Five months after NATO forces began what was supposed to be a lightning-quick operation to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi from power, the conflict is moving into a muddled endgame.
Weary NATO forces and the Libyan rebels signaled recently that they might allow Qaddafi to stay in Libya, so long as he stays out of politics.
In a press conference Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain would accept an agreement allowing Qaddafi to remain in Libya after stepping down from power.
“He must never again be able to threaten the lives of Libyan civilians nor to destabilize Libya once he has left power,” Hague said. “Obviously, leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people they no longer have to live in fear of Qaddafi. But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”
The announcement came after rebel leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil said Libya’s rebels signaled they would be willing to allow Qaddafi to stay under certain conditions.
“Whether he remains in Libya or whether he goes elsewhere, it is for Libyans to decide through a national dialogue that will be implemented under the aegis of the National Transitional Council,” Jalil told reporters, referring to the rebels’ administration.
And in July 20, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told French TV that “one of the hypotheses that’s envisioned is, indeed, that (Qaddafi) stays in Libya on the condition he very clearly leaves Libyan political life”.
The statements are a dramatic shift from earlier rhetoric. British Prime Minister David Cameron said in March that Gaddafi must be exiled. And Hillary Clinton said in April that the Libyan leader must “step down and leave Libya.”
The U.S. has ceded the brunt of military operations to its NATO allies, mostly Britain. A column by The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall laid out the challenges Britain faces moving forward.
“Public support for Nato’s open-ended military campaign in Libya, never strong to start with, is waning,” Tisdall wrote. “Nato members such as Germany refused to get involved in the first place while others, such as Norway, have curtailed active involvement. Backing from Arab League countries, militarily at least, has been disappointing, and from African states nonexistent.”
Meanwhile, what’s left of Qaddafi’s government has said it won’t sit at the bargaining table until NATO air strikes cease.
“This aggression needs to stop immediately, without that we cannot have a dialogue, we cannot solve any problems in Libya,” Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi told a news conference after talks with a visiting U.N. envoy.