27 hague blog g k Hagues Libya move less than it appearsIs there less than meets the eye to William Hague’s statement on recognising the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya as the government?

It is “political recognition” but not legal recognition. So it doesn’t open the door for Britain to hand over the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of assets the Gaddafi regime has in this country to the NTC – though that has been the ardent wish of the Government for some time.

For now, all the  Attorney General feels comfortable authorising is the handing over of assets belonging to the oil company, Agoco, worth £91m to the Benghazi alternative government.

Are they sure that money will be spent by the NTC on civilian uses not arms (which would potentially put the UK in breach of UN resolutions)? Is the FCO happy for us to say it has “guarantees” that the money won’t go to arms? The answer came that they’d prefer us to talk about having had “conversations” with the NTC.

I mentioned before the critical importance Whitehall attaches to Gaddafi’s oil supply and the hopes there were when the pipeline to the main refinery serving Tripoli was severed. Since then, the MoD has been trying to keep an eye on the alternative supplies that Col Gaddafi may be trying to get his hands on.

Algeria seems to have had a bit of a spike in its fuel imports (suspicious) and on the road from Tunisia there seems to be a very high traffic of oil tankers. Anyway, there’s going to be a bit of a diplomatic effort to persuade Tunisia to stop this entrepreneurial activity I understand.

As one former FCO mandarin just told me, you will never stop people who live in desert lands like that getting supplies by road. The rebels, the UK Government and allies still require an uprising in Tripoli and there is no sign of such a thing.

Some day we may discover the full truth of just what pressure was exerted within the capital to keep people in check.

Update: I see William Hague has actually estimated Tripoli assets in the UK at £12bn on 24 March, when he set out the size of the assets now frozen. You can see why the Agoco released funds are a drop in the Med by comparison and why the Attorney General’s strict refusal to sanction any other asset release has been a source of frustration to some of his fellow Ministers.