US urges Gaddafi to go as rebels claim oil town
Benghazi, July 19, 2011
Libyan and US officials met face-to-face, but while Tripoli said it was seeking talks with no preconditions, Washington said it delivered a clear message:
Muammar Gaddafi must go.
The secret meeting occurred at the weekend as Libyan government forces fought rebels for control of the oil port of Brega, which the insurgents said on Monday they now had surrounded in what would be a major boost to their campaign.
Tripoli denied this.
The meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down," a US State Department official said.
"This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message." He said no more meetings were planned. Libya said it welcomed discussions but only without preconditions.
"Any dialogue with the French, Americans, British is welcome," government spokesman Ibrahim Moussa told journalists in Tripoli. "We will discuss everything, but do not condition your peace talks. Let Libyans decide their future."
He said the meeting was in Tunisia on Saturday. The US
official said it followed repeated contacts from the Libyan leader's emissaries.
France has also held similar talks with Libyan officials in the Tunisian resort of Djerba, but the French had gone further and insisted that Gaddafi must not only step down but go into exile too, the BBC reported.
Libya's foreign minister is to meet his Russian opposite number in Moscow on Wednesday, Itar-Tass news agency said. The meeting, requested by the Libyans, would be first known visit by a Libyan government official to Moscow since the war began.
Russia has called for Gaddafi to go, but has criticised Western states for recognising the rebel leadership as Libya's legitimate government, saying they were taking sides. Moscow emphasises it is in contact with both rebels and government.
After a long period of stalemate in the desert along the eastern front, the rebels said they had routed most of Gaddafi's troops in Brega to the west, which has an oil refinery and terminal, and encircled the town.
More than 40 people on both sides were reported killed in the fighting since late last week for a city which for months marked the eastern limit of Gaddafi's control.
Rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said its streets were strewn with landmines, making it hard to secure full control.- Reuters