Following Muammar Qaddafi's military successes Tuesday, Western-backed parties Wednesday, March 9 discreetly solicited him on the Libyan rebels' behalf for diplomatic understandings to stop his forces short of marching further rebel-held Cyrenaica in the east, debkafile's exclusive sources report.
The contacts are led by head of the ruling Egyptian military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and a group of diplomats based in Vienna. Under the deal they have offered Qaddafi in return for saving Cyrenaica and Benghazi, the rebels would lay down arms in western and eastern Libya, discontinue protest demonstrations and allow the oil facilities in their terrain go back to normal operations. The agreement would be monitored by Egyptian military observers.
Qaddafi's pre-condition for diplomacy was a prior NATO pledge that its members would refrain from military intervention in the Libyan conflict. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accordingly went on British TV Wednesday afternoon to state that NATO would not intervene in Libya because it had no UN authorization to do so.
Shortly before the broadcast, three Libyan executive jets were sighted flying towards Cairo, Athens and Vienna. debkafile reports that the first carried the Libyan logistic supplies authority's chief Maj. Gen. Abdel Rahman Ben Ali al-Sayyid al-Zawy. He handed Tantawi a message from Qaddafi. Officials in Cairo declined to divulge the contents of the message or of the conversation between the Libyan envoy and the Egyptian field marshal.
The identities of the passengers aboard the other two flights are unknown.
According to debkafile's exclusive sources, the subject under urgent discussion in all three capitals is the means of persuading the Libyan ruler to accept the rebels' offer of an unofficial ceasefire and undertake a commitment to stop his forces advancing any further on the rebel strongholds in Cyrenaica, including Libya's second largest town, Benghazi.
The Libyan ruler is being offered Egyptian and Greek guarantees that the rebels will order their followers to desist from attacks and protests against Qaddafi and let all of Libya's oil facilities return to normal operation.
Our sources add that if the Libyan ruler accepts this deal, the relevant parties in Vienna will consider lifting some of the restrictions on Libyan commerce with Austrian banks and the release of some of his frozen assets in those institutions.
The exchanges in Cairo centered on assigning Egyptian military observers to keeping the combatants apart and monitoring their compliance with the informal ceasefire.
The general lines of this deal arose from the latest Western military intelligence update of the state of play on the Libyan battlefield, whereby Qaddafi lacks the combat manpower to wrest Benghazi from rebel hands but is capable of laying its million inhabitants to siege and keeping them under an unrelenting pounding from the air. The US and other NATO nations would be forced to run emergency air and sea lifts of humanitarian aid to Benghazi, a step which no one, including Qaddafi, wants to see.
For now, the informal negotiations are at an early stage. The Libyan ruler has come up with a list of far-reaching demands. They include international recognition of his regime as the only legitimate rulers of Libya and the lifting of the arms embargo and UN Security Council sanctions against him. He may tone down some of his conditions as the talks get fully underway.