x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Turkey seeks agreement on 'road map' for Qadaffi's departure

Istanbul wants fourth meeting of International Contact Group on Libya to forge a broad international agreement on the demand for Colonel Qaddafi's resignation.

The chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, Mahmoud Jibril, left, is welcomed by the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, in Brussels yesterday. OLIVIER HOSLET / EPA
The chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, Mahmoud Jibril, left, is welcomed by the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, in Brussels yesterday. OLIVIER HOSLET / EPA

ISTANBUL // Turkey is hoping to increase pressure on Colonel Muammar Qaddafi by forging a broad international agreement on the demand for his resignation at a high-level meeting in Istanbul today, according to officials.

The fate of the Libyan leader, how to support the Libyan opposition as well as the military situation will be on the agenda at the fourth meeting of the international Contact Group on Libya, a Turkish official said this week.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, has said he wants the meeting's participants to agree on a road map for a political solution in Libya. Turkey and other international players including France and the UK have thrown their weight behind the Libyan opposition and have called on Colonel Qaddafi to stand down. But there is no broad international consensus on this yet.

"Our road map says there must be a ceasefire and humanitarian aid to all cities," Mr Davutoglu said during a visit to the Libyan opposition's stronghold in Benghazi this month. "The people's demands for reform have to be implemented. Furthermore, Qaddafi has to go."

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, her counterparts from Britain and France, the UN's special envoy for Libya, Abdelilah Al Khatib, and the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will be among high-ranking officials attending tomorrow's meeting.

It will be co-chaired by Turkey and the UAE, host of the most recent meeting in June. The Libyan opposition will be represented by Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Transitional Council.

Representatives from Nato, the Arab League and other international organisations are expected in Istanbul as well. China and Russia, which have veto power in the UN Security Council and are sceptical of the Nato-led campaign in Libya, had also been invited, but said yesterday they would not attend.

Briefing reporters before the Istanbul meeting, a senior Turkish official said while the Turkish road map for Libya called for Colonel Qaddafi's "departure", a separate plan drawn up by the African Union (AU) did not address that issue. The search for a "common denominator" between the plans was likely to come up at the Istanbul meeting, the official said.

"I think there could then be a real road map for the international community, so that everybody will give the same message," he said. "At this fourth meeting, there is a greater expectation and a wish for a political solution among many members of the group."

Colonel Qaddafi has ruled out leaving Libya, but the Turkish official said it was still unclear whether the Libyan leader and his family would contemplate going into exile. "A safe passage to a third country - is it an option or not? We don't know; nobody knows," the official said. Internal exile for Colonel Qaddafi "could be an option as well", he added.

The Turkish official said participants of the meeting in Istanbul were eager to listen to what Mr Al Khatib, the UN envoy, had to say about his recent contact with both sides in the Libyan conflict. Mr Al Khatib had held talks with Libyan government representatives in Tripoli last weekend. "Obviously, the gap is still wide," Mr Al Khatib said after his visit, in reference to the government and the opposition. "Unfortunately, the Libyan people are paying the price for that," he added.

An increase of financial support for the Libyan opposition will also be discussed in Istanbul. The Turkish official said UN resolutions on Libya that froze government assets made it difficult to free up cash for the Libyan opposition, even though it had been recognised as the rightful leadership of the country by many Western countries.

"The resolutions have either to be amended, or a new one has to come," he said. Until then, bilateral aid for the opposition remained the main focus. Turkey has pledged a total of US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion).

The head of the National Transitional Council, Mr Jibril, and his aides will hold bilateral talks on the fringes of the Istanbul meeting, the Turkish official said.

The fighting between government and opposition forces in Libya has turned into a stalemate without any significant gains for either side. With the holy month of Ramadan starting in early August, the Turkish government has expressed its concern that Nato could face a difficult choice of whether to continue with its attacks on government targets in Libya or scale down its operation.

Continuing operations carried the risk of handing Colonel Qaddafi's government a chance to exploit the attacks as an affront to Islam, the official said. "If there were to be halt [of Nato air strikes], then the administration in Tripoli could use this time to make reinforcements, to increase military preparations against civilian targets."

The official stressed that the scenario was an internal assessment by the Turkish government. "We are silently sharing this with some partners," he said. The possible tricky military choice underlined the need for speedy political progress in Libya, the official added. "That's why we are, like several countries, insisting that an immediate political solution is necessary."