Washington: The United States on Friday stopped short of granting Libyan rebels full diplomatic recognition, as Mahmud Jibril became the opposition`s first senior official to have talks at the White House.
There was no immediate sign of new US financial help for the cash-strapped rebels but officials did praise the Transitional National Council (TNC) as a "legitimate" voice for Libyans, as they battle Muammar Gaddafi`s regime.
The White House also said it was working with Congress on changes to the law to allow a portion of around USD 30 billion in Gaddafi regime assets blocked in the United States to be funnelled towards the opposition.
Jibril, the second-ranked political leader of the forces trying to topple Gaddafi`s more than 40-year rule, met National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
But there was no mention of any meeting with President Barack Obama, despite some speculation that the US leader might informally drop by the talks.
"During the meeting, Mr Donilon stated that the United States views the (NTC) as a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people," the White House said in a statement.
"In contrast, Mr Donilon stressed that Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy to rule and reiterated President Obama`s call for Gaddafi to leave immediately.”
"Mr Donilon and Dr Jibril discussed how the United States and the coalition can provide additional support to the (TNC). Mr Donilon applauded the (TNC`s) commitment to an inclusive political transition and a democratic future for Libya."
Jibril had set the stage for his White House appearance by warning that the opposition TNC was running badly short of money and needed diplomatic recognition as Libya`s rightful rulers.
"We ask the United States to join France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar in recognising the council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people until free elections can be held," he wrote in the New York Times.
"This signal would further isolate the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli, heighten opposition morale and improve access to diplomatic and humanitarian assistance."
But the White House, which has said it is up to Libyans and not the outside world to choose their leaders, made clear that full diplomatic recognition would not be forthcoming from the Obama administration, at least for now.
"I don`t anticipate action like that," spokesman Jay Carney said.
The talks came on a day when NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was at the White House for closed-door discussions with Obama, as the alliance keeps up the assault on Gaddafi`s forces in Libya.
The White House said the talks centred on the Libyan operation and also the alliance`s role in Afghanistan, and the eventual transition of security responsibility to Afghan control.
"They agreed the (Libya) operation had saved countless lives and that as long as the Gaddafi regime continues to attack its own population, NATO will maintain its operations to protect civilians," the White House said.
Reporters were not allowed into the Oval Office talks, but Rasmussen later made several short statements on Twitter.
"Time is up for the Gaddafi regime. Time for the Libyan people to shape a new future, a future free from fear," he said.
He also said that NATO was fulfilling its UN-mandated mission in Libya, had had saved "numerous lives" and had stopped the Gaddafi regime`s bid to retake the country by force after widespread uprisings.
Jibril`s visit took place amid an international back-and-forth over the fate of Gaddafi, after the Libyan strongman declared he was in a place where NATO bombs could not reach him.
Earlier, the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had suggested Gaddafi may be on the run and wounded. Washington said it had no information to confirm that Gaddafi had been hurt.
The rebel movement is becoming increasingly well-known in the capitals of nations policing a NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya and leading air strikes against Gaddafi`s forces.
British Prime Minister David Cameron met NTC leader Abdul Jalil on on Thursday and invited Libya`s rebels to open an office in London, their first in a foreign country.