Libya: Western diplomats step up a gear

Rebels talk at the control station of an oil refinery outside the town of Brega, August 28, 2011
Image caption Getting Libya's oil industry back up and running will be crucial

World leaders have gathered in Paris to map out a transition from autocracy for Libya, a country with a unique set of problems, writes the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

The fighting in Libya is not over yet. Colonel Gaddafi himself is still at large. And a few key governments are still reluctant to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country's interim government.

Nonetheless this Paris meeting - the broadest international gathering so far to focus on the Libya crisis - is intended to mark a diplomatic change of gear; from war to reconstruction.

Most of the obvious participants are here, ranging from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Arab leaders such as the Emir of Qatar and the King of Jordan are also expected to attend.

The meeting has two purposes: One is to bolster support for the NTC as it sets about consolidating its hold on Tripoli and squares up to the last bastions of the Gaddafi regime's supporters.

But it is also an opportunity for leaders of the new Libya to set out their plans for the future and to seek essential help in carrying them out.

Uneasy alliance

This is going to be nation-building with a difference. It begins from a very different starting point compared with Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the Libyan people themselves who rose up against the Gaddafi regime - although the rebels may not have prevailed if it was not for Nato air power.

But the job of regime change in Libya has essentially been a Libyan project and it is the Libyans who will have ownership of the post-war rebuilding of their country.

Image caption There is plenty of rebuilding to be done in Libya

The task ahead is vast and the immediate humanitarian problems in this dislocated country are urgent. Water, medical supplies and food must all be distributed, security must be established, the economy and especially the oil industry set on its feet.

There is also an ambitious agenda for political and constitutional reform. Democratic institutions must be constructed largely from scratch.

The mood among Western officials seems generally positive. As one Whitehall source put it: "Given the scale of the problems they inherited, the NTC's progress is quite encouraging."

But with regional, tribal and other differences there is still much that could go wrong. The crucial thing is to demonstrate that reconstruction and reconciliation are under way, quickly.

Pending a full-scale Security Council resolution lifting the freeze on Libyan assets, more countries may follow the example of Britain and France and seek to have specific funds unfrozen.

That Security Council resolution is still problematic and may still be some days away. South Africa for one still seems uneasy about accepting that the Gaddafi regime is history.

Short-term money is needed to pay civil servants and to help get economic activity moving again. That is why the delivery of the first tranche of banknotes printed in Britain and flown in by the Royal Air Force - some 280m dinars (£130m; $211m) - is such an important step.

But Libya, with its potential oil revenues and a relatively small population, is no basket case. It is going to need a lot of assistance to rebuild. But there are lots of willing players.

Britain and France, which pushed for the air campaign and headed up the Nato coalition, are eager to play a significant role in rebuilding Libya. So, too, is Libya's traditional economic partner in Europe - Italy.

Even representatives from Russia and China, who opposed Nato's air campaign, are turning up in Paris.

In due course there may be a good deal of commercial jostling. Behind the scenes it may already have begun.

But for the moment the emphasis is upon a diplomatic common purpose. The hope is that a more formal meeting of the "the Friends of Libya" will take place on the margins of the UN General Assembly, in New York, in September.