US officials meet Qaddafi representatives. More talks to come?
Libya's rebels are under pressure to talk with representatives of Qaddafi's government, but recent military gains have solidified their resolve to fight to a resolution.
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Washington says the meeting, which took place in Tunisia over the weekend, was a one-time event with the purpose of insisting that Mr. Qaddafi step down from power. But Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim called the talks a "first step" and indicated that he expected them to continue, CNN reports.
"We are ready to discuss ideas to move forward, make sure that people are not harmed any more, that this conflict comes to an end and that the damaged relationship between Libya and the [United] States and other NATO countries can be repaired," he said.
The Libyan government has said repeatedly that it will not accept any agreement that removes Qaddafi from power.
After announcing that it will recognize the rebel government as the country's legitimate representative, Washington decided to tell Libyan officials face-to-face what it has been saying to the public for months: Qaddafi must go. According to a State Department official, Qaddafi's representatives have reached out to the US more frequently in recent weeks with no response, CNN reports.
The meeting included three US envoys, including US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, and four Libyan officials. According to the Guardian, French officials have also been meeting with Qaddafi's government.
Meanwhile, France is pressuring the rebels to negotiate with Qaddafi's government. The rebels have so far refused, believing that a military victory is inevitable and insisting that Qaddafi, his sons, and his "inner circle" be gone before they sit down with the rest of his government, the Los Angeles Times reports.
But there are serious doubts about whether a rebel victory will happen. Senior rebel commander Abdul Jawad himself said that they are not a "traditionally structured military organization," a comment that the L.A. Times called a "profound understatement."
The rebels expect that defections, low morale, and shortages among Qaddafi loyalists will enable them to soon be able to cut off Tripoli, the capital. However, there are three fronts in the war right now – near Tripoli, in the western Nafusa Mountains, and in the east – and the strategies for each are being devised without much direction from the rebel headquarters in Benghazi, according to Mr. Jawad. The rebels also lack equipment, training, and a deep understanding of military tactics. Commanders have been promising to "liberate" Tripoli and other areas for months, only to fall into repeated stalemates.
The fiercest fighting right now centers on the eastern town of Brega. Reports on the extent of rebel success vary widely, from complete control of the town (Agence France-Presse) to facing several days of fighting before they can reach the town.
According to the Guardian, the rebels' tactics reveal that they have learned much about military strategy since they first held, and lost, Brega in the beginning of the war.
Recapturing Brega would be a major achievement for the rebels, both strategically and psychologically. Their forces have been locked in stalemates across the country for weeks. The Wall Street Journal says taking Brega would be a sign that the rebels are "slowly, but steadily winning the war."
Qaddafi's government is putting up fierce resistance to their efforts. The rebels have had to make their way to Brega through fields and roads laden with landmines and dangerous chemicals and under a barrage of fire, the Guardian reports.
"We will turn Brega into hell. We will not give Brega up even if it causes the death of thousands of rebels and the destruction of the city," he said.