US and Libya in face-to-face talks

July 19, 2011

, The Guardian

The US and Libya on Saturday held their first face-to-face talks since the conflict in Libya began four months ago, officials from both governments have confirmed.

But the two sides disagreed about what was discussed – and what happens next.

The three-hour talks were held on neutral ground in Tunisia.

A US state department official said Washington agreed to the meeting, after several requests from Tripoli, in order to deliver a message to the Libyan government that its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, had to step down.

It was not the start of negotiations and no further talks were planned, the official said.

But the Libyan government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, speaking in Tripoli, described it as a first step.

“We support any dialogue, any peace initiative, as long as they don’t decide Libya’s future from outside,” Ibrahim told journalists in Tripoli.

“We will discuss everything, but do not condition your peace talks. Let the Libyans decide their future.”

The discussions took place amid concern in the US and Europe that the conflict – which Britain and France expected to lead quickly to Gaddafi’s exit – was dragging on. Washington, too, is keen on a quick resolution, with Barack Obama conscious of the war weariness in the US, with Libya coming on top of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama has been calling publicly for several months for Gaddafi to stand down.

The weekend meeting came after the US on Friday joined other countries in officially recognising the Libyan rebels as the new government, bringing the total of such countries to 30.

A US state department official said the meeting was a one-off to emphasise that Gaddafi had to depart. Ibrahim has said in the past that negotiations that involved Gaddafi’s exit were a non-starter.

The Americans who took part in the talks included the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, who was forced to leave Libya in December afterembarrassing leaked cables on WikiLeaks, and Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Four members of Gaddafi’s inner circle also took part.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, last week said Paris was talking to representatives of the Gaddafi government.


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