A statement released late Wednesday by the British Foreign Office did not use the word “defection,” when it described Koussa arriving at the small Farnborough Airport just outside London “under his own free will,” and declaring only that he was “resigning his post.” But it clearly supported the move.
“We encourage those around Qaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform,” the Foreign Office said.
However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday that Koussa was “not being offered immunity from prosecution” in British or international courts. As Libya’s top diplomat in Britain in 1980, Koussa was expelled for stating that he would eliminate Libyan dissidents living in the country; some reports also link him to planning the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
News of the defection came as reports emerged that President Obama had signed a presidential finding authorizing covert operations in Libya. Reports first emerged in The New York Times that CIA operatives had been deployed to the rebel side in eastern Libya.
That development comes as Washington debates the possibility of providing arms and other fighting expertise to the rebels. The United Nations Security Council resolution approved on March 18 authorizes “all necessary means” to protect civilians, but also rules out foreign military forces on Libyan soil.