New Libya contact group to meet in Qatar

London meeting agrees move will help efforts to map out Libya’s future, amid apparent split over arming rebels.

Prime minister and Foreign minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al Thani (R) speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the opening of the Libya Conference, in central London

World powers meeting in London have agreed to set up a working group to lead international efforts to map out Libya’s future, with the first meeting to take place in Qatar, British officials have announced.

“Participants of the conference agreed to establish the Libya Contact Group,” said a statement issued by William Hague, the British foreign minister, who chaired the meeting of representatives of more than 40 countries – plus those of the UN and NATO.


The group would “provide leadership and overall political direction to the international effort, in close co-ordination with the UN, AU (African Union), Arab League, OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) and EU (European Union) to support Libya”, the statement said.

Hague said that “Qatar has agreed to convene the first meeting of the group as soon as possible”.

After the first meeting in Doha, Qatar, the chairmanship will rotate between the countries of the region and beyond, the statement said.

Following the London talks, Hague held a news conference with Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister.

Al Thani urged Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, to step down to halt bloodshed and said that he might only have a few days to negotiate an exit.

“We urge Gaddafi and his people to leave,” he told the news conference.

“I think this is the only solution to sort this problem as soon as possible. Right now we don’t see any indication of that.

“But this hope which we offer now might not be on the table after a few days. I’m not warning anybody here, but I am trying to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible.”

Arming opposition

Hague said that diplomats had not discussed arming the opposition to Gaddafi, adding that Libya was under a UN-mandated arms embargo and that the restrictions “in our view apply to the whole of Libya”.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to Al Jazeera

However, France said it was ready to discuss arming the Libyan opposition with its coalition partners, despite this not being part of the UN mandate.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said: “I remind you it is not part of the UN resolution, which France sticks too, but we are ready to discuss it with our partners.”

US president Barack Obama was asked in an interview with NBC if he would give further weaponry to the anti-Gaddafi fighters.

“I’m not ruling it out. But I’m also not ruling it in,” he replied.

“We are going to be looking at all options to provide support to the Libyan people so that we can transition towards a more peaceful and more stable Libya.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she had discussed ways to extend financial help to the opposition Libyan National Council, but that possible arms transfers had not been discussed.

She said that while the US had made no decisions on potential weapon deals, it believed that the UN mandate could allow for “a legitimate transfer of arms if a country were to choose to do that”.

Tim Friend, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in London, said suggestions such as these illustrated the questions leaders were having to grapple with.

“The question is how far do you go? If Gaddafi’s forces are fighting back, do you then step up the response, and if so how far do you take it?” he said.

“These are matters of degrees and they’re very tricky questions. There are many different perspectives on it.”

‘Better days’

Opening the talks on Tuesday, David Cameron, the British prime minister, told the parties there were “better days ahead for Libya” as he said coalition forces would continue enforcing the no-fly zone over the country.

World leaders speak on Libya

“Today I believe should be about a new beginning for Libya – a future in which the people of Libya can determine their own destiny, free from violence and oppression,” he said.
“But the reason for being here today is that the Libyan people cannot reach that future on their own.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Clinton and Hague met Mahmoud Jibril, a leading member of the Libyan opposition, in London.

The meeting is another sign that the US administration is looking to expand ties with rebel leaders, but an official stressed it did not constitute formal recognition of the opposition.

Hague said the Libyan transitional council was an “important and legitimate political interlocutor” but that Britain was committed to strengthening ties with a “wide range of members of the Libyan opposition”.

Libya’s rebel National Council has promised to build a free, democratic nation if it prevailed, in an eight-point statement.

It also said it would draft a national constitution allowing the formation of political parties and trades unions.

Ahmed Khalifa, a spokesman for the rebel movement, told a news conference in Benghazi he expected the London conference to create more pressure for Gaddafi to leave.

“The national council rejects any negotiations with Gaddafi or his family … No one at this [London] conference is defending Gaddafi, he has lost his legitimacy,” he said.

Reports have also suggested that the US, Britain and France have sent special envoys to the rebel-held city of Beghazi, but these have not been officially confirmed.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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