experts there. For now, the U.K., the U.S. and others don't have diplomatic presence in Tripoli; they're working out of Benghazi, where the rebels have been located.

And they say they're working on these plans. But you know, a lot will be based on what the TNC does.

MONTAGNE: Michele, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen. NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.