Libyan rebel chief says Qaddafi could stay after all

British Foreign Secretary William Hague backed up Mustafa Abdul Jalil's comment yesterday that rebels would be willing to sign an agreement allowing Qaddafi to remain in Libya.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, listens as France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, right, speaks at a press conference in London, Monday, July 25. This is the first time the Foreign Secretary has hosted Juppe, and their discussions focused on Libya, the Middle East, Arab Spring and the UK-France cooperation across bilateral and multilateral issues.

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday that Britain would accept an agreement in Libya that allowed Muammar Qaddafi to remain in the country after stepping down from power.

The announcement came after rebel leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil said that Libya's rebels would be willing to sign an agreement that allows Mr. Qaddafi to remain in the country under conditions they set. Mr. Hague's announcement is essentially a signal to the rebels that Britain will accept that outcome if that is what they choose.

"He must never again be able to threaten the lives of Libyan civilians nor to destabilise Libya once he has left power," Hague said, according to the Guardian. "Obviously, leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people they no longer have to live in fear of Gaddafi. But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine."

Hague also said that Qaddafi may not end up being arraigned in the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was with Hague at the time of the announcement. He said Qaddafi should have to stand trial to show that no one is "immune from prosecution," although he reiterated that if the Libyan people allow Qaddafi to remain in the country, then France too will go along with it, the Guardian reports.

Britain may be ambivalent about the ICC trial because if Qaddafi is persuaded to leave the country, it will likely be a country that does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC and therefore will not turn him over.

The Financial Times reports that the British government is under pressure to lay out a clear strategy in Libya, where the conflict is seemingly in a stalemate. Military officials say if operations go on much longer, the military – already stretched thin – will be "severely challenged."

Mr. Jalil's acquiescence on the question of allowing Qaddafi to remain is a significant softening of the rebel position, the Wall Street Journal reports. He made similar comments to Reuters earlier this month, but quickly denied it amid protests in Benghazi. This time, he left the window open for imposing tough conditions on Qaddafi in exchange for allowing him to stay, which may make it more palatable to the rebels.

Monitor reporter Dan Murphy, who spent nearly two months in eastern rebel-controlled Libya after fighting broke out in mid-February, wrote recently that even if Qaddafi were technically allowed to remain in the country it would be impractical for him to do so. Hatred of Qaddafi, who executed Libyans on an "industrial scale," is too strong.

He's a terrifying figure to his subjects after decades of haphazard executions and massacres. Even many of the gleeful political cartoons that erupted on walls across the east within days of his downfall often depicted him as a figure of fear – a vampire, or a ghoul, or the devil.

And Qaddafi has no institution behind him – just patronage networks that will be figuratively decapitated the moment he's gone from power. He's spent much of the past few months barking that his political opponents are cockroaches, drug addicts, and foreign spies who will be hunted "house to house, alley to alley." The belief is passionately held in Benghazi that there would have been a bloodbath if Qaddafi's troops had overrun the city. This is not a man to be left alone to be good on his own recognizance.

So whatever promises France might make in public (or perhaps a crafty emissary from Qaddafi's rebellious east might whisper in his ear), as a practical matter, a Qaddafi out of power in Libya is going to be either dead or in jail. A dictator doesn't hold power for 40 years by being a fool. Qaddafi knows he must find a way to win his battle or quit the country.

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