WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials will meet Friday at the White House with representatives of Libya's opposition group, as the U.S. continues to steadily increase its assistance to forces fighting longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The White House said Mahmoud Jibril, president of the Libyan Transitional National Council, would meet with senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as members of Congress. A meeting with President Barack Obama did not appear to be part of the schedule for Jibril and his delegation.
The U.S. has still made no decision on whether to formally recognize the Council as Libya's legitimate government, though it has been boosting its support for the opposition over the past month.
Obama has authorized $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the rebels. The first shipment of that aid — 10,000 meals ready to eat from Pentagon stocks — arrived in the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi this week. The U.S. has also supplied some $53 million in humanitarian aid.
In addition, the administration has begun working with Congress to free up a portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets in U.S. banks so it can be spent to help the Libyan people. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who met with Jibril this week, said Wednesday he was drafting legislation at the request of the White House that would allow that to happen.
The U.S. and its NATO allies opened a bombing campaign in mid-March to keep Gadhafi's forces from advancing to eastern Libya. After a weeks-long stalemate, the now NATO-led mission has stepped up its strikes in the capital Tripoli and on Gadhafi's compound.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Jibril, during meetings in Paris on March 14. The opposition leader has said he wants to convey to Americans the group's dream of building a democratic Libya.
France and Italy have recognized the Council as Libya's legitimate government. Britain, like the U.S., has not taken that step, through British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Council leaders in London Thursday. Cameron said Britain would supply police officers in rebel-held eastern Libya with uniforms and body armor, and also allow the Council to open a permanent office in London to help cement contacts with Britain.
The rebels have said they need up to $3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies in order to keep fighting Gadhafi's forces. They also say no country has sent the arms that they desperately need.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.