French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrived in London on Tuesday, July 26, to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague and help him hoist the ladder for British Prime Minister David Cameron to climb down from the inglorious war he eagerly sponsored in Libya.
Their interview ended with London marginally relenting – for the first time since NATO went in on the side of the rebels five months ago – on its all-or-nothing demand that Muammar Qaddafi step down forthwith and leave Libya.
That would be the best way to show the Libyan people that they no longer need to fear him, said Hague. "But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine."
The next day, the British government expelled all of Libya's embassy staff from the country and recognized the rebel administration of Benghazi. This allowed London to unfreeze £91 million of Qaddafi's oil funds and hand them to the rebels.
In his statements, the foreign secretary also tellingly "forgot" three formerly insistent demands:
1. Putting the Libyan ruler and his sons on trial before the International Court for war crimes.
While the British and French foreign ministers were closeted together in London, Libyan state television broadcast pictures of a pro-Qaddafi demonstration in Tripoli closing in on the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was freed two years ago from a life sentence in a Scottish prison for the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 and 270 deaths. The British authorities let him go in August 2009 after confirming he had terminal cancer and only two months to live.
London offers no objections to Qaddafi's sons assuming power
Many of his victims were American. Washington protested his early release which many attributed to the oil deals London and Edinburgh had transacted with the Qaddafi regime.
This week, the sight of the terrorist alive in Tripoli in a wheelchair with a voiceover describing him as a victim of colonialism sorely embarrassed the British and Scottish governments.
2. Hague spoke explicitly about Qaddafi stepping down and his banishment from political and military power centers in Tripoli, but said nothing about his sons.
Saif al-Islam, in particular, is an old favorite with British Conservative and Labor political high-ups and the City, all of whom lobbied hard in the past for him to succeed his father. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's London and Tripoli sources expect a return to this effort as negotiations for ending the war advance.
3. Neither was a ceasefire mentioned by either British or French foreign ministers as part of the process of transition from fighting to peace.
All in all, Juppe helped ease Britain into the lineup of governments working for a diplomatic end to the war, the US, Russia, Germany and the African Union.
On the other hand, while Qaddafi made a halt in NATO air strikes a pre-condition for negotiations, the alliance Wednesday, July 27, refused to make any such commitment and warned that civilian facilities would now be bombed if used by pro-Qaddafi forces to launch attacks.
Qaddafi fortifies his positions ahead of talks
NATO military spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said in Brussels that NATO had recently bombed a concrete factory near Brega where regime forces were hiding and from which they were firing multi-barrel rocket launchers. By occupying and using the factory in this way, the regime had converted it into a military installation for commanding and conducting attacks. It had thus forfeited its protected civilian status and become a valid military target for NATO, Lavoie explained.
What this means is that the main countries participating in NATO's military assault in Libya are dropping out in favor of diplomacy, whereas NATO – or more precisely Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen – is not only sticking to his guns but adding new government targets.
This is his signal to Washington, London and Paris that although their individual governments have decided to quit the Libyan campaign, they can't just walk out when it suits them and leave NATO saddled with all the responsibility for its failure.
Rasmussen may have a point but he will not easily find an attentive ear for his argument.
The Libyan ruler is meanwhile fortifying all the areas under his control, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report. He continues to repel rebel forces trying to advance in the east and the west. A Western military observer monitoring the situation told our sources this week that every day which goes by without agreement on terms for ending the war is used by Qaddafi to bolster his position.
The rebels split between pro- and anti-diplomacy factions
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources sum up Libyan war balance as follows:
– Pro-Qaddafi and rebel forces have reached a stalemate. This outcome is artificial in the sense that without NATO air support, the rebels would have been overpowered by government forces in a few days.
– Col. Qaddafi has just concluded treaties with the heads of Libya's three main tribes, the Qadhadhfah, Warfalla and Al-Magarha, which cement his grip on the central and southern regions and parts of eastern Libya.
More than half of the country's population of 6.5 million who live in these regions have therefore come under his sway. His control of Tripoli and most of the cities of central Libya, aside from Benghazi, is total.
– The rebels in contrast are split into many small rival factions and entities, each pulling in a different direction from the others. A major divide separates the political and military leaderships. The former is using delaying tactics to postpone talks with the Qaddafi camp, while the military chiefs are pushing for rapid diplomacy.