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Italy rejects Gadhafi regime's diplomatic push

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April 4, 2011, 10:51 p.m. | World — by Associated Press

Libyan rebels duck while others with vehicles retreat as they come under attack during an exchange of fire with pro Gadhafi forces along the frontline at the outskirts of Brega, Libya Monday, April 4, 2011.
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ISTANBUL (AP) — A diplomatic push by Moammar Gadhafi's regime ran into trouble Monday as opponents at home and abroad rejected any solution to the Libyan conflict that would involve one of his sons taking power. While a Gadhafi envoy lobbied diplomats in European capitals, Italy became the third nation to declare that the rebels' interim council in Libya is the only legitimate voice for the people of the North African nation.

The diplomatic whirlwind — which came after more than two weeks of punishing international airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces — could signal a softening of his regime's hardline stance against any compromise that would end the fighting and steer Libya toward a political resolution.

Yet any long-term settlement poses tough questions about the fate of Gadhafi's family and the new leader of a post-Gadhafi nation.

Some of Gadhafi's adversaries quickly rejected the idea that any of his powerful sons, some of who command militias accused of attacks on civilians, might play a transitional leadership role that would undoubtedly protect the family's vast economic interests.

Gadhafi, who took power in a 1969 coup, has a legacy of brutality and involvement in terrorism but was able to prolong his rule and even emerge from pariah status over the past decade with the help of Libya's immense oil wealth.

Potential rivals to the eccentric leader were sidelined during four decades of harsh rule based on personal and tribal loyalties that undermined the army and other national institutions.

In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini welcomed Ali al-Essawi, the foreign envoy of the Libyan National Transitional Council, which was hastily set up in the eastern, rebel-held city of Benghazi as the uprising against Gadhafi began in February.

"We have decided to recognize the council as the only political, legitimate interlocutor to represent Libya," Frattini told reporters. He said he will send an envoy to Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, in the coming days.

Frattini also insisted that Gadhafi and his family must go.

"Any solution for the future of Libya has a precondition: that Gadhafi's regime leaves ... that Gadhafi himself and the family leave the country," Frattini said.

Italy is the third country, after France and Qatar, to give diplomatic recognition to the rebel council, despite international concerns about the unity, origin and ultimate intentions of the opposition.

Its leaders have said they are committed to democratic reform, but U.S. lawmakers have cautioned that the allies need to know more about them before providing them with any weapons to fight Gadhafi's forces.

Al-Essawi said one possible idea — replacing Gadhafi with one of his sons — was not acceptable.

"They are leaders of the military operations against Libyans," he said.

The New York Times reported Monday that two of Gadhafi's sons are proposing a solution in which one of them, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, would take over from his father and steer the country toward a constitutional democracy.

The newspaper cited a diplomat and a Libyan official who were briefed on the plan, and reported that it was not clear whether Gadhafi himself supported the proposal.

There are cracks in Gadhafi's administration, which has suffered high-level defections, including that of former Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who was being questioned Monday by U.K. intelligence officials in Britain.

Seif has cultivated reformist credentials in the West for years and had been seen as a likely successor who might usher some degree of change into the tightly controlled country.

After Libya's uprising, however, Seif denounced protesters in a finger-wagging appearance on state television, calling them drug addicts and warning of civil war.

For many Libyans, that performance linked him irrevocably with his father despite a sophisticated veneer that included study at the London School of Economics and a doctorate.

In 2008, Seif traveled to the United States and met then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as part of Libya's gradual campaign to rejoin the international community after years of isolation.

A Libyan government envoy, Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, traveled Monday to Ankara for talks with senior Turkish officials whose embassy remains open in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and who plan to also meet Libyan opposition leaders in the next few days.

Turkey's NTV television cited al-Obeidi as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Libyan government wants to see a quick end to the fighting. No further details on the talks were announced.

Turkey has previously suggested that Gadhafi step down after appointing a transitional figure who can begin a reconciliation process.

"We will do our best for the pain to end and to bring about a road map that meets the demands of the Libyan people, including a political change," Davutoglu said.

Al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister, also planned to travel to Malta. On Sunday, he was in Greece, where he told the prime minister that Gadhafi was seeking a way out of the crisis.

But Italy's Frattini, who spoke with Greece's foreign minister, said al-Obeidi's proposals were "not credible."

A Greek Foreign Ministry official said the idea of Gadhafi leaving or staying "was not an issue of discussion" during the talks Sunday night.

"They want to negotiate and are willing to speak of a political solution," said the official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

Steve Field, the spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron, said Monday that Britain had not publicly demanded Gadhafi's family be prevented from seeking a role in Libya's future.

But he said the Libyan people would likely reject any attempts by Gadhafi's sons or other members of the dictator's inner circle to join a transitional government.

French officials echoed the British remarks.

"It's up to the Libyan people to define the conditions of the transition. We note a multiplication of defections from the immediate entourage of Gadhafi, and in consequence, his growing isolation," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said when asked about any possible future role by Gadhafi's sons.

Seif claimed in a televised interview last month that Libya had helped fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign, but Sarkozy's office fiercely denied any such funding.

Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, did not have an immediate comment on whether Gadhafi's sons, or any member of his regime, would be acceptable in a transition government.

"It's impossible to have a clear position on a situation that is unclear," he said.
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