U.S. government officials met with representatives from Libya’s embattled regime to deliver the message that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi must leave power, a State Department spokesman said.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that officials from both countries held face-to-face talks in Tunisia on Saturday to improve the strained relations between them. By contrast, a State Department spokesman said that the United States, which is currently playing a supporting role in the NATO mission to bomb Qaddafi’s ground forces and command-and-control centers, participated in the meetings to “deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Qaddafi to step down."
“This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message. The message was simple and unambiguous, and the same message we deliver in public: Qaddafi must leave power so that a new political process can begin that reflects the will and aspirations of the Libyan people,” the spokesman said via e-mail, declining to say when or where the meetings took place.
U.S. officials attending the meeting included Gene Cretz, U.S. ambassador to Libya; Jeff Feltman, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs; and Derek Chollet, a principal deputy director for policy planning at State.
Over a period of time, the U.S. received calls from senior Libyan officials who believed that the U.S. might support a future for Libya that includes Qaddafi, a State Department official said. After the meetings, the official said, "they’ve received our message that we support the [United Nations] channel and there will be no U.S. channel."
The Obama administration has for months walked a cautious line on Libya, arguing that Qaddafi had lost all legitimacy and needed to step down but that the mission in Libya is not meant to remove him from power. In a major sign of support for Libya’s opposition last week, the United States recognized Libya’s Transitional National Council, headquartered in the eastern city of Benghazi, as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people—a move that opens the door to funneling some of the approximately $34 billion in Qaddafi-related funds the U.S. froze in February to the insurgents.
The Libyan spokesman called the meetings a “first step,” and added that the regime wants to “to take further steps” to avoid being "stuck in the past."
The United States has no plans to meet again, the State spokesman said, "because the message has been delivered.”
“In the aftermath of [the meeting of international partners in] Istanbul, we decided to deliver directly and unequivocally the views of the international community and our combined steadfast resolve to see this crisis through to the end," the spokesman said.