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Both sides of Libya's conflict attempt to woo a divided Europe

Muammar Qaddafi sent envoys to Europe ahead of an EU summit Friday on the Libyan conflict. Libyan rebels are also courting European support and won recognition from France.

By Correspondent / March 10, 2011

Libyan envoy Mohamed Tahir Siala (2nd r.) leaves the Greek Foreign Ministry after his meeting with Greek deputy Foreign Minister, Dimitris Dollis on March 10.

Petros Giannakouris/AP

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Madrid

Libya’s warring sides opened a new and critical front in the deepening conflict there. Muammar Qaddafi and rebels trying to oust him sent envoys to European capitals to sway the debate over potential international military involvement in Libya, a day ahead of a European Union summit that could well determine the future of the crisis.

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The Provisional Transitional National Council based in the eastern city of Benghazi scored first on Thursday with the official French recognition of the rebel movement as the rightful Libyan regime. Simultaneously, France and the UK also unsuccessfully pressed their allies in NATO to support a no-fly zone.

A Spanish official also met with rebels in Bengazi, according to anonymous government sources quoted in local media. And Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero refused to take a call from Mr. Qaddafi Wednesday.

Qaddafi’s envoys, however, were welcomed in Portugal, Malta, and Greece, reportedly with previous knowledge of EU officials. All three countries have close relations with Tripoli. Portugal, who hosted the Libyan emissary Wednesday night, also heads the United Nation’s Security Council sanctions committee.

Europe divided over Libya

And while all agree leaving diplomatic channels open is vital to any peaceful resolution, Europe remains too divided to make any decisive moves on Libya. While France and the UK advocate action, the majority of nations, including Germany and Spain, want Qaddafi out but are more wary of moving too fast. A smaller group with closer ties to Libya, led by Italy, is stalling.

But many security analysts and officials say it's up to Europe to lead the international effort to deal with the Libyan crisis since it has the most at stake. The US is much less exposed and is militarily strained by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Timing is crucial as forces loyal to the embattled Libyan leader appear to be swiftly retaking the military momentum. And Friday’s EU summit in Brussels will either result empty words that embolden Qaddafi or in a roadmap to build a broader international coalition to hold him off.

“Europe is divided and stretched. There is quite the confusion,” says José Ignacio Torreblanca, senior policy fellow in the European Council on Foreign Relations and office head in Madrid. “Many are serious about reorienting policy, and others are still disoriented.”

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