Russian official claims Qaddafi willing to cede power in Libya

Despite the Russian media report, the Libyan government denies Qaddafi will consider stepping down and rebels say he must face justice.

Vladimir Rodionov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Reuters
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (r.), Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin (c.) and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen walk together during their meeting in the southern Russian city of Sochi on July 4, 2011.

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The Russian media is reporting that, according to an anonymous Russian official, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is willing to step down from power if he receives security guarantees. The report comes amid a diplomatic push to end the Libyan war by Russia, which has vocally criticized NATO's tactics in Libya. But other statements by both the Libyan government and the rebels cast doubt on whether Mr. Qaddafi's willingness to depart is real.

"The colonel [Qaddafi] is sending signals that he is prepared to relinquish power in exchange for security guarantees," Kommersant quoted the official as saying, according to Reuters. (See original report in Russian here.) Other countries have already said they're willing to provide the guarantees.

However, Reuters also reports that Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, said there would be no negotiations to end his father's rule, while the rebel government withdrew its offer for Qaddafi to stay in the country if he steps down – a condition that Qaddafi has insisted on.

The Russian report comes a day after South African President Jacob Zuma and NATO Secretary General Andre Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Russia to meet with officials there about negotiating a resolution.

President Zuma, a vocal opponent to the NATO intervention, has offered to serve as a mediator, The New York Times reports. Moscow's unofficial channel to Libya, the president of the World Chess Federation, made a second trip to Tripoli at the same time to meet with Qaddafi, who told him he would not agree to any settlement that ordered his departure from the country.

Russia's negotiation efforts have increased since a meeting with President Obama in May. The Times writes that Qaddafi is a "major buyer" of Russian weapons and President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to use his country's leverage with Qaddafi to try to convince him to cede power.

The report also follows possible negotiation meetings between the Libyan government and the rebels that the rebels deny are happening. The National Transitional Council's head, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said no negotiations between the two governments were taking place and also said earlier reports that the rebels would allow Qaddafi to remain in the country were false, the Associated Press reports. In Tripoli, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters that his government has been talking with rebel officials for two months, although he acknowledged that there are several members opposed to talks.

According to the Times, Mr. Abdul-Jalil said reports about allowing Qaddafi to remain in the country were based on comments of his to Reuters that were misconstrued as official policy. Abdul-Jalil said in a statement “that [Qaddafi] can resign and order his soldiers to withdraw their barracks and positions, and then he can decide either to stay in Libya or abroad.”

“I would like to confirm that there is absolutely no current or future possibility for Qaddafi to remain in Libya,” the statement read. “The N.T.C. has at all times been committed to achieving peace and stability for Libya and its people. As part of this commitment, we have been obliged to consider all kinds of scenarios, and I provided one such former example in today’s interview that was discussed by the N.T.C. some time ago.

“There is no escape clause for Qaddafi – he must be removed from power and face justice. This is a fact further highlighted by the arrest warrant issued by the Internation [sic] Criminal Court for the crimes that Qaddafi has committed against our civilians.”

Although Russia has taken a lead role in negotiations with Libya, it remains critical of NATO's military intervention in the country. A routine NATO-Russia meeting in Russia on Monday put a spotlight on the disagreement, with NATO head Mr. Rasmussen vociferously defending NATO's actions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lazarov said that disagreements about Libya were hindering cooperation efforts in other areas, BBC reports.

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