The U.S. and Italy are each considering arming Libyan opposition forces to speed the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi, according to an official involved in closed- door talks between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in Washington yesterday.
Frattini also told Clinton that the African Union, whose commission chairman, Jean Ping, met with Frattini in Rome on April 5, has promised to send a delegation to Tripoli in coming days to try to persuade Qaddafi to leave the country, according to the official, who wasn’t authorized to comment on the private discussions at the State Department.
Clinton floated the question of whether Italy would be willing to send its forces to help train or assist Libyan rebels in combat, an option that Frattini rejected as unrealistic given sensitivities over Italy’s role as Libya’s former colonial ruler, the official said.
State Department press officers offered no rundown of what was discussed in the meeting, and a spokesman did not respond to an e-mail request for comment last night. Clinton told reporters after the meeting that she and Frattini had discussed how every nation involved can “do more to help the opposition make very fast progress.”
The rebels who came together two months ago to revolt against Qaddafi’s rule “were not soldiers” or trained military forces, she said. “They were doctors and lawyers and university professors and economists and young men who were students, and they are being attacked by mercenaries, by ruthless forces.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes on Qaddafi’s forces, she said, are “buying time, buying space” for the rebels.
The Italian government this week joined France and Qatar in recognizing the Interim Transitional National Council, based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, as the legitimate government of Libya. The U.S., which has dispatched special envoy Chris Stevens to Benghazi to learn more about the opposition, hasn’t recognized the rebels as the new Libyan government.
Neither the U.S. nor Italy has decided yet whether or how to supply rebels with weapons, Clinton and Frattini said in their private meeting, according to the official.
NATO foreign ministers are likely to discuss arming the rebels at a meeting April 14-15 in Berlin. Foreign ministers from the Libya “contact group,” which includes the U.S., Canada, European nations, Persian Gulf states, the Arab League and the African Union, are expected to meet in Qatar next week.
Frattini said he and Clinton discussed efforts to forge a deal for Qaddafi to go into exile, though he declined to specify where Qaddafi might seek refuge or whether he would be subject to prosecution.
“If we want to succeed, we shouldn’t at this stage fill in details about potential destinations, countries of destination, possibilities, options, and so on,” he said, adding that he hoped an African Union delegation will “send a very clear message” that Qaddafi and his family must leave Libya.
In an interview yesterday at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said his nation, a NATO member, sees the absence of a clear leader and a distinct ideology uniting the Libyan opposition as an impediment to governing the country after the ouster of Qaddafi.
Were there “a specific single leader and a specific ideology that drives the opposition movements, then it might be easier,” Arinc said.
Clinton told reporters that a new letter sent by Qaddafi to President Barack Obama broke no new ground toward resolving the impasse in Libya. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the letter was “not the first” sent by Qaddafi to Obama.
‘Give Up Power’
“Mr. Qaddafi knows what he must do,” Clinton said, listing a cease-fire, a withdrawal of government forces and a decision to give up power and leave Libya as conditions for a resolution to the military conflict.
Clinton praised Italy’s role in the military and humanitarian operations in Libya, and told reporters she has “full confidence” in NATO’s leadership of the allied strikes against Qaddafi.
Abdel Fattah Younes, head of the rebel army, had complained at a press conference April 5 in Benghazi that NATO was slow “in responding to our instructions” on targets and failed to “give us what we need.” Younes was particularly critical of the 28-member alliance for failing to stop Qaddafi’s weeks-long siege of Misrata, the rebel-held western city near Tripoli.
Clinton said Italy has been “bearing more than its share” of the influx of immigrants to Europe fleeing the crises in North Africa, especially Tunisia, where an uprising ousted President Zine Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.
Frattini said allies must work together “to ensure the peaceful outcomes” of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. “The more democracy comes, the more development is stable. If there is no democracy, there is no stability.”
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