WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to reopen its embassy in Libya within weeks, the State Department said on Monday after a U.S. assessment team including four military personnel surveyed the damaged Tripoli facility.
The U.S. team, led by the embassy’s second-in-command Joan Polaschik, arrived in Tripoli on Saturday to look at ways to get formal embassy operations up and running, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“I think we’re not talking months, we’re talking weeks at this stage,” Nuland said, adding that while the embassy building had been cleared it remained to be seen whether it could still be operational.
U.S. officials said the four military members of the U.S. forward team were there under diplomatic direction and were focused on security for the diplomatic personnel.
“As I understand it the embassy ... was pretty well trashed and they’re trying to go back in and see if that facility is still usable and if it is what needs to be done to bring it back online. If it’s not, then what are the options beyond that,” Navy Captain John Kirby, a military spokesman, said.
He said two of the U.S. military personnel were explosive ordnance experts “because one of the concerns was ... whether there was a presence of any kind of munitions at the site or any kind of hazards in that regard.”
U.S. officials dismissed suggestions that the presence of U.S. military personnel in Libya should not be interpreted as a shift in the overall role the United States has had as part of the NATO mission for Libya.
President Barack Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground forces into Libya, where a rebel force ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi with the help of NATO air power.
“When the president made his commitment no boots on the ground, that obviously had to do with entering into the fray between the Gaddafi forces and the Libyan freedom fighters and that’s not what these guys are engaged in,” Nuland said.
She added that the U.S. personnel were seeking to expand the range of diplomatic functions in preparation for the expected return of U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz and the formal reopening of the embassy.
“We still have quite a bit of work to do to secure appropriate facilities for our folks. Some of the members of that team are sleeping three and four to a room at the moment as we try to establish a permanent place to be until we can get our facilities back together,” she said.
Reporting by David Alexander and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Walsh