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International meeting on Libya: Can it find a political solution?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be part of Friday’s meeting in Istanbul, held by the so-called contact group of countries. Turkey says it will propose a 'road map' for ending the Libya crisis.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (l.) and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pose for media members before a dinner in Istanbul July 14, 2011. Western powers and Arab states meeting in Istanbul on Friday will seek a political solution to end the civil war in Libya, amid conflicting signals over whether Muammar Gaddafi intends to fight on or surrender power.

Murad Sezer/Reuters

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joins an international meeting on Libya Friday that comes as calls mount for a political solution to the 5-month-old conflict.

“The time to find a solution is now,” said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after meeting with rebel leaders in Brussels Wednesday. He called for a political solution “led by Libyans” and “supported by the international community.”

But even though some leaders like Mr. Rasmussen are calling for the solution to come from the Libyans themselves, the prospects appear dim for two warring and deeply divided groups – the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and his supporters, and the rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi – to come up with a settlement.

Turkey said on Thursday that it will propose a “road map” for ending the crisis when the so-called contact group of countries on Libya meets in Istanbul Friday. Turkish officials did not divulge details of the plan, but it is expected to resemble a peace plan proposed by Turkey in April that included a cease-fire, protection of civilians, and steps for a transition to democracy.

The Istanbul meeting will be the fourth contact group meeting but the first where the emphasis is expected to be on finding a solution to the conflict. Earlier meetings focused on rallying the coalition of NATO countries militarily engaged in Libya and on boosting the legitimacy of the opposition’s Transitional National Council.

The reasons for the newfound urgency in finding a political solution range from Western fatigue with a war that was supposed to culminate within a few weeks, to the military stalemate that has set in between the two warring parties.

Both the Qaddafi regime and the rebels are encountering worsening shortages of key provisions. Mr. Qaddafi in particular was dealt a harsh blow earlier this month when the Turkish government cut off his access to funds held by a Turkish-Libyan bank.

International powers including the United States continue to insist that a political solution must include Qaddafi’s departure from power. Secretary Clinton repeated that stance at a press conference Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, saying, “Although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Qaddafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered.”

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Some Libyan officials claiming to be emissaries from Qaddafi have told representatives of a number of foreign governments in recent days that the Libyan leader may be open to an arrangement under which he leaves power.

One option is that Qaddafi, who has sworn he will never depart from Libyan soil, might accept a kind of domestic exile within Libya – although many opposition leaders have said that a fresh start for Libya would be impossible with Qaddafi in the country.

Another option is that Qaddafi might depart for a friendly country such as Zimbabwe, where he presumably would not have to fear being subject to the International Criminal Court. The ICC last month indicted Qaddafi, a son, and a senior intelligence official for crimes against humanity.


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