Allies step up diplomatic push to end Libya conflict

Laura Rozen

The Western intervention into Libya has dragged on for more than four months now, even though the targeted launch of an international no-fly-zone against Muammar Gadhafi had been conceived as a limited humanitarian action.

And as the conflict continues to defy swift military resolution, diplomatic leaders associated with the Western effort are redoubling their bid to negotiate a political resolution to the conflict.

The United Nations' special envoy on the conflict, former Jordanian foreign minister Abdul Elah al Khatib, "will seek to persuade warring parties in Libya to accept a plan that envisages a ceasefire and a power-sharing government--but with no role for Muammar Gaddafi," a European diplomat told Reuters.

"The U.N. is exerting very serious efforts to create a political process that has two pillars; one is an agreement on a ceasefire and simultaneously an agreement on setting up a mechanism to manage the transitional period," Khatib told Reuters in an interview in Amman.

The stepped-up diplomatic efforts are a sign of fatigue in western capitals from the Libya stalemate, analysts said, as well as the judgment that Libyan opposition forces would not carry off a significant military victory on the ground anytime soon.

"Everyone is looking for an endgame to occur as quickly and as smoothly as possible," the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Mark Quarterman, a former UN official, told The Envoy Thursday.

Contrary to initial expectations that the international military intervention in Libya would be relatively short, "that has not turned out to be the case," Quarterman said, noting that "opposition forces in Libya have not to date been able to take and hold substantial amounts of territory."

"As a result, the reliance on military victory to achieve the endgame is looking less and less likely, at least in the short run," he said. "So therefore a negotiated end to Gadhafi's rule is seeming more and more attractive all the time."

In another move seemingly aimed at diplomatic closure, the United States and France both signaled this week they would be open to a solution in which Gadhafi stays in Libya, as long as he meaningfully abandons power.

"We insist he steps down from power in a demonstrable and tangible and permanent way," a senior U.S. official told The Envoy Wednesday. "Whether he stays or goes from Libya is a question the Libyans need to answer."

"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 told France's LCI television station, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The British government has not said whether Gadhafi should stay or leave Libya; only that he should leave power.

"The UK, France and all other members of the Contact Group agree that Qadhafi's brutal actions have stripped him of all legitimacy and he must go immediately," a spokeswoman for the British embassy told The Envoy by email Thursday.

"We also agree that there needs to be a political solution, and in this regard strongly support the ongoing efforts of the [UN secretary general's] special envoy," she said.