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U.S., Libyan rebels in meetings

  |   May 24, 2011 at 9:48 PM
BENGHAZI, Libya, May 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. envoy says Libya's rebel government will open an office in Washington, indicating the United States views it as a legitimate representative of Libya.

However, in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman stopped short of formally recognizing the rebel National Transitional Council as Libya's governing body Tuesday, The Washington Post reported.

Feltman said the United States was firmly committed to working with the rebels and recognition was beside the point.

"The point is Gadhafi and Tripoli are increasingly isolated diplomatically," Feltman said. "In attacking, threatening and brutally suppressing the Libyan people, Col. Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to rule. He can't regain control of Libya. He must step down immediately, thereby allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future."

Feltman said he delivered a formal invitation to open the Washington office to the rebel leaders, which he said they had accepted.

Feltman is the highest-level U.S. official to visit eastern Libya since the rebellion began in February.

"We're not talking to Gadhafi or his people. They are not talking to us," Feltman said. "We have American diplomats posted in Benghazi dealing with the council. We have no American diplomats in Tripoli."

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