The New York Times reports:
President Dmitri A. Medvedev on Friday offered to leverage Russia’s relationships in Libya to try to persuade Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to leave power, an act of long-shot diplomacy that for the first time casts Russia as a central player in events unfolding in North Africa.
Mr. Medvedev’s announcement, which came a day after a 90-minute bilateral meeting with President Obama at the Group of 8 meeting in France, represents a pronounced shift in Russia’s tone on Libya. Russia’s criticism of NATO attacks had become increasingly tough over the last months, reviving a longstanding critique of American unilateralism that had quieted since Mr. Obama took office.
By signing on to the effort, Mr. Medvedev is taking a gamble. If Colonel Qaddafi could be persuaded to leave, Russia would win international plaudits but would also bear some responsibility for guaranteeing his safety. If he cannot, Mr. Medvedev might find it more difficult to keep his distance from the military campaign, which is not popular in Russia.
But all those risks may be mitigated by the prestige of being asked to defuse a violent standoff on behalf of world powers.
“Russia in the post-Soviet era has all these ideas about its influence and consequence in the world, and it is very sad for Russian politicians if it does not exist,” said Dmitri Oreshkin, an analyst with the Mercator Group, a Moscow-based advisory group. “In this case, it seems like it exists. This is a reason to feel strong and respected.”
Mikhail V. Margelov, Russia’s special envoy to the Middle East and Africa, said he had been ordered to fly to Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, to conduct negotiations with the Libyan opposition, with an eye to assessing their vision of a post-Qaddafi government. He has mentioned Qatar and Saudi Arabia as countries that might possibly offer Colonel Qaddafi asylum, and said Group of 8 allies have proposed a variety possibilities for his future, “from a quiet life as a simple Bedouin in the Libyan desert, to the fate of Milosevic in the Hague.”
NATO aircraft destroyed the guard towers at Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, a NATO official said on Saturday, then staged a rare daytime air strike on the Libyan capital, heightening pressure on him to quit.
“RAF Typhoons, along with other NATO aircraft, last night used precision-guided weapons to bring down guard towers along the walls of Colonel Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah complex in the center of Tripoli,” Major General John Lorimer, chief British military spokesman, said in a statement.
“Last night’s action sends a powerful message to the regime’s leadership and to those involved in delivering Colonel Gaddafi’s attacks on civilians that that they are no longer hidden away from the Libyan people behind high walls,” he said.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported:
President Obama has subtly shifted Washington’s public explanation of its goals in Libya, declaring now that he wants to assure the Libyan people are “finally free of 40 years of tyranny” at the hands of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, after first stating he wanted to protect civilians from massacres.
But if toppling Colonel Qaddafi is now the more explicit goal, Mr. Obama’s European trip this week has highlighted significant tensions over how much time the NATO allies have to finish a job that is now in its third month.
Mr. Obama has urged strategic patience, expressing confidence that over time the combination of bombing, sanctions and import cutoffs will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. “Time is working against Qaddafi,” Mr. Obama said on Wednesday at a news conference in London with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.
But in Europe and in Libya, patience is calculated differently. Many countries are struggling with the rapid pace of operations. Some, like Norway, have already said they will sharply reduce their forces beginning next month. According to NATO officials, Colonel Qaddafi has a calculation of his own: facing a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court, he may soon have few places to go and little to lose by waiting out NATO and betting that European public opinion will tire of the bombing campaign and its costs.
In interviews in Washington, at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in the alliance’s southern command center in Naples, Italy, officials have described a new strategy to intensify the pressure — and drive out Colonel Qaddafi, a goal that officials now privately acknowledge extends beyond the boundaries of the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
The Associated Press reports:
The deputy leader of Libya’s rebel administration said it could take up to two years to organize elections, backtracking on promises of a six-month transition to democracy and adding to internal dissent already brewing within the movement seeking to topple Moammar Gadhafi.
Criticism of the rebel leadership’s National Transitional Council has been growing in its stronghold city of Benghazi, in the mostly rebel-held east of Libya. Deeper splits within the rebel movement could further hamper its faltering drive to remove Gadhafi, who has been in power for more than 40 years and is continuing to hold on despite NATO airstrikes in support of his opponents.
The announcement on Wednesday of a longer transition period has raised suspicions that some council members are intent on prolonging their power.
The council’s vice chairman, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, said a news conference that a one- to two-year transition period would be needed after the hoped-for ouster of Gadhafi. In that time, he said, the opposition would form a transitional legislative body tasked with writing a constitution, hold a referendum on the charter, form political parties and then hold elections.