The United States will recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC), the rebel group fighting Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, as that country’s “legitimate governing authority, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton made the announcement while attending a meeting of the so-called Libya Contact Group in Istanbul, Turkey.

She noted that the TNC continues to gain legitimacy as the representative of the Libyan people and conducts high-level diplomacy with governments worldwide.

While France and some other nations have given the rebels recognition weeks and months ago, the U.S. dragged its feet on the measure due to some concerns about the TNC’s activities and goals.

However, Clinton said that the rebels had “offered important assurances today, including the promise to pursue a process of democratic reform that is inclusive both geographically and politically, to uphold Libya's international obligations, and to disburse funds in a transparent manner to address the humanitarian and other needs of the Libyan people.

Washington, she added, will help the TNC sustain its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and national unity of Libya, and we will look to it to remain steadfast in its commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms:”

On a practical basis, recognition by the U.S. could mean a financial windfall for the Benghazi-based rebels -- the Americans can now help finance their operations with some of the $30-billion in assets it seized from Gaddafi (which are currently frozen in U.S. banks).