Gaddafi envoy in Europe 'seeking solution'

Libya's acting foreign minister on mission to Greece and Turkey in apparent initiative aimed at ending fighting.

    Obeidi and Papandreou met on Sunday evening, in a meeting that was requested by the Libyan prime minister [AFP]

    Abdel Ati al-Obeidi, Libya's acting foreign minister, has told the Greek prime minister in Athens that embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is seeking an end to fighting in the country.

    "It seems that the Libyan authorities are seeking a solution," Dimitris Droutsas, the Greek foreign minister, said. He added that Obeidi planned to travel on to Malta and Turkey.

    Obeidi crossed into neighbouring Tunisia and travelled from Djerba airport to the Greek capital on Sunday and met George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, later in the day.

    "They [Libyan government] requested to send an envoy with a message for prime minister George Papandreou and that is why he is in Athens," a senior Greek government official said.

    In a statement, the Greek foreign ministry said it was committed to seeking a "political, diplomatic solution" to the crisis in Libya, where government forces are battling rebels seeking to end Gaddafi's decades-old rule.

    "We reiterated the clear message from the international community: respect for and full implementation of UN resolutions, an immediate ceasefire to stop the violence, particularly against the civilian population of Libya."

    In Tripoli, the Libyan capital, government officials were not immediately available to comment on Obeidi's movements. The New York Times has reported that Seif al-Islam and Saadi Gaddafi, two of the leader's sons, have created their own plan to remove their father from power amicably and negotiate an end to the conflict.

    Papandreou's office said Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, the Libyan prime minister, requested Obeidi's visit during a phone conversation on Saturday. Papandreou also discussed the Libyan crisis with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, on Sunday.

    Papandreou has been talking by phone with the leaders of Qatar, Turkey and Britain over the last two days.

    Libya-Greece ties

    Speaking from Athens, John Psaropoulous, editor of the Greek magazine Odyssey, told Al Jazeera that close ties between the two governments date back to the 1980s.

    "It stands to reason that Libya would reach out to the Greeks, if they would reach out to anyone in Europe, because Greece is a country that's always been Arab-friendly in its foreign policy," he said.

    Given the poor state of the Greek economy, he added, its government is currently particularly susceptible to incentives from Libya, such as cheap oil.

    While it has not participated in the air strikes, Greece has provided access to its territorial waters to French aircraft carriers southwest of Crete, along with permanent territorial access to NATO and US forces.
    "So it is a strategic ally in the region and it is worth the Libyans making an attempt at least to see whether the Greeks are interested in showing some of their friendship," he said.

    Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tripoli, said there is much speculation about what might be discussed during the reported negotiations.

    They could involve some of transitional arrangement to help Gaddafi "take a graceful exit from the Libyan political scene," she said. 

    Greece is likely to be viewed by Tripoli as one of few potential negotiating partners in Europe, McNaught said.

    "Would Libya think that Greece would be a more sympathetic ear in Europe, than old friends like Italy, which Libya feels betrayed by, and all the other implacable voices in the rest of the EU?"

    Libyan defections

    Obeidi served as prime minister under Gaddafi in the late 1970s. Later, he was head of the General People's Congress, or parliament. His current post is minister of state for European affairs and he has served as an envoy for Gaddafi during the present crisis.

    The news follows speculation about his whereabouts since the departure last week of Libya's foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, who defected to the United Kingdom via Tunisia.

    Obeidi accompanied Koussa to Tunisia, but did not travel with his former colleague to his destination. 

    "Mysteriously, as it was expected he would follow his boss, he returned and came back to Libya," McNaught reported.

    An official from the Tunisian foreign ministry told Al Jazeera that Obeidi has not defected.

    On a separate diplomatic front, British officials announced on Sunday that a British diplomatic team had been sent to Libya the day before.

    The small team arrived in Benghazi on Saturday, where it is set to speak to key figures, including members of the opposition Transitional National Council.

    The diplomats will "seek to establish further information about the INC, its aims and more broadly what is happening in Libya," the British foreign office said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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