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Campbell Clark

As Libya settles into stalemate, the West grasps for a way out Add to ...

The British government has kicked Moammar Gadhafi’s diplomats out, and invited rebel envoys to take their place. Canadian officials have joined France and Britain in accepting the idea that the dictator could stay in the country, as long as he cedes power.

Western nations are grasping for ways to end the Libyan conflict before the stalemate settles into a long siege.

“It’s kitchen sink, really,” said Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London.

For many Western governments, there is “the sense they’re running out of time” for support of the mission, Mr. Joshi said, and they need to give Col. Gadhafi a carrot-and-stick offer before it settles into a long, painful campaign to strangle off his resources – notably oil – to disrupt life in Tripoli and spark an uprising that will end in an ugly way.

The British government made a sudden U-turn and recognized the rebels as the government of Libya. British officials had said they don’t recognize governments, they recognize nations. But British Foreign Minister William Hague declared Wednesday that the rebels’ Transitional National Council is the “sole government authority” in Libya, meaning Britain will treat them like the government.

The chief reason was to unlock millions in frozen Gadhafi regime assets and send them to the Transitional Council. Getting money to the council has become a big concern of Western allies who want to signal that the rebels will have the wherewithal to keep going.

Mr. Hague said Britain would move to unfreeze about $140-million in assets of a Libyan government oil company now controlled by the rebels – not the whole $12-billion worth of Libyan assets frozen in Britain. He also said that Britain and other countries will work together to unfreeze more.

But UN resolutions that froze the assets of Libyan authorities are still in place, even for the rebels. France, Italy, and now Britain have found loopholes. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said two weeks ago Canada’s looking for some, too.

Canada has dubbed the council the “legitimate representative” of the Libyan people, but not the government, and Mr. Baird’s spokesman, Chris Day, indicated Ottawa doesn’t intend to follow Britain’s lead: “I can tell you we recognize states not governments,” he said in an e-mail.

The other move, to float the idea that Col. Gadhafi could stay in Libya, was accepted as a possibility by Britain, France, and Canada, so long as he left power. But Transitional Council leader Mustafa Mohamed Abdel Jalil retracted it Wednesday, insisting it was a short-term offer and the deadline’s passed.

It probably wasn’t practical anyway: If Col. Gadhafi stayed in Libya, a new government would be uneasy, and his safety probably couldn’t be guaranteed.

It’s more important as a needed indication that he faces other options than death or trial, former diplomat and Queen’s University Professor Louis Delvoie said. “This is a signal: We’re willing to give you a face-saving way out. You choose. As opposed to: Come out and face the International Criminal Court.”

NATO will face political pressure to tone down bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August. The drawn-out mission is less popular among publics; France will soon move toward its presidential election season, and Britain will have to report costs of the mission again in six weeks, “which will be very painful if it’s not wrapping up,” Mr. Joshi said.

But despite a glimmer of hope from the advances of western rebels, eastern rebels aren’t seen as able to take Tripoli. If Col. Gadhafi doesn’t take a way out, the mission will settle into a long siege, waiting for his dwindling oil to run out, until lights go out and businesses shut in Tripoli, and people under the control of his security services take the risk of rising, Mr. Joshi said. “But that’s a drawn-out process, and very messy.”



Campbell Clark writes about foreign affairs from Ottawa

Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

 

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