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Leaders of the international coalition responsible for the no-fly zone in Libya will gather in London today to discuss the next steps for the UN-authorized military intervention. The meeting, which comes more than a week after international airstrikes began and a couple days after NATO took command of military action, seeks to clarify the role of the coalition forces in the escalating conflict between rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces that began seven weeks ago.
The objectives of the coalition have so far been murky. World leaders have rejected accusations from Qaddafi that they are seeking regime change, saying their mandate is no protect civilians. But the vigorous air campaign has enabled rebels to rapidly regain territory that they had lost to Qaddafi's forces.
According to The Telegraph, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that one of the goals of the meeting is to begin planning for a post-Qaddafi political future in Libya. Although the goal of the international intervention is not regime change, they do hope Qaddafi will step down, he said.
In the British capital, world powers will address some of the questions that have been raised since the international strikes against Gadhafi began, from possible endgame scenarios for the regime to plans for the country's post-dictatorship future. The senior [Obama] administration official said three practical outcomes were expected: recognition beyond NATO of the alliance's new leadership in protecting Libyan civilians; the creation of a "contact group" to lead enforcement of UN sanctions and other political efforts against the Gadhafi regime; and a second trip to the country by UN special envoy Abdelilah al-Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister.
The official suggested that al-Khatib's mission would be to negotiate the international community's terms for a graceful exit for Gadhafi to spare further bloodshed in Libya. But the official rejected the idea that the Libyan leader of 42 years could escape accountability and a possible war crimes trial as part of an agreement for him to go into exile — an idea floated by some in the coalition.
In a joint statement released Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy outlined their hopes for expanding the coalition’s mission beyond the now NATO-led military action.
“Military action is not an objective as such,” the leaders said. “A lasting solution can only be a political one that belongs to the Libyan people. That is why the political process that will begin tomorrow in London is so important. The London conference will bring the international community together to support Libya’s transition from violent dictatorship and to help create the conditions where the people of Libya can choose their own future.”
Sarkozy and Cameron encouraged Qaddafi’s supporters to desert him and called on the participants of the London conference to “consider how we can bring urgent relief now, and how we can support the needs of the people of Libya in the future.”
The conference will be attended by around 40 delegations, including members of the UN, NATO, African Union, the Arab League, and possibly a member of the rebels' transitional government although that was unclear amid conflicting reports.
Bloomberg says that Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the Libyan opposition government, is also expected to participate in the conference. However, The Telegraph reports that there would be no representative of the opposition government in attendance and that instead a UN envoy at the meeting would be sent as an envoy to the opposition government afterward.
Mr. Jibril was recently appointed interim prime minister by the National Transitional Council, the rebels' interim government. Both France and Qatar have recognized the council as the sole legitimate representative of Libya.
From the Arab League, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates are expected to attend. The US and its NATO allies are hoping that the presence of these Arab nations will add weight to any future military actions taken in Libya. Arab League support for the no-fly zone was critical to the successful passage in the UN of Resolution 1973, which authorized the no-fly zone, as well as additional action to protect civilians.
Russia turned down an invitation to the conference, arguing that the military action in Libya has already expanded beyond the scope of the UN resolution.
Qaddafi responded on Tuesday to the London meeting in a letter addressed to the coalition and printed by the state-run Jamahiriya News Agency, the AFP reports.
“Stop your barbaric, unjust offensive on Libya,” Qaddafi said. “Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are committing genocide against a peaceful people and a developing nation.”