Is France Waffling on Libya?


From Bruce Crumly, Time:  The specter of what has become an open-ended Libyan conflict grinding on indefinitely became an even larger concern this week, after conflicting signs arose in both France and Libya about whether Paris was carrying on direct negotiations with the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi despite its repeated denials of such contacts. Questions also surfaced about whether Paris has softened its long-held position Gaddafi must leave power as a condition to ending the intervention. . . .

Probably not too coincidentally, [French Defense Minister Gerard] Longuet’s comments were followed up just hours later by statements from Saif al-Islam Gaddafi alleging his father’s government was already in negotiations directly “with France and not with the rebels”. Painting those opposition forces as merely Paris’ lackeys, the younger Gaddafi told Algeria’s El Khabar newspaper that French officials had assured his father’s envoys “’when we reach an agreement with you, we will force (rebel leaders) to cease fire’”. Not surprisingly, French Foreign Ministry officials responded by categorically denying France was in direct contact with Gaddafi’s regime, and repeated the Libyan’s ouster was not negotiable. Yet on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé seemed to modify the message on Libya again, suggesting France was sounding Gaddafi out through indirect channels—though still with the objective of securing his departure.

“Everyone (party to the Libyan war) has contacts with everyone else– the Libyan regime sends its messengers all over, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris,” Juppé told France Info radio Tuesday morning. "We receive emissaries who are saying, ‘Gaddafi is prepared to leave. Let’s discuss it’…The question is no longer whether Gaddafi is going to leave power, but when and how. . . ."

What does it all mean? According to François Sergent in the editorial of Tuesday’s Libération, it shows “Paris sending ambiguous signals about the possibility of negotiating with Gaddafi, who may even be able to stay in Libya”. That would be a major change indeed. And the reason behind it, Libération’s Tuesday front page headline “Libya: France Is Trapped” suggests, is that leaders in Paris now clearly see their military efforts to rid Libya of Gaddafi and pave the way for a more democratic regime aren’t likely to come to fruition anytime soon. And if the apparent change in tone is indeed suggestive of a willingness by Paris to cut a deal with Gaddafi–a move that would doubtless provoke opposition from the U.S. and UK–it comes at a significant moment within French politics that may ultimately out-weigh many international concerns.  (photo; Getty)

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