France today became the first country to recognize the Libyan National Council as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people, following a meeting between Nicolas Sarkozy and two representatives from the upstart government, the New York Times reports. France says it will soon engage ambassadors with the rebel group, which has set up camp in Benghazi. The move puts France ahead of its allies—including the United States, which, the Washington Post observes, has been unusually passive in the Libyan crisis, with President Obama seemingly content to let allies take the lead.
France’s statement comes amidst a NATO meeting to decide whether to enforce a No-Fly Zone over Libya. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces have relentlessly exploited their air power against the rebels; today, planes and naval artillery bombarded Ras Lanuf, a major oil port controlled by opposition forces, CNN reports. Loyalist forces also claimed the central square of a rebel-held city just west of Tripoli, according to the Wall Street Journal. Gadhafi has held together the military better than originally appeared likely, and the outgunned rebels appear to have lost their momentum in their push toward the capital.