By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States will present a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday asking it to unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets for humanitarian needs, a council diplomat said.
The diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said he did not expect a vote on the resolution on Wednesday. The funds, he added, were needed for fuel and other emergency items and would not be used for military activities.
"It's for urgent humanitarian needs in Libya," the diplomat said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a media briefing the Obama administration was working to free up $1.5 billion "to provide some humanitarian assistance and to provide some support to the TNC (Transitional National Council) rebel group.
The diplomat said the decision to submit a draft resolution came after the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee failed to act on an August 8 request from the United States to unfreeze the assets, which are subject to U.N. sanctions imposed on Libya earlier this year.
U.N. sanctions committees work on the basis of consensus, which means all 15 Security Council members have a virtual veto. The diplomat said South Africa was objecting to the unfreezing of Libyan assets.
Another diplomat said U.S. and South African officials were discussing the issue.
A third diplomat said, however, that South Africa was not alone in its objections. Russia and others had reservations about the proposal, the diplomat said.
"People want to make sure that the money isn't going to be used by one side for military action," the diplomat said.
By presenting a resolution to the council, the United States would bypass the sanctions committee and the need for consensus on its request. Council resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent council members to pass.
If the objections to the U.S. request are lifted in the sanctions committee, there will be no need to vote on the resolution the U.S. delegation intends to submit to the council on Wednesday, diplomats said.
If the objections remain, the U.S. delegation would call for a vote on Thursday or Friday, the first envoy said.
If South Africa were the only country to vote against a resolution, it could still pass.
The United States hopes to be able to announce the release of up to $1.5 billion to the rebels on Thursday, when Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attends a meeting in Istanbul of members of the Libyan Contact Group, a U.S. official said.
"We are not quite there yet at the (Security) Council but I understand we are making progress," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials have told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the United States had frozen $37 billion in Libyan assets.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Alister Bull in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts; Editing by Peter Cooney)