Three senior U.S. officials held a secret meeting July 16 with representatives of Muammar Qaddafi’s government, which said today the development was a sign of U.S. willingness to negotiate with the regime.
A U.S. State Department official said the meeting was not a negotiation, and was intended only to deliver the message that Qaddafi must step down.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council staff member Derek Chollet met with Libyan officials to clear up any misunderstanding about the U.S. position, the U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The decision to hold face-to-face talks reflected U.S. concern that Libyan officials incorrectly thought the U.S. was prepared to see a future role for Qaddafi in Libya, the official said. The U.S. closed its embassy in Tripoli in February.
Disclosure of the meeting came first in Tripoli, where a Libyan government spokesman described the Tunisia meeting as a “first-step dialogue” to repair ties between the two nations, according to the Associated Press.
“This is a first step and we want to take further steps,” said the Libyan spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, the AP reported. “We don’t want to be stuck in the past. We want to move forward all the time.”
The State Department official said that the meeting was not the start of talks and that there is no plan to hold another session. U.S. diplomats told Libyans that during the meeting and came away with the sense that their message about Qaddafi was understood, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the event on the record.
Consultations with Allies
Before the talks, U.S. officials consulted with diplomats from other nations attending the Libya Contact Group meeting July 15 in Istanbul as well as with officials from the Transitional National Council, the rebel governing group, according to the State Department official.
The U.S. joined more than 30 other nations at the Istanbul meeting in deciding to recognize the Transitional National Council as the country’s legitimate representatives.
NATO is leading an air campaign over Libya that began in March to pressure Qaddafi to step down.