The U.S., the U.K., Italy and France now say they’re willing to accept an outcome in Libya that would allow Muammar Qaddafi avoid exile or a trial on war crimes charges.
After conducting four months of daily bombings, NATO-led allies are willing to let Qaddafi stay in Libya on the condition that he gives up power.
“If the Libya people believe an internal solution is acceptable, then Italy agrees,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said yesterday in Guangzhou, China, according to ANSA news agency. A spokesman confirmed his comments.
“One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition, which I repeat: that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said July 20 in a television interview with French news channel LCI.
As the military campaign enters its fifth month, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies want to wrap up a mission that Juppe promised at its March 19 outset “will be counted in days and in weeks, not in months.” Politically, they have pressing concerns at home: For Europeans, it’s saving the euro and for Americans, it’s defending an AAA credit rating by cutting federal spending.
“It shows some desperation, because the entire military operation didn’t deliver what the U.K., France and also the U.S. had hoped for,” Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels, the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a telephone interview. “You get pragmatic and you change the targets.”
‘Regime Change 2.0’
Qaddafi, who seized power of the oil-rich North African nation in a military coup in 1969, still controls the capital, Tripoli, and has threatened to “blow up” the city if the rebels succeed in seizing it.
Techau calls the new strategy “Regime Change 2.0,” permitting exile within Libya. That is a softer take on the original plan, which had been to either let Qaddafi escape to a safe haven or have him stand trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
For the first time, allies and rebels may be prepared to grant Qaddafi’s wish to live out his retirement on his home soil, on the condition he lay down his arms and give up power.
That “is a possibility that can be worked to try and make him leave” power, Mahmoud Jibril, who heads the Transitional National Council, the rebel governing group, told reporters in Madrid yesterday.
“If Qaddafi does not leave power, there is no room for an exchange of ideas,” he said. “We do not intend to negotiate on whether Qaddafi leaves power but on how he leaves power.”
As the fighting continues, Qaddafi’s troops have set explosive charges at petroleum installation in the oil port of Brega as well as at unspecified oilfields, Jibril said, according to the Associated Press.
The June 27 indictment of Qaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity limited his exile options to a handful of countries that did not ratify the Rome treaty that set up the court in 2002.
Still, Qaddafi saw a door open the day after the U.S. and 31 other nations gave the Transitional National Council official recognition as the governing authority in Libya.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council staff member Derek Chollet held a secret meeting July 16 with representatives of Qaddafi’s inner circle.
The face-to-face talks were a sign of U.S. willingness to negotiate with the regime, according to a spokesman for Qaddafi’s government, Moussa Ibrahim. U.S. State Department officials insist that the meeting was not a negotiation and was intended only to deliver the message in person that Qaddafi must step down.
Either way, U.S. officials don’t exclude the possibility of Qaddafi staying in Libya as long as he steps aside.
“He needs to be removed from power or remove himself from power,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters July 20. “It is up to the Libyan people to decide what his future is beyond that, I mean, so it’s not for us to say.”
Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said that the longer the military campaign drags on, the harder it becomes to keep the coalition together. Time has played in Qaddafi’s favor, as it “seems to have strengthened his negotiating position,” Danin said in a telephone interview.
By flitting between conciliatory overtures and threats, Qaddafi has kept his opponents guessing what his next move will be or whether the end to the conflict will come only with his capture or death.
“Qaddafi’s message is, ‘Like hell am I leaving Tripoli; give me something I can work with or come get me,’” said Alessandro Politi, a former adviser to the Italian Defense Ministry. “The allies realize they can’t keep demanding he cede power if they don’t give him a palpable option of where to go.”
The “best” outcome would be for Qaddafi to leave Libya and stand trial in The Hague, Gavin Cook, a spokesman for the U.K. Foreign Office, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “But what happens to Qaddafi is ultimately up to the Libyan people, and they should determine his future.”
Letting Qaddafi stay does pose risks and could destabilize a country that was stitched together in 1929, when Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were united as one colonial province under the Italians. Qaddafi has held the country together in his four decades in power.
“Is he going to be safe five, 10 years down the line is what he will be asking himself,” Politi said. “Will the authorities catch up with him or someone try and kill him?”