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Libyan Diplomat’s Resignation May Boost Rebels, Spur Qaddafi

Former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
A file photograph from 2010 of Moussa Koussa. Photographer: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

The resignation of Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa may help weaken Muammar Qaddafi’s hold on power, even as it may spur the dictator to more radical action by removing one of the few moderating voices left in his inner circle, according to analysts of the region.

Koussa, a former intelligence chief who was among Qaddafi’s closest advisers outside his family, may be able to tell the allies who else among Qaddafi loyalists could be encouraged to leave the regime. He also may deliver information about Libyan terrorist activities, such as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Koussa’s departure is “going to hurt Qaddafi at home,” said Robert Danin, senior fellow for Mideast and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, speaking by telephone from Jerusalem. “It’s also going to have the effect, I fear, of further radicalizing Qaddafi, because Moussa Koussa had played such a central role in Libya’s re-engagement with the world, and was trusted by Qaddafi.”

Koussa arrived yesterday at the U.K.’s Farnborough Airport, a former military installation near London, on a flight from Tunisia, Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement. Koussa earlier had crossed into Tunisia from Libya on a private visit, the state-run Tunis Afrique Presse news agency reported, citing its own correspondent.

Koussa isn’t subject to the travel ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council on Qaddafi and other top Libyan officials.

‘Big Loss’

“This is a very big loss for Qaddafi,” said Elliott Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “It’s the closest person to him who has defected, and he certainly knows where all the bodies are buried since he buried many of them.”

Koussa arrived in Britain “under his own free will,” the Foreign Office said. He is “one of the most senior figures in Qaddafi’s government and his role was to represent the regime internationally -- something that he is no longer willing to do,” the statement said.

“This is big,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. As head of Qaddafi’s intelligence services, Koussa was the only person trusted by the Libyan leader with such sensitive projects as negotiations with the U.S. on giving up his program to build nuclear weapons and chemical arms, said Dunne.

Diplomats Abandon Qaddafi

Dozens of Libyan diplomats have abandoned Qaddafi’s regime since an uprising against his rule began last month.

“If you were to draw a list of the half dozen people who worked with Qaddafi over the years, there are Qaddafi’s sons and there is Moussa Koussa,” Abrams said. “We have to hope that he left because he thinks they are doomed.”

Even as he lost a close aide, Qaddafi gained a supporter. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former foreign minister of Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista government and one-time president of the United Nations General Assembly, was named yesterday as the Qaddafi regime’s ambassador to the UN.

D’Escoto Brockmann was named to the post because Ali Abdussalam Treki, also a former General Assembly president, couldn’t get a visa to enter the U.S., Libya said in a letter sent by Koussa to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on March 29.

‘Newfound Momentum’

Koussa’s resignation may give a “sense of newfound momentum” to the Libyans battling Qaddafi’s forces, Danin said.

The rebels, after advancing toward Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, withdrew in the face of artillery and rocket attacks as pro-Qaddafi forces retook control of the oil port of Ras Lanuf. The BBC and New York Times, citing reporters near the Libyan front line, said yesterday rebels were streaming away from Brega and heading northeast, back toward Ajdabiya.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have said they wouldn’t rule out sending arms to opposition forces. The U.S. is looking “very closely” at whether to give more assistance to opposition groups in Libya, though no decision has been made, White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday at a briefing.

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