The softly spoken diplomat who lifted the rebels' resolve

Mr Stevens was cautious about what would happen in post-Gaddafi Libya, but wanted the West engaged

Kim Sengupta
Thursday 13 September 2012 11:01 BST

Chris Stevens met his death in the city where he had arrived soon after the start of the Libyan revolution, when it was far from certain whether Muammar Gaddafi could be driven from power. In the subsequent months he helped to ensure that the revolution would survive and ultimately triumph.

There is little doubt that his presence, with a small team of Western diplomats, helped buttress the morale of the opposition's National Transitional Council, suffering from doubts and divisions, and dispirited by the failure to break through the regime's defences despite the aid of Nato bombing.

While attending seemingly endless meetings with opposition leaders in Benghazi, the softly spoken and urbane US representative would express his frustration at being unable to see for himself what was going on in the frontline. Some of us covering the fighting would meet him on our brief visits to the capital of "Free Libya" to be questioned about the performance of the rebel forces, their weapon supply, and the support, or otherwise, they were receiving from the population in the towns and cities on the road to Tripoli.

It was clear from the few meetings that Mr Stevens had built up much knowledge of Libyan politics and tribal structures during a previous posting in Tripoli. Refreshingly, he refused to speak in the clichés about Colonel Gaddafi and the regime much used by diplomats and officials in Washington and London.

It also became clear that unlike some of their British and French colleagues, Mr Stevens and his team were cautious about what would happen in post-Gaddafi Libya. However, he held that it was vital that the West should remain engaged as a counter-balance to hardline Islamists who had come to join the rebels.

Libya's first elections were, overall, a success. In Benghazi, where I was on polling day, there were outbreaks of violence, but the voting continued. As in the rest of Libya, the Islamist parties did not do well, neither did a local separatist movement.

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