At London Libya meeting, the 'soft power' side of international action

The meeting, in which world leaders offered humanitarian arguments for Qaddafi's ouster, established a 'contact group' to help guide the political process in the Libyan operation.

Stefan Rousseau/AP
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the London Conference on Libya, at Lancaster House in London on Tuesday, March 29.

Today's London meeting on Libya showed the "soft power" side of the international operation. Arab, European, and US leaders offered a raft of humanitarian arguments and a collective suasion to push for Muammar Qaddafi's ouster.

They promoted a new vision for Libya’s future. It was "a new beginning,” according to host British Prime Minister David Cameron, who talked about a "political process" and a new constitution, speaking as if Mr. Qaddafi had already decided to leave.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed how far the international effort to deal with Libya had come in just 12 days. She said a cease-fire would be possible only “when humanitarian conditions are met,” and said that in her reading United Nations Resolution 1973, which sanctioned the military action, did allow for the outside arming of rebels, although a decision on the issue had not been made.

NATO's in charge – so who is doing what in Libya?

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe today also said France was “ready to talk” about arming the rebels.

The London meeting announced the creation of a broad “contact group” to govern how the coalition treats and advises Libyans on the ground. The political group is made up of representatives from 15 nations, the UN, the Arab League, Islamic authorities, the EU, and the African Union in order to “provide a focal point … for contact with the Libyan parties," as a final statement in London described it. That decision ended one of the more contested questions ahead of the London meeting.

Qatar, one of two Arab partners in the coalition, is to hold the first contact group meeting. In London, Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani pushed for Qaddafi to leave, calling it “the only solution.”

It is a “sad moment, but with hope [for] the future,” said the Qatari leader, referring to the violence on the ground and Arab leaders decision to join the effort to urge Qaddafi away from nearly 42 years of rule.

Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague met Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jabril outside the talks, though no photographs were taken of the event. The subject is a sensitive one as US officials have only begun to meet and probe the aims of the rebel leadership.

Clinton said that Mr. Jabril’s views on politics and civil society, including a secular vision of government, are “exactly in line with what [the opposition] has said are their goals,” but added that until recent days they have “not had any specific information” on the so-called interim council largely based in Benghazi. “We are still getting to know those who are leading” the transition.

NATO's in charge – so who is doing what in Libya?

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