Libya conflict: Is Qaddafi's exit in the offing?
French officials claim that emissaries from Muammar Qaddafi say he is ready to discuss a departure from power. But the Libya leader has put out such feelers before, only to withdraw or deny them.
French officials claimed on Tuesday that emissaries from Muammar Qaddafi have told them the Libyan leader is ready to discuss his departure from power â a claim that, if nothing else, demonstrates how a negotiated settlement is suddenly the preferred solution to a war that drags on.
It was not immediately clear how serious the claims were of Mr. Qaddafiâs willingness to step down. The mercurial leader has put out such feelers before, only to withdraw or deny them.
But the French governmentâs eagerness to broadcast the potential for a negotiated settlement was only the latest sign of a broader shift among international parties to the conflict â and perhaps even some Libyan factions â that are favoring negotiations over continued warfare.
â˘ With mixed reports about how their offensive against Tripoli is going in mountains outside the capital city, some of Libyaâs rebels now favor a cease-fire during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins around Aug. 1 this year. That could serve as a period to advance negotiations. NATO has also said it would be willing to entertain a proposal for a cease-fire during Ramadan â as long as Qaddafi's forces also respected the truce.
Comments from French officials Tuesday were the most insistent yet that a settlement to the 5-month-old conflict is in the offing. Prime Minister Francois Fillon told a parliamentary committee that âa political solution is ... beginning to take shape,â while Foreign Minister Alain JuppĂŠ told a radio broadcast: âEmissaries are telling us, âQaddafi is ready to go; letâs talk about it.â â
One reason for the shift toward negotiations among NATO powers engaged in the war is that domestic audiences are tiring of a war that the alliance was supposed to be able to conclude quickly, some say.
Mr. Obama has faced mounting opposition in Congress to US participation in the NATO campaign. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy â whose forces lead the NATO air campaign in tandem with Britain â is anxious to see the French militaryâs role end well in advance of next Aprilâs presidential election, when he will seek reelection.
Qaddafi has for weeks switched back and forth between advocating talks and insisting he would never negotiate his departure, but some regional analysts say that, in a sense, there is just too much smoke now for there not to be some fire.
âQaddafi has consistently denied any negotiations, but now there are so many reports from so many sources that it seems there must be something going on,â says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
What the long-surviving Qaddafi is doing, Mr. Phillips assumes, is âusing hardball tactics to extract as good a deal as he can get.â The Libyan leader is not stupid, he adds, âand has to know that he canât last indefinitelyâ â since the rebels control much of Libyaâs oil and African mercenaries make up a large proportion of Qaddafiâs armed forces.
Representatives of the rebel council are set to meet with NATO and European Union leaders in Brussels Wednesday. The opposition governmentâs growing legitimacy will also be on display when the so-called contact group of countries, including the US, will meet in Turkey on Friday. The group is seeking a resolution to the Libyan conflict.
As much as the rebels might still wish to âtake their fight all the wayâ without negotiating with the regime, Phillips says, the reality is that the âindecisive natureâ of the Libyan conflict is likely to erode their determination.
The military stalemate, he says, âmay very well lead them to accept a settlement that is less than their initial demands.â