US diplomat calls on Gadhafi loyalists to ‘lay down their arms’

A senior U.S. diplomat on Thursday said Libya’s future remains up in the air, and urged Moammar Gadhafi loyalists to “lay down their arms.”

Speaking in Istanbul, Turkey, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns also urged the United Nations Security Council to hand the top opposition group more than $1 billion in frozen Libyan assets.

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“The events in Tripoli this week unquestionably represent a turning point for the people of Libya,” Burns said, according to text of his remarks released by the State Department. “But the situation on the ground remains fluid, and the fighting has not ceased. … Remaining Qadhafi loyalists should lay down their arms and join an inclusive transition now, for the sake of Libya.”

Hours after Reuters reported that rebel forces believed they had Libyan leader Gadhafi pinned down in Tripoli, Burns said the nation’s “future is far from guaranteed.”

“We know from hard experience that winning the peace can be more difficult than winning the war,” Burns said, an apparent reference to the insurgency that plagued U.S. forces in Iraq after major combat concluded there in 2003.

“We know that what happens in these critical days will help determine whether the people of Libya will be able to enjoy the dignities, freedoms and opportunities they have been denied for decades, and to which they are entitled,” he told the Libya Contact Group, a diplomatic body that includes America as well as Arab and European countries. 

Libya’s leading opposition group, the Transitional National Council (TNC), has said it has done significant planning to set up a functional post-Gadhafi government.

The U.S., Egypt and 52 other nations have recognized the TNC as the official government of Libya in recent months. 

“We will look to the Transitional National Council to live up to those responsibilities and to implement its transition roadmap,” Burns said. “It is critical that the TNC continue to engage with stakeholders across Libya, including those who have served in the government in Tripoli, to form a new, inclusive interim authority that can ensure civil order, respect human rights, provide essential services to the people, and pave the way for a full democratic transition.”

The State Department official also urged the Security Council to clear the way for $1.5 billion in Libyan funds be freed up for use by a post-Gadhafi government.

“Immediate Security Council authorization of the release of $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan funds, which we seek in New York later today, will be an important step in meeting the most immediate needs of the Libyan people,” Burns said.

A Security Council vote on that matter was expected Thursday afternoon.

He also called on other nations to ramp up their coordination with the TNC “so it can fulfill its responsibility to provide security and basic services to the Libyan people.”

The shift of focus to post-Gadhafi planning is a win for President Obama, who took flak from both parties in March when he decided to send U.S. military forces to Libya to assist rebel forces.