September 9th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

First U.S. diplomats returning to Tripoli on Saturday

By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford

The United States is sending the first team of diplomats into the Libyan capital since its embassy was shuttered earlier this year, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Friday.

Joan Polaschik, the deputy chief of mission, is scheduled to arrive Saturday to establish what the State Department calls a "modest" diplomatic footprint.

Polaschik will have "a couple of policy people with her and some more security folks and building folks to work on getting the premises ready for the reopening as soon as we can," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The U.S. mission has been looted and trashed since it was closed in early February amid unrest in the country, Nuland said.

U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz is not scheduled to travel to Tripoli at this point, Nuland said, because his residence is heavily damaged and he has no space to work.

"We need to get people in there to see" the damage to assess what steps need to be taken in reopening the embassy, Nuland said.

"I think it's quite clear that we'll have to have a temporary location for some time while the buildings are refurbished," she added.

The mission to Tripoli will be much more than just damage assessment, Nuland said. Polaschik and her team will "enable us to have direct diplomatic contact with (Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni) and the TNC (Transitional National Council) and members of the international community and the U.N. who are working in Tripoli," Nuland said.

Chris Stevens, who has been heading the U.S. diplomatic presence in Benghazi, where the Transitional National Council began its base of operations, will remain there to work with TNC officials who have not moved to Tripoli.

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Filed under: Diplomacy • Libya
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