Four months after launching an international no-fly zone over Libya, the United States and France appear to have backed off an earlier demand that Libya's Muammar Gadhafi leave the country. Instead, they are demanding that Gadhafi surrender power in a meaningful way.
"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."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking on French television Wednesday, made a similar point.
"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," Juppe told France's LCI television station, the New York Times reported. "A cease-fire comes about by a formal and clear commitment by Gadhafi to give up his civil and military responsibilities."
White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about Juppe's comments, said it's up to the Libyan people. "The United States' position has always been that Col. Gadhafi lost his legitimacy to lead and that he needs to be removed from power, remove himself from power," he said at the White House press conference Wednesday. "It is up to the Libyan people to decide what his future is beyond that. So it's not for us to say."
But back in April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly called on Gadhafi to leave Libya.
"We believe, too, that there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Gadhafi from power and from Libya," she said during an April 11th news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Cai-Goran Alexander Stubb, Reuters reported.
Asked if the position Washington and France articulated Wednesday represents the consensus stance of the Contact Group on Libya, which met in Istanbul last Friday, the senior U.S. official said: "There's nothing in the contact group communique that talks about Gadhafi's ultimate destination, only that he must step down from power."
U.S. diplomats met with Gadhafi envoys on Saturday in Tunis. State Department officials characterized the purpose of the meeting as to get across one message: that Gadhafi has to go. But apparently, the coordinated message they are delivering is that he meaningfully vacate his office, not necessarily the country.
Libyan foreign minister Abdelaiti Obeidi, meanwhile, met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow Wednesday, Reuters reported. Moscow, which has been critical of the NATO-led military intervention in Libya and support to Libyan rebels, nevertheless has also asserted that Gadhafi must give up power.