|Saif al-Islam's interview comes amid France's call to rebels to negotiate with the Gaddafi government [GALLO/GETTY]
Muammar Gaddafi's regime is in talks with the French government, one of the Libyan leader's sons said in an interview published on Monday.
"The truth is that we are negotiating with France and not with the rebels," the Algerian El Khabar newspaper quoted Saif al-Islam as saying from Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
A spokesman for the French foreign ministry denied the government was in direct talks with Gaddafi but said "we pass [the Libyan regime] messages in liaison" with the rebels and other allied countries.
"These messages are simple and without ambiguity: Any political solution must begin with Gaddafi's withdrawal from power and abandonment of any political role," said spokesman Bernard Valero.
The opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) said it would not negotiate with Gaddafi until he stepped down from power. A spokesman said the Council believed Saif al-Islam was bluffing in order to harm relationships between the NTC and France.
But the French defence minister said on Monday that it was time for the rebel Council to come to the negotiating table with Gaddafi's administration.
"Our envoy to [Nicolas] Sarkozy said that the French president was very clear and told him 'We created the [rebel] council, and without our support, and money, and our weapons, the council would have never existed'," the newspaper quoted Saif al-Islam as saying.
"France said: 'When we reach an agreement with [Tripoli], we will force the council to cease fire'," the newspaper quoted Gaddafi's son as saying.
'Another title for Gaddafi'
Longuet said the rebels should not wait for Gaddafi's defeat, while signalling Paris's objective was still that the Libyan leader must eventually leave power.
The rebels have so far refused to hold talks as long as Gaddafi remains in power, a stance which before now none of NATO's major powers has publicly challenged.
"We have ... asked them to speak to each other," Longuet, whose government has until now been among the most hawkish on Libya, said on French television station BFM TV.
"The position of the TNC is very far from other positions. Now, there will be a need to sit around a table," he said."
Asked if it was possible to hold talks if Gaddafi had not stepped down, Longuet said: "He will be in another room in his palace with another title."
Soon after, the US state department in Washington issued a message that gave no hint of compromise.
"The Libyan people will be the ones to decide how this transition takes place, but we stand firm in our belief that Gaddafi cannot remain in power," it said in a written reply to a query.
Meanwhile, Ali al-Salabi, one of Libya's most prominent Islamic scholars and a leading opposition figure, has reportedly confirmed that ceasefire negotiations are underway between himself and Gaddafi's regime with the "tacit consent" of the NTC.
Abu Zaid Omar Dorda, a Libyan foreign intelligence official, was among the regime's representatives who took part in the diaolog.
"The major point in the dialogue is that any initiative for settling the Libyan crisis would be worthless, unless Gaddafi stepped down and announced to the Libyan people that he was renouncing power," Salabi said , adding that all Libyans including Gaddafi’s loyalists, were in agreement that Gaddafi’s political role, was over.