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Updated: March 29, 2011 15:13 IST

World powers meet in U.K. to discuss Libya's future

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Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. File photo: AP.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. File photo: AP.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said several nations planned to table a joint deal aimed at swiftly ending the conflict, setting out proposals for a cease-fire, exile for Col. Qadhafi and a framework for talks on Libya’s future between tribal leaders and opposition figures.

World powers were meeting in London on Tuesday seeking to plot out an endgame for Muammar Qadhafi’s tottering regime and to strike agreement on plans for Libya’s future.

U.N. Secretary—General Ban Ki—Moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Arab League and as many as 40 global foreign ministers were joining the talks, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Col. Qadhafi to quit.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said several nations planned to table a joint deal aimed at swiftly ending the conflict, setting out proposals for a cease—fire, exile for Col. Qadhafi and a framework for talks on Libya’s future between tribal leaders and opposition figures.

Britain and the United States signalled ahead of the talks that they could accept a plan under which Col. Qadhafi quickly leaves Libya and in return escapes a war crimes trial, despite a previous insistence that he must face the International Criminal Court.

“There are some African countries that could offer him hospitality. I hope that the African Union can come up with a valid proposal,” Mr. Frattini said on Monday.

African Union chairman Jean Ping will attend the talks at London’s Lancaster House alongside delegates who include Qatar’s emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al—Thani and foreign ministers from Morocco, the UAE, Jordan and Iraq.

Col. Qadhafi “must understand that it would be a gesture of courage on his part to say ‘I am leaving’,” Mr. Frattini said.

Turkey, which has offered to attempt to mediate a permanent cease—fire, also said the talks would gauge international support for scenarios under which Col. Qadhafi could quit, including whether he could appoint another regime figure in his place.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was hosting the talks, said on Tuesday that - while the U.K. hoped Col. Qadhafi would face international justice - it was down to Libyans to decide his fate.

“Of course where he goes, if he goes, is up to him and the people of Libya to determine and we will not necessarily be in control of that,” Mr. Hague told BBC radio.

Britain’s ambassador to the U.S., Nigel Sheinwald, said Libyan opposition envoy Mahmoud Jibril would meet on Tuesday with ministers and officials in London, but won’t attend the main conference. Mr. Jibril was also holding separate talks with Ms. Clinton.

“We need to work with him and others to help the opposition in their efforts,” Mr. Sheinwald told MSNBC television.

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Mr. Jibril’s Interim National Transitional Council could play a key role in deciding Libya’s future following Col. Qadhafi’s potential ouster.

The leaders said that the transitional council and “civil society leaders, as well as all those prepared to join the process of transition to democracy,” should begin work to decide how Libya moves toward democratic elections. They said Qadhafi loyalists were facing a final chance to ditch support for the dictator and side with those seeking political reform.

Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron discussed the meeting late Monday in a video conference with President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a speech on Monday night at the National Defence University at Fort McNair, Mr. Obama said the London talks would decide on what political effort would be needed - alongside military action - to increase pressure on Col. Qadhafi.

“While our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people,” Mr. Obama said.

Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told a news conference in Tripoli on Monday that foreign leaders had no right to attempt to impose a new political system on the country.

“Libya is an independent country with full sovereignty,” he told reporters. “The Libyan people are the only ones that have the right decide the country’s future, and planting division of Libya or imposing a foreign political system is not accepted.”

Mr. Kaim called on nations attending the London talks to agree on a peace deal.

“We call upon Obama and the Western leaders to be peacemakers not warmongers, and not to push Libyans towards a civil war and more death and destruction,” he said.

Mr. Cameron predicted Col. Qadhafi would likely attempt to derail discussions by announcing a new cease—fire in the hours before the talks open, but said the international community would treat such a claim with “heavy scepticism.”

“We have got to judge this man by his actions, not by his words,” Mr. Cameron told the House of Commons on Monday.

The meeting - which will also be attended by NATO secretary—general Anders Fogh Rasmussen - was also expected to discuss disputes over the scope of NATO—led coalition airstrikes, and to more clearly define the extent of cooperation between Libya’s rebel groups and international military commanders.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov - who will not attend the talks - has said the international air campaign which began on March 19 has breached the terms of the U.N. resolution which authorized the enforcement of a no—fly zone over Libya.

Mr. Cameron insisted that the coalition had not gone beyond its remit, but acknowledged the impact had been to force Col. Qadhafi’s military into a retreat from a number of key towns.

“We should do everything we can to protect people and actually - as a result - that is actually driving back the Qadhafi regime,” Mr. Cameron said.

Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron said in their joint statement that the military action would end only when civilians were free from the threat of attack.

“We have moved quickly and decisively over the last week and we will stick to our task,” Mr. Cameron told lawmakers.

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