LONDON, July 26 (UPI) — NATO is seeking an urgent exit strategy from Libya that will end the fighting and decide the future of embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi, even if that means letting him stay in the country though out of power, it emerged Tuesday after British and French foreign ministers met in London.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said NATO and even members of the opposition Transitional National Council wouldn’t oppose Gadhafi staying in Libya as long as he gave up power.
In the only Libyan voice of dissent reported so far, activist Soliman Albrassi, living in London, said allowing Gadhafi to stay in Libya would be a recipe for civil war, the BBC said.
Hague and Juppe received support for the proposal from former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who said it would be important to avoid a “blood bath in Tripoli” — seen as a likely outcome if a final military push to the Libyan capital triggered close combat.
Hague said: “What happens to Gadhafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans … What is absolutely clear, as Alain (Juppe) has said, is that whatever happens, Gadhafi must leave power. He must never again be able to threaten the lives of Libyan civilians nor to destabilize Libya once he has left power.”
“Obviously him leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people that they no longer have to live in fear of Gadhafi,” Hague said.
“But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”
Juppe said the allies were in “perfect cooperation” in Libya and “must continue to exert strong pressure on the Libyan regime with the same methods.”
“If we did not intervene four months ago it would have been a massacre in Benghazi and I think we may be proud to have taken this courageous decision,” Juppe said.
Diplomacy is being driven by lack of results from the military campaign as it drains NATO resources amid constant Libyan opposition pleas for more military aid, food and medical supplies.
NATO decision-makers are treading cautiously to forestall an escalation that could pit them against a moral dilemma or — worse — require large-scale military commitments on ground.
Military analysts said more than half of Tripoli’s key installations are in ruins after NATO bombardment and missile strikes and rebel action. There were renewed reports of worsening shortages of food and fuel in the Gadhafi ranks.
Intense mediation efforts are under way at different levels at the United Nations and Europe, in African, European and Middle Eastern capitals and Russia. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi visited Moscow last week and was in Cairo and Tunis this week.
Obeidi’s shuttle diplomacy — no doubt on orders of Gadhafi — indicated a compromise could still be possible, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told reporters when he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover, Germany.
Little was reported after Obeidi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met behind closed doors in Moscow.
Although NATO member France has denied meeting Gadhafi aides, as reported earlier, Medvedev sent a special envoy who met both Gadhafi aides in Tripoli and opposition leaders in Benghazi.
U.N. Special Envoy Abdel Elah al-Khatib is also on another round of shuttle diplomacy between the opposition in Benghazi and the Gadhafi government in Tripoli.
Tuesday’s Hague-Juppe talks in London followed intense contacts across continents over the weekend, all aimed at reaching a compromise and — in NATO’s case — a quick end to the costly conflict.
Opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Gadhafi and his family could stay on in Libya but “we will decide where he stays and who watches him.”
Neither side would comment on how this would be done under an internationally brokered accord when the International Criminal Court in The Hague holds warrants for the arrests of Gadhafi and his senior aides. Hague called the conundrum hypothetical.